Periscope Depth

in every lovely summer's day

LiveJournal blogger The Ferrett has had a couple posts of late on the Oscars “In Memoriam” Montage featured at every Academy Awards ceremony. Actors who died in the previous year get a few seconds on screen, depicted in iconic roles, while grandiose strings swell in the background.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0ByLMsKl48]

Ferrett asks an interesting question, “If so-and-so died tomorrow, what role of theirs would get depicted for their Oscars montage?” He opened this up as a poll to his readers and some debates ensued in the comments. I think most of these debates started from the wrong premises, though.

People spent a lot of time arguing over whether Michael Caine was better in The Man Who Would Be King or The Cider House Rules or Alfie. That’s an interesting debate, but for the purpose of an Oscars montage, it’s irrelevant. The films that go into an Oscars “In Memoriam” montage have little to do with quality and everything to do with making an interesting montage.

Take Paul Scofield, for instance (2:03 in the above video). Scofield gets three quick snaps – as Mark van Doren in Quiz Show, as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons and as Judge Thomas Danforth in The Crucible. If you just wanted his best role, you could leave out everything but A Man for All Seasons; he wasn’t bad in the other two, but they’re not his best work. If we were ranking his best appearances, Henry V and Zeffirelli’s 1990 Hamlet would trump either of those.

But! We already have one shot of Scofield in period British garb. Two more like that – as King Charles in Henry V and as the Ghost in Hamlet – would have been monotonous. So you depict him in one modern role (Quiz Show) and one role that, while also period, has a different flavor than Shakespeare (The Crucible).

Charlton Heston (2:33 onward) gets four scenes, none of which are from Ben-Hur. But they already included one of his iconic roles – Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments. So they needed to show scenes from his less popular movies (The Greatest Show on Earth). They also showed an unremembered scene from a recognizable role – standing and looking quietly smug in Planet of the Apes, instead of sinking to his knees in tears. Roy Scheider gets four scenes, but they’re equally diverse: an unmemorable shot of him in Jaws, one of him as the Bob Fossalike in All That Jazz, a flat shot of him peering out a car window in The French Connection, and one I can’t even place.

An interesting montage depicts change and the passage of time. So a film montage of a star’s prior roles must include variety. James Whitmore gets one as Brooksie from The Shawshank Redemption, a role most modern audiences would recognize him from. But he also gets one from a much earlier movie of him wielding a flamethrower (I’m guessing it’s Them!, the 1954 alien invasion flick). Why? Because it’s Brooksie wielding a flamethrower!

Variety is the deciding factor. The quality of the role is not.

I harp on this only because I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing lately. Everyone acknowledges the importance of presentation in delivering a message. But few people realize how early presentation begins to affect what the final message will be. The medium, as someone wiser than me said, is the message.

With that in mind, which roles will be selected in an “in memoriam” montage for the following actors who have already died in 2009?

  • Karl Malden
  • Michael Jackson
  • Farrah Fawcett
  • David Carradine
  • Ron Silver
  • Anyone else I’ve forgot

I welcome your speculations.