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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 11:46 GMT
Oscars glitz returns to centre stage

By Peter Bowes
BBC, Los Angeles

Host Billy Crystal will not have to worry about striking the right tone
Last year the Oscars red carpet was rolled up on the eve of the ceremony and the stars were asked to dress more soberly than usual.

The war with Iraq had just begun and for a while it was thought the entire event might be postponed.

But the old adage, the show must go on, rang true and the Academy Awards went ahead - minus the usual fashion parade.

Organisers and the stars were wary of displaying the ceremony's usual glamour while the US was engaged in war and peace protesters were out in force.

Even days before the ceremony there were doubts as to whether it would even go ahead, as organisers delayed the decision until the last minute.

The Academy Awards are usually one of America's biggest television spectacles of the year but as news channels struggled to strike a balance between news on the conflict and the frothiness of Hollywood there was big fall in viewers.

The usual red carpet media interviews with the stars were cancelled to avoid the fuss over celebrities and their clothes when the issue of Americans dying was weighing on people's minds.

Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta Jones
Nicole Kidman and Catherine Zeta Jones both dressed in sombre black last year
Some stars, including Will Smith, chose not to attend out of principle while others wore peace badges - politicising a usually apolitical event.

"It was very dramatic last year," said Robert Osborne, an Oscars historian and author of 75 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.

"I loved the fact that it was not focusing so much on fashion."

A number of pre-Oscar festivities were cancelled and the bleachers where dedicated fans could sit and watch the red carpet were scrapped.

The other noticeable change was star actresses toning down their glamorous attire for the evening, with many opting to wear black and giving expensive diamonds a miss.

Movie buffs have never enjoyed the attention that is paid to the pre-Oscars arrival show and catwalk frenzy.

Peace protestors
Stars will not have to face the peace protestors who lined the streets last year
"I'm not quite sure when the designers took over the Oscars," added Mr Osborne.

"It's a sad thing."

"Today the first question they ask you is not anything about a performance - but who designed your dress. It makes everybody seem like mannequins, he said.

"Also, it gets so far away from why everyone has gathered."

But love it or loathe it, the fashion parade will be back this year, with bells on with an enthusiasm for a return to the spirit and romance of the awards.

"It will definitely be full out glamour on the red carpet," said Patty Fox, fashion co-ordinator for the 76th Academy Awards.

Renee Zellweger
Renee Zellweger opted for vibrant red in 2003
"It's all about fashion and then once we're inside the theatre it's all about film. It's basically an event where the highest form of fashion art meets the highest form of film art and the two are this creative synergy," she added.

The Oscars red carpet is a hugely important shop window for some of the world's best-known designers.

"It wasn't as trend-setting last year but it will be this year," explained Ms Fox."

And Mr Osborne acknowledges that the fashion parade is here to stay.

"Maybe it's for a good reason," he said.
Steve Matin
Steve Martin brought humour to a muted show last year

"It used to be the personalities were so big and so exceptional - the Cary Grants, the Clark Gables, the Lana Turners and the Ginger Rogers. We don't have that size of personalities any more.

"They are people who could just as easily be a pizza waitress or a garage mechanic, so maybe the clothes become more important because the people themselves are not bigger than life."

Steve Martin had the honour of hosting last year's Oscars, doing his best to strike the right tone on a night that had been overshadowed.

It is generally agreed he made an admirable job of a difficult task.

But this year's returning host Billy Crystal will not have to work within the restraints and will not have to rein in his humour for fear of causing offence.

And the Academy, TV networks and advertisers will be keen for a return to a lighter tone for the multi-million pound night which is usually allowed to focus entirely on the glamour of Hollywood.


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