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7 Discontinued Oscar Categories

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Oscar season is upon us, and just about every casual moviegoer and professional film critic has formed opinions on the various competitors in the race to the golden statuette. As always, the fiercest contention is for Best Picture, the self-explanatory award for the greatest overall achievement in the motion picture industry this year. Other awards of equal prestige but less popular interest include those for Best Documentary Short, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Sound Mixing—Oscars that rarely incite such impassioned debate over the most deserving winner.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the professional organizing body of the ceremony intended to honor the highest achievers in the field of filmmaking, recognizes that standards of achievement in the film industry evolve over time. The awards issued each year have reflected the ever-changing nature of the movie business—today’s Best Visual Effects may well give way to tomorrow’s Best Use of 3D Technology. Recognition is currently meted out to winners in 24 categories, but that number isn’t set in stone, as categories have been added and discontinued over the years. In the lead-up to this year’s 85th Academy Awards ceremony, we’re exploring some past categories that didn’t make the cut.

1. Academy Juvenile Award

In its heyday, the Academy Juvenile Award was given only sporadically to performers under 18 for particularly impressive dramatic feats. As a Special Honorary Academy Award, the Juvenile Award was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Academy’s Board of Governors, who would periodically issue an Honorary Award to recognize “outstanding contributions to screen entertainment” not otherwise validated by existing award categories—for example, by child actors whose talent was worthy of merit, but whom voters had trouble pitting against their more worldly adult counterparts amid the cutthroat competition of the Best Actor/Actress categories.

At the 4th Academy Awards in 1931, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper won the impressive honor of being the first child nominated to the Best Actor category, as well as the more unfortunate distinction of being the first child to lose the Best Actor category. In the absence of even a Best Supporting Actor category at the time, the Academy saw fit to provide special dispensation to the industry’s wide-eyed youths. Three years later, Shirley Temple took home the first “Oscarette” at age 6, and to this day remains the youngest honoree ever to wield an Oscar of her own. Twelve performers received the same honor intermittently over the next 25 years, among them Judy Garland for her 1939 work in both The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms. Appropriately, the half-size statuettes which the winners held stood only seven inches tall.

During this time, the Academy established its Best Supporting Actor/Actress category, for which juveniles from 11-year-old Brandon deWilde to 17-year-old Sal Mineo were nominated and lost. When 16-year-old Patty Duke finally ousted her older competition to win the 1963 Best Supporting Actress award, the Academy dropped the Juvenile Award category and considered child actors on equal footing with adults. This year, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis sets a record as the youngest nominee in the Best Actress category for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild. To be nominated, however, is not to win, and no one under the age of 21 has yet won a Best Actor/Actress Oscar for a leading role.

2. Best Title Writing

Some discontinued Oscar categories are obvious relics of the past. The award for Best Title Writing in particular recalls the silent film era, which was just coming to an end as the first Academy Awards ceremony debuted in 1928. One of three contenders for the Best Title Writing title, founding Academy member Joseph Farnham won the category not on behalf of any particular film, but as an individual whose overall career his peers chose to recognize with the first and only award for title writing. As talkies rapidly rendered the intertitle screens explaining the film’s action obsolete, so too did this category lose its relevance in the blink of an eye.

3. Best Dance Direction

Oh, those Gene Kelly days… Once upon a time, when black-and-white movies predominantly featured light-footed stars in tuxes and leading ladies in sequins and tap shoes, it made perfect sense to honor the choreographers in charge of coordinating all the twirling and whirling, as well as translating the live action artistry to a two-dimensional screen. The category remained a popular one for its short-lived stint from 1935 to 1937, with seven nominees vying for the title each year. However, resentment from the Directors Guild of America over the semantics of “direction,” a term they felt should only be applied to the overall guidance provided by the film’s Director with a capital D, effectively squashed the Academy’s love for the choreographers among them.

