Donald Clarke: A cynical European at the Oscars – well, near the Oscars

Cultural differences transpire when I say that I intend to walk to the ceremony, and when I sigh at the uptight security arrangements. Still, one does one’s best to fit in

‘Well, you can take the press shuttle from the parking area and then enter at . . . ”

This has been going long enough to allow polite mid-sentence interruption.

“No. I’m walking to the venue.”

“I understand. But where are you parking before you walk?”


Don’t make a face. Don’t scowl. Don’t be European.

“No. As I say, I’m not driving at all. I’m walking from my hotel.”

"One moment. Kay, there's a gentleman here who wants to know how to walk here."

I am asking for directions to the Oscar auditorium. Unfortunately, by doing so without introducing a car to the conversation, I am causing unimaginable levels of confusion. It’s like trying to communicate without using verbs.

The Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards take place, is housed in a mid-market shopping mall at the heart of Hollywood's Bemused Tourist District. The grey curtains you see at the side of the stairwell conceal Donut Shack and Sneaker King outlets from the stars as they ascend. Two days beforehand, the place is – like an inorganic sideshow in David Cronenberg's The Fly – still in mid-mutation from everyday commerce to awards-season palaver.

Having got some sort of answer from the endlessly polite, disconcertingly friendly support staff – “I love your accent” – I gawp in wonder at my Oscar accreditation. I’m not sure I’m even allowed to describe it now. The documentation makes it very clear that anybody photographing the laminate will be very politely executed. (Stand against this wall, please. Fire! You have a lovely day, now.)

As I am pulling the lanyard over my head, another journalist explains that we are expected to wear the badge back to front, so that it is only visible when required. “They’re concerned about Isis.”

Being Irish, I instinctively cast eyes to heaven and make a “these people!” sighing noise.

“They’re keeping us safe,” she snaps, aghast at my irresponsibility. Maybe she is right. After all, you’re reading this now. It seems as if the back-to-front badge strategy has saved my life and thousands more.

The curtain calls

At times, when attending your first Academy Awards you feel as if you have been lowered among the Throg People of Zonk. LA really can be quite foreign, and the unblinking enthusiasm that domestic journalists show for the whole Oscar experience is very much a New World thing. We are always eager to look behind the curtain.

I am determined to be more foreign than most. On Thursday evening, the US-Ireland Alliance, a commendable body aimed at flogging our nation to the good people of Boston and Detroit, hosted a wonderfully grand evening called Oscar Wilde Celebrating the Irish in Film. The event takes place in the laid-back seaside corner of LA that is Santa Monica. It is about 450 miles from my hotel in west Hollywood.

I take the bus there and back.

To say the guests are taken aback by my transport choice is to understate the case. If I said I had travelled by hang-glider they could hardly have been more impressed. People only travel by bus here if they have exhausted all other options.

Anyway, after a few days getting off at the wrong bus stop and travelling randomly on the creepily deserted Metro, I successfully find my way to the Oscar auditorium. I then walk straight past it and enter a luxury hotel to the rear.

Most journalists who attend the Oscars don’t actually attend the Oscars. Rather, we are led to a large function room where – all dressed in dinner jackets and long dresses – we watch the ceremony on giant HD screens. Intermittently the sound is turned down and the most recent winner will enter to take our questions.

This year, as Mad Max: Fury Road cleans up the technical awards, the first half of the evening finds us staring almost exclusively at happy Australians.

Pass the shrimp bucket

If you want a rest from Antipodean sound mixers, you have the option of taking to the corridor and working your way through a buffet generous enough to shame a Kardashian wedding. The temptation to cram enchiladas into my underpants for later is almost overpowering, but I quickly remember I work for a broadsheet and settle for making a mess of the shrimp bucket.

I am sorry to say this, but none of the other journalists seem to have noticed that the Irish are coming. Our nine nominations and two wins have registered with the industry but elude the attention of most people who write about "entertainment". There is much inappropriately aligned cheering when Leonardo DiCaprio wins his best actor Oscar, but little well-informed nodding when Ben Cleary mentions the home nation after taking the best live action short prize.

Oh, well. None of this detracts from the sheer thrill of being at (well, near) the Academy Awards. Allowing Old World cynicism to slide, I grin, I pose, I gawp as Leonardo DiCaprio and Alicia Vikander beam just 20ft from my second-row seat.

Then I walk home.