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January 26, 2009

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January 21, 2009

Sundance Slugfest: The Blow by Blow

By Amy Kaufman

PARK CITY, Utah -- Who said the passion has gone out of the movies? Emotions boiled over at the Sundance Film Festival Wednesday morning when film critic John Anderson repeatedly punched veteran publicist Jeff Dowd over a disagreement about "Dirt! The Movie!"

 

The slugfest took place on Wednesday morning after a screening at the Holiday Village Cinema . Dowd - who inspired the iconic "The Dude" character in "The Big Lebowski" - apparently asked Anderson about his dislike for the movie one too many times. Dowd, is in Park City to help sell the film.

 

In full view of witnesses at the Yarrow coffee-house, the critic punched Dowd – boxer-style - in the shoulder, chest, and then full on the lip.

 

Sundance hasn’t been this much fun since Harvey Weinstein got into a screaming match in a restaurant with producer Jonathan Taplin over who had actually bought the rights to the Australian movie Shine.

 

Wednesday’s disagreement began as Anderson and Dowd left the screening of the  environmental documentary, which is about the human connection to the dirt we tread on. Dowd asked Anderson -- whose is reviewing films for Variety and was the longtime critic for Newsday  – what he thought . According to Dowd, Anderson said he thought the film was simplistic and repetitive, "beating people over the head to make the same point."

 

Frustrated by the negative comments, Dowd countered that many people had loved the film. "If they like it, they're just sheep," was the film critic's reply, Dowd said. Anderson did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

 

But Dowd wouldn't accept Anderson's dismissal. He walked alongside the critic towards the Yarrow Hotel, urging Anderson to view the movie as an empowering work. The film critic was peeved, and ordered Dowd to leave him be or he’d punch him.

 

But Dowd didn’t, by his own admission. Instead, he returned to the restaurant with Jackie Martling, a radio personality who had also liked the film.

  

"I just want you to hear from one more person," Dowd said, reapproaching Anderson.

 

"I told you to get away from me. Get away from me right now!" warned Anderson.

 

"I'm telling you, this is a great movie," Dowd insisted.

 

Anderson stood up, assumed a boxer's stance, and punched Dowd three times, and then once more full on the chin.

Police arrived,  but Dowd said he wouldn't press charges because Anderson is a "really good guy and a father."

 

"From John's point of view… it might even be called harassment or something," the publicist admitted. "But frankly, at this moment of history, he has so much power if he pans a movie that people need to see."

 

To that end, Dowd says he and Park City Mayor Dana Williams are trying to organize a panel during the last few days of Sundance to discuss the altercation as well as the importance of the film.

 

 

coming soon: thewrap.com

 

Obama's Work Is Just Beginning

Barack Obama took the oath of office today as the first African-American president in U.S. history, and change was in the air.
 
During a soaring inaugural address, Obama praised the hard work of ordinary citizens and called on Americans to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Among the projects he mentioned: building “the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
 
Some two million Americans packed into the Mall to watch the speech on JumboTrons. Cell phone companies laid on extra capacity to handle the myriad of text messages and photos coming from Washington. 
 
AIling titans like Ted Kennedy and Muhammad Ali made their way painfully toward their seats on the podium. During the luncheon that followed, the 76-year-old Kennedy, often called the liberal lion of the Senate, whose endorsement of Obama came at a pivotal moment in the campaign, collapsed and was taken to the hospital. 
 
There were heartwarming views of the Obama children -- youngest daughter Sasha gave her father a thumbs-up after his speech and fairly skipped along the parade route. Her older sister Malia snapped photos during the ceremony, taking in the awesome sight of more people on the Mall than had ever gathered there before in history, and the unprecedented passing of the mantle from the 43rd white president of the United States to the first black one.
  
But tomorrow, after the parade route is cleaned up and the Metro returns to a normal work-week schedule, after the crowds leave and the new president is left alone in the Oval Office to face a mountain of problems, Hollywood will start reading the fine print.
 
Atop the entertainment and media industry’s agenda as a new administration takes office:
 
Broadcasters want to know if Julius Genachowski, Obama’s still-unofficial choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, will loosen the FCC’s approach to enforcement of indecency standards. The president-elect gave a subtle hint during the campaign when he argued for technology that helps “protect our children while preserving the First Amendment."
 
Movie studio heads want to know if the Obama administration will get serious about protecting movies from piracy, particularly as home video systems get more sophisticated and consumers start downloading material from their computers.
 
And Internet providers want to know what Congress will do about net neutrality, that buzz phrase for preventing a tiered system of the speed of Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.
 
Some tea-leaf readers think that Genachowski’s  appointment will mean an FCC policy more tuned to consumers than telecom companies. But business lobbies still have tremendous clout in Washington and for his part, Genachowski has been guarded at revealing many positions – as befits an official not yet confirmed by the Senate.
 
Another major change for the media industry is in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va) is replacing Ed Markey, the Massachusetts congressman, as Chair of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Markey is a fixture on telecom issues who was known for his stalwart defense of consumers. Boucher, one of the co-founders of the Congressional Internet Caucus, favors net neutrality, and is eager to extend the Internet, with its potential to generate jobs and commerce, to rural areas like that of his southwestern Virginia district.
 
