WaxWord

April 2007

April 26, 2007

Valenti Passes

Valenti1 Jack Valenti, my friend and sometime-adversary, has passed away. He was 85. Here's the Times' lovely obituary by my colleague David Halbfinger. We made peace, finally, despite his being ever-peeved at a magazine story I wrote about him many years ago. The magazine, George, no longer exists. (But it was a very fun article, I must say, opening with a visit to Valenti's hairdresser, where the white-haired octogenarian was having his hair burned, yes, burned.) But he had a long memory; what irked him most of all was the suggestion that he might be less than immortal. He hated that I wrote in the Washington Post that he had collapsed at a dinner party in Paris, a number of years back. He ultimately softened. Still, I keep as a cherished memento on the wall of my office a hilarious letter he wrote me in which he denied ever calling me a "bitch" in print, which Lloyd Grove claimed in the pages of the New York Daily News in 2004. "It's a crude, soiling word," he wrote, "and anti-female. I do not use it." Rest in peace, Jack.

Women in Hollywood

300 I'm already getting lots of mail from readers in Hollywood and elsewhere, weighing in today's story on the dearth of women executives at the top of the moviemaking power structure, and its effect on the movies. To me, the most remarkable fact I learned in reporting this piece is that only 15 percent of those involved in producing and making movies (meaning, the creative side), are women. That is a stunningly low number, in my view. Here's a bit of today's story, and a link to the rest: "While Hollywood has not stopped making films appealing to women and girls, as evidenced by recent and coming releases like "Music and Lyrics," "Nancy Drew," and "The Nanny Diaries," women here worry that the future will not be so bright. They are nervous about the disappearance of many of the movie world’s most visible female power brokers and concerned that a box office dominated by seemingly male-oriented action films like "300" means less attention for movies that have obvious appeal to female audiences, 51 percent of moviegoers.

“I feel that it’s a different time; it’s not the time that it was,” said Lynda Obst, the producer of "Hope Floats" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," who said she recently had to fight to keep Disney from canceling one of her productions, a remake of "Adventures in Babysitting." (continued....)

Alec's Rant

Alec5 I tried hard to ignore the sordid affair of the leak into the public domain of Alec Baldwin's private rant to his daughter on a phone message. Alas, reporters don't always get to choose what is newsworthy. Here's my take on the brave new world we're now in, published in today's Styles section: "Did anybody really want to hear Alec Baldwin call his 11-year-old daughter a “thoughtless little pig,” an ugly, private moment now shared with the rest of the world?

It doesn’t matter. Prepare for the next frontier in high-impact celebrity shenanigans: you-are-there depictions of divorce fights, drunken brawls, on-the-set tirades, slips of the tongue, flings of the wineglass and flings of the other kind, too. The digital age has thrown down the gauntlet to all who might wield something as innocuous as a cellphone and let the world see for itself. You record. And you decide. (continued)

April 24, 2007

A Sudden, Terrible Loss

Halb1 I am still reeling from the news that one of my journalistic heroes, David Halberstam, was killed in a car accident yesterday near San Francisco. This is a terrible tragedy, a loss to journalism, the passing -- without warning -- of one of the greats of the last half of the 20th century. Halberstam, who I was fortunate enough to meet in person a few years ago and had interviewed on a number of occasions, was, for me, the model of the kind of journalist I aspired to be: fearless, honest, adventurous, ever-curious and indefatigable. A great reporter, who could weave a riveting narrative. He wrote the kind of books I aspired to, abroad, at home; he continued to write them until the end. And he was incredibly open and solicitous to those who sought him out. I met him standing in line for dinner at a restaurant in mid-town, El Gatto, on the day I had started at The New York Times in 2003.  I was bowled over that he knew who I was; we chatted for a while, he wished me luck at the paper, and with my first book. At least I got to tell him those same things I just wrote, about what his work had meant to me, and a generation of journalists. He will be sorely missed.

Recommended reading to those who don't know the man: "The Best and The Brightest," about VietNam, and "The Powers That Be," about media empires. That was a journalist.

April 22, 2007

Santa Barbara Soap Opera

Here's the latest craziness up in Santa Barbara. Nasty stuff; one wonders where it all will end:

"An ugly conflict involving a wealthy local publisher turned even uglier Sunday as The Santa Barbara News-Press published a front-page article suggesting that the paper’s former editor had kept child pornography on his work computer, a claim that the editor promptly denounced as “malicious.” The publisher, Wendy P. McCaw, has a history of contentious relations with that editor, Jerry Roberts, who resigned his post last July over what he called her interference in news decisions..."

