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Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis

Posted February 20, 2009 | 10:19 AM (EST)

The Oscars: Party Like It's 1929 ...


Sunday sees the Academy Awards. A ceremony that started back in 1929. How apt for us in these credit-crunched days that the first ceremony should have taken place exactly 80 years ago -- the same year as the Wall Street Crash. Everything comes around... Perhaps we can celebrate in the same spirit that inhabited that first Oscars at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in May 1929 -- just 5 months before the whole world slid into the economic abyss.

Should be easy enough. After all -- Hollywood loves the movies. Right?

Wrong.

One of the peculiarities of living in Los Angeles (21 years and counting) is that friends and family from elsewhere marvel at the joy of living in a town that loves movies and cherishes real movie stars. This is the time of year when we Angelenos have to tell them the truth. We don't live in such a place. This town per se does not love movies or real movie stars. There are plenty of individuals within the town who do. But not the city... the town.. the metropolis that bears the mythological name.

This is a hard-bitten industry town. And this town loves only success. Present-day and future success. And more specifically the power and money that can accrue from business association with that success. There is no sentimentality or affection for film history or the creative people who made that history. Unless the town can turn a buck on the history or the people. They are mere jetsam and flotsam.

That's not to say that lip-service isn't paid occasionally. For example the obligatory Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Oscars. But the industry believes in those as much as most politicians genuinely believe in the existence of God. It's patent nonsense -- but who elects an atheist? No one. So you gotta pay the minimum lip service. Go to church. Or in Hollywood terms -- pretend to like classic movies and the stars who made them. But when it comes down to it -- if there's no lucre -- there's no love.

Such cynical attitudes are nowhere more apparent this weekend than at the myriad Oscar viewing parties in this town. Your true motives and love of movies are defined by who you invite to your party.

Take the Vanity Fair party for example. The name is half-right and half-wrong. It's all vanity and it's totally unfair. The invitees are not there on merit but on some virtual arbitrary measure of celebrity. If there are two people of equal talent -- one is more "famous" (read: fodder for TMZ) then that person gets the invite. The transparency is almost sincere. People in this town crave, cajole and beg to be invited to that party because it's the ultimate in shallow validation. I'm here -- therefore I must be...

What it ends up being is a vacuum in search of its center. The proverbial blind man in a dark room searching for the black socks that aren't there. The brilliant philosopher-psychiatrist R.D. Laing summed it up best in his revelatory 1967 book The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise: "The self you're looking for -- is the self that's looking for it." Bingo.

This probably explains why the most desirable Oscar viewing party in town this Sunday is the one that no self-respecting 23-year-old movie executive or Glicked-up agent would ever dream of going to. The aptly-named "Night Of A 100 Stars" that for the past 19 years has been host to the real Hollywood legends -- the past Oscar winners and nominees. Each year super-agent Norby Walters -- a spirited successor to the late Swifty Lazar -- invites many of the most highly-regarded actors in Hollywood to his viewing party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. These are not the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons. Nor this year's flavor-of-the-month stars (the vast majority of whom will be utterly forgotten by this time next year).

Over the years guests have found themselves watching the Oscars with such regular attendees as: Martin Landau, Richard Dreyfuss, Lynn Redgrave, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Fox, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Danny Aiello, Jennifer Tilly, Diane Ladd, Rip Torn, William H. Macy, Glynis Johns, Ernest Borgnine, Elliott Gould, Tony Curtis, David Paymer, Rod Steiger, Shelly Winters, Matthew Modine, Kevin Pollak, James Cromwell et al.

These are people you and I would like to have at our Oscar viewing parties. To hear their takes on today's movies -- and to hear the conversation and anecdotes as they kibbitz about their own experiences in movieland. That is because the guests that Norby Walters invites are real movie lovers and real movie stars. Not people famous for being famous. That is alas a dying breed in this town. The caliber of iconic guests is a primary reason why so many of America's rising stars make a point of attending this celebrated party each year - making it a true cross-generational bash. Among the younger crowd partying at the Night of 100 Stars this year will be Sean Astin (Lord Of The Rings), Julie Benz (Dexter), Eddie Griffin (Malcolm & Eddie), Krista Allen (Anger Management) and the new Captain Kirk in the upcoming Star Trek movie - Chris Pine.

So as Hollywood's movers and shakers gear up for a weekend of looking past the shoulders of the person in front of them (there might be someone more important you have to schmooze) my instinct is that the spirit of 1929 and the first Oscars will more likely be found among the real movie stars of substance than among the trendies dipped in Mazola.

If you are connected -- here's where to go in L.A. to view the Oscars with celebrities, stars, wannabes. Invitation required. Bring your own oil...

• Vanity "Fair" Party: Sunset Tower Hotel
• The Elton John AIDS Foundation Dinner: Pacific Design Center
• The Night Of A Hundred Stars: Beverly Hills Hotel
• InStyle Magazine: My House Club