4. Best Assistant Director

Unlike other, now defunct Academy Awards, the category of Best Assistant Director has a number of fans clamoring for its return. In the first year of its awarding, the Best Assistant Director Oscar went to no fewer than seven winners from seven different studios, acknowledging the diverse and necessary division of labor within a filmmaking team, much of which went to the assistant director uncredited. As the awards became more about competition and less about any sense of congeniality among film professionals, assistant directors continued to do the dirty work, but lost the opportunity to stand up onstage to be recognized for it.

The position of assistant director, in recent years, certainly hasn’t been phased out; in fact, as the scale of movie production increases exponentially, the thankless work of an assistant director—preparing call sheets, maintaining orderly working conditions on set, and ensuring that filming progresses along its expected timeline—is often subdivided into first, second, and third assistant directors, if not more. Their roles embody the idea of “hard work, but somebody’s got to do it”; however, the absence of discernable creative output means that it is difficult to judge their labor by anything but the movie that it helps to produce. Historically, assistant directors could aspire to become full directors with a shot at awards ceremony glory, as Alfred Hitchcock did, but more recently the path has tended to lead to producer roles. There’s no Oscar for that, either, but at least they get a little more notice in the end credits.

5. Best Short Subject – Comedy/Novelty, One-Reel/Two-Reel/Color

The award that gave way to today’s Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film has seen a number of divisions and subdivisions over time, due both to changing technology and changing tastes in content. The distinction between the Comedy and Novelty categories might as well have been called “Comedy” and “Other”—there was no shortage of films featuring humorous subjects, which were naturally popular with 1930s audiences; all others were lumped into the Novelty category, for audiences for whom moving pictures themselves were still something of a novelty. Later categories distinguishing one-reel from two-reel shorts classified the films by their definition of “short”—one reel referred to, literally, a single 1000-foot length of film corresponding to about 11 minutes of screen time; a two-reel was twice that. Awarding an Oscar for Best Short Subject – Color went out of fashion, of course, when color became the default standard.

6. Best Engineering Effects

Awarded once and only once to Wings at the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, the Engineering Effects category seems incredibly niche today. It was the predecessor, however, to a more general Best Special Effects award, which was subsequently renamed Best Special Visual Effects before the Academy settled on its most modern version as, simply, Best Visual Effects.

7. Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

This particular category still exists, but with fewer restrictions, in its current incarnation as Best Original Score, as the Academy likely recognized the significant contributions made by musical effects even in dramatic movies. The increasingly hazy definitions of musical and comedy may also have played a role in their decision, as contemporary films incorporate both musical and comedic elements without necessarily identifying within those prescribed genres.

There is, in fact, still an award for Best Original Musical still legitimately up for grabs, but it’s been effectively defunct in the absence of sufficient eligible candidates every year since it was last awarded to Purple Rain in 1984. Until Michael Bay makes the Transformers sing and dance, it seems unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

King Features Syndicate
11 Things You Might Not Know About Blondie
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

For close to 90 years, Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie has been a constant in newspapers around the world, reaching an estimated 280 million readers in 55 countries. Despite its title, most readers are probably more familiar with Blondie’s husband, the sandwich-consuming Dagwood. Check out some facts about the comic’s origins, its feature film franchise, and a very unfortunate incident involving a dirty word that rocked Blondie's readership to its core.


An illustration of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead of 'Blondie' comics fame
IDW/King Features Syndicate

Before Blondie debuted in 1930, cartoonist Chic Young had attempted to create a female-driven strip without a lot of success. Titles like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora were some of the more unfortunate ideas, with Young preoccupied by the notion of having a vapid leading lady. For Blondie, Young initially pursued the “dumb blonde” stereotype before dialing down the chauvinism and allowing the single, mingling Blondie Boopadoop to appear at least as intelligent as the succession of boyfriends courting her in the strip. Later, Blondie would become the voice of reason [PDF] to fiance Dagwood Bumstead’s bumbling presence, inverting the gender roles of Young’s previous strips.


