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Oscar Weekend's Partying Overflows at the Beach

Movies: Revelers have cocktails before noon at the Spirit Awards, then sip tea with the British Academy.

March 23, 1998|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's become an Oscar weekend ritual for film glamour to spend Saturday at the beach.

The draw to the Pacific comes from two separate events that take place a hundred yards from each other: the Independent Feature Project/West's Independent Spirit Awards, which fills a massive tent in a Santa Monica shoreline parking lot, and the tea party hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles at Shutters Hotel.

Though the two events aren't officially linked, proximity, timing and a certain seaside, non-Oscar casualness have made them bedfellows. "It's not so formal," said actress Jennifer Tilly. "There are no heavy beaded gowns. No undergarments pulling you in and pushing you out. And you can wear sunglasses.'

The festivities begin at 11:30 a.m. with the Spirit Awards' pre-show cocktail party. The first sign that the IFP has managed to avoid corporate Hollywood's neo-puritanism is this early serving of alcohol. More than one guest mentioned that "getting slammed before noon" made the Spirit Awards stand out in their memory.

There's also a younger-than-Oscar-night crowd out for the event since the IFP's purpose is to nurture independent filmmakers. As James Woods described the milieu, "This is the nursery for the great forest of Hollywood."

The first lesson these saplings appear to have mastered is schmoozing. It takes multiple announcements and then a gospel choir singing at full volume to get everyone quiet and seated. And this is only temporary. Throughout speeches by John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee, a steady stream of guests, including Sean Penn, Robert Duvall and Cameron Diaz slipped outdoors to smoke and chat.

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Another reason for the flow outside are acceptance speeches that ramble on with no fear of interruption. It's amazing how many people can be thanked--seemingly stretching back to grammar school--and so many names remembered. As one of the celebrity presenters said backstage, "Some people just don't know when they're finished."

One reason for the lengthy speeches is that for most of the filmmakers the Spirit Awards are one of the few times they'll receive any recognition for their work. At the cocktail party, Daniel Harris, whose "The Bible and Gun Club" was nominated for best first feature, said the experience made him feel "like I've arrived."

He added, "The smoke and mirrors of Hollywood only last one day. Tomorrow I wake up and I've still got $40,000 in debts from making this film on my credit card."

The presentation of the last Spirit Award segues nicely into the start of BAFTA/LA's tea party. It's only a short walk up the coast to Shutters and, in one studio exec's words, "the patina of the classy British thespian thing."

The British, as would be expected, do things differently. First of all, they're indoors and downstairs, as though March weather is something to be protected against. It's also more subdued than the Spirit Awards. "An oasis of decorum in the midst of chaos," in film critic Leonard Maltin's words.

Since there are no awards here, it's pure schmooze. "A jolly," in one Englishman's words. Tea and crumpets are served, and because the sound system was broken, brief remarks by Roddy McDowall, co-chairwoman Su Lesser and British Consul Paul Diamond were shouted. It's impressive that a theatrical tradition of being able to project into the balcony extends even to the diplomatic service.

The tea's purpose is to honor Oscar nominees, and a few including Helena Bonham Carter, James L. Brooks, Kim Basinger, Atom Egoyan, Robert Forster and Curtis Hanson were seen in the crowded, windowless room that became progressively warmer and more oxygen-deprived. After an hour, the only patina was of perspiration and the crowd began to thin.

"Any kind of event like this is great for an actor," said Peter Fonda, who went to both parties. "Actors get so much rejection in their lives that anything like this where you get some recognition is wonderful."

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