But that’s all tomorrow. This – and this night -- belonged to Obama, who was riding a wave of good will toward the White House. As Marc Anthony put it the other day, “Washington’s never had a bigger rock star at the helm.”

-- Johanna Neuman

January 20, 2009

Sundance News: Magnolia Buys 'Humpday'

In a sign of the unusual times for indie cinema, Magnolia Pictures announced its acquisition of "Humpday," a comedy by director Lynn Shelton ("Diggers"), for its video-on-demand business first, with a theatrical release to follow. The on-demand release will come in the summer of 2009, and theatrical will follow a month later, the company said. The movie starring Joshua Leonard and Mark Duplass is a romance about heterosexual one-upmanship.
 
More sales: Fox Searchlight bought worldwide rights to ‘Adam,’ by new director Max Mayer. The romance stars Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne and Peter Gallagher.
 

Earlier:
"Black Dynamite," an homage to the blaxploitation films of the1970s, sold to Sony Worldwide Acquisitions for $2 million, IndieWIRE reported early Monday.
 
The film starring Michael Jai White, premiered on Sunday night, and a deal was struck in the early hours of Monday morning.
 
If the price quoted by the wire -- "high seven figures" -- is confirmed, then this year's Sundance is already on the way to a lively sales market, despite the doom-and-gloom predictions of an economic recession and a distribution crisis in the independent film world.
 
This is the second deal in which Sony has been involved. The trades reported that Sony Worldwide had partnered with Senator in an earlier deal for "Brooklyn's Finest."
 
Earlier: 
“Brooklyn’s Finest,” a cop drama directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) was quickly snapped up on Saturday after a packed premiere at the Eccles Theatre. Senator Distribution paid under $5 million for North American rights, according to Mark Urman, the president of Senator. The film stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, and follows the lives of three New York City cops battling the ethical and moral dilemmas on the job.
 
But that sum won’t go very far to cover the costs of the film, which had an estimated budget of $23-25 million. Gere has a pricey first dollar take on the pic, and the word on the street was that Miramax had an early deal to buy the film that the producers turned down.
 
Negotiations began immediately after the screening Friday evening, “as we were walking out the doors of the Eccles Theatre,” Urman said. “We were very, very aggressive and were ready to meet the requirements of whatever it takes to land a film like this. We went in with a plan of attack.”
 
Senator hopes to release the film during the fourth quarter so it will be up for awards consideration, possibly for Hawke’s performance, as the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Fuqua’s “Training Day.” The soundtrack – which was entirely temporary due to the last-minute decision to bring the film to Sundance – will also have to be compiled. 

January 19, 2009

Sundance News: 'Brooklyn's Finest' Snagged by Senator

Fuqua “Brooklyn’s Finest,” a cop drama directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) was quickly snapped up on Saturday after a packed premiere at the Eccles Theatre. Senator Distribution paid under $5 million for North American rights, according to Mark Urman, the president of Senator. The film stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, and follows the lives of three New York City cops battling the ethical and moral dilemmas on the job.

But that sum won’t go very far to cover the costs of the film, which had an estimated budget of $23-25 million. Gere has a pricey first dollar take on the pic, and the word on the street was that Miramax had an early deal to buy the film that the producers turned down.

Negotiations began immediately after the screening Friday evening, “as we were walking out the doors of the Eccles Theatre,” Urman said. “We were very, very aggressive and were ready to meet the requirements of whatever it takes to land a film like this. We went in with a plan of attack.”

Senator hopes to release the film during the fourth quarter so it will be up for awards consideration, possibly for Hawke’s performance, as the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Fuqua’s “Training Day.” The soundtrack – which was entirely temporary due to the last-minute decision to bring the film to Sundance – will also have to be compiled.

-- Amy Kaufman

Hollywood Basks in Obama's Glow

Bono Spago’s must be empty. Hollywood has decamped to Washington.

So many A-list celebrities are in town for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama that the Washington Post predicted red-carpet gridlock.
 
One event – the “We Are One” concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Sunday afternoon – drew so many stars that it was hard to pick a headliner. Bruce Springsteen. Bono. Stevie Wonder. Mary J. Blige. will.i.am. Josh Groban. Sheryl Crow. And those were just the musical folks. In speaking roles: Tom Hanks. Queen Latifah. Tiger Woods. Denzel Washington. Jamie Foxx. With Lincoln looking on, in the place where both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and singer Marian Anderson made history, Beyonce led the crowd 500,000 in a moving rendition of “America the Beatiful.”
 
For tourists, seeing the celebrities takes a roadmap, and good walking shoes. Oprah is in town to tape her TV show, at the Kennedy Center Monday, where Aretha Franklin is also doing a free concert Monday. Jay-Z is playing “in concert on the eve of change” at the Warner Theater Monday. Dionne Warwick and Ludicrus are doing their own concerts at the Marriott Wardman in NW, where names like Diana Ross and Mohammed Ali were among the record 1,000 guests who checked in Saturday.
 
Wyclef Jean performs at the Green Inaugural Ball hosted by former Vice President Al Gore at the Mellon Auditorium. Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and Tony Palana appeared at a Union Station Latina party and Spike Lee, Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Tucker headlined the “Root Ball” at the National Museum of American History. At the Ritz Carlton in the West End, LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, stars of the political stripe, attended the hot-ticket FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) Inaugural Fashion Show. The Creative Coalition, a social and political advocacy group founded in 1989 by Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeve and Susan Sarandon, is hosing a $10,000-per-person, Hollywood-heavy inaugural ball Tuesday night at the new Harman Center. Not to be outdone, Arianna Huffington, doyenne of new media and no stranger to Washington as the former spouse of a former congressman, is throwing a huge bash at the Newseum Tuesday night bursting with marquee names, including Halle Berry, Ed Harris and Ron Howard.
 
