Oscars 2009: Muted glamour in recession-hit US

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Los Angeles, Feb 21 (DPA) The 81st Academy Awards Sunday night will celebrate the glamour and glitter that Hollywood embodies. That's a big part of the Oscar festivities each year. But in the midst of a debilitating recession, and a slide in viewer interest, this year's show will feature some important changes.

For a start, you won't see the usual line-up of stars strutting their stuff on the red carpet. Organizers believe that viewers who are mainly interested in Oscar fashions tune in to watch the stars arrive and then don't bother with the actual ceremony.

Though many well-known faces will still run the red carpet gauntlet, the actual presenters will be smuggled in and kept far from prying cameras.

As far as the presenters go, you can expect to see many more up-and-coming Hollywood stars rather than the established royalty. The idea of having youth-friendly prize givers like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens is aimed at attracting young viewers - and help rid the Oscars of its stuffy image.

Steadily declining viewership and the widening recession caused the ABC network to drop its advertising prices from $1.8 million per 30 second slot to $1.4 million.

You might see the stars, but not in all their finery. This year's styles will tend to be muted - in deference to the grim economy. "It used to be chic to say, 'I'm wearing $16 million worth of jewels'," publicist Howard Bragman told the Los Angeles Times. "That's distasteful right now."

Oscar organisers are also promising other surprise strategies aimed at revitalising the format. Host Hugh Jackman, recently voted the "sexiest man alive", marks a break with previous hosts - and comedians - Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal.

Jackman joked that the surprises would include everyone presenting in the nude. He also revealed that the Kodak Theatre would be transformed into a dream nightclub for the event, and that the prize-giving segments would be less formal than usual.

Outside the official Oscar ceremony, the glitterati will still be feted as though the world continued to exist in the booming economy of yesteryear.

So-called gifting suites are being set up all over town where companies hoping for some publicity, will shower celebrities with all kinds of baubles.

Among the goodies are the yet-to be released Palm Pre smartphones, Koolaburra sheepskin boots, Milus watches worth $6,000, Sakroots bags, Waterford crystal glasses, Stuart Weitzman shoes and various essential accoutrements for the trendy Hollywood jet-setters.

"Our gift lounges backstage are not seeing any change," organiser Samantha Haft told USA Today. "We haven't seen anyone pull out. It's business as usual. It's a perfect opportunity to get your products into the hands of celebrities and build some buzz."

Hollywood's social mavens say this year will see as many parties as usual though some may be toned down by reusing decorations from years past or providing less luxurious food.

However, free bars will be well stocked to help people let their hair down even if they are feeling the economic gloom.

The belt-tightening does not extend to what is generally regarded as the largest and most lavish event of the night - the annual Governor's Ball.

World renowned chef Wolfgang Puck is preparing a menu that includes 3,000 Oscar statues made from smoked salmon and 6,000 made of chocolate. It will all be washed down with glasses of Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial, and Puck for one is unapologetic about the extravagance.

"We have to do it better than ever because the economic climate is so bad," he told reporters at a party preview. "We have to spend money. If not, President Obama's stimulus plan will not work."

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