Times Staff Writer

Buck Henry as master of ceremonies? Producer David Puttnam conceding his best-picture nomination to Oliver Stone? And, instead of Oscar, an Independent Spirit statuette of an abstract, taloned bird representing “the circumventing of the establishment, then choking it to death”?

At the Independent Feature Project’s annual awards luncheon Saturday, it was as if an occult hand had passed over the Academy Awards show and turned it, momentarily, into a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. With independent film makers at the forefront of this year’s Oscar ceremonies, the atmosphere at 385 North restaurant was one of giddy triumph.

“This is the chic-est event of the season,” said grinning Columbia chairman and “Mission” producer David Puttnam. “Four out the five best pictures nominated for Oscars this year are independent productions. This is our moment to shine.”

And many of those Academy Award nominees were present at Saturday’s luncheon, held to honor the achievements of the independent film-making community: directors Oliver Stone and David Lynch; actors James Woods and Dennis Hopper (who had his tiny portable television tuned to the UNLV-Indiana NCAA playoff basketball game); and producer Puttnam.


The speakers and presenters were equally starry. For example, Teri Garr, JoBeth Williams, Ned Beatty, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Steenburgen, Nancy Allen and Kyle MacLachlan were on hand to deliver awards.

Actress/director Lee Grant delivered the keynote address, describing the independent movement as one “full of renegades and individualists” whose projects “are usually turned down by everyone in town.” But, she added, “One becomes addicted to the process after all.”

Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” walked off with so many Independent Spirit awards that--had Mayor Bradley known--Saturday might have been proclaimed “Oliver Stone Day” in Los Angeles. “Platoon” took best feature, best director, best screenplay and best cinematography.

The awards prompted Stone, who struggled 10 years to get “Platoon” made, to note ironically that he and David Lynch “couldn’t get arrested with ‘Platoon’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ in 1984, which (projects) we had with Dino De Laurentiis. The studios ridiculed (Dino) for carrying them around.”


Stone’s “Salvador” was also recognized with a best-actor award given to James Woods, whose lively acceptance speech broke up the 200-plus crowd. “I’m so pleased Paul Newman doesn’t do independent films,” Woods said as he took the podium, later adding “I’m considered a star, yet I’ve never had a hit; never had a film in the black.”

Woods, who currently is starring in and co-producing an independent project of his own, noted, “Independent film makers are not the wave of the future, we are the wave of the present and are riding its crest.”

Master of ceremonies Buck Henry proved to be an inspired choice, artfully keeping the event moving while lampooning anyone within reach of the podium. Of Stone’s remarks on his struggle, Henry quipped, “Maybe you couldn’t get work, but you could get arrested.” And of director David Lynch: “I didn’t understand ‘Dune,’ but it frightened me; ‘Blue Velvet’ I did understand and it frightened me even more.”

Later, he introduced speaker David Puttnam (who was dressed in a wrinkled Indian shirt and blue slacks hitched well above his waist), as “a guy who is so young and who dresses so badly.”

Puttnam, the iconoclastic Columbia chieftain who spares no words at mainstream Hollywood’s expense, topped his previous jabs at the deal-laden studio system as he talked of the independent-ization of the film business. He described the past, when “the gulf between mainstream and independent films seemed impassable; with the studios impregnable fortresses to all but a favored few. They sealed themselves up nice and tight and started to decay. Finally, they opened the drawbridge and invited some of us in to make sense of it.

“So you have people like me and (MCA’s motion picture group chairman) Tom Pollock traipsing about in ill-fitting ermine robes, with crowns that are too big and slide down on our noses, making it difficult to see. Well, we will survive and the two (independent and mainstream film making) will be linked.”

Puttnam dubbed 1987 “the year of the Olivers,” saying “Thanks to Oliver and (“Platoon” producer Arnold Kopelson), I won’t have to speak Monday night (at the Academy Awards).”

He added, “But remember Oliver, you’ll be speaking before 900 million people worldwide, every one of whom will be waiting for you to trip on your way to the stage.”


Isabella Rossellini was named best actress for “Blue Velvet.” Best first-feature award went to Spike Lee for “She’s Gotta Have It,” and a special-distinction award was given to “A Room With a View.”

Two “Findie” (pronounced finn -dee)--Friend of the Independent--awards were also given to the Sundance Institute and to the “Z Channel” for their dedication to the independent.