During the presidential campaign, John McCain famously said that Barack Obama was a celebrity akin to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Hilton responded that she was “like, so ready to lead.” McCain’s jab was meant as an insult. But this week the comment looks prophetic.
 
Past presidents attracted a Hollywood crowd. Ronald Reagan, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, brought one with him. Bill Clinton gave celebrities the Lincoln bedroom, and made LA his favorite stop.
 
But Barack Obama is a game-changer in the history of politics and Hollywood. This time, it’s the celebrities who bask in his glamour, not the other way around. “This is our Olympics,” said Colleen Evans, a long-time observer of the Washington social scene who works for Marriott. “Only this time it will be a lot more star-studded than ever before.”
                                                                          - By Johanna Neuman

January 11, 2009

The Golden Globes: Making Hollywood Irrelevant

Winslet globes 08 

   The Golden Globe awards may have recaptured their party spirit on Sunday after last year’s strike-induced cancellation, but by the end of the evening the awards flirted dangerously with national irrelevance – rewarding one small film seen by few moviegoers, and indulging long, earnest speeches by well-lauded celebrities.

   “Slumdog Millionaire,” the raucous, inspirational tale of love from India, came the closest to being the star of the moment, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Danny Boyle, Best Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and best score. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight.

    But the film won no acting awards, had no known movie stars in it and has taken in just $38 million worldwide.

The movies nominated for Best Picture have had a hard time connecting with audiences this year. Only one of the best picture nominees broke the $100 million barrier at the box office, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which won no awards. And only “Slumdog” seemed to win the hearts of Globe voters – those 85 or so foreign journalists and freelance writers who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Whither Hollywood in 2009? With the industry no closer to finding a horse worth backing in the Oscar race, and the TV awards offering a replay of last year’s Emmys, with “30 Rock” and “John Adams” dominating, just as worrying was the lack of dramatic interest in the three-hour show in prime time on NBC.

For a moment, at least, it was interesting to watch Kate Winslet burst into tears over winning best actress and best supporting actress.

    But as the ceremony dragged on, even Martin Scorsese presenting a lifetime achievement award to Steven Spielberg could not lift the pace, or make the show feel like a necessary event. Spielberg spoke endlessly. Or it seemed endless. And what could be more interesting, entertaining – original, even - to watch Steven Spielberg finally recognized for his work?

Even the stars in the room appeared to have a hard time maintaining interested expressions as the director traced his life in film back to a train set in his basement. And come on, with all the money Dick Clark rakes in – couldn’t he have gotten together a decent montage of Spielberg’s work?

    It was a night in which the dresses were far more interesting to look at than anything up on stage. (Renee Zellweger appeared to wear her drapes, while Drew Barrymore was apparently channeling Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death.)

There will be a reckoning, I reckon. Sunday’s show came just a year after the Golden Globes ratings hit a historic low as the show was replaced by a bare-bones broadcast announcing the winners, due to the Writers Guild Strike. This year, despite the bottles of champagne visible on the dinner tables, no one seemed drunk or unhinged. It was left to Mickey Rourke to provide an edgy moment when he thanked his agent David Unger “for having the balls” to represent him.

A reminder: the Globes ratings plunged to 5.8 million in 2008, after a high of 20 million viewers in 2007, according to Nielsen ratings. This year? Anyone’s guess.

But the gravy train rolls on for the Hollywood Foreign Press. As Ricky Gervais deadpanned: “That’s the last time I have sex with 200 middle-aged journalists.” The Foreign Press is smaller in number, and on average older in age than that, as Hollywood insiders know well. Poor Ricky.

December 06, 2008

Taking a Break to prepare The Wrap News; Check back in January

Dear Readers,

This blog will go semi-silent for the next several weeks, while we prepare the launch of The Wrap News at www.thewrapnews.com, a new news and information platform covering entertainment and media. The Wrap will feature original and aggregated content. We have already launched a daily email newsletter, called First Take, read by entertainment industry insiders. You can sign up to receive it at thewrapnews.com.

The Wrap is scheduled for a January launch. This blog, Waxword, will become part of that new enterprise.

I will be using this blog for announcements, and reserve the right to weigh in if there's major news, such as - save us, please -- another strike.

December 01, 2008

Letters in Response to the Op-Ed

Dear Ms. Waxman –
 
I read with great interest your article in today’s New York Times but I suggest that there is an aspect of artifact ownership which you have neglected to consider and that is the caretaker and protective responsibility that goes with such ownership. There is a responsibility to preserve for future generations these artifacts which I dare to suggest did not then nor perhaps even now does not exist within some of these home countries. Some of these treasured artifacts would not exist today if they had been left in situ rather than ‘looted’.
 
My wife and I had the pleasure of being in the Uffizi Gallery one balmy summer day a few years ago. Our pleasure turned to astonishment when the guard in the gallery walked around the room and threw open the windows to the moist pollution laden Florentine air. This is not the best conditions under which to preserve antiquities. (This is the same questions that family courts grapple with concerning the placement of children back to their parents from foster care.)
 
