Bluest skies: The shelved movie that won an Oscar

Sitting on the shelf can poison a movie. Tastes change; fads change. But one movie with a lot of Charlottesville connections has the distinction of having sat in a can for four years– and then coming into prominence in a big way.

It all started way back in 1990 when musician Art Wheeler played a local gig that caught the ear of leading actress and then-Albemarle resident Jessica Lange.

Veteran director Tony Richardson needed a pianist for a scene, and Lange recommended Wheeler and his musical skills. Wheeler was hired, and his role grew to include a spoken line. His big break, right? Not yet.

In late 1991, Richardson died. Orion Pictures, meanwhile, had declared bankruptcy, and its film calendar was thrown into disarray.

Curiously, a third Charlottesville-area resident, John Kluge, stepped onto the scene. Already a minority owner of Orion, Kluge increased his ownership stake in the company in 1994 and started to bring films into circulation.

In September of that year, Blue Sky was released. With Orion still too poor to fund a massive publicity blitz, the film ended up grossing only $3.4 million at box offices.

However, it was a smash with critics, including the flashiest critics of all: The Academy.

For her role as the complicated wife of a nuclear scientist/military officer (played by Tommy Lee Jones), Lange won the Oscar for Best Actress at the annual awards ceremony in March 1995.

Later that year, she and domestic partner Sam Shepard left Albemarle for points west.