Purple town rolls out the red carpet on Oscar night

WILLIAMSTOWN — On Sunday night in Williamstown, you may see Winston Churchills and scaly creatures roaming Spring Street.

Images Cinema is bringing back its Red Carpet Party, an event that, in past years, has inspired local film enthusiasts to dress in costumes that support their favorite movies up for honors at the Academy Awards. The theater will open its doors at 7:30 p.m. for a free event that will include a silent auction, beer-and-wine cash bar, "pick the winners" competition and broadcast of the main event itself (8 p.m., ABC). But before guests can enjoy those offerings, they will probably be stopped by party hosts Anne Kennedy and Molly Kerns, who will be set up just inside the theater's hallway. The two friends with theatrical backgrounds have been asking, "What are you wearing?," since the Williamstown institution began hosting the event several years ago. WilliNet community TV will be filming the spectacle.

"When people walk in, it's very difficult for them to dodge the camera," Kerns said during a telephone interview. "... We have many more people now deliberately dressing up in response to their favorite movie. So, when they get on the red carpet, and they get in front of the camera, they're usually prepared to say something."

Film-themed costumes are not required; chic and dapper outfits are also encouraged. Kennedy and Kerns, for instance, will be donning evening gowns. Kerns is hoping that "Phantom Thread," the best picture nominee about a British couturier starring Daniel Day-Lewis, will marry the glamorous with the film-themed.

"I would love it if some of my friends got a 'Phantom Thread' vibe going and got dressed in some of those really gorgeous outfits from the late '50s, early '60s," she said.

She isn't quite as enthusiastic about the prospect of attire evoking Doug Jones' amphibian character in "The Shape of Water," also one of the best picture nominees.

"We may get some monsters, some sea creatures, which would be, I think, interesting," she said. "...I don't know, I doubt it, [but] that would be fun."

Kerns said attendees' ages often influence their wardrobe decisions. Younger guests may be the best candidates to pay homage to Guillermo del Toro's acclaimed film, according to Kerns. In 2016, local college students sported some post-apocalyptic garb to honor "Mad Max: Fury Road," which won in six categories at that year's awards.

"I would really expect the college kids to do more of that kind of stuff because they're so often going to each other's rooms or going to thrift stores to try to cobble something up on a dare," Kerns said.

Others may go for a more formal look, as three women at the 2016 event did when they arrived in floor-length gowns with their hair up and tiaras resting on their heads.

"I really think it's an opportunity for some of the middle-aged people in Williamstown to have an excuse to get dressed up and put on their high heels. So, I bet 'Phantom Thread' is going to have an impact in that way," Kerns said. (This reporter thinks Gary Oldman's portrayal of Churchill in "Darkest Hour" will spawn some imitations among the more senior guests, too.)

Regardless of age and stylistic choices, attendees shouldn't be shy about dressing up. Kerns said that somewhere between one-third and one-half of guests participate in the red carpet festivities.

"It's definitely enough that you feel like you're fitting in if you're dressing a little zany," she said.

Kerns, a massage therapist who lives in North Adams, was a working actress in New York City before moving to the Berkshires. Kennedy is a costume designer who has worked for productions on and off Broadway, according to her co-host.

"We always ask if they're wearing something vintage or if they've put it together. ... It's very much like that Entertainment Weekly sort of setup, only it's very hometown," Kerns said.

A touch of Los Angeles may appeal to chilled North County residents on this particular evening.

"Everybody is so game to get out of [the] winter doldrums and to do something that both reflects something that they feel passionately about or have been touched by, and they get to put on a costume and feel pretty [with] a lot of other people that are strangers," Kerns said. "... It is really a let-your-hair-down sort of an evening in our quiet little town."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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