Take Care,
 
Robert Koffsky
 ------------------------------

as a history buff,I will be securing a copy of your book soon.
Ihave loved the background history of the many objects d` art at the Met, one of my favorite places to go, along with Chicago Art Institute.You write on great topics,and this is but one dear to me heart, as well as the recent tomes on art looted by Soviets and  Nazis[ think the mystery of the Amber Room].
Write on,never stop. Timothy Abbott

_____________________

Dear Ms. Waxman:
 
I read your important op-ed piece in today’s NYT.
 
I am curious about the Elgin Marbles, however.  Fifty-two years ago, I took a course on Greek art and archeology at Washington University taught by George Mylonas, the Greek-born excavator of Mycenae and Eleusis. He stated that had Lord Elgin not taken the marbles they would have been ground up for plaster as had already been happening to other of the Parthenon’s sculture.  Years later, in 1980, while taking my family around the Akropolis, I bought a guidebook that blamed Lord Elgin for stealing these antiquities.  However, if the Greek archeologist (whose credentials in 1980 earned him the position of being in charge of the restoration of the Akropoolis) was correct, in absconding with the sculptures, Lord Elgin rescued them. Alternatively, if he had hadn’t taken then, they would not be in existence for anyone to see.   How this bears on the question of who should “own” them and have them on display in another issue, but the facts of the case should be clear, and it should not be used as a cause celebre to illustrate the outright thievery of antiquities that takes place on a regular basis around the Mediterranean world, including Iraq thanks to the sloppy administration of Mr. Bush’s war.
 
George Nickelsburg
Professor emeritus, The University of Iowa

_________________________


I thought this was a great column till the very end when you said that the treasures might be better preserved, etc., in the world’s great museums.  Turkey has one of the best natural history museums I’ve ever visited in the city of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast.  There are two tombs there depicting the labors of Herakles, the second one incomplete because some of the panels were looted.  Turkey is a center of European tourism with a very classy tourist industry and ubiquitous, knowledgeable English speaking guides.  I doubt they tacitly believe their antiquities are safer in New York or London.  As for being “more widely adored,” I expect they’d just as soon attract the visitors themselves.

Kathleen Orange

_________________________

Congratulations on your superb article on the appropriated treasure of the Met.
And what of the quantities of stolen Jewish documents and cultural treasures hidden in the underground caves of the Vatican?These items are there because of murder and plunder.
This patrimony belongs in Israeli and Jewish museums and institutions. Surely this must be investigated and resolved.

Your admirer,

Winston J. Lung Kulok

NYT Op-ed: Thoughts for Tom Campbell at the Met

Oped graphic 

I have an op-ed in today's New York Times that talks about the imminent arrival of Thomas Campbell as the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on January 1. I write: 

"Mr. Campbell, who will take over one month from today, is a 46-year-old curator from the Met’s department of European sculpture and decorative arts, and he has a unique opportunity to shift the tone of an enduring and increasingly hostile debate in the world of art and museums: Who should own the treasures of antiquity?"

The piece goes on to talk about the "culture of distrust" that currently exists between source countries and the great museums of the West, and how the Met has an opportunity to change this with the changing of the guard.

"By publicly embracing the 1970 [UNESCO] protocol, Mr. Campbell would be breaking with the policies of his predecessor, Mr. de Montebello, who believes that orphaned antiquities should be rescued by museums, not ignored by them.

Mr. Campbell could also undertake a project more fundamental, and more profound. The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted and smuggled antiquities.

"The Met’s galleries and Web site are mysteriously devoid of recent facts about the provenance of many artifacts. Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.

"Who among them knows that Louis Palma di Cesnola, the Italian-born collector and Civil War veteran who was the first director of the museum, appropriated a huge number of antiquities for more than a decade? As the American consul in Cyprus in the 1860s, Cesnola kept 100 diggers busy in Larnaca; his house became a kind of museum. Cesnola smuggled out no fewer than 35,573 artifacts — passing them off as the property of the Russian consul — for which the Met paid $60,000."

 I welcome comments, and have already received a half-dozen emails from readers with passionate views on this topic. Please post them here, or at the Facebook page for Loot, which can be reached via this site.

November 30, 2008

The Moguls Speak: Let's Be Reasonable

In a full page ad in tomorrow's L.A. Times, the moguls speak up and sound oh so reasonable when they say: Actors, take the deal! Let's not have another strike!

It's hard to trust the moguls, to be sure. It feels a little bit like Wily Coyote warning Bugs Bunny to steer the runaway coach off to the left to keep  from going off a cliff. We know better than to trust Wily Coyote. If he's saying turn, then you probably want to keep driving straight. But then, it does look like a pretty steep cliff.

"Because of SAG's failed negotiating strategy, our industry now faces the prospect of another destructive and unnecessary strike," says the ad signed by the heads of the seven major studios plus Les Moonves, the president of CBS. "Incredibly, this SAG strike would occur at a time when the national economy is reeling from a historic financial crisis. Just as stunningly, a SAG strike would be self-defeating from the start - with actors losing more within the first several days of the strike than they could ever hope to gain."
The ad pleads with members of SAG to reconsider their offer once again, and avoid a strike.

