Razzies Razz Oscar for 25 Years
An interview with Golden Raspberry Awards founder John Wilson
By Eric J. Tuchelske
The red carpet may be a little worn, the Harry Winston “diamonds” are glittering cubic zirconias and the dresses are off the rack. You'd never see an awards ceremony like this on television. But, then again, this is no ordinary awards ceremony.
From its humble beginning as an Oscar night potluck with friends on March 31, 1981, the Golden Raspberry Awards have mutated into a pop cultural phenomenon that is now celebrating its silver anniversary. Razzie creator and lifelong cinemaniac John Wilson continues to keep his Oscar spoofing ceremony “the bastard cousin” of the little gold man.
“The first ceremony was held in the alcove of my apartment in Hollywood,” recalls Wilson. “It was really more of a party joke for the guests here [in California], since they're trying to end them by midnight back east and here they end between nine and 10. And if you'll recall, this was also the year they were delayed for 24 hours after President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley.”
But the seed was planted well before the first Razzie was ever handed out. After spending a whopping 99 cents on a musical double feature (Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu), Wilson asked for his money back, Although he didn't get it, he started to formulate a plan on how to point out bad movies.
During the summer of 1980, while he was working for a company which was sponsoring a film festival in Los Angeles, Wilson realized he had ticket access to hundreds of movies, both foreign and domestic. As a liaison for the festival, Wilson estimates he saw 250 movies that year.
“When you see that many movies, it becomes even more obvious which are good and bad. Probably 40 percent of movies made are absolute garbage, 50 percent are mediocre and the remaining are the ones Oscar pays attention to. It just kind of took off from those two things.”
Wilson, like any film buff growing up, was allowed to stay up late on Oscar night and says, “If you're going to satirize something, it helps if you know the source material. And I do have sort of a perverse and twisted sense of humor.”
Once the first Razzie party was over, the insincere host took it one step further and contacted media outlets. A few days later, an item appeared in a local L.A. paper and the Razzies were born.
During the first few years, Wilson found it difficult to get the word out, since his ceremony was always overshadowed by the 800-pound gorilla that is the Academy Awards. Eventually, he started to announce the “winners” the day before the official Oscar ceremony. Nominations are also announced the day before Oscar's official announcement.
For the first time this year, a press conference was held to coincide with the anniversary of the 25th Annual Golden Raspberries and to promote Wilson's new book, The Official Razzie Movie Guide, which chronicles 100 of “the best of Hollywood's worst”--from The Oscar to Battlefield Earth.
The author, who also penned 1995's Everything I Need to Know I Learned at the Movies, will be the first to admit he always goes out of his way to view bad movies. It is, after all, his obligation. So how does he separate the bad from the worst?
The first thing Wilson looks for are buzz words from the critics. “Critics have a weird relationship with the studios,” says Wilson. “I don't think the reviews are aimed at the average moviegoer. They're written more for the Academy members [here in L.A.], but I don't think people are swayed by what Roger Ebert, Rex Reed or what any other critic might say. However, there are critics I know because I look at the ads so much and by how they're quoted. That's how I know [it's] a bad movie.”
Wilson also says to watch how a movie is advertised. There seem to be certain styles of trailers that come out when the producers know it's going to be a bad movie. It's a way of “putting lipstick on the pig.”
When it comes to watching a movie, Wilson's criteria for stinky cinema is that it has to get you laughing right off the bat. It can't go 10 minutes without a laugh. And it helps if it wasn't meant to be funny.
“There are few things more painful than something trying to be funny that isn't. I want [Razzie nominees] to be either high-end mainstream stars or well-known pictures. This is how they were determined for the book and for yearly nominations.” Although Wilson admits, “The bulk of what we end up nominating is just bad, not necessarily fun bad.”
