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THE ‘PLEASANT SURPRISE’ OF 8 WINS BY ‘AMADEUS’

Repo<i> rted and written by Calendar Staff Writers David Fox, Morgan Gendel, Michael London and Paul Rosenfield</i>

Antonio Salieri, the rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in “Amadeus,” would have been right at home backstage at the Academy Awards at the Music Center Monday night. Oscar at 57 was as successful as Salieri himself, and nearly as dry.

“Amadeus” producer Saul Zaentz and director Milos Forman looked content but utterly calm, as if they were picking up a library book rather than a fistful of Oscars. Nine years ago, the pair stood in the same place of honor for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” picking up five Oscars, including best picture.

Forman pronounced himself “pleasantly surprised” at “Amadeus’ ” eight-statuette win; 1982’s “Gandhi” was the most recent film to pick up eight Oscars. Forman attributed “Amadeus’ ” Oscar sweep to the fact that viewers could identify with both main characters. “Usually when you have two antagonists like Mozart and Salieri you identify with one over another,” he said. There is “quite a bit of Mozart in each of us, and I would dare to say, quite a bit of Salieri.”

Said Zaentz: “I think now we’ll get a chance to reach a big audience that’s afraid of classical music and afraid of Mozart. To people in their 20s and 30s who are afraid of this film, it now has cachet.”

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Some of Oscar’s other backstage moments--the unseen ups and downs--told the rest:

Most Disarming: Best actress Sally Field (“Places in the Heart”): “There’s something ordinary about me,” said the anything-but-ordinary Field. “I seem like a lot of people you might have grown up with. I’ll always be locked into a woman who’s 5-foot-3 1/2 with a pug nose and round cheeks.” And two Oscars.

Most Emotional : A keyed-up Dr. Haing S. Ngor, the winner for best supporting actor, who couldn’t wait for the press to start questioning him. He simply began what amounted to a five-minute speech describing “The Killing Fields” as “real, but not real enough; true, but not true enough.”

Ngor told onlookers the personal saga of losing his “sweetheart, his comrade lady” in the Cambodian conflict depicted in the film. “She saved my life, but finally I could not save her life,” added the Oscar winner. The moment was eerie in its recollection (or mirroring ) of the plot of “The Killing Fields.”

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Most Self-Effacing: Presenter Steve Martin, playing good sport by showing up after being overlooked by the academy membership for his much-praised performance in “All of Me.” When someone remarked to Martin that a consensus of critics thought he should have been nominated, he replied: “Yeah? Well, they were wrong.”

Most Philosophical Winner: Playwright-scenarist Peter Shaffer (“Amadeus”), who spoke of the win as proof that “art is eternal as well as ephemeral,” adding that “Amadeus” has “done at least as much as all the music appreciation courses in the world” to further knowledge of classical music. As for the ephemeral side, Shaffer, when asked about the upcoming music video from “Amadeus,” said, “Good heavens, what’s that?”

Most Pointed Offstage Line: From last year’s best actor, Robert Duvall, on the import of Oscar to his career: “It’s happened and now it’s over, period.”

Most Anticlimactic Moment: The backstage no-show of Prince (real name: Prince Rogers Nelson) winner for best song score. The star of “Purple Rain” did not “make it up here,” announced an Oscar spokesman to a grumbling crowd--the same crowd that had just applauded Prince in an impromptu show of affection. Prince apparently doesn’t understand the rituals of Hollywood: He took the award and left the building.

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Most Overwhelmed Winner: Best actor F. Murray Abraham (“Amadeus”), who clutched his Oscar and announced it really belonged in part to his co-star (and fellow nominee) Tom Hulce, who played Mozart to Abraham’s Salieri. “They’re two sides of the same coin,” said Abraham, whose Texas roots were displayed only by his alligator-skin cowboy boots. Abraham, musing about roots, reported that two TV crews were in the backyard of his mother’s house in El Paso.

Most Sensible Presenter: Candice Bergen, backstage, after being asked if she had an aversion to working with her director-husband Louis Malle. “No, what I like is living with him.”

Most superfluous : Presenter Kelly Le Brock, who stood beside the best makeup winners in a revealing black gown with a “What am I doing here?” expression.

Most gorgeous : Kelly Le Brock.

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