In the meantime, the guild continues to insist that its request for a strike authorization vote is merely meant to give them more clout at the negotiating table. I’ve yet to speak to a single rank and file member of the guild who believes this. (Last night, one member compared this strike vote to giving Bush the authorization to go to war in Iraq.)

Instead, the talk everywhere is that a strike is practically inevitable.

It feels very Bugs Bunny. And in this case, the guild appears to be headed straight for the cliff.

November 28, 2008

Cold-Blooded Murder in India; Outrage, and Sorrow

Mumbai_rabbi_600_1  How is it possible that in this 21st century, we must be witness to the sort of butchery that took the lives of a young Brooklyn rabbi and his wife, Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, left their infant orphaned, and led to the deaths of three others - just a few of the 150 victims - in Mumbai? These people were innocents, on a mission to bring Judaism to those Jews who happened to live or be passing through a foreign, Hindu city.

On a day of Thanksgiving, when those of us lucky enough to live in the freedom and security of this country, eating our fill and enjoying  the comfort of family, this atrocity was taking place.

 This act shocks the conscience. It demands our outrage, and our sorrow.  

Here is the latest from the New York Times.

November 26, 2008

Who Holds SAG Accountable?

Re-Update: In response to comments from readers, I'd like to clarify that SAG has not denied the story. The guild's response to my specific questions about the meeting can be read below in the original post. It's a day later, and the guild has still not denied the story. Nikki Finke saying the guild denies the story does not make it so. The guild declines to say when this meeting took place. My further reporting indicates it was a few months ago. If and when I am able to confirm further details, I will post them in the original story.
 
Earlier: In customary style, Nikki Finke devotes more ink than I do to supposedly debunking the story I broke about a secret meeting of top stars convened by SAG president Alan Rosenberg. It was not deleted; I was editing it last night to further check facts and inadvertently left it in ‘draft’. I have now reposted, and apologies to those who missed it in their sleep. On further reporting, I learn that the essence of the story is correct. I have amended the time element, however.
 
Here is what makes me curious about this story. SAG acknowledges that it has occasional meetings “on set” and elsewhere with top stars to talk about issues of the day. How often does this occur? In what context? And who is informed about such matters? Apparently not the membership.
 
I wonder if it is considered normal policy for a labor union to invite a cadre of elites to consult on strategy and policy, outside the board and outside the guild’s official business. On the face of it, it sounds as if the guild was lobbying this group to get support for its policy of continuing to reject the studios’ offer, despite pressure from AFTRA, which cut a separate deal.
 
Readers will recall that SAG is not always an organization that makes full disclosure a part of its every day habits. Just weeks ago I broke a story about SAG sitting on $25 million in “unclaimed residuals.” I remind readers that the guild launched a campaign to return this money three weeks after my story went out.
 
Finally, if the story is so unimportant, I wonder why Nikki Finke devotes so much energy to it, and if doing so serves her readers. I suspect it has more to do with embarrassing a fellow journalist. Is she a mouthpiece for SAG, or an independent voice? I believe reporting is about holding institutions to account, including the guilds and the studios in this case. I will always be open to rectifying errors, and have done so.

FAMOUS STARS GIVE THUMBS UP TO GUILD STRATEGY IN SECRET MEETING

70s-stars-gathering

Note: This post has been updated to correct errors and reflect further reporting.

LOS ANGELES – They met in the private room of an Italian restaurant, like in a scene from one of the Godfather movies: Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Nick Nolte, Annette Bening -- about 20 of Hollywood’s great stars from the past 30 years.

Their faces were grave. The subject was serious: the livelihood of the entertainment industry and the prospect of yet another strike, months after the end of a painful writers guild strike.

These top stars were called together last month by Screen Actors Guild president Alan Rosenberg to give the thumbs up – or thumbs down – on a strike, according to one person who was present, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But others familiar with the meeting, which they said took place a few months ago, say the purpose was to vote on whether to sign a solidarity statement in support of the negotiating committee, which was under pressure to take the deal offered by the AMPTP, at a time when a sister guild, AFTRA, had made its own deal with the studios.

At the time, a strike vote was nowhere on the horizon. Negotiations were Federal mediation was still ongoing between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and Hollywood was in slowdown mode because the guild had been working without a contract since July.

But this elite gathering of stars had an agenda. They were given slips of paper to write down their views -- to support guild policy rejecting the studio offer, or not.

Their verdict, according to two sources: to support the guild strategy. Another source said the verdict was to support moving  toward a strike. (Continuing to negotiate while AFTRA made its deal was ultimately a move down the path toward a strike vote.)

A spokeswoman for SAG said that the guild has had frequent meetings with high-profile actors to discuss issues related to contract talks.  "We have met with high profile actors on sets and elsewhere to discuss various issues throughout our negotiations," said Pam Greenwalt. "We do not publicize the meetings nor do we release details."

The rest of the members of the guild of 120,000 will be allowed a more formal vote in the next few weeks as to whether to strike, though many in Hollywood now believe a stoppage is inevitable given the standoff and the current invective between the two sides.

Still, many in the guild have expressed anger in the past two days at the prospect of yet another strike in less than a year, after the three month work stoppage by the Writers Guild of America, at a time of great economic uncertainty.

An online petition against a strike, the No SAG Strike petition, had reportedly gathered more than 5,700 signatures as of Monday evening.

