OPINION: It’s Time for The Academy to Bury the ‘In Memoriam’ Segment
It begins with the best of intentions and should be every Oscar telecast’s most sincere moment: the ‘In Memoriam’ segment, when poignant music plays over a stream of images of those luminaries that Hollywood lost in the year since last the Titans gathered to celebrate their own greatness. But inevitably and without fail, a montage candle goes unlit for some of those lost souls.
It happened in 2010 when Farrah Fawcett (1976’s Logan’s Run) was not included. It happened in 2011 when Betty Garrett (1949’s On the Town) was not included. It happened to Jeff Conaway (1978’s Grease) in 2012 and to Andy Griffith (1957’s A Face in the Crowd) in 2013. It happened to many others in those years and it happened many years before that; I offer only a sampling of past – as they are called – snubs. It happened at this year’s Oscars, too.
It happened to character actor Dennis Farina (1995’s Get Shorty) and to 2013 Oscar-nominated biopic topic Nelson Mandela and to the last of the female munchkins from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, Ruth Robinson Duccini. (This last name carries with it a certain irony, given that the Oscar telecast actually paid tribute to The Wizard of Oz.) As I said, inevitably and without fail, a montage candle goes unlit for some of those lost souls.
And for that there is hell to pay.
The fire from the torches of an angry Twitter mob lit the night sky when this year’s ‘In Memoriam’ segment faded to black and went to commercial. People cried foul over the names I’ve mentioned and others, with sentiment ranging from disappointment to snark:
@RusselHFilm: I wish Alain Resnais could’ve been in the In Memoriam reel too, but they had to set up the Mani-Cam, so y’know, priorities. #Oscars
@ShiftingPersona: I’m sorry, but excluding Dennis Farina from the In Memoriam montage is not okay. One of the finest character actors we’ve ever had #Oscars
@phil_rosenthal: When many deserving foks are left out of the #Oscars In Memoriam segment for time, savor the memory of selfies and pizza
There are thousands more tweets like those. In my own tweet last night, I suggested the following:
@ScribeHard: They should drop IN MEMORIAM entirely. It’s SO thankless. Maintain it online (w/archive content) where people can visit. @TheAcademy #Oscars
I still think this is the way to go. I still think that as industry members pass, The Academy can pay homage to them online by offering their vast archives as something of a digital tribute. If someone is genuinely overlooked, a few keystrokes can solve the problem. Each memorial can stay up for one year, and the Oscars telecast can offer a quick shout-out to the link, or maybe even plug it throughout the evening. Either way, everyone is memorialized with more than a five-second snapshot, every fan is satisfied that the proper respects are paid, and telecast producers save a good five minutes of stage time they can use for something else.
(NOTE: The Academy has – albeit weak – an online presence with their In Memoriam Gallery, which includes one still picture for each of the 77 people in the gallery.)
And then I read a story in The Hollywood Reporter about this year’s snubs. The story delves into a little Academy inside baseball and includes this statement: “The names included in the segment are compiled by an ‘In Memoriam’ committee that puts together a list of 25 to 30 people who will be highlighted during the ceremony. They are asked to focus on people who have made significant contributions to the industry and people from a variety of different sectors of the industry.”
So it seems The Academy doesn’t forget people on each year’s telecast, it intentionally omits people from it. Why? If The Academy has no intent on the televised ‘In Memoriam’ list ever being all-inclusive, why bother having it? The short answer is that it helps them sleep at night because they give their fallen one last chance to shine. But that’s the wrong answer. Also wrong is to put 1/3 of the deceased on TV and relegate the rest to online head-shots. That move doesn’t honor the dead; it creates one last casting call, a call that family and friends and fans must wonder if their loved one will get.
Even in death, you must be “on the list.” Even in a pine box, you must cross a velvet rope. It’s time for The Academy to bury the televised ‘In Memoriam’ segment because it isn’t a really segment after all. It’s one more category where there are winners and losers.