Hollywood went back to its future last night for an Oscar ceremony that celebrated old hams and young turks and saw "Out of Africa," a sweeping, old-fashioned romantic melodrama, take honors as the Motion Picture Academy's most honored film of the year.
"Out of Africa" won the Oscar as Best Picture and also won Oscars for its director Sydney Pollack; Kurt Luedtke, who wrote the screenplay (from the Isak Dinesen book about the author's life on the African continent); John Barry, who wrote the score; and for sound, art direction and cinematography.
The 58th annual Academy Awards, televised live from the Los Angeles Music Center, was a complete shutout for "The Color Purple," which, like "Africa," had been nominated for 11 Oscars but which won none -- the first film to come up empty-handed with that many nominations since "The Turning Point" in 1977. Director Steven Spielberg, snubbed by the academy at the nomination stage for his direction, watched from the audience as his film lost in category after category.
Despite the seven-Oscar "Africa" sweep, there were no dominant trends in what was clearly an eclectic Oscar year. William Hurt, who played a jailed homosexual sharing a cell with a political dissident, was named Best Actor for the film "Kiss of the Spider Woman," which won no other Oscars. "Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom," Hurt said from the podium, referring to his heartbeat. "I'm very proud to be an actor," he added, after his standing ovation.
Geraldine Page, nominated seven previous times for acting Oscars, won on her eighth nomination, copping the Best Actress Oscar for playing an aging woman returning to her childhood home in "The Trip to Bountiful." Page, who beat out newcomer Whoopi Goldberg, considered a likely winner for the prize, said most of the credit was due Horton Foote, who wrote the "Bountiful" screenplay. Page got another of the evening's many standing ovations, prolonged when she dropped her purse under her seat before making her way to the stage.
Supporting acting Oscars were also a mixture of youth and age. Anjelica Huston, daughter of director John and granddaughter of actor Walter Huston, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing the ugly-duckling daughter of a Mafia don in her father's black comedy "Prizzi's Honor," which won in no other categories. The first person ever to win for a film directed by his or her father, Huston told the crowd, "This means a lot to me, since it was for a film role in which I was directed by my father, and I know it means a lot to him."
Backstage after winning, Huston told reporters, "I feel like a dynasty," since both her father and her grandfather, who died before she was born, had won Oscars -- grandfather Walter as an actor and father John as director and writer for the classic adventure "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."
John Huston had been nominated as Best Director, and double Oscars for the Hustons had been predicted. But Pollack was the surprise winner for "Africa." In accepting, he praised actress Meryl Streep, a Best Actress nominee who lost, for her starring role in the film. "She is astounding -- personally, professionally and all ways," Pollack, a former agent, raved.
For Don Ameche, 77, who won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in the sci-fi comedy "Cocoon," it was the first Oscar and the first nomination in a 50-year film career that had been moribund for some time, until the film "Trading Places" in 1983. In "Cocoon," Ameche played one of many residents of a retirement village in Florida who discover rejuvenating properties in a swimming pool shared by visiting aliens from another planet.
Ameche, who got yet another of the night's standing ovations from the crowd, and whose most celebrated previous film performance was as Alexander Graham Bell in 1939, said he was "deeply grateful" for the prize and gave the kind of dignified, carefully thought-out acceptance speech that has become rare in recent years.
After experiencing production and ratings problems in the past few years, and in fact becoming something of an insufferable annual bore, the Oscar show last night seemed livelier and more imaginatively produced than in recent years. Movies may not be better than ever, but this year's Oscar show was a borderline pip.
According to the billing, there were three hosts for the show -- Jane Fonda, Alan Alda and Robin Williams -- but after a brief precredit appearance, Williams seemed to disappear for almost two hours, resurfacing just before 11 p.m. to do an impression of Sylvester Stallone as Hamlet: "To be -- or what?" Williams also promised viewers, "only four more awards to Jack Valenti, so get ready," then later introduced the president of the Motion Picture Association of America as "Jack 'Boom Boom' Valenti."
Pondering the figure of 1 billion -- alleged size of the Oscars' worldwide audience -- Williams speculated that was "more than Mrs. Marcos spends in, oh, maybe a week."
"Ran," an epic retelling of "King Lear" by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, won an Oscar for its costume design. The script for "Witness," by Earl W. Wallace, Pamela Wallace and William Kelley, was named Best Original Screenplay, and the movie also won an Oscar for Best Editing. "Say You, Say Me," from the film "White Nights," was named Best Song, and the award was pronounced "outrageous" by its composer, Lionel Richie. He always says that. It seems to be his little joke.
Alex North, composer of scores for "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Misfits" and many other films, included in his acceptance remarks for the honorary Oscar he was given ("I think this is the nicest and most pleasant way of getting the Oscar"), a mild protest against "blatant bloody violence" and excessive "sex sex sex" in modern films.
On a night for honoring old-timers as well as newcomers -- one production number featured musical leading ladies of yesteryear, a few of them now on the zaftig side -- the Oscar show was slightly upstaged by a Barbara Walters interview program that preceded it, and on which President and Mrs. Reagan chatted with Walters about, among other things, Reagan's movie career.
The Reagans saw 45 movies last year, Walters said -- 40 more than the average movie-going American. Among them were Best Picture nominees "The Color Purple" ("Oh, we enjoyed that," Reagan said) and "Out of Africa." Asked if they had seen "Rambo," which was nominated only for Best Sound Effects Editing, Reagan replied with a smile, "Yup."
Of the huge hit "Back to the Future," which won the Oscar for Sound Effects Editing, Reagan said, "We loved that."
Both Reagans complained about sexual explicitness and graphic language in modern movies. "I get embarrassed" by modern-day love scenes, Mrs. Reagan told Walters. The president objected to "vulgar words that are used" and said he sometimes requests "golden oldies" to be screened at the White House or at Camp David.
There didn't seem much potential for the somewhat traditional political disturbance at the Oscars last night, but the year's films were not without controversy. "The Color Purple," based on the award-winning novel by Alice Walker, has been criticized for the way it depicts black men in its story of life in the South in the first half of this century.
Outside the auditorium, a group calling itself the Coalition Against Black Exploitation picketed the ceremonies. Members of the group complained that the film portrays black men as "brutal and savage" and black women as "loose, ignorant and servile."
Actress Goldberg, who made her film debut playing an oppressed woman in "Purple" and who lost in her category to Page, made a reference to the defeat later in the evening while presenting the film editing Oscar to "Witness." The winner, Thom Noble, was not there to claim his prize. If he had appeared, Goldberg said, he would have thanked his mother, "and," she added, "some of us might have thanked ours."
Virtually every Oscarcast has its excruciating moments or breakdowns, but this one went smoothly. Accepting the costume design Oscar for "Ran," winner Emi Wada said as she held up her Oscar, in Japanese translated by an interpreter, "This figure doesn't need my costume." Her male interpreter said she thanked "my wife," then quickly corrected that to "my husband."
There were little fluffs less cute, but by and large the Oscar show, which opened with a funny-wacky "Flying Down to Rio" dance number led by actress Teri Garr, seemed unusually peaceful and harmonious. Even merry. Big industry smooches to screen veterans included the presentation of an honorary Oscar to actor Paul Newman, nominated six times for acting Oscars but never a winner.
Speaking to the ceremony via TV hookup from Chicago, Newman jokingly told the academy he was grateful that the Oscar did not come "wrapped as in a gift certificate to Forest Lawn," the famous Hollywood cemetery.
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was given to silent screen star Charles (Buddy) Rogers for his years of charitable work. "I want to thank the academy from the bottom of my heart," Rogers said. "In all the years I've been living in Hollywood, this is my best part." He made a reference to his wife, the late Mary Pickford, when he said of the Oscar that he would take it home and "proudly put it aside Mary's two Oscars."
Bob Hope, who gave Rogers the Hersholt award, reported it was his 25th appearance at an Oscar show, which he called "this annual Hollywood lottery -- known at my house as 'passover.' "
An Oscar for Best Visual Effects went to "Cocoon," the Ron Howard movie about friendly aliens and senior citizens sharing a pool in Florida. The award for Best Animated Short Subject ("Anna and Bella," from the Netherlands) was presented by Kermit the Frog and Scooter, two famous Muppets. Muppets are unable to open envelopes and read the names of winners, however, so Kermit was briefly spelled by his creator, puppeteer Jim Henson.
Henson briefly spoke in Kermit's voice and apologized, saying, "I had a frog in my throat."
"Mask," an unusual film (by director Peter Bogdanovich) about a facially deformed youngster and his defiant, motorcycle-riding mother, won an award for Best Makeup. Many Hollywood insiders thought Cher, who played the mother, would be nominated for Best Actress, but she was not. However, if there were a prize for kookiest outfit worn at an Oscar show, Cher would have won last night for her huge black plume hat and the vast panorama of midriff afforded by her lacy black dress.
"Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements," a film about Central America, was chosen Best Documentary Short Subject. "Broken Rainbow," about American Indians, was named Best Documentary Feature. An Argentine movie, "The Official Story," was named Best Foreign Language Film.
As usual, the Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast live to the United States on the ABC television network. In addition, a record number of countries, 85, expanded the audience to more than 300 million television homes, a potential 1 billion viewers, according to ABC -- or "very nearly 1 billion viewers," according to academy president and Oscar-winning director Robert E. Wise in his opening remarks.
Kermit the Frog erred when, later, he referred to the size of the audience as 2 billion people.
In many of those countries, a mercifully truncated 90-minute version of the Oscarcast is seen on videotape. The BBC is scheduled to air that version in the United Kingdom tonight. Other countries where the awards show will play on tape range from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Libya is not on the list. Iraq gets the Oscars, but Iran does not.
This year's Oscar show ran only about 12 minutes beyond its allotted three hours, a major achievement considering the four-hour predictions that were being bandied about yesterday. As the show opened, cohosts Fonda said "Another night, another year," and cohost Alda said, "with the fervent hope that the night doesn't take another year." It didn't.
Stanley Donen, a Hollywood director whose films have included classic musicals like "Singin' in the Rain" (codirected with Gene Kelly, who materialized with costars Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor for a reunion), "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Funny Face," produced the telecast, which was directed for the 11th straight year by Marty Pasetta.
In recent years, Hollywood has been rocked by the specter of falling ratings for the Oscarcast. Last year, the Nielsens dropped to a 27.7 rating and a 45 percent share of the viewing audience, compared with the 1983 figures of 38.0/59, a drop of about 8 million homes. It's too early to say whether last night's broadcast lured viewers back, but considering the fact that 1985 was a fairly lackluster film year, the 58th annual Academy Awards didn't seem to lack luster at all.
Here is a list of winners at Monday's 58th Academy Awards:
BEST PICTURE: "Out of Africa."
BEST ACTOR: William Hurt, "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
BEST ACTRESS: Geraldine Page, "The Trip to Bountiful."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Don Ameche, "Cocoon."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anjelica Huston, "Prizzi's Honor."
BEST DIRECTOR: Sydney Pollack, "Out of Africa."
FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM: "The Official Story" (Argentina).
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: William Kelley, Pamela Wallace and Earl W. Wallace, "Witness."
SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION: Kurt Luedtke, "Out of Africa."
ORIGINAL SONG: "Say You, Say Me" ("White Nights").
ORIGINAL SCORE: John Barry, "Out of Africa."
FILM EDITING: "Witness."
VISUAL EFFECTS: "Cocoon."
ANIMATED SHORT: "Anna and Bella."
COSTUME DESIGN: "Ran."
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "Broken Rainbow."
SOUND: "Out of Africa."
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: "Witness to War."
ART DIRECTION: "Out of Africa."
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING: "Back to the Future."
LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT: "Molly's Pilgrim."
CINEMATOGRAPHY: David Watkin, "Out of Africa."
Awards announced before the start of the ceremonies:
JEAN HERSHOLT AWARD: Charles (Buddy) Rogers.
HONORARY AWARD: Paul Newman.
HONORARY AWARD: Alex North.