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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 09:57 GMT
Oscars frenzy gathers pace
The Shrine Auditorium
The Shrine Auditorium: Venue to the stars
By the BBC's Peter Bowes in LA

Los Angeles is once again under siege from the world's media, movie fans and a few A-list celebrities, all gearing up for the annual Oscars ceremony on Sunday.

The city may be struggling to keep the lights on during California's power crisis, but all eyes are on the Shrine Auditorium where the glittering event will be held.


The cult of celebrity is not something I'm especially crazy about - but it's a fact of modern life

Kenneth Turan, LA Times

The streets are decked with Oscars 2001 banners. A giant billboard towers over the famous Sunset Strip in West Hollywood while bus shelters are decorated with posters featuring the elegant gold statuette.

LA Times film critic, Kenneth Turan, is a self-confessed Oscar-holic.

He says he concentrates on the movies and the horse race that is the Academy Awards ceremony. But he acknowledges the world's fascination with the event's glitz and glamour.

"There's always been this sort of hoopla - for a long as I can remember," he says.

A giant Oscar replica is hoisted into place
A giant Oscar replica is hoisted into place

"The cult of celebrity is not something I'm especially crazy about - but it's a fact of modern life," he adds.

Turan says technological advancements, such as the internet, mean more people now have access to the Oscars.

"It's been decades since the Oscars was a little dinner at a Hollywood hotel," he says.

Turan says there is little wonder the world's media descends on LA to cover the awards.

"This is glamorous stars, this is the movies, this represents Hollywood," he says.

"A surprising number of corners of the world care about American movies - for better for worse - but it's a fact.

"The interest in American movies is reflected in interest in the Oscars - it's just a natural thing."

New venue

The Shrine Auditorium, a long-time venue for the Oscars, looks certain to be hosting the event for the final time.

Next year, it is hoped that a purpose-built theatre on Hollywood's Walk of Fame will be ready to take over as the official home of Oscar.


You're screaming your favourite actor's name and for that split moment, he turns and looks at you and waves - that's what it's all about

Loma Lopp, Oscars devotee

For the time being, the Shrine and its grounds resemble a chaotic building site. The red carpet has already been laid.

The giant Oscar statues are in place at the theatre's entrance. Security is intense. Guards stand watch over the red carpet while high fences keep curious onlookers at bay.

Outside the Shrine, movie fans are already queuing to get the free seats, or bleachers, that rise above the red carpet.

Spaces are allocated on a first come first served basis and the seats can not be bought. For many, it's an annual tradition to travel to LA for the big night.

oscars fans
Starspotters grab their observation point early

Dozens of people set up tents and camp out in nearby streets to soak up the atmosphere - and guarantee their place near the front of the queue.

Babe Churchill, who lives in California, has been doing it for the past 32 years.

"The first year we came at 10 o'clock the day of the awards - now we're here nearly two weeks before the event," says Churchill.

"We really have a lot of fun. We don't want to miss anything," she adds.

Celebrity snaps

Last year the police decided to evict the campers - banning them from setting up their tents in the street adjacent to the Shrine.

This year, sympathetic homeowners in the area have allowed the die-hard Oscar fans to pitch their tents in their gardens.

Sandi Stratton, also a 32-year bleachers veteran, says it's all part of the excitement.

The  Chatter Club banner
The Chatter Club: Members are dedicated to Hollywood

In fact, she says, by the time they get to their seats, the arrival of the movie stars is "almost anti-climactic".

Flipping through her album of celebrity snaps taken in previous years, Marge DeNovi says she is the envy of her work colleagues at a hospital in Anaheim, California.

"All the doctors and nurses wait for me to come back - they won't do what I do, they'll just reap the reward of looking at my pictures,' she boasts.

Rick Zamarripa has been coming to the Academy Awards for 24 years. "I like the stars and I love the people," he says.

He and a few others have formed what they call the Oscar Chatter Club. They keep in touch during the year swapping stories and memories of their encounters with the stars.

"It's the Super Bowl for us. Everybody wants to come here. Everybody's just got the Oscars ingrained in them," Zamarripa says.

Loma Lopp, a fellow member of the Oscar Chatter Club, says it's all about getting up close and personal with the celebrities.

A seat in the front row is essential. "You're screaming your favourite actor's name and for that split moment, he turns and looks at you and waves - that's what it's all about," she explains.

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