Hollywood Is Talking

"Hello, gorgeous," said Barbra Streisand to her Oscar in 1969, the year she won it as Best Actress for "Funny Girl." (In 1977, she won another as cowriter for Best Song.) Since then it's been "Hasta la vista, baby," for the most famous hunk of celebratory hardware in the world and the multitalented, steel-willed actress-singer-producer-writer-director. Director -there's the rub and the snub. When the nominations for the 1991 Academy Awards were released last week by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, "The Prince of Tides" was cited for seven nominations: best picture, best actor (Nick Nolte), best supporting actress (Kate Nelligan), best adapted screenplay (Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston), best art direction, best cinematography, best original score. But no nomination for Streisand, its director and the driving force behind the movie, which has grossed $62 million since its opening on Christmas Day.

The philosophes of Tinseltown immediately noted the logical fallacy in honoring almost every significant aspect of a film while passing up the most significant aspect-the director. And when the director is a woman in a male-dominated industry, cries and murmurs of sexism were bound to be heard. Producer Lynda Obst, whose movie "The Fisher King" got five nominations, said, "When you're celebrating a woman behind the camera, that's a woman in power, and people are still very uncomfortable with that. Streisand's a triple threat, a walking green light; she's a star, director and producer. She can get movies made and there are no other women in Hollywood who can say that."

Streisand's snub by the Academy may be less sexism than Barbrism. Many in Hollywood consider her self-absorbed, difficult and controlling. Producer Sandy Gallin, a Streisand friend, thinks the Barbristic virus dates from 1983, when Streisand directed and starred in "Yentl." "The community said, 'Who is this singer, comedienne, actress who thinks she is going to direct and produce?' and they've never gotten over it. I think it stinks because she deserves it."

Streisand did receive a best-director nomination from the Directors Guild of America, which usually portends an Oscar nomination. But the Academy picked the other four DGA nominees, passing up Streisand for John Singleton, the 24-year-old first-time director of "Boyz N the Hood." To some, this suggested the industry's politically correct stance of the moment is: blacks, yes, women, no.

Part of the problem may be the unwieldy, sometimes byzantine nature of the Academy's voting system. Streisand's DGA nomination was voted on by the 9,672 members of the guild. The entire Academy has 4,968 voting members, who cast ballots by peer groups. There are 281 members of the directors group. So it may be that Streisand's DGA nomination was due mainly to the thousands of working stiffs-assistant directors, production managers, stage managers who swell the DGA ranks. Maybe the much smaller Academy directors' branch just didn't like "Prince of Tides," whereas the peer groups of actors, screenwriters, cinematographers loved it. And maybe the time has come, as critic Charles Champlin has been urging for years, for Academy-wide voting on the major nominations. Let's face it, the Oscars are a popularity contest. Let all movie people vote for the Oscars, which attract more attention than national elections.

Other directors, notably Steven Spielberg, have had best-picture nominations without getting a best-director call. But the brute fact remains that in the 64-year history of the Academy only one woman has ever been nominated as best director-an Italian, Lina Wertmuller, in 1977 for "Seven Beauties." This year alone there was outstanding work by Martha Coolidge, who directed "Rambling Rose" (which got two nominations, for the mother-daughter team of actresses Diane Ladd and Laura Dern), Randa Haines ("The Doctor") and Agnieszka Holland ("Europa Europa"). Slowly, inevitably, more women are muscling their way behind the camera. "Five years ago there were three women directors," says Nora Ephron, whose "This is my Life" just opened. "Now there are over 20. It's not enough, but it's a gigantic change."

As for Streisand, she refused to let the Academy rain on her parade, telling the Los Angeles Times, "I can't honestly say that I was wronged in any way, since there are a lot of good movies in contention." Coolly she allowed that sexism is still a problem. "It's as if a man were allowed to have passion and commitment to his work, but a woman is allowed that feeling for a man, but not her work." Las Vegas has made "Prince of Tides" cofavorite with "Bugsy" for best picture. If her movie wins, Streisand will pick up an Oscar as producer. Wonder if she'll call him gorgeous.