Carlos Picon at the Met Opening

Carlos_picon1 This is Carlos Picon, the curator of the Greek galleries, in front of a beautifully restored fresco from a home in southern Italy, only about 1,000 years old. This photo was taken on the day of the press preview of the new Greek and Roman galleries. He told me of the new collection: "We are being more transparent, even with the people who normally would like to remain anonymous.”

Curtain's Up On the Met

The_met_2 Beautiful. Breathtaking. Inspiring. I was in New York all last week, in part to be present for the opening of the new Greek and Roman galleries at The Met. The galleries, vast and spacious, have made room for no less than half of the Met's classical antiquities collection, which has been hauled out of mothballs and is now on view, gloriously, to the public. Read NYT critic Michael Kimmelman's view of the galleries here. The entire week seemed to be consecrated to one gala party, press preview, cocktail visit or another, peopled by the pearl-and-silk crowd of Manhattan. I was there because the Met, and the controversy over some of the antiquities in its collection, will be an integral part of the book that I'm working on, "Stealing From the Pharaohs." The Met is working hard to dispel the notion that there is any shadow of dispute over the provenance of its collection, and that the mission of museums is not in doubt. But it is a subject of debate, and the Met is correct to engage in it. Even now, the museum has on view two pieces it has loaned from collector Shelby White, that the Italian government wants to see returned. Watch this space, more to come on this.

Curtain's Up On the Met

The_met Beautiful. Breathtaking. Inspiring. I was in New York all last week, in part to be present for the opening of the new Greek and Roman galleries at The Met. The galleries, vast and spacious, have made room for no less than half of the Met's classical antiquities collection, which has been hauled out of mothballs and is now on view, gloriously, to the public. Read NYT critic Michael Kimmelman's view of the galleries here. The entire week seemed to be consecrated to one gala party, press preview, cocktail visit or another, peopled by the pearl-and-silk crowd of Manhattan. I was there because the Met, and the controversy over some of the antiquities in its collection, will be an integral part of the book that I'm working on, "Stealing From the Pharaohs." The Met is working hard to dispel the notion that there is any shadow of dispute over the provenance of its collection, and that the mission of museums is not in doubt. But it is a subject of debate, and the Met is correct to engage in it. Even now, the museum has on view two pieces it has loaned from collector Shelby White, that the Italian government wants to see returned. Watch this space, more to come on this.

April 14, 2007

Who Is Anand Jon?

Anand2 There's a lot to be said, and a lot more that will be said, about the story I've been intensively working on this past week (hence my quietude in this space) and that appears in tomorrow's Styles section. Anand Jon is a young, Indian-born designer who is facing 32 counts of rape and other types of sexual assault and misbehavior, against 12 -- yes, that's correct -- aspiring models. The story asks:

"So who is Anand Jon? A rapist? Or a mark? To some he is a garden variety arriviste, an overeager cad, who crossed the line into criminal territory when his sense of entitlement overwhelmed his good sense. To others he is a struggling design talent, who played by the same elastic set of rules that govern everything else in the celebrity world and fashion industry — except he was caught. "We all know that when success comes very young at a very high level, people somehow lose a part of their compass,” said Catherine Saxton, a longtime fashion publicist in New York, whose clients have included Dennis Basso, but not Mr. Jon. “He was flying in a very high crowd and flying in that crowd for quite some time.” On the other hand, “there are a lot of young girls who want to be in fashion, who want to be in shows, who want to be photographed — who want it,” she continued. “It’s very easy to be subverted.”

Read the rest here; it sounds like a made-for-tv movie, but is no stranger for being true. That said, I guess we can expect the tv version, eventually.

addendum to dog years

Housekeeping stuff: Just wanted to note that I had the unique pleasure of speaking to a director in the wake of his getting first whiff of a glowing, almost poetic review by my colleague and pal, Manohla Dargis. I happened to be talking to Mike White (see below, writer-director of "Year of the Dog") in Washington DC, where he was promoting the film, and the guy was out-of-breath, completely rapturous. Here's a snippet:

“Year of the Dog” is exactly the kind of story you would expect Mr. White to make for his directing debut. It’s funny ha-ha but firmly in touch with its downer side, which means it’s also funny in a kind of existential way. It stars the comic Molly Shannon as a woman who discovers her true self through a love of animals, though, not that kind of love. She’s not Catherine the Great, just Peggy the Good. It’s a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it’s also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.

Just call it the Power of Manohla.