But the idea of a small group of actors being tapped for an early vote while mediation was meant to be the order may anger some members even more.

Negotiations between guild and the studios have been at a standstill for months. While the AMPTP has not budged from its offer of a $250 million increase in its contract with the guild, the union has pushed for more concessions regarding new media. The studios say they cannot possibly give more than they have already offered, a deal similar to that struck with other guilds.

What’s more, the economy has embarked on a downward spiral as the standoff  has continued.

At stake are the fees to be shared on revenues for new media, entertainment distributed in new and as-yet-uninvented distribution channels over the Internet. The guild’s negotiating committee had, late in the mediation, agreed to the new media proposal extended by the studios, but only if the studios granted the guild an increase in the rate of DVD residuals. That fee – established in the decades before DVDs became huge, and a source of resentment among the Hollywood guilds – is considered sacrosanct by the studios, since DVDs constitute a huge part of their profits.

What role these major stars gathered at a favored Hollywood watering hole on the west side of Los Angeles would play in the decision-making of the guild was unclear.

“Everyone was writing their views on slips of paper,” said one person who was present at the secret meeting.

The final decision on a strike will rest with the national board.

November 22, 2008

STRIIIIIIKE??? HOW CAN THIS BE?

I'm back doing a toe-touch in the midst of my book tour, but even so I cannot believe that the Screen Actors Guild is calling for a strike vote after the no-progress meetings with a federal mediator and the AMPTP this week.

How can this be? I'm hearing from SAG members that they are furious that the guild is painting itself into this corner in the very same year that another strike yielded so little after slowing the industry to a halt for three months.

This message went out to members today from the guild negotiating team:

"Management continues to insist on terms we cannot responsibly accept on behalf of our members.  As previously authorized by the National Board of Directors, we will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization referendum.  We will further inform SAG members about the core, critical issues unique to actors that remain in dispute.

We have already made difficult decisions and sacrifices in an attempt to reach agreement. Now it's time for SAG members to stand united and empower the national negotiating committee to bargain with the strength of a possible work stoppage behind them.

We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers. The WGA has already learned that the new media terms they agreed to with the AMPTP are not being honored. We cannot allow our employers to undermine the futures of SAG members and their families."

And I'm hearing this from Mark Willis who is starting a petition against any strike:

"There are many out there who have had a seriously angry reaction to todays news that SAG heads are seeking a strike authorization. Second, they won't get the authorization anyway (let's be realistic) so that means that will be another 2 months WASTED, and during this period of wasted time, Hollywood will have slowed production significantly due to strike fears, thus putting countless out of a job even without a strike actually occurring. " Here's his petition

I know how the studios feel about all this. They are calling the strike authorization vote "bizarre," and the guild "tone deaf," given the economic meltdown all around us. Apparently they believe that the guild leaders would automatically need to cave, given the weak economy. Actually, I kind of figured they would too. Facts are facts.  

But that's not what is happening. I would like to understand what could be gained by a strike.  I'd also like to understand what was  gained by the last one.  SAG members, I hope you will weigh in. I may not be blogging full time just yet, but I will be following this story and -  not to brag, but - I did help find $25 million of your residual cash.

Final note: The Wrap News, which launches in January, has started its first editorial product. To sign up for First Take, the email newsletter that culls the best of entertainment and media news every morning, please sign up here.

The Anand Jon Verdict: Justice? An Analysis of the Case

In retrospect, Anand Jon’s lawyers have a great deal of explaining as to why they put on such a limited defense of a man accused of raping and otherwise assaulting a parade of underaged or nearly underaged models. One wonders if they drank the Anand Jon Kool-Aid.

     

From the start, Jon has suffered from a case of self-delusion. He has given the impression of being completely convinced of his own innocence. He has never accepted a shred of responsibility for what he quite obviously did: take advantage of naïve and inexperienced young women who sought a quick path to the big time, often (not always) encouraged by greedy parents who should have known better.

Jon’s mother, Shashi Abraham and sister Sanjana Jon have reinforced this delusion. They practically use Christ-like terms to describe him, and analogies like the Dreyfus Affair to describe his prosecution and trial. Jon, too, seemed to believe that he was a martyr to some higher purpose, sent to suffer in solitary confinement in one of the worst ratholes in the American prison system, the L.A. County Jail, on the path to some greater destiny.

That destiny turns out to be prison for life. It didn’t have to be this way.

In the beginning of the case, the Los Angeles district attorney was willing to discuss some kind of plea bargain, recognizing that there were significant holes in the prosecution’s case. Jon wouldn’t hear of it, and he separated from his first lawyer partly for this reason. Although he admitted that he’d had sex with some of the accusers, he would not consider admitting to having had sex with them against their will.

So Jon found new lawyers, Leonard Levine, Anthony Brooklier and Donald Marks. From a practical point of view, the minimalist path taken by this team is a puzzling one. They presumed, it seems, that if they could shred the credibility of one witness, they could taint the others. I too believed this could be an Achilles heel of the prosecution.

But it turned out that the jury, which threw the book at Jon, drew a distinction between those accusers who appeared to be lying, and others who were credible. The jury threw out the claims of Britney O. and her outrageous story of waking up to Jon sitting on her face, and still believed the others. Holly Gavel,  a character witness, who accused Jon of rape but mumbled “I don’t know” countless times under cross-examination when asked to explain holes in her testimony, did not undermine the claims of the others.