JACK KROLL with EMILY YOFFE in Los Angeles

What's wrong with this picture? In screening rooms around Hollywood, studio executives in $3,000 Italian wardrobes are sitting in the dark gleefully transported by a new movie called "The Player. "Curiously enough, the movie that is eliciting such rapture ("I loved, loved, loved it," kvells producer Howard Rosenman) is a dark and viciously droll portrait of a power-hungry young Hollywood movie exec clad in a $3,000 Italian wardrobe who murders a frustrated screenwriter, steals the writer's girlfriend, treats his assistants like dirt and feels about as much remorse as he feels annoyance when a waiter mistakenly serves his Vittel water in a wineglass. Directed by Robert Altman-a filmmaker Hollywood wrote off its A, B and C lists 12 years ago--this dead-on satire of everything shallow, venal and hypocritical in the movie business has become the toast of the town two months before its general release.

"The film is beyond scathing-and it's accurate," says Rosenman. "Only an insider could have gotten this town with that kind of brilliance." According to David Brown, one of the film's three producers, Barry Diller, chairman of Fox Inc., laughed so hard at the screening "I thought he might have cardiac arrest." Universal's chairman, Tom Pollock, was equally noisy in his enjoyment. Studio executives have been begging Altman to show the film at their homes (he's refused). Why are all these men laughing? Explains one movie producer: "We love being teased because we're all narcissists. My hunch is whoever's being mocked won't recognize themselves."

Altman himself is bemused by the industry raves. All but two of the major studios bid to distribute the film; the independent New Line got it. "I don't believe what I'm seeing here. I haven't had a bad reaction. I think the movie [reflects] how everybody feels. The fact that we came out and said it, it's like the fool in the court of the king: you can get away with real criticism. And of course it gives them a chance to talk about themselves-their favorite topic."

There's another hook: just about all of Hollywood seems to be in the movie. The stars are Tim Robbins, as the lethal mogul Griffin Mill desperate to protect his job, Greta Scacchi as his Icelandic lover and Whoopi Goldberg as a police detective. But scattered throughout this teeming movie are 65 celebrities playing themselves. Suddenly Anjelica Huston and Burt Reynolds pop up. Why, there's Jack Lemmon, Cher and Lily Tomlin. Isn't that Harry Belafonte, Marlee Matlin and Jayne Meadows schmoozing? Look, there's Dean Stockwell ... except he's not playing himself, but a character in the movie. Buck Henry pitches a story idea to a studio honcho for a sequel to "The Graduate" and suggests, hilariously, that Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross's daughter should be played by Julia Roberts. It is one of the running gags in this thriller/black comedy that just about every project is pitched for Roberts or Bruce Willis. Sure enough, who should appear toward the end but Julia and Bruce themselves, royally sending themselves up.

Are the slick, backstabbing execs modeled on real people? Altman insists it's not a film a clef, and Michael Tolkin, who wrote the novel and the screenplay, agrees. "We just looked into our own corrupted hearts," Tolkin says. "We both worked from the same principle-that we would indict ourselves before we indicted anyone else." But that hasn't stopped insiders from playing the guessing game. Speculates one: "Griffin Mill is based on [Warner senior VP] Bill Gerber, [Columbia senior VP] Barry Josephson or [Columbia chairman] Mark Canton-a whole slew of cookie-cutter CAA [Creative Artists Agency] types who went to Brown and dress in Armani. "

The grand irony is that this lacerating (but not mean-spirited) commentary on the foibles of Hollywood has put the 67-year-old Altman back on the industry map. Suddenly the studios are sending him scripts again; so far, Altman's rejected them all as depressingly formulaic. His brilliant and troubled career is an object lesson in the fate of the intransigent artist contending with an industry increasingly hostile to the word art. He scored his biggest commercial success in 1970 with his innovative comedy "M*A*S*H," and in the first half of that decade produced a string of movies--among them "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "The Long Goodbye...... California Split" and "Nashville"-that were the most exhilaratingly original works of Hollywood's last true golden age. These multilayered frescoes-emotionally complex, loose with improvisational spirit and radical in their rebuke of Hollywood genre expectations--captured the hearts of critics and movie lovers and influenced a generation of filmmakers. But buckets of money they did not make. And when the climate in Hollywood radically changed-signaled by megahits like "Star Wars" and the insistence on upbeat entertainment-Altman's position became increasingly marginalized. But the movie that sealed his fate in Hollywood was the big-budget "Popeye" (19 as a disaster even though it eventually grossed more than $60 million worldwide.

