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Jill Clayburgh, Dennis Hopper, Lena Horne and more -- editing the final credits of the academy's 'In Memoriam'
Friday, February 25, 2011
For the moment of greatest suspense at the Academy Awards, we already know what names will be called.
It's the Oscar death montage: Fate has already tapped those winners.
But which recently departed star will get the most applause? And which will have the position of honor - at the end?
Since it formally began in 1993, the "In Memoriam" segment has become one of the most popular parts of the annual awards broadcast - and probably the most controversial. This year's segment will be longer than ever, says the academy's executive director, Bruce Davis, clocking in at nearly five minutes. The usual montage runs three minutes.
But in a big year for Hollywood deaths, not everyone can be mentioned. Davis last year found himself apologizing to the family of Farrah Fawcett, whom the academy left out of the montage because they believed she was better known for her TV work than movie work.
"You make more people disappointed or angry than you make happy," he said.
There's no questioning the emotional and nostalgic power of these deftly edited tributes. In 2009, the segment opened with Cyd Charisse in a 1950s Technicolor splash of long dancer leg. Then it was on to brief glimpses of Bernie Mac, Van Johnson, Michael Crichton . . . (Watching at home, you thought, "I didn't know he/she died," or "Was that just this year?" or simply, "Awwww.") There were Charlton Heston and Sydney Pollack - big-deal guys, who might have been the montage closer in any other year. Except that it was Paul Newman's year. They devoted the final 20 seconds to him.
Last year, it was Patrick Swayze opening the montage. Then, Jean Simmons, Natasha Richardson, Brittany Murphy, Eric Rohmer, David Carradine. Most of the clips were presented silently (over a song by James Taylor), but they turned up the sound for a few pieces of dialogue: "I coulda been a contendah" from screenwriter B udd Schulberg's "On the Waterfront"; and, from Horton Foote's "To Kill a Mockingbird": "Scout, stand up, your father's passing." Why those lines? Probably because they just made you cry a little. The last face we saw was Karl Malden - not just a beloved American Express pitchman, but an Oscar winner who served as the academy's president.
For Davis, this year's bumper crop of notable film-world passings - 233 around the world, according to the tally kept by his staff - was cause not just for sadness, but for headache.