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Festival of Books: Film writers debate Oscar's love of 'The Artist'

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

The discussion centered on Woody Allen, Elia Kazan and other masters on a quest for cinematic perfection, so it was only a matter of time before a member of the audience stood up and asked: How did you feel about “The Artist” winning the Oscar for best picture?

If anything, the Saturday afternoon L.A. Times Festival of Books panel titled “The Legendary Filmmakers” was proof of just how much -- and how long -– the holy grail of film-making remains an unrelenting topic of L.A. debate.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Film critic and historian Richard Schickel was the first of the panelists to chime in: “It’s not really an Academy Award winner,” he said, characterizing “The Artist” as “a nice little picture” that won because of a lack of competition.

Fellow panelist Sam Wasson, author of a recent book on Paul Mazursky and a forthcoming book on Bob Fosse, agreed.

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

But George Stevens Jr., the filmmaker and founder of the American Film Institute, defended the Academy’s selection, as did Allen biographer Eric Lax, the moderator of the panel, who recalled how “The Artist” instantly lightened his spirits after two tough weeks of work.

Ultimately the best pictures are chosen by time, Schickel said. “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952? “Crash” in 2004? Best pictures of their years?

“Oscars are temporary,” Schickel said. “They are like placeholders while we choose what we really like.”

Stevens, son of the legendary director of “Shane” and “Giant,” recalled the night in 1953 when his father won an Oscar for directing “A Place in the Sun.” Driving home from the ceremony with the statuette between them, Stevens said, his father turned and said, “We’ll have a better idea of what kind of picture this is in about 25 years.”

ALSO:

Jerry Stahl and others on the book-to-screen trick

Biographers create a vivid portrait of the 20th century

Hochschild, Goodheart, Nagorski put fresh faces on old conflicts

-- Craig Nakano

Photo: Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist." Credit: Peter Iovino /  Weinstein Co.

 
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