The Oscar show goes on, but with a little less pizazz

March 23, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

There were signs in Hollywood last week that tonight's Academy Awards may be like none before.

Despite concerns about the propriety of holding an event characterized by razzle-dazzle parties and glitzy fashions while U.S. troops were at war, Oscar organizers decided (at least as of press time) that the show should go on. But with a little less fanfare.

After some celebrities asked if they could use a back entrance to avoid the customary fanfare out front, producers for the first time in the award's history did away with the red carpet, backdrop for the glamorous sashay from limousine to theater. Other guests, ranging from presenter Will Smith to Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki (whose movie is nominated for best foreign-language film), began announcing that they would be staying away from the ceremony for reasons personal or political.

Even at stylish stiletto source Jimmy Choo, things were less than normal. As soon as the war started, representatives in Los Angeles began getting calls for last-minute shoe changes.

"I was just at Jimmy Choo and they've seen a shift in people's plans," said Tom Julian, fashion trend analyst for Oscar.com, the official Oscars Web site. "They have to reaccessorize. Rather than all the jewels and ornamental looks on the footwear, they may just be dyeing the shoes now to enhance the outfit."

Plain Jimmy Choos on Oscar night? The unthinkable truly has happened.

Wars have come and gone, but in the 75-year history of the Academy Awards, the event never has been postponed for reasons of battle. However, the show has been delayed three times: in 1938 for a flood, in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1981 after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. In 1942, the Oscars went on as planned even though America was entrenched in World War II in the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing.

But tonight's ceremony comes at a time when Americans feel particularly vulnerable on their own soil. The combination of Sept. 11 attacks and the Code Orange scares have given the country the jitters, something that academy officials and others connected to the Oscars have been forced to factor into decision-making this week.

Barbara Walters has canceled her annual pre-Oscar interview show. E! Entertainment television has promised to go on the air as usual at 9 a.m. with all-day coverage, but will focus on taped interviews from Oscars past.

"We all understand that the country is on the brink of war and may be sending American men and women into harm's way almost as we speak," Oscar show producer Gil Cates said early last week when he announced the cancellation of some splashy events and red carpet arrivals. "The academy is mindful that many of its celebrity guests would feel uncomfortable arriving at this year's awards at the beginning of a major war to face a business-as-usual phalanx of interviewers and photographers."

Instead, guests will be whisked inside. Bleachers, which had already had been assembled along Hollywood Boulevard -- and for which fans had applied for tickets months ago -- were swiftly taken down and parts of the red carpet rolled up.

As of Friday, Smith remained the only celebrity to say that he was sitting out the awards because he felt it was inappropriate to be attending a celebratory event at this time. (The Finnish Kaurismaki said he was bowing out as an anti-war protest while actress Cate Blanchett cited a reluctance to travel from her London home.) But other stars have been similarly mindful of propriety during wartime. Representatives from designers Giorgio Armani and Versace reported that several Oscar attendees have requested toned-down looks.

The fear of making an inappropriate statement is especially valid because Oscar photos these days are seen repeatedly on TV and in newspapers and magazines months after the event.

"This is now a historical documentation in reference of what's going on," said Julian of Oscar.com. "Some celebrities are like, 'I don't want to be a fashion plate' now; some don't want to go down as being ignorant to the world."

Patti Koerner, who paid a visit to the Kodak Theatre this week with her 10-year-old daugher Emilee, said she understood the reasons for the Oscar changes this year. "It's disappointing," she said. "But I understand."

Those in the fashion industry, however, worry that the lack of red carpet pictures will spell further doom for retailers and designers still reeling from slow sales in the shaky economy.

"What we're not going to have is the knockoff story line," Julian said. "Think about it -- you used to have fancy styles [from the red carpet] that were knocked off because they were so important to wedding and prom season. That could be going by the wayside."

Sun movie critic Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this story from Los Angeles.

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