Let’s Dive Into The 1960 Oscars.
Situated between two Oscar sweeps, the 33rd Academy Awards mainly spread the wealth. A love-fest for Wilder's The Apartment ensued, and in total, twelve feature fiction films were awarded, compared to eight from the previous Ben-Hur ceremony. Here is a modest ceremony with enough wiggle room to accommodate an array of typical Oscar contenders and a pinch of comedy. Today I'll go on about Bergman's first Oscar, Elizabeth Taylor's Best Actress surprise, Psycho's omissions + Janet Leigh's loss, and the Best Picture-winning The Apartment, plus how it all sits with me.
Elizabeth Taylor wins Best Actress for BUtterfield 8
Boy was BUtterfield 8 so needlessly boring. It pretends to be classy rum but buzzes with all the fizz of a flat diet Coke. That being said, only Elizabeth Taylor could pull off the overly dramatic, lipstick-wielding, mink fur-stealing call girl Gloria Wandrous. So are we dealing with an Academy Award-worthy turn (under any circumstances)? Not exactly, though the situation that propelled Taylor to this win is well documented — the Academy was much more interested in the person than the performance. Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment or Melina Mercouri in Never on Sunday are the best choices to win. MacLaine taps into Fran, the tragic elevator girl at a (mostly) sleazy Manhattan skyscraper, with a steady and fresh-faced sensitivity that makes her character feel terribly real. As another "hooker with a heart of gold," Mercouri is cheeky, full of life, and so, so European — her presence is as refreshing as the Mediterranean breeze. She'd be my choice. Gloria Wandrous is a high camp, high glamour gal and a character that fittingly suits Taylor. I just wish BUtterfield 8 was a misguided star vehicle and not an Oscar winning turn. Then I would be able to guzzle whichever drink this film intends itself to be.
Ingmar Bergman dips his toes into Oscar victory
Bergman's long foray into the Oscars began three years prior, but The Virgin Spring would shift the Academy's priorities. The Swedish master's first of three winners for "Best Foreign-Language Film," The Virgin Spring is both taut and glacial, with a seemingly straightforward storyline and an atmosphere that feels much more bleak than mystifying, as the medieval setting would imply. Effectively a revenge ballad shaped around a devastating loss of innocence, The Virgin Spring acts as a sturdy and shocking counterweight to the American productions from the same ceremony. Films like Elmer Gantry or Psycho still offer a takeaway bag of thought, but The Virgin Spring's sensations are shockingly different. The Academy would tackle more demanding themes for a while, so long as they weren't in English. The Virgin Spring and the following year's Through a Glass Darkly are prime examples of that dual school of thought. As the Academy's first Bergman winner, The Virgin Spring offers a crucial insight into European cinema and essential viewing through a modern lens. Just look at that beautiful composition and how it governs today's arthouse cinematography — Łukasz Żal and Jarin Blaschke, eat your heart out and feast your eyes on this.
Jones vs. Leigh
Battling a conflict with virtue and the almighty dollar, Jean Simmons' Sister Falconer, whose preaching voice tattles into the territory of an outraged Audrey Hepburn, seemed like the obvious pick for an Oscar nomination or possible win. That was until Shirley Jones' Lulu, a prostitute with a score to settle, entered the show. Amongst a sea of like-minded corruption, Lulu is a refreshing addition, all the more mischievous and youthful, with a laugh almost as maniacal as Gantry's himself. With one strap off her shoulder, she's a fierce and frisky force, and the speaker of this doozy of a line — something about Gantry "ramming the fear of God into her." Wow. Lulu is morally unjust but ambiguous; Jones plays this with tenderness, though she doesn't shy away from hamming it up. She is playing against type — sometimes you have to go full throttle to drill your point. Lulu's late arrival places her in an odd spot. She's there to threaten Gantry's illusion, but at that point, do we pay more attention to how Gantry reacts or how Lulu incites? By the time you get to ponder that, Lulu has up and left.
Across the board, 1960's best supporting actress nominees feel more like a point and less a cohesive thread. Jones is fine. But Janet Leigh, playing the infamous Marion Crane, shines like a razor in the sun. It's almost hard to pinpoint what makes Leigh's Marion tick like clockwork. A reputation stemming from your final scene where you stand and scream doesn't do criticism the most favours, but once you rewind the tape, Leigh's delivery starts to look clearer. Personally, Leigh's screen-time is Psycho's highlight, especially on rewatches. Even before the iconic shower scene, she pumps Psycho with its chief hit of adrenaline, playing into Crane's mystery with an amount of pent-up anxiety so insane, she looks as if she were going to combust at any moment. Leigh setups the "money" plot, a typical Hitchcock arc, so convincingly and without the hindsight that she'll be shortly written off. That approach makes Crane a fascinating and true-to-life character. Though we don't know that much about Marion, Leigh masterfully injects Crane's canvas with the type of dread that pulses in the car on a rainy night, lulls during her *uncomfortable* encounter with Norman and crescendos at her untimely demise. Not unlike Anthony Perkins to Norman, Leigh is joined to the hip with Marion. I don't know whether that's for the better or worse. The Academy made a sure misstep, but what can one say except that Psycho's controversy caught up with its leading starlet in the most unfortunate of ways.
The Apartment wins Best Picture
Sure, Psycho is missing from the lineup, but The Apartment, sandwiched between two boisterous sweeps, is the right choice. On first viewing, I misunderstood The Apartment, or at least, I misunderstood what I was getting myself into. Entering Billy Wilder's staple tragicom expecting a full-blown comedy leaves you with a few deep cuts. Just admitting that it's kinda sad made this watch a lot more freeing! Wilder's film is a broad umbrella of styles and emotions, often changing at a finger snap, but for a wide-screen feast, it makes the most of its smaller moments. Take the way little lines sting (fyc: "feeling broken like mirrors"), the way that mirror was shown at the Christmas party, and how visual cues lead our own understanding. That's what I love. Wilder demands our attention, patience, plus our knowing eyes to unveil his layered ladder and his textured tricks. The Apartment is not my favourite Wilder, and that's okay because if you have the intelligent and intuitive Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the leads, you're still good, if not great enough.