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"Art and Life combining is called Magic": Mythologizing the Film Industry In and Through Shakespeare in Love

by Ethan Tussey

by Sarah Martindale for IN MEDIA RES

At the 71st Academy Award Ceremony on March 21 1999, Harrison Ford opened the sealed envelope and announced that the Best Picture Oscar was going, not to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but to Shakespeare in Love. This moment was the climax of a night in which the film won a total of seven awards from thirteen nominations. It also marked the high point of Miramax’s “Golden Age” at the forefront of American indie filmmaking (which has been written about by Alisa Perren, Peter Biskind and Geoff King). Miramax was then synonymous with its founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein, brothers who named the company after their parents, Miriam and Max. The first person that Gwyneth Paltrow thanked when collecting the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Viola in Shakespeare in Love (after the obligatory acknowledgements of the Academy and other nominees, of course) was Harvey Weinstein. When Weinstein himself took to the stage with his fellow producers to accept the Best Picture Award, he was accorded additional applause for his efforts in bringing the film to the screen.

In his capacity as studio executive and producer, this is the only time that Weinstein has collected an Oscar himself, although he is a prominent figure at award ceremonies and frequently gets name-checked in acceptance speeches. His Academy Award combined the “creative” and “corporate” aspects of Hollywood in a way that was consistent with the company mythology of Miramax and themes of Shakespeare in Love. The film is concerned with “the very business of show”. It offers a fictional counterpart to Weinstein in the character of Hugh Fennyman, an Elizabethan businessman intent on extracting a good return on his investment in The Rose Theatre, who is transformed into a “born-again theatre groupie”. Shakespeare in Love claimed and then converted cultural value into commercial value, and cemented Weinstein's reputation as a ferociously successful promoter of "Oscar-bait". This reputation has been maintained across the professional transition from Miramax to The Weinstein Company, with recent Best Pictures The King’s Speech and The Artist and this year’s contenders Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained.

Shakespeare in Love wins Best Picture Oscar®

Shakespeare in Love wins Best Picture Oscar®

from The Academy Awards (1999)
Creator: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Distributor: ABC
Posted by Ethan Tussey