January 9, 2009
Let Them Eat Awards Shows
By BROOKS BARNES
AS Hollywood heads into the heart of its awards season, America’s annual orgy of pop-culture glamour, movie stars and their handlers have a decision to make: to preen or not to preen.
Do strutting red carpets and collecting gold statuettes at a time of economic crisis fall into the category of the show must go on? Or will the designer gowns and Champagne toasts come off as the ultimate let-them-eat-cake gestures?
They have decided, for the most part, that a strong dose of Hollywood razzle-dazzle is just the balm the country needs in these dark times. While some stars may sport fewer eye-popping baubles, those putting on the awards spectaculars, beginning with the Golden Globes on Sunday and culminating with the Oscars next month, intend to crank up the opulence.
The Globes, in particular, are pouring on the glitter, whether it fits the cultural mood or not, said Barry Adelman, executive vice president for television for Dick Clark Productions, which is producing the telecast for NBC. The producers are driven in part by last year’s dreadful experience, in which the gala was replaced by a drab news conference because of a writer’s strike. NBC lost viewers and millions of dollars.
“We’re back, we’re bigger, we’re better than ever — that’s the message,” Mr. Adelman said.
The production will feature more elaborate sets (cascading stairs leading up to the podium). The statuette also received an overhaul (more detailing of the continents of the globe). And the dinner will be more extravagant, with 250 waiters serving Moët et Chandon White Star Champagne by the flute load and a menu that includes “aromatic Asian spice marinated sea bass with sherry yuzu pepper sauce.” Among the presenters will be Martin Scorsese, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock and Salma Hayek. The Oscars too are hoping to raise the glamour and star quotient in hopes of recapturing viewers who have drifted away in recent years, although plans are still in the early stages.
This is treacherous ground.
“You don’t want to come across like Marie Antoinette, and there’s definitely that risk right now if a celebrity shows up dripping in diamonds to be honored for a $15 million role,” said Jessica Morgan, a founder of a popular fashion blog and an author of “The Fug Awards,” a book that skewers star attire.
“At the same time the rest of us could use a little pick-me-up,” she continued, “so put on a feathered headdress already and entertain us.”
Sunday’s Golden Globe broadcast will begin a month’s worth of ceremonies that include the Screen Actors Guild Awards and more than a dozen others culminating in the 81st annual Academy Awards on Feb. 22. Preparations for these ceremonies show few signs of restraint, even as other high-profile events are trying to pull back: notably, the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, whose planners have promised to acknowledge the severity of the economic crisis amid the celebrations.
“Having a somber celebrity show doesn’t really help anyone,” said Amanda Lundberg, a partner at the public relations firm 42West, which is coordinating multiple Oscar campaigns. “Entertainers should do their jobs and do them well.”
Stylists have gotten the message. Leslie Fremar, who has dressed the Oscar-winning actresses Charlize Theron and Jennifer Connelly, said she did not foresee red carpets turning somber because of the recession.
“Nobody has asked me to be overly sensitive,” Ms. Fremar said of her current clients, whom she declined to name. “You might see some people keeping the jewelry and hair simple.”
The coming self-congratulation-a-thon could certainly go off without a hitch, even in all its opulent glory, but the odds are not in Hollywood’s favor. The movie business has a long if not proud history of tone-deaf behavior.
There was Miramax’s decision shortly after the Columbine school shootings to release a movie about taking a teacher hostage (“Teaching Mrs. Tingle”). Walking a red carpet, Sharon Stone ignited an international brouhaha last year when she told reporters that the earthquake in China, which left 88,000 dead or missing, was perhaps karmic payback for the country’s handling of Tibet.
Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made the occasional flub. Two years ago at its ceremony the academy boasted about how environmentally friendly its awards had become, as a fleet of several hundred stretch limos idled outside the theater.
Many are using the sour state of the economy as an argument in favor of excess. Cutting back on the pomp, they say, would hurt the little people: the hundreds of florists, caterers, make-up artists and tanning salons that feed off the awards circuit, not to mention the millions at home, struggling to make ends meet, for whom a judicious dose of celebrity may be just the necessary palliative.
So the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which bestows the Golden Globes, is determined to keep the honors on track, tipsy acceptance speeches and all. The swag is back too, with six “gifting suites” for presenters and nominees operating in conjunction with the awards.
“We are focused on bringing viewers what they want, which is a moment of respite,” said Orly Adelson, president of Dick Clark Productions. “Especially in times like these, people need entertainment.” (One area in which handlers are not so laissez faire: Winners are being encouraged not to fuss over Mr. Obama in their speeches out of fear that everyone who clambers onstage will have a comment.)
As for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, its president, Jorge Camara, said: “We really haven’t worried too much about it. We feel we should go full-steam ahead and not deny the actors and others the chance for full recognition.”