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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Mar 27 1996
Aaah! Caviar dreams and champagne nights. It's Oscar time, and even in San Francisco the stretch limos abound. A luminous white ball floats above the entrance to "Outerworld," the Academy of Friends board of directors' 16th annual Oscar night gala. As two glittering man-size Oscars stand sentry, doormen in gleaming white coat-and-tails open the double glass doors of the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion with a flourish. Inside, revelers in black evening dress nibble on fresh salmon and gaze at the numerous wall-size screens. "Living" statues and painted performance artists adorn balconies that overlook privileged tables covered in forest green and wine red fabric. Tuxedoed waitstaff offer delectables from restaurants like Zuni, Scala's, and Boulevard.

"This is just too too," drawls a young drag queen who is apparently an Oscar night virgin. "And to think, I almost turned down the invitation." She genteelly wipes a drop of spittle from the corner of her mouth as she forces her way toward a hunky, bare-chested Absolut cocktail peddler.

Wandering through the "Millennium Silent Auction" displays, a sharp-looking Belvedere resident and his date stop to bid on a lithograph by Bruce Keiser. Other items up for sale include travel packages, shopping sprees, furniture, and designer clothing. "I try to come every year," says a browsing attendee. "The money goes toward a good cause, and it's an enjoyable way to watch the Oscars. Quite a soiree, really. [Frank] Jordan's over in the corner, but I haven't seen Willie [Brown] yet."

Tickets are 150 bucks a pop, but the Academy of Friends is quick to point out that 100 percent of all sales go directly to this year's eight beneficiaries, including ARIS, the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, and the AIDS Legal Referral Panel. But is anyone really watching the show? "Oh, no, I'm not really sure who's won already," says one sequined gal. "I haven't really been paying attention." "Outerworld" is more about being seen than seeing the screen, of course. For real, down-and-dirty movie buffs, the ticket is across town.

For six bucks, the Roxie Cinema offers its fourth annual "Up the Academy Awards" show. It's strictly BYOB, but for many a Mission dweller accustomed to sneaking booze into the theater, that's just fine.

"This is the crowd," says Roxie booker and promoter Elliot Lavine. "They take it very personally. A couple years back when it came down between The Unforgiven and The Crying Game, there was nearly a riot."

Despite the fact that the Roxie does no outside promotion for this event -- only a brief mention on its monthly handout -- the theater is at capacity by 7 o'clock and soon the aisles fill up with casually dressed film junkies swilling from brown paper bags.

"There is nowhere else to watch the Oscars," enthuses one gent. "I drove from the Sunset and got here early because it keeps getting more and more packed every year."

Despite the irreverent display in the Roxie window -- pictures of John Travolta are captioned, "Maybe next year, John"; James Cromwell is dubbed, "That old guy in Babe" -- everyone in the theater is actually taking the ceremony quite seriously. Between running back to the liquor store during song-and-dance numbers and stepping outside for a smoke, audience members study the golden ballots handed out at the confections counter.

"I've got big money running on this," declares a shorn man in a suede jacket as he scribbles away. "Twenty bucks is nothing to sneeze at."

Although Babe, Emma Thompson, and Tim Robbins are the hands-down favorites -- witness the clapping, stomping, shouting, and waving -- and Mel Gibson is the most detested -- see the hissing, booing, and hurled profanities -- each category, from film editing to makeup, is treated with respectful attention.

"I think a lot of these people must be aspiring filmmakers," proposes Shawn Raike, a film student at UCSF. "They all seem to have some idea of what they're talking about."

"Maybe they just have a lot of time on their hands," quips Raike's companion.

The enthusiasm and tasteless jokes reach fever pitch as the show plods on. "Who will Christopher Reeves be when he recovers?" asks one viewer. "Christopher Walken!"

A heated discussion over Em's chances of winning two Oscars in one night takes a bawdy turn. "She won an Oscar a couple years ago; she won another one tonight -- c'mon, where will she put 'em all?" goads one guy. "Where [Kenneth] Branagh used to be," Lavine retorts.

On the whole, most of this year's winners are greeted with ardor, or at least no bloodshed -- except, of course, Gibson in the Best Director contest. "No, no, anyone but Mel!" grumbled one spectator, who stormed out clutching his head and moaning. Likewise, the Best Movie honor (Braveheart?!) causes the quickest mass exodus, complete with clanking bottles, that Lavine has ever witnessed.

He glances around the vacant theater, pointing between the seats. "Look at allll those bottles," he says with pride. "That's the most yet."

Yes, that's my kind of Oscar night!

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By Silke Tudor

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