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The Silence of the Lambs Sweeps Top Awards at Oscars

By Terry Pristin
Los Angeles Times

"The Silence of the Lambs," the suspenseful but gruesome psychological thriller centering on an FBI trainee's battle of nerves with a diabolical psychiatrist-turned-cannibal, swept the Oscars Monday night, winning the statuette for best picture and picking up four other honors during the 64th annual Academy Awards ceremony.

The award for best actress went to Jodie Foster, who played the FBI trainee assigned to hunt down a second serial murderer. She won the Oscar in 1988 for her role as a rape victim in "The Accused."

Anthony Hopkins became the third British actor in a row to win an Oscar for best actor for his performance as her sparring partner, the sadistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Jonathan Demme was named best director for the same movie, based on Thomas Harris' best-selling novel of the same name, and Ted Tally won the Oscar for best screenplay adapted from another source.

Only twice before -- "It Happened One Night" in 1934 and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1975 -- has a single film been recognized in the top five categories of best actor, actress, director, screenplay and picture.

Despite threats by gay groups that they would disrupt the proceedings to protest the treatment of homosexuals in films, the program was not disturbed. But outside the Music Center at least 10 people were arrested during a noisy protest by hundreds of demonstrators.

In winning the top award, "The Silence of the Lambs" edged out "Beauty and the Beast," the first animated film ever to be nominated, as well as "JFK" -- easily last year's most controversial film -- "The Prince of Tides," and "Bugsy."

Named best supporting actor was Jack Palance for his role as the crusty trail boss who leads the yuppie cattle drive in "City Slickers." It was a first Oscar for Palance, who was nominated twice before as best supporting actor--in 1952 for "Sudden Fear" and the following year for "Shane."

In mocking reference to the way older actors have to prove themselves to directors, Palance, 72, surprised the audience by stepping away from the podium and performing a series of pushups on the stage.

Mercedes Ruehl won the best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of the video store owner who nurtures a burned-out radio talk show host in "The Fisher King." Recalling that success has not come easily, Ruehl said that in light of the Oscar, "all of those sort of doleful memories transform themselves into amusing and charming anecdotes for my memoirs."

Though initially considered a dark horse, "The Silence of the Lambs"' chances seemed to improve after director Jonathan Demme picked up this year's Director's Guild awards, and Ted Tally's script garnered the Writer's Guild award for best adapted screenplay.

The first of the five nominated films to open, "The Silence of the Lambs," has grossed $130.7 million at U.S. theaters, making it the last successful hit released by the now-bankrupt Orion Pictures.

"I know everyone feels the incredible irony of what's happened to Orion," said Demme in accepting his Oscar.

Although the movie was very well-received, skeptics wondered if the Academy, which usually recognizes films with more uplifting themes, would break with tradition and bestow its top award to such a grisly effort. With this criticism in mind, perhaps, Demme referred to the Harris' book as "extraordinarily moral."

The object of Foster's manhunt, a cross-dressing, misogynistic serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, had drawn fire from gay rights groups who said the character embodied anti-homosexual stereotypes.

In accepting her award, Foster said: "I'd like to dedicate this to all the women who came before me who never had the chances I've had."

Said Hopkins, who follows fellow Britons Jeremy Irons ("Reversal of Fortune") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot") in the best-actor category: "I can't believe it. This is really unexpected."

Although it was not nominated in any major categories, "Terminator II: Judgment Day," picked up four awards -- for makeup, sound effects editing, sound and visual effects.

"Bugsy," a dark comedy about a dapper but psychopathic mobster and his tempestuous romance with a wisecracking Hollywood actress, was nominated in 10 categories but won awards in only two: art direction and costume design. Of all the nominated films, it has had the poorest box-office showing: $47.5 million so far.

"JFK" was honored in the categories of film editing and cinematography. Oliver Stone's thriller sparked a national debate about the assassination of President Kennedy.

Although it was nominated in seven categories, "The Prince of Tides," the family saga of a South Carolina man who travels to New York to help a suicidal sister and winds up reconstructing his own life, failed to win a single Oscar.

The award for best original screenplay went to Callie Khouri for "Thelma and Louise," another controversial film about two women who take off on a weekend trip and wind running from the law. "For everybody who wanted to see a happy ending for `Thelma and Louise,' to me this is it," said Khouri.

"Mediterraneo," Gabriele Salvatores' comedy about a band of Italian soldiers stranded on a Greek island during World War II, was named best foreign language film.

"In the Shadow of the Stars," a film by Irving Saraf and Allie Light about the chorus singers of the San Francisco Opera, received the award for best documentary. Selected as the best short documentary was Debra Chasnoff's "Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and our Environment."

Winner for best original score and best original song for "Beauty and the Beast" was composer Alan Menken, who won an Oscar in the same category for "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. Paying tribute to his partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS in March, he said:

"Howard, I wish you could have seen the finished product. I wish you could have heard the completed score. I know you would have been proud."