Written off by the studios, Altman went his own scrappy, independent way, filming low-budget "theater movies" like "Streamers" and "Secret Honor," directing opera and the rule-breaking TV series "Tanner '88." He moved to Paris, continuing to make such movies as "Vincent & Theo." Two years ago he returned to the States. While in Hollywood trying to get financing for a movie based on Raymond Carver stories (and getting turned down for his refusal to produce the obligatory happy ending), he was sent Tolkin's script for "The Player." "I was born to make this movie," he told producer Brown. The project got the go-ahead from independent Avenue Pictures, whose chairman Cary Brokaw gave Altman the artistic control he demanded providing he could keep the movie within its modest $8 million budget.

Though actors speak of Altman with reverence, relishing the "summer camp" atmosphere he fosters on his sets, the "suits" still regard him warily. He is not a man who plays by the rules; recently he publicly attacked Columbia's Mark Canton after hearing that Canton wanted to skip to the last reel during his private screening of "The Player." (Altman had the projectionist stop the film.) "He's too cantankerous," explains one producer. "Life is too short. He's already bad-mouthing Canton in the L.A. Times. What's the point of that? That's just being obstreperous."

"Mark Canton is an ass," says the unrepentant Altman. "I've got a short fuse, I guess. I suffer fools not easily." But he claims he harbors no bitterness toward Hollywood. "I feel I've been given a very good shake all my career." "The Player," he insists, is not his revenge on Hollywood, and the film bears him out. It's scathing but surprisingly good-natured. Still, he acknowledges a certain "satisfaction" as le tout Hollywood praises him for slipping a satirical stiletto through its ice-cold heart. At an age when most directors are being put out to pasture, the tenacious outsider finds himself a star reborn.


But enough about art. When a smitten Nick Nolte told Barbra Streisand "Look at you-your face, your smile ... beautiful" in "The Prince of Tides," the hubris of it all possibly cost her an Oscar. Had he delivered the same line in "Wayne's World," it would have been a howl. "Wayne's World," based on a "Saturday Night Live" skit about two suburban metalheads with a public-access cable show, salutes stupidity for the marvelous, life-affirming force that it is.

As does its audience. Shot for a modest $14 million, "Wayne's World" opened by breaking the box-office record for Presidents' Day weekend, grossing more than $18 million. As one of the first films produced at Paramount under former NBC entertainment head Brandon Tartikoff, the picture raises both high and low hopes for the studio. "I'll only say two words to you," says Paramount's marketing head, Arthur Cohen: "Ninja Turtles." Adults, you can cringe now.

Or you can play along. Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers, 28) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey, 36) are avatars of a new age: adolescent heroes played by older guys in wigs, shaped by fortyish screenwriters. They are '90s kids reliving the golden age of the '70s, frolicking nostalgically through someone else's adolescence. They cruise in an AMC Pacer, lip-sync to old Queen records and spontaneously act out scenes from "Laverne and Shirley" and the cartoon "Scooby-Doo." "We live in a time when nothing will ever go away again," says producer Lorne Michaels. "[Everything is] on a channel somewhere. All the cultural references are, to a 10-year-old, perfectly familiar." Neither Carvey nor Myers knows his character's age. "Wayne is supposed to be 21," hays Myers, "but I'd ask for ID."

"Wayne's World" has the knowing spirit of play of an old Warner Bros. cartoon. It is carelessly rambunctious, self-aware and a lot smarter than it lets on. Wayne and Garth talk to the camera, spoof television conventions and are hip to the cultural deprivation they've inherited; the charm of the movie is the fun they have regardless. "For Wayne and Garth," says Terry Turner, an "SNL" hand who co-wrote the script with his wife, Bonnie Turner, and Myers, "Albert Einstein and Pebbles Flintstone had the same impact, because they both come into your house in the same way." "Wayne's World" draws this peculiar literacy as not only plausible but inevitable. It's Wayne's generation's gift to the world. On a scale of zero to "This Is Spinal Tap," "Wayne's World" rates behind "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" but ahead of the Cheech and Chong oeuvre. (There's no point going into the numbers; on this scale, everyone scores a perfect 69.)

After the big opening weekend, says director Penelope Spheeris, the next step is to broaden the audience, take the film upmarket. In other words, "change the ads, so they don't say 'hurl' and 'blow chunks' anymore." The Academy can hardly help but take notice. Yeah. And, as Wayne would say, monkeys might fly out of my butt.