Hollywood allows a glimmer of reality to light its night of the year
Diary of an Oscar winner; Documentary maker Jon Blair on the week his film about Anne Frank triumphed in Tinseltown
Sunday 31 March 1996
Tarantino's voice gives nothing away, but this cannot be anything but the deepest sarcasm, since he is addressing the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, which seeks to impose family values on films exhibited in the US. Yet later I hear Valenti boasting of the encounter, oblivious to any double edge.
And I so nearly missed the chance to be there. Last April, about three weeks before the BBC was due to show Anne Frank Remembered as part of the 50th Anniversary VE commemorative weekend, I rang the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as they rather grandly call themselves, to double check the eligibility rules for the Oscars.
Complete panic. The film had to be shown for a week in a Los Angeles cinema before it was broadcast on TV anywhere in the world. Within hours I booked a local cinema for seven showings at 10am to an audience of one: the projectionist.
But that fulfilled the requirements, and took me to Los Angeles as an Oscar nominee. I arrived to find the city in its annual fever of speculation about the winners and losers - except in the documentary category, about which no one cared at all.
Bafta, the US Academy's distant poor relation in Britain, hosts a "British Tea Party" the weekend before the Oscars ceremony at a delightful beachside hotel in Santa Monica. The invitations show the classic drawing from Alice in Wonderland. The star turn is undoubtedly the British consul-general, whose speech is filled with Civil Service gags as good as those in Yes, Minister. But he is booed by the audience of Braveheart loyalists when he points out that, unlike the film, Scots didn't wear kilts until the 17th century. The audience reaction in support of Mel Gibson's tartan epic augurs well for the film's chances two days hence. I chat to the Australian set dresser from Babe, the talking pig film, who like me is completely anonymous while the TV cameramen swarm around the only celebrity in the room, Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Sunday passes quietly enough, but at 3am on Oscar awards day I'm still awake, practising my acceptance speech in case I win. The letter from the legendary pop music producer, Quincy Jones, who is in charge of the Oscar broadcasts, warned of the dire consequences of overrunning my allocated time of 45 seconds - if I win. At daybreak I'm exhausted, but I have four meetings in the morning with assorted agents and studio representatives in an effort to become a movie mogul myself.
Not only that. I've also arranged to fly in Miep Gies, the 85-year-old heroine of the Anne Frank story for the ceremony. She is the last survivor of the group which fed and protected the Frank family and the four others in hiding with them for more than two years. When they were betrayed and arrested in August 1944, she went to the Gestapo headquarters in Amsterdam in a vain attempt to plead for their lives, and it was Miep who rescued the three books and other loose pages that made up Anne's diary from the floor of the hiding place. Initially she kept this unique document safe for Anne's return, but once Anne's death in a concentration camp had finally been confirmed she gave it up, still unread, to Anne's father, the only survivor of those in hiding.
Without Miep, Anne would have been just one among millions of anonymous victims of the Holocaust. Now this heroic woman, well into her 80s, was interrupting a speaking tour on the US east coast so that I could take her up on stage with me - if I won. The plan was fraught with problems, not to mention the anti-climax if we didn't get called. Not for the first time, I questioned my judgement.
It's 2.30pm. I've rushed back from my last meeting, but Miep still hasn't arrived. Because of the traffic jam caused by more than 1,000 stretch limos all converging on the Dorothy Chandler Auditorium at once, I've been told we must leave the hotel by 4pm if we're to have any chance of being seated by 5.30pm, which is when they close the doors for the show.
Miep finally turns up at three, having left Florida 10 hours earlier. There's no time to let her rest, but we must all eat something before the ceremony or go without. At 3.15 I'm wandering the streets looking for bananas, the only thing Miep wants. So much for Oscar glamour.
Later, in the block-long limo, Miep and I talk of Anne. On 10 October 1942, Anne wrote in her diary that she hoped to visit Hollywood one day, and Miep feels she is here in spirit with us. This is also the theme of the speech I've prepared, now down to a minute and a quarter.Quincy wouldn't dare cut me off with Miep up there too.
We estimate that our category is going to be about halfway through. In the auditorium we're trying to see if there is any pattern to where the winners are seated. A disconcerting number are on the aisle. We are not. And then it is our turn. I've managed to arrange for Miep to be quietly ushered near to the front in advance, so she doesn't have to walk all the way down if we're the ones out of the envelope.
And we are, and it's a dream, and people wonder why I've brought my granny on stage with me, and then I tell them who she is and they give her a standing ovation, and Quincy Jones allows me to say my whole speech, and all the time I try to keep calm by staring at Anthony Hopkins in the third row, who ends up not winning anything despite all the attention at the Bafta party. And before I know it, it's over.
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