Saturday, March 1, 2014

Australia's Forgotten Oscar Winners

Australia has had some great success at The Oscars in recent years. And our winners have been lionised such that they are probably familiar to nearly everyone; Rusty and Cate and Shiney McShine and Crazy Mel (before he went crazy).

Less well known then the recent victors are some Oscar winning Australians from years past. For this country has produced winners going back decades, a number of whom were recognised for their work on some of the most famous movies in the history of cinema. 

Here are five Oscar winning Aussies, now slightly overlooked:


Best Cinematography - 1950

The Third Man

Born in Perth in 1913, Krasker moved to Europe as a teenager to study art and worked initially as a stills photographer in Dresden and Paris. Moving to London in the late 30's, Krasker took a job at Korda Studios and soon moved into cinematography. Influenced by both film noir and German expressionism, which he had been exposed to on the continent, Krasker established a name for himself with moody, starkly contrasted imagery. His movie career followed an established path; work on B pictures like The Thief of Baghdad (1940) leading to more prestigious assignments, like Olivier's Henry V (1944). He put himself at the forefront of his field with brilliant work on David Lean's Brief Encounter, generally considered one of the finest British movies ever made, although Krasker would clash with the director over the shooting of certain scenes. His work was held in such regard though, that he was Carol Read's first choice to shoot The Third Man, and this became Krasker's signature work. His imaginative lighting and inventive camera angles are a notable feature of the film, and he was rightly recognised at the Academy Awards in 1950. Krasker subsequently moved to Hollywood and lensed a number of other high profile movies, before retiring in 1965.


Best Costume Design - 1951, 1957 & 1959

An American in Paris
Les Girls
Some Like it Hot

Costume designer Orry-Kelly (born Orry George Kelly) is Australia's most successful Oscar winner, earning three statuettes in the 1950's. The son of a tailor from Kiama, New South Wales, Orry-Kelly studied art in Sydney before moving to New York in the 1920's to pursue an acting career. There he shared an apartment with another up and comer, Archie Leach (AKA Cary Grant), while taking odd jobs to make ends meet. He painted murals and did some casual costume work on Broadway, which lead to a job offer in Hollywood. Moving to LA in 1932, Orry-Kelly soon realised his talents lay specifically in costumes and he became an in-demand designer, working for all the major studios. Working prolifically, his work is featured in some of the best known films of the era, including; Casablanca, Oklahoma! and The Maltese Falcon, and he would end with an amazing 263 film credits. But it was some of his most flamboyant work that earned him his Oscars, and the engagingly silly drag costumes of Some Like It Hot are probably his most enduring contribution to film history. A witty, acerbic man, and an outrageous drunk, Orry-Kelly appears to have lived a melancholy life outside of the studio system, and he died of alcoholism in his sixties. His pall bearers included both Grant and Billy Wilder. Gillian Armstrong is reportedly working on a documentary of his life, which may include the rumour that he and Grant were occasional lovers, as well as friends. 


Best Adapted Screenplay - 1956

Around the World in 80 Days

John Farrow's eventful life began in Sydney in 1904, as the son of a dressmaker and tailor. A restless youth, Farrow joined the merchant marine as a teenager and traveled the Pacific. After a chance meeting with pioneering film producer Robert J. Flaherty, Farrow took an interest in cinema and moved to California in 1927, hoping to get work in the industry. He did odd jobs at the fledgling film studios and began writing, and by the 1930's had established himself as a solid, mid tier screenwriter. He expanded into directing and racked up a number of B picture credits in the lead up to World War II. In 1936 he married actress Maureen O'Sullivan and they had four children together, one of whom, Mia Farrow, would become more famous than either of her parents. He joined the Navy and saw active duty during the war, then returned to Hollywood and made a series of successful war pictures. But his career declined in the 1950's, and he was largely back to assigned screen writing work when he won a surprise Oscar for co-writing Around the World in 80 Days, generally considered one of the less distinguished films to taste Oscar success. Farrow often expressed a desire to work in the Australian film industry but, apart from producing some Australian documentaries, this idea was never realised. He died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, aged only 58.


Best Costume Design & Best Art Direction - 1968


Melbourne born John Truscott achieved a rare double Oscar win in 1968 for his work on the period film Camelot, garnering recognition for his art direction and costumes. Truscott was an acclaimed costume and set designer from the theatre, with a long history of working on large and small stage productions in Australia. His well received work on a theatrical production of Camelot in 1963 lead to an invitation to Hollywood to work on the film adaptation, which makes his subsequent Oscar success, on his first film, even more remarkable. Although the acclaim for his film work was not universal (film critic Leonard Maltin called Camelot's production design 'cheap'). Truscott's film career was short lived; having worked on the big budget musical western Paint Your Wagon he drifted back to theatre, although he did not return to Australia till 1978. On his return, Truscott worked on a number of projects, including designing the Melbourne Arts Centre's interior and serving as creative director of Brisbane's World Expo in 1988. He passed away in 1993.


Best Original Song - 1981

Arthur's Theme (The Best You Can Do)

Australia has only produced one nominee in the best song category, and so one winner, and who else could this be but Peter Allen, one of the great music populists. The song came from the successful romantic comedy Arthur, starring Dudley Moore as a spoilt, alcoholic millionaire and Lisa Minelli as the blue collar girl who takes his fancy. Arthur's Theme was largely written by Christopher Cross, who sings the song, in collaboration with Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sayer (Bacharach's long time writing partner). But Allen, Minelli's ex husband, also contributed enough material to get a song writing credit and, ultimately, an Oscar. The song's famous refrain, 'If you get caught between the moon and New York City' is reportedly Allen's, from an unproduced song he wrote for himself some years before. The song's video is here  (you know you want to).

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