He says while writing the book, he fought with the editors on including last year's Gigli. “I could have included it in the book, and if you whittle it down to three or four clips--which we showed multiple clips from it at last year's ceremony--it looks really funny. But if you try and actually sit through that thing, it's skin-crawling bad. The book is about enjoying the films, and I honestly think no one will ever enjoy Gigli.”
Wilson, who is employed in the business as a film and television marketing consultant, does find enjoyment with his yearly project and says it is time-consuming. This year more than 650 film professionals, journalists and film fans from 40 states and 15 foreign countries were sent nomination ballots. The ballots were tabulated over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend by Wilson and his wife Barbara. When Wilson's son Parker is old enough, he'll probably be helping out with the tabulations as well.
Although the Razzies have grown in popularity over the years and become increasingly “loathed” by Hollywood, the ceremony has never been broadcast on television. There have been talks about figuring out how to broadcast the gala event (held at L.A.'s Ivar Theater), “but it's problematical because you can't get the actors and the movie companies to cooperate.”
While the public and the press have embraced the Razzies, the industry can't laugh at itself, especially when a big movie costing $225 million ($150 to make and $75 to market) sinks at the box office. Another reason why the Razzies have a hard time gaining acceptance within the industry is that everyone in the industry is afraid to offend people they may end up working with. It's all about ego stroking, and the Razzies fly in the face of the lovey lovey, kissy kissy.
“If you embrace them [the Razzies], you're admitting that you've made a mistake,” assesses Wilson. “The egos of most people in Hollywood can't do that. If there's any way that you aid or abet the Razzies, and then next week you work with somebody that's been a target of ours, the business is petty enough that it becomes an issue. I actually lost work once because a competitor wanted to get the gig I had and he went to the head of the studio and told him who I was.”
Wilson understands that part, but says his core audience is ordinary folks who go to the mall every weekend, while the demographic who loves the Razzies the most is teenage and college-aged males.
“Even though I have little or no respect for him as a filmmaker or comedian, I thought Tom Green was quite brilliant in showing up to accept his awards for Freddy Got Fingered. He understood that his audience was those teenage boys and they would think it was really cool that he went out and accepted his Razzie. As a matter of fact, he actually claims he went out to sweep the Razzies.”
Not only has Tom Green accepted a Razzie, but Bill Cosby showed up to collect his trophy for Leonard Part 6. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland came out for The Postman, director Paul Verhoeven claimed his Showgirls trophy and Robert Conrad accepted the Worst Picture award on behalf of the remake of Wild Wild West.
Last year when Gigli won, Wilson tried to get Affleck to appear at the ceremony. He went through all of his contacts and heard through a French interviewer that the star would come if he were invited. Unfortunately, Affleck's publicist wouldn't forward the message.
Eventually, Wilson found out Affleck was going to be on “Larry King Live” and used his connections at CNN to present him the $4.97 trophy.
Wilson ran Tinseltown's tackiest trophy (a golf ball atop a mangled Super 8 film reel spray painted gold) over to the studio himself. When it was presented to Affleck live on air, however, Wilson was a little upset.
“The problem was Larry King is one of those people who isn't comfortable with the kind of humor the Razzies are. He did not handle the presentation the way I was trying to prompt them to do. When he handed it to Mr. Affleck on the air, he first thought it was a joke since it's cheap and tacky-looking, which is part of the joke. It fell apart in his hands and he decided he didn't want to keep it. Then gave it to Larry King and it was taken from the desk and never brought up again.”
With the way our culture works, Wilson realized a celebrity had touched the trophy on national television, and went back the next day to reclaim the unwanted award. After getting it back, he put it up for auction on eBay and before it was taken down by them, it sold for $1,400. The proceeds will be going toward this year's ceremony.
As the new red carpet is being rolled out, the true Harry Winstons are being donned and the designers are clawing for a mention at the Oscars, Wilson leaves Razzie fans with this observation: “The difference between our award show and the 357 other award shows is that they're just as tasteless, tacky and silly as we are, but they don't want to admit it.”
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