I know it might sound a tad morbid, but one of my favorite parts of the Oscar telecast is the memorial to industry greats who died over the past year. But this year I noticed a strange omission, and that got me digging around to find out who is included, who's left out, and why.
The omission was screenwriter Leonard Schrader, who died last November. Schrader was a legendary figure in the New Hollywood of the early 70s. His brilliant screenplay for Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for Best Screenplay in 1986, and he remains the only screenwriter I know of with two films in competition at Cannes in the same year, Kiss and Mishima. In later years he became head of the screenwriting department at AFI, and a fabled Hollywood mentor.
When the Memorial segment came and went with no mention of Schrader, I dug around and discovered he wasn't alone. Among the other distinguished missing (and I apologize because my list is probably incomplete) were:
Malcolm Arnold, who won the Oscar for Best Score (Bridge Over the River Kwai).
Donfeld, a four-time Oscar nominee for Costume Design.
Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter of Psycho.
Yvonne Decarlo, the glamorous 40s and 50s actress (and later Munster).
Gerard Brach, the screenwriter of Manon of the Spring, Jean de Florette and The Name of the Rose.
Louis Edemann, who won the Oscar for Best Sound (Who Framed Roger Rabbit).
Academy watchers say that this kind of thing happens every year, and this year's omissions weren't even the most egregious. The Academy does not publicize its criteria for inclusion, but it clearly gives far greater weight to actors (16 of the 33 this year), and seems to have some sort of obscure quota system for everyone else. It also appears to weigh the list for gender, race, nationality and other considerations.
Obviously there has to be some criteria, but you'd think winning an Oscar in a major category, or being nominated multiple times, would guarantee inclusion in what is the industry's ultimate final salute.
So if the problem is simply lack of time, two quick points.
First, the Oscar telecast lasts over three hours, and the time given to each deceased is 5 seconds. They could have included every legend listed above and it would have stretched the show a whopping 30 seconds.
Second, the Memorial segment has everything you want in an Oscar telecast. It's packed with great clips. It fulfills the Academy's mission to "recognize outstanding achievement" and "foster education" about the industry. And it's touching and often moving.
So I say, yo, Academy, loosen up. These are giants of the cinema, recently dead, still being mourned.
And frankly, after a lifetime of achievement in the industry, five seconds isn't a lot to ask.