In retrospect, the prosecution’s decision to drop 11 plaintiffs on the eve of trial – the gap-ridden testimony of Lori B; Jennifer S; Jennifer C; Katie W; Ashley H; Chloe N; and Avery G. among others, as I noted in my Los Angeles magazine article – was fateful. With the weakest stories weeded out the more credible plaintiffs stood out. This was a worry among the defense team ahead of trial, but this cncern was not visible in the defense strategy.

I was surprised that no one called Marla Maples to talk about Jon’s many kindnesses to her; or to talk about his charity work in India. That kind of thing. Or other models who I’d interviewed who said they never saw a thing.

And the jury undoubtedly needed Jon himself not merely to deny that he’d raped the girls, but to admit that he seduced and bedded them cavalierly, that he was remorseful for having done so, but that that hadn’t amounted to assault or rape.

That, I think, would have been his only chance.

Jon will spend the rest of his days, it appears, in jail. I cannot think this is a fully just punishment. I have seen too many other heinous crimes get off lightly; and the girls and their parents did not exactly demonstrate responsible, or even logical, behavior in many instances. 

But it is a lesson in hubris, and a harsh one. Jon believed in his own myth – the myth of his celebrity, of his talent, of his fame and, ultimately, of his own martyrdom.

November 13, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: ANAND JON CONVICTED - LIFE IN PRISON

Anand-jon-guilty Anand Jon, the 34-year-old fashion designer accused of raping nine models, has been convicted of 16 of the 23 counts of rape and sexual assault against him in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

A jury deliberated for about five days before finding Jon guilty of 14 felony and two misdemeanor counts against seven women. The jury found Alexander not guilty of four counts of sexual assault, and was deadlocked on three counts, including one count of rape.

Judge David Wesley declared a mistrial on those three counts.

Because this case involves special circumstances of including multiple victims, the penalty is a mandatory life sentence. Jon will be eligible for parole in 67 years. Jon’s attorney Leonard Levine said he would appeal the verdict.

In a trial that lasted the better part of two months, a parade of former models emerged to accuse the Indian-born designer of luring them to his apartments in New York and Los Angeles, and raping them, sometimes within minutes of their arrival. Some of the models were young teenagers at the time.

But the case was complicated because with one exception, none of the models complained to police at the time. Many of them stayed with Jon after the assault or followed him to other cities.

Moreover, there was no physical evidence of sexual assault presented at trial.

While Jon maintained his innocence throughout, he never took the stand to defend himself, believing that the prosecution had not proved its case.

As the jury foreman read the verdict, Jon looked down without emotion, but his mother Shashi Abraham and sister Sanjana Jon began to shake uncontrollably.

The jury declined to speak to the press, and thus would shed no light on their deliberations.

Despite inconsistencies in some of the victims’ stories, the jury appeared to agree that Jon’s behavior amounted to rape and sexual assault. They convicted him of rape, lewd acts; sexual penetration by a foreign object; using a minor for sex; possessing child pornography; attempted oral copulation; sexual battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The jury threw out all four accusations of Britney O., including one of rape. Her testimony described outrageous behavior by Jon, including forcing her to give him oral sex while two friends sat on an adjacent couch.

And the jury deadlocked on three counts, 11-1, according to a court official, involving the accusations of a victim called Candace. The judge declared a mistrial on those counts. The deadlock was due to a lone holdout on those counts, juror 12, a man who appeared to be in his 40s, said one trial observer.

Other witnesses gave testimony that was uneven, or could not fully explain why they had never complained to police before last year. But jurors were clearly outraged by images of underaged (though not pre-pubescent) pornography on Jon’s computer, and a log he kept of every sexual encounter in which he praised his victims for their performance with comments like “swallows very well.”

Jon faces still more charges in New York and Texas. A spokeswoman for the district attorney said Jon is likely to be extradited to New York first.

“The victims who came forward were courageous,” said spokeswoman Jane Robison. “The jury sent a message that our communities will not tolerate serial rapists and child molesters like Anand Jon.”

Jon will be sentenced on January 13.

[Read more posts on the Anand Jon case]

November 12, 2008

Desert Full of Stars

Abudhabi-graphic 
Sure, there's a credit squeeze. And it's been a while since A-list stars have been able to command $20 million salaries at the box office.

But there's a celebrity feeding frenzy half a world away from Hollywood, as I found out on a recent trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. 

Almost every night in this tiny, oil-rich country, there's another celebrity appearing before a small group of Emiratis and foreigners at concerts and cabarets, at film festivals and other cultural events. 

On one recent night at the Emirates Palace Hotel, the ornate, $5 billion edifice around which much of Abu Dhabi's social life revolves, Jeremy Irons presented a musical tour of the world in a plush concert hall below ground: gypsy musicians, an Egyptian group from down the Nile, and a German jazz troupe were among the top performers, for the pleasure and edification of the local Emirati residents. 

Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera performed a couple of floors above him, at a packed, if less edifying cultural event. For that single concert, she was paid $700,000, I was told by a cultural official who declined to be identified. 

This kind of money is even more than Manhattan bar mitzvahs for hedge fund honchos, money that has evaporated along with Wall Street firms.