For the debut of Blondie, Young’s syndicate, King Features, launched an aggressive mailing campaign in an effort to entice newspaper editors to pick up the strip. Editors first received a letter “announcing” the engagement of Blondie and Dagwood, which was followed by protestations from the Bumstead family and eventually a cardboard suitcase that cautioned them not to peek inside. Naturally, everyone did. Inside was a paper doll cutout of Blondie wearing lingerie, with her “wardrobe” (more paper doll clothing) included.


He might strike you as incapable of tying his own shoes, but there was a time when Dagwood Bumstead carried real potential. Instead of his current working-stiff incarnation, Dagwood was originally heir to his billionaire father’s railroad fortune. But when he married Blondie in 1933, the Bumstead family effectively disowned him, fearing Blondie was only out for his money. The couple’s move to the middle class was Young’s way of acknowledging the fallout of the Great Depression.


With the Bumstead family highly skeptical of Dagwood’s plans to marry Blondie, the would-be groom decided to earn their blessing by going on a hunger strike that played out in real time. For 28 days, Dagwood refused to eat and grew frail until his family finally consented to the marriage. The narrative stunt drew the attention of new readers, raising Blondie’s profile on the comic pages.


A 'Blondie' comic strip with Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead in bed together
King Features Syndicate

For a good portion of the 20th century, it was seen as proper to depict married couples on television or in comics as sleeping in twin beds, eliminating any hint of carnal activities happening off-screen. (Or in this case, off-panel.) But Young thought this was juvenile and insisted that Blondie and Dagwood appear sleeping in the same double bed. Perhaps not coincidentally, the two had their first child, Alexander, in 1934.


While Blondie and Dagwood got along without incident, the same couldn’t be said for another couple featured in the strip’s early years. One of Blondie’s earlier suitors, Hiho, married girlfriend Betty and the two became supporting characters in the strip. Hiho and Betty had what could be considered a tumultuous relationship, with each threatening to punch out the other on a regular basis [PDF]. Young eventually phased the two out, replacing them with far less volatile Bumstead neighbors Herb and Tootsie Woodley.


After the atomic bomb was dropped twice to bring an end to World War II, American citizens understandably grew skittish about the ramifications of wielding such power. To ease their minds, the U.S. military partnered with Young to produce 1949’s Dagwood Splits the Atom, a “fun” booklet that sees the character shrunk down in size to help readers understand atomic power and nuclear fission. Although other comic characters like Popeye appear, it’s Dagwood who has the honors of blowing a neutron into a uranium atom in order to split it.


Although Young’s son Dean had been working on Blondie and was prepared to take over writing duties when his father passed away in 1973, newspapers weren’t so sure. According to Young, more than 600 papers canceled the strip when his father died, fearing it would suffer a drop in quality. Young persevered and eventually won over the naysayers, reclaiming space in the papers and adding several hundred more. (Currently, Young writes the strip and artist John Marshall illustrates.)


In 1938, with Blondie firmly entrenched on the comics pages, King Features and Young agreed to license the strip to Columbia Pictures for a series of live-action feature films. The movies were shot quickly and economically with stars Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake portraying Blondie and Dagwood, respectively. The studio produced 28 features between 1938 and 1950. Attempts to adapt the comic to television were less successful. A 1954 pilot was unaired, while a 1957 series lasted just one season. Another 13-episode iteration was produced in 1968-69, with Bruce Lee appearing as a karate instructor in the last episode.


With their relatively trivial subject matter, comic strips rarely have the potential to offend. A 2004 Blondie entry proved to be an exception. In the strip, a character uses the word “scumbag” to describe a baseball umpire. Readers wrote in to Dean Young to lodge complaints, with Mr. Young and his proofreaders apparently unaware that “scumbag” is a euphemism for a used prophylactic.


A 2005 'Blondie' comic strip featuring a number of other comic characters
King Features Syndicate

Before shared universes were a thing, Blondie’s 75th anniversary strip published September 4, 2005 had a cameo from virtually every notable comic strip character past and present. As Dagwood and Blondie hold up a cake—shaped like a sandwich, naturally—they’re surrounded by Ziggy, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Dilbert, and dozens of others. In the weeks leading up to the strip, the comics pages were full of Blondie references and sight gags.


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