Oscar History Watch: The Year Indies Bellied Up to the Oscar Bar
Nowadays, we're used to significant overlap between the Oscars and the Independent Spirit Awards. All five of this year's Best Actress nominees at the Academy Awards are in the running for both trophies, while smaller companies like the Weinstein Company and Sony Pictures Classics often dominate the nominations on both fronts. But independent film used to operate at the periphery of the Oscar action -- if at all -- until the landmark awards of 25 years ago.
At the 1986 Oscar ceremony -- three years before Miramax acquired sex, lies, and videotape at Sundance and kicked off what we think of as the modern indie movement -- two films made outside the studio system snagged the top acting prizes, with William Hurt being honored for Best Actor for Kiss of the Spider Woman and Geraldine Page named Best Actress for The Trip to Bountiful.
It's not like indies had never before factored into the Oscar equation, but this one-two punch of major awards turned out to be an opening salvo in the indie assault on this venerable Hollywood institution. Even before Harvey Weinstein reshaped the modern Oscar campaign (using Disney's money) on behalf of his boutique-y (and often middlebrow) Miramax titles, the late '80s saw movies like A Room with a View and Platoon snagging the kind of recognition that had previously eluded off-Hollywood projects.
Alas, while The Trip to Bountiful exists on DVD (MGM Home Entertainment) in a fairly pared-down version -- and with Page and screenwriter Horton Foote (who adapted his play) no longer with us, there goes what would have been a hell of a commentary -- Kiss of the Spider Woman boasts a terrific Blu-ray release (City Lights Home Entertainment) that features a fascinating documentary, Tangled Web: Making 'Kiss of the Spider Woman', in which producer David Weisman follows the labyrinthine path that Manuel Puig's novel took to get to the big screen. (Fun fact: Burt Lancaster wanted to play the gay prisoner role that ultimately won Hurt his Oscar.)
If you're a REALLY big fan of Kiss of the Spider Woman, Weisman is taking the revolutionary step of selling the entire film, lock, stock, and deleted footage, but if your budget doesn't allow for that big of a collector's item, the DVD will do nicely. And should actors like, oh, Colin Firth and Natalie Portman win this weekend for their recent indie movies, they should give a thought to the trail blazed for them a quarter-century ago.