Oscars come home... to a mall

Academy Awards » Back in Hollywood after 42 years - but the venue's a big disappointment
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The Independent US

The Oscars return to their spiritual home in downtown Hollywood tonight for the first time in 42 years. That – at least for movie buffs – is the good news. The bad news is, the venue custom-built to host the Academy Awards – the first permanent home the ceremony has ever had – is widely regarded as brash, vulgar, kitschy and burdened by terrible acoustics. It is also in a shopping mall.

The Oscars return to their spiritual home in downtown Hollywood tonight for the first time in 42 years. That – at least for movie buffs – is the good news. The bad news is, the venue custom-built to host the Academy Awards – the first permanent home the ceremony has ever had – is widely regarded as brash, vulgar, kitschy and burdened by terrible acoustics. It is also in a shopping mall.

In a town where gossip is king, much of the talk of late has been about the Kodak Theatre, the new $600m (£420m) development intended not only as a civic monument to the greatest awards show on earth, but also to help revive a place which has struggled for years to overcome a reputation for prostitution, drugs, sleazy bars and petty crime.

The hype, it seems, is not living up to the reality. According to Variety, the entertainment trade paper, the developers promised something rather classier than they delivered. The centrepiece, on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, is a reproduction of D W Griffiths's stage set for his Babylonian epic Intolerance – prompting one architecture critic to remark: "They don't do kitsch like they used to." There are worries, too, that the location beneath the Hollywood Hills could compromise the quality of broadcast transmission. And stagehands have complained that some jobs for the awards have gone to non-union workers, in violation of standard procedure.

Mostly, though, there have been frissons of displeasure at the prospect of Jennifer Lopez, Russell Crowe et al being forced to parade down the red carpet past the shopfronts of Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret and Tommy Hilfiger. "The Oscars are being held in a mall?" the beautiful people have been heard to bray in recent weeks.

Much of the déclassé commercial space will have to be concealed by lighting tricks; what nobody knows yet is how the women, with their flowing gowns, will negotiate the escalators and outdoor lifts that will carry them to their seats and, later, to the Governor's Ball on the sixth floor.

Not many years ago, moving the Oscars to Hollywood would have seemed mad. This may be where the industry set up shop in 1915, and where the first awards were held in 1929, at the Roosevelt Hotel. But the studios have long since moved to Burbank or West LA (Paramount, with its famous entry gates, being the one exception), leaving the area to fall into spectacular disrepair.

The joke around Los Angeles has long been that tourists flocking to Hollywood to see celebrity glamour get the shock of their lives: a few rotting art deco buildings among abandoned shopfronts, and discarded condoms strewn among the footprints of the famous in the sidewalk.

That image has been slowly overhauled in the past five years, thanks to new investment, a restoration scheme returning some well-known buildings to their original splendour, and a flurry of bar and restaurant openings.

Kerry Morrison, who as director of a private consortium called the Hollywood Entertainment District has overseen many of the improvements, said: "We're thrilled at the way things are going, and the long-term benefits of the Academy Awards are going to be huge." That is almost certainly true, even if the Hollywood & Highland complex housing the Kodak Theatre is by far the most disappointing initiative in the 18-block stretch being targeted by the district.

The project is also in financial trouble. The developer, a Canadian company called TrizecHahn, recently slashed 40 per cent off its estimate of the property's value.

One can see this venue as another piece of bad luck for the Oscars, a ceremony that has tramped around town as shamelessly as any ambitious starlet in its 73 years.

Or, alternatively, one can see it as entirely apt. The Oscars taking up permanent residence in a tacky palace of kitsch? Well, why not?

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