In the end, there was only one way to top the biting satire expressed toward mainstream Hollywood at the rollicking, unglamorous Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday: name Robert Altman's "The Player," a biting satire of mainstream Hollywood, as best independently produced movie of 1992.
From the outset of the luncheon festivities, held under a giant tent along the beach at Santa Monica, there were signs that the event would live up to its reputation as the irreverent, annual alternative to the black-tie Academy Awards show tonight.
The motion picture industry's "arbitrary and dictatorial" voluntary ratings system, dominated by the major studios, came under sharp attack from Jonathan Wacks, chairman of the Spirit Awards' sponsoring organization, the Independent Features Project/West. Wacks said the very nature of independent movies is to push limits, "so it's not surprising that over this past year a number of independent films have run afoul of the ratings system." He said director Louis Malle's "Damage" was just one example of a film that had to be edited to meet the demands of a "faceless, seven-member apparatchik known as the Classification and Ratings Administration."
The afternoon also featured awards for work in provocative films, including: Fairuza Balk, best actress in "Gas Food Lodging"; Harvey Keitel, best actor in "Bad Lieutenant"; and Carl Franklin as best director for his uncompromising crime drama "One False Move."
The event underscored the Spirit Awards' independence from the Oscars, which are generally given to higher-profile, commercial films. And if the artistic/commercial differences were not enough, many celebrities mused that they could think of no other Hollywood awards show where the guests had to wait in line for Porta Potties, while facing hordes of autograph seeking fans.
Several, like Jeff Goldblum, Marisa Tomei and Kelly Lynch, faced the crowd and smiled. Brad Pitt tried to hide in the line for the outdoor restrooms, but eventually begged off from the autograph seekers with a good-natured gesture that indicated his more immediate concern of the moment.
One group of fans appealed to Spirit Awards chairman Danny Glover to sign a copy of the poster from his hit movie "Lethal Weapon 3," as he entered the tent. Keanu Reeves arrived by motorcycle, wearing a leather cycle vest under his sport coat. Elsewhere, there were "Howards End" producer and director Ismail Merchant and James Ivory holding an impromptu chat with director-writer Neil Jordan of "The Crying Game." There was a hyper Richard Harris arriving carrying his pet dog, and Forrest Whitaker and Mario Van Peebles greeting each other with a giant bear hug.
Oscar nominee for best actress Emma Thompson (in "Howards End") arrived just in time for the ceremony, looking fresh despite the flight from London. Her companion for the afternoon (and for tonight's Oscars) was her mother, actress Phyllida Law. "She's firmly convinced that it will be someone else who wins on Monday," Thompson's mother said, amid the crush of schmoozing guests.
There was only one Spirit Award category in which two Oscar-nominated films met head on--the category of best foreign-produced film, in which the British production "Howards End," distributed by Sony Classics, faced the British-Irish production of "The Crying Game," distributed by Miramax Films. (In Oscar competition, both films are nominated for best picture of 1992 since they are English language movies; the Oscar foreign competition is only for films made in another language.)
"The Crying Game," described by Spirit Awards host Buck Henry as "arguably the most talked about film of the year," received the prize. Toying with the audience, Henry almost mentioned the film's much talked about "secret" plot twist, but stopped short. "A secret?" he asked. "My golden retriever guessed it on the first reel."
The only film to win two awards was the Samuel Goldwyn Co.-distributed "The Waterdance," an emotional comedy about three men in wheelchairs and the anger they feel. It was named best first feature film for co-directors Neal Jimenez and Michael Steinberg, and best screenplay for writer Jimenez.
In the competition for best independent feature, "The Player" was selected over "Bad Lieutenant," "Gas Food Lodging," "Mississippi Masala" and "One False Move."
"Player" director Altman, who has been saluted by the Spirit Awards in the past as one of the all-time maverick filmmakers, was not a nominee for best director despite the nomination for his film. But Alfre Woodard, who collected honors as best supporting actress for her role in director John Sayle's "Passion Fish," also paid homage to Altman:
"Everytime time I contemplate film . . . I feel deep gratitude for the civilly disobedient Bob Altman. He taught me as a . . . younger actor what it meant to be self-defining and to be an independent."
Steve Buscemi was named best supporting actor for his role in the violent, B-movie homage "Reservoir Dogs." Original score honors went to Angelo Baldalamenti for "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," and the cinematography prize went to Frederick Elmes for director Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth."