Richard Attenborough's nobility blitz; The 'Gandhi' Oscars - a victory of art over heart
By handing most of its top Oscars to ''Gandhi'' rather than ''E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,'' the burghers of Hollywood chose art over heart - rejecting the cuteness blitz of Steven Spielberg only to succumb to the nobility blitz of Richard Attenborough.Skip to next paragraph
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Members of the movie community can now congratulate themselves on their seriousness and sensitivity, while resting easy in the knowledge that their votes (translated into ads, commercials, and assorted hype) will probably boost Attenborough's saga to blockbuster status at the box office, adding millions of dollars to the ''gross'' that's the real measure of success in Tinseltown.
As many Oscar soothsayers had predicted, there were few surprises in the 55th annual Academy Award sweepstakes, though the solidity of the ''Gandhi'' victory was more impressive than it might have been. ''E.T.'' prevailed only in such secondary slots as best sound and best visual effects, while ''Tootsie'' and ''Missing'' fared poorly and ''The Verdict'' didn't earn a thing despite plenty of nominations.
Some had expected Spielberg to win as best director, as a consolation prize for losing the best-picture race. Instead, by honoring both ''Gandhi'' as best picture and Attenborough as best director, the voters recognized the close connections between that massive film and the man who labored for two decades to bring it to the screen.
''Gandhi'' also triumphed in other creative and technical categories which could have leaned in other directions. The choice of Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor for the ''Gandhi'' cinematography, for example, came despite stiff competition from Allen Daviau for ''E.T.'' and Nestor Almendros for ''Sophie's Choice.''
Similarly, the John Briley original screenplay for ''Gandhi'' beat out the ''E.T.'' script by Melissa Matheson and the ''Tootsie'' script by Larry Gelbart, Don McGuire, and Murray Schisgal - even though ''Gandhi'' wasn't as ''original'' as the others, borrowing (legitimately, to be sure) from Louis Fischer's celebrated Gandhi biography as well as from history itself.
By contrast, Ben Kingsley's victory in the best-actor race was considered a shoo-in, especially after Kingsley consolidated his current fame with a very different and equally brilliant performance in this year's ''Betrayal.''
Just as predictable were Meryl Streep's win for best actress in ''Sophie's Choice'' and Jessica Lange's for best supporting actress in ''Tootsie.'' The triumph of Louis Gossett Jr. for best supporting actor in ''An Officer and a Gentleman'' had also been universally expected, and it carried the nice extra of making Gossett the first black performer to receive an Oscar since Sidney Poitier a full 20 years ago.
In the remaining major categories, the excellent ''Missing'' unexpectedly beat ''The Verdict'' and ''Sophie's Choice'' for best screenplay adapted from another medium. And a Spanish entry called ''Volver a Empezar,'' little seen in the United States so far, overtook ''Coup de Torchon'' and three other contenders in the race for best foreign-language film.
What's the moral of it all? The victory of ''Gandhi'' over ''E.T.'' is a victory of history over fantasy, human logistics over technical wizardry, the past over the future. ''E.T.'' has captured more hearts - measured by box office take, it's perhaps the most lovable movie of all time - but ''Gandhi'' has cornered the prestige market.
It's heartening to see a sober and reasonably demanding film command such attention in today's largely frivolous movie climate, but only as long as its breadth and ambitions aren't mistaken for depth and insight. For all its sincerity, ''Gandhi'' is an entertainment in the accepted Hollywood sense, with its share of evasions, softenings, and oversimplifications. ''E.T.'' is more flighty, but also more forthright about its limitations. That's one reason it will continue to reign at the box office, even as ''Gandhi'' walks away with the trophies. TMovie ties to Britain
Cinematic ties are strong between Britain and the United States just now. A program called ''The American Film Institute Salutes the British Film Institute'' is touring the US, and a festival tagged ''Britain Salutes New York'' is also in progress, including film as well as other arts.
One unusual movie that shows up in both events is So That You Can Live, a politically outspoken and humanly touching documentary about what it's like to live and work in South Wales.