Frivolity questioned as a week of war wears on

Oscar week began -- as it does every year -- with breathtaking extravagance. There was a $2-million dress, $5,000 hair conditioner and priceless diamond jewelry. By Sunday night, however, politically tinged sound bites and lapel accessories had begun to appear as everyone hoped to hit the right note of solemnity amid the glamour.

Inside the Governors Ball, the traditional post-Oscar stop before the glitterati scatter to various parties around town, Robert Port, who won a best short documentary Oscar for "Twin Towers," about the members of New York's Emergency Service Unit who died Sept. 11, 2001, strolled into the ballroom next to the Kodak Theatre. "My subject matter was Det. Joe Vigiano, a true American hero who gave his life," said Port. "If he were alive tonight, he would support our troops, and he would be here."

Across the room, Kathy Bates tucked a napkin into her decolletage and dug into her lobster salad. She said she was thrilled with the peace sentiments expressed by Adrien Brody during his best actor acceptance speech: "He said what a lot of us wanted to say if we'd had the chance."

Michael Moore sat at a long flower-filled table, his Oscar planted before him, and addressed (again) his stridently antiwar acceptance speech: "I'm glad I got to say what I wanted to say. I've heard nothing but praise from people."

The days leading up to Oscar night had been an odd mix of parties and heightened sensitivities. Last Monday, after President Bush's ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a strange new giddiness permeated the rarefied air of the Oscar "beauty suites" and "spa retreats" where scores of cosmetic and fashion reps were hoping against hope for even a passive celebrity endorsement.

At the palatial Trousdale Estates home of architectural historian Jeff Hyland and his wife, Lori, there was more talk of beauty than war -- and that in hushed tones. Everyone seemed lulled by the infinity pool and ocean view. Only Jeff Hyland noticed a mar in the cloudless blue sky -- five helicopters silently circlingthe Federal Building in Westwood, where antiwar protesters had gathered.

The Hylands rented out their place for the week so W magazine could lavish celebrities with beauty treatments and lunches.

Diana Ross' daughter Tracee looked longingly at designer Penny Preville's diamond necklaces, displayed on a coffee table. "I opted out of diamonds with the war going on," she said.

By midnight Wednesday, the bombing had begun and the fashion-centric crowd at the Los Feliz home of Patricia Reeves (Keanu's mom) lounged on velvet couches on the lawn, sipping cocktails under a full moon. On an outdoor stage, Pretty Babies singers Zooey Deschanel and Samantha Shelton looked the part of USO performers as they serenaded the crowd with "Stormy Weather."

Paris Hilton and her sister Nicky took a break from the party, hosted by Women's Wear Daily, to make dinner reservations. "I'm scared to death," said Paris, her platinum hair piled very high and her ears dripping with diamonds. "I can't believe this is happening!" She paused to talk into her cell phone. "Hey, honey!" she shouted. "It's me, my sister and Britney Spears. Can you get us a table?"

Iraqi troops had begun surrendering and the first American and British casualties had been reported by Saturday morning. At the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, guests sipped white wine and basked in the ocean breeze. Many wore peace signs on their lapels.

Event emcee John Waters shook off the jitters of hosting the first televised awards show since the war began (the ceremony was broadcast live on the Independent Film Channel). "Independent films are supposed to be edgy," he said. The war "just adds more edge."

At one of the hundreds of tables set for lunch under the enormous beachside tent, producer Susan Rodgers, whose film "Dahmer" had been nominated, noted: "I feel strange living while they're bombing. But I've worked my whole life for this.... Why should I suffer the consequences of a president I oppose?"

While Halle Berry skipped the carpet and Daniel Day-Lewis fled photographers backstage, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston earned kudos with the press just for showing up. Photographers swarmed Table 27, where the star couple received well-wishers. Pitt hurriedly ate his chicken entree as New York Daily News columnist George Rush hovered over him with a tape recorder, quizzing him on the war.

About halfway through the ceremony, "Bowling for Columbine" director Michael Moore earned cheers for an anti-government acceptance speech. "I would like the American military to withdraw from the American media," he said. His comments seemed to prompt a series of onstage pro-peace and antiwar statements from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Thora Birch, Dennis Quaid, "Y Tu Mamá También" stars Diego Luna and Gael García Benal, Don Cheadle, Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore.

After the ceremony, the party moved to a cocktail reception at Shutters Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Inside the hotel's crowded restaurant, amid wafts of Peter Weller's cigar smoke, "blacklisting" came up in conversation. "There's an undercurrent of nervous-breakdownism," said "Secretary" producer Andrew Fierberg. "The right wing has the high ground. If you say you're against the war, your credentials are exposed."

Robert Duvall vented his distaste for Moore's statement. "They should send Michael Moore to boot camp for two months," he said. "It's tacky."

Saturday night, at the Miramax Films party at the St. Regis Hotel, there were none of the traditional skits lampooning scenes from nominated films. Instead, Michael Feinstein led everyone in a sing-along of "God Bless America."

* * * Times staff writer Booth Moore contributed to this report.

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