Oscar path strewn with one-hit wonders

By Geoffrey Macnab

So what do you do next? This is the question that regularly vexes Oscar winners. On the night they win their statuettes, it seems they've been given the keys to the magic kingdom. But whether through erratic advice from agents, their own stupidity or sheer bad luck, many fritter away the goodwill and career opportunities.

It was curious to see double Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry, Million Dollar Baby) attending the birthday party last year of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.

Although she later apologised, her (paid) appearance at a party for a dictator described by soon-to-be-murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya as "the Stalin of our days" was a monumental blunder.

Jean Dujardin (who just won his first Oscar) hasn't been consorting with East European tyrants. However, the French actor who gave such a dashing performance as the Douglas Fairbanks-like silent movie star, is already embroiled in controversy.

The problem is that Dujardin has gone back to his Gallic roots. He's one of the directors and stars of new French portmanteau pic Les Infideles (The Players), a raucous comedy drama about French "male infidelity in all its desperate, absurd and wildly funny variety". Dujardin plays a businessman determined to commit adultery before going home from a company conference.

Judging by the critics' sniffy responses it won't be winning any Oscars.

Worse, Dujardin's image appears on the poster in a bedraggled business suit, holding a pair of naked female legs and saying "I'm going into a meeting". It's more Benny Hill than French art-house cinema. Predict-ably, although the film is satirising leering middle-aged French men, it's been accused of rampant sexism. If Dujardin was angling for future Dis-ney films, it wasn't an astute move.

In the Darwinian world of Hollywood, it's astounding how quickly even firmly established stars lose their footing. That is one of the main themes of The Artist. Audiences want "fresh meat". If there's just a whiff of decay about an actor or film-maker, they'll quickly be discarded.

There are many stories about Oscar winners who fell from grace. When Halle Berry became the first woman of African-American descent to win a Best Actress Oscar for Monster's Ball, it was a fair assumption she'd become a major figure in Hollywood. But roles in Die Another Day and Catwoman didn't enhance her credibility. Few opportunities since have stretched her as an actress.

A further cautionary tale is that of the young Dutch director Mike van Diem, who won a Foreign Language Oscar in 1998 for his costume drama Character. Van Diem was signed up to direct Spy Game (2001), a huge Hollywood film starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. But he left the project before shooting, citing concerns about "scale and tone". Almost 15 years after his Oscar success, he is yet to direct another feature.

Van Diem's compatriot Marleen Gorris is another. When Gorris won Best Foreign Language Film for Antonia's Line in 1995, she looked set to emerge as a major European director. She helmed a moderately well-received Virginia Woolf adaptation, Mrs Dalloway (1997), The Luzhin Defence (2000), and Carolina (2003), a romantic comedy starring Shirley MacLaine. But her career tailed off.

Her experiences underline the dilemma that faces European Oscar-winners. They have the chance to work on a broader canvas and with major stars, but with this opportunity comes a loss of freedom, and they also risk being uprooted from their own film-making cultures.

London-based Luise Rainer, now 102-years-old, out-Streeped Meryl Streep in her day, winning two Best Actress Oscars in consecutive years for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937.) She was up against ferocious competition from Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Carole Lombard and Barbara Stanwyck. However, unlike Streep, she wasn't able to continue racking up the Oscar nominations. Her career rapidly went into a tailspin.

"Rainer became the most extreme case of an 'Oscar victim in Hollywood' mythology," critic Emmanuel Levy wrote of her. "Her dwindling career prompted gossip columnist Louella Parsons to coin the phrase, 'the Oscar as a jinx'." The challenges that winning Oscars pose are self-evident. Recipients often take themselves too seriously and risk growing away from their audience. They try too hard to emulate a success which may have been accidental.

With the exception of hardy perennials like Streep, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and one or two others, Oscar success for most is strictly on a one-off basis.

Still, even if an Oscar doesn't open the brave new world of opportunity its recipient may have imagined, we're not talking poisoned chalices. Whatever the hangover, the euphoria and sense of making history will have been compensation enough. Who cares what happens next?

- Independent

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