Also, if I'm permitted, I wanted to make one final point about the whole David O. Russell film-freakout, still being debated around Hollywood, but more so on the Internet. In a recent piece about the matter in the L.A. Times, Greg Goodman, David's former producer, and a number of other friends noted that the clip could not be understood out of context, film sets are sacrosanct little worlds, etc etc.  This comment makes me laugh, because David -- and his friends -- made certain to let me know how badly I'd damaged him by writing my diary of the goings-on on the set of "Huckabees" in 2004 in the Arts and Leisure section of the Times. Now, I wonder if they are in fact appreciative of how hard I tried to do exactly what the Internet clip cannot, which was to put David's sometimes outrageous behavior into context. Ok, nuff said.

April 06, 2007

Year of the Pup

Hpim0469 Today will be a photo gallery, and you'll see how my photography skills are improving. (Right?) To the left, Mike White, the writer-director of "Year of the Dog," which premiered last night at Paramount. He' seems to be a rather sweet, talented guy -- his friends Ben Stiller and Jack Black, the old comedy posse, showed up -- and the movie reflects that quirky, compassionate sensibility. It's a movie about dog love, real dog love, in which Molly Shannon stars as the over-the-hill gal with nothing but dogs to make her happy. And, eventually, that makes her plenty happy.  There was a slight snafu - nightmare moment for a director - Hpim0465_3 when five minutes into the screening, the sound stopped working. Lights up, shuffling of feet, uncomfortable silence for nearly a half-hour. They finally got it fixed, White came to the front of the hall and announced that they would restart the movie and added: "And I'm going to go throw up. Let me know how it goes."

April 04, 2007

The Passion of the L.A. Times

Latimes

None of us in journalism feel particularly joyful over the latest series of events to rattle the institution that is the Tribune Company, based in Chicago. And none of us in L.A. feel reassured that the main broadsheet in this metropolis continues to hang in a state of suspended animation. Here's a story I wrote with my colleague Laura Holson about the reaction at the paper downtown to the sale of the Tribune Company to Sam Zell (below), as I call him, a "bargain-seeking billionaire." Zell_3 As we write: " The Los Angeles Times was nothing but trouble for the Tribune Company, and it may prove even more of a challenge for its new owner, Samuel Zell.  Ever since the Tribune Company bought the Times Mirror Company in 2000 — and, with it The Los Angeles Times — there has been a culture clash between the Chicago-based owners at Tribune and its marquee California newspaper. The schism seems to have helped fuel things like the public criticism that the paper is out of touch and the recent battles in the newsroom that have led to high-profile resignations. (more)

Here's the details of the complicated deal by Kit Seelye and RIchard Siklos, which involve employees becoming part-owners of the company, and essentially shouldering much of the risk for its future success. I am frequently asked whether I spend much time worrying about competing with the L.A. Times. I really don't, and I think the question is misdirected. Those of us in traditional newspapers need to worry about competition from the Internet, from bloggers and aggregators who pick through our news gathering for commentary, and from online folks with their ear to the ground who sometimes beat us to the punch. We need to be in that game in a big way in order to evolve, and survive.

April 01, 2007

Media and the War

Museums_wolfsonian

The Art Deco Wolfsonian Institute on South Beach in Miami , Florida (see left), is dedicated to the idea that the power of images and propaganda are worth observing, recording, studying. They have a fascinating collection, worth visiting if ever you are in the neighborhood. I was, because they invited me to speak (late last week; sorry for the posting delay) about the media and perceptions created in the run-up to the Iraq war. My old friend John Hockenberry – with whom I stomped around the Gaza Strip years ago – moderated. After I gave a rather mild presentation about the perception of America created by Hollywood, and how the war has flipped that perception with indelible images from atrocities like Abu Ghraib, came the other panelist,  Bill Arkin, a military affairs columnist with Washingtonpost.com. He recounted the nightmare he’s been living through since writing a column a month or so ago that criticized soldiers quoted on a tv news report recently. Treason, apparently. He became the week-long punching back of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, and the subject of a deluge of hate emails, calls for his resignation, harassing hang-ups at home. The Washington Post, to its credit, backed him up, with executive editor Len Downie making the salient point that you can hardly fire an opinion writer for having an opinion. NBC, where he is a consultant and which had nothing whatsoever to do with the incident, issued a condemnation of Arkin’s views, showing itself to be proactively spineless. Arkin said he learned that he was completely out of touch with the real America, and the untouchably heroic image of the U.S. army. I disagree; I think the reaction to his column shows just how defensive the army, and families of soldiers, are, to the fact that their image has taken such a beating in this war.

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