The same official told me that Madonna had negotiated $3 million for an upcoming one-night concert. (I don't see a date on her public schedule, but these concerts are not always announced outside the Emirates.) 

Money can buy a lot of good will. George Michael is out on a concert tour ahead of retirement, but he added a last-minute date to perform in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 1, lured by a reported $1.7 million fee for the night. That will be, he says, his last concert.  

And even Meg Ryan – a former box office darling now regarded as too plastified for the A-list -- was able to command $150,000 to show up and host the Abu Dhabi film festival last month. 

While the trough is full, the celebrities will feed. 

This young country, which struck it rich in the 1970s after surviving for centuries as pearl divers and date farmers, is on a mission to become an international cultural hub. Glittery names and high-class culture are tops on the agenda to lend cultural substance and high profile status to a faraway place where few Americans have been. 

Last year celebrity news outlets were set aflutter over reports that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had bought a manmade island in a new development in the planning stages in Dubai. Pitt's publicist promptly denied that the stars had bought a spot in "The World," a collection of manmade islands in the shape of the continents.

The word on the street in Dubai? Pitt and Jolie didn't buy the island. They were given it as a gift. 

November 02, 2008

Anand Jon Has Rested

6a00d8341f7e1f53ef010535cdbcca970b-800wi In the end, Anand Jon, the former fashion designer,  did not testify on his own behalf at  trial for the rape of nine models, despite all his protestations that he wanted to do so. His mother, Shashi, did not testify as expected. His sister, Sanjana, did not testify as expected. His brother-in-law, friends like Marla Maples, acquaintances – no one who knew Anand Jon and his life as a sexually obsessed climber with a taste for young fashion flesh, testified for him. Instead, the defense called a Santa Barbara district attorney, some cops and one very potent witness: Alicia Hanon,  the supervisor at a Radio Shack in San Luis Obispo.
 
Hanon testified that she felt compelled to come forward because she overheard one of her employees, Britney O., talking on the phone about the trial. Britney O. told friends that she was hoping to get her father’s house out of foreclosure in the wake of Jon’s trial, and was heard to say: “We have to get our stories straight.” As mentioned earlier, Britney O. wasn’t terribly credible before Hanon testified.
 
The defense is apparently convinced that the prosecution hasn’t made its case. But some pretty heinous behavior has been alleged from the stand in this six-week trial. In her closing statement, Assistant D.A. Mara McIlvain used a power-point presentation to drive home the youth of the alleged victims, their innocence and expectation, contrasted with Jon’s penchant for barely-legal porn, which she projected onto a screen for the jury.
 
The defense took four hours to wrap it up, with all three defense lawyers taking a whack at destroying the credibility of accusing witnesses. Leonard Levine delivered a rousing oratory: “These witnesses lied to you, and they lied to the court,” he said.
 
He noted that the prosecution based its case almost entirely on oral testimony. There was no physical evidence to back up the stories of rape. And he accused the detectives involved of failing to find the holes in the witnesses’ stories (this is demonstrably true), and of taking their stories at face value.
 
The jury is meant to begin weighing the case on Monday. Right now, it seems impossible to call this thing. Jon’s decision not to testify denied him a chance to create a sympathetic rapport with the jury. Some of the victims were credible, but not all of them were. Will this taint the whole enterprise? A jury is likely to want to punish Jon somehow, for something. But it will be hard to dismiss some witnesses as gold-diggers, or publicity hunters, while accepting others as legitimate.
 
This case that may never satisfy those of us who like clear answers - heroes and villains, and the satisfying thud of an obvious verdict. Let's wish the jury good luck.  
With so many victims and so much evidence, I’m hearing it could be a couple of weeks before there’s a verdict. 

October 24, 2008

On the road out of Dubai

Dubai Journal

When you get off the plane in Dubai, they hand you a map of the city. It's a pretty simple urban plan, with the city concentrated around its origins of a broad creek, and arrayed against the blue coastline of the Arabian Gulf.

Then you look more closely at the map and you see a lot of places noted with "u/c" beside it. This means "under construction," and it represents easily half the city, as it spreads out into the desert. This includes Motor City, where the sports car racetrack is being built; Dubailand, home to the upcoming theme parks of Universal Studio and Marvel; Dubai Silicon Oasis; the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens; the international Media Production Zone; Duabi Studio City (look for a quickie video on this, upcoming); residental developments like Jumeirah Village 1, and 2.

Then there's the new international airport, where they're building six parallel runways for takeoff and landing. I believe it will be the largest in the world. Everything here has to be the biggest, the best, the fastest, in the world.

The city, which struggles with crushing traffic problems, will easily double in size. I'm told by one local economist that the rate of inflation here is 15 percent a year, but that the government bars the release of this figure, for fear of chasing away investors.

Re women: I've been delinquent in getting to this because, for all my experience in the Mideast, it is actually a non-issue in day to day life. In Dubai, particularly, you do not see many emiratis, as I've noted. Women dress in all manner of their respective cultures - Western-style, Indian, Philippino. Some are veiled, most are not.

But when you see an Emirati woman, you'll know it. They wear the black abaya and the veil with great pride. It is a social symbol, a sign that they are among the ruling class. You will often see a gaggle of young women sashaying through the mall, their abayas swishing beind them. Their body language suggests that they are a class apart from all the others who surround them in t-shirts and bright colors.

October 22, 2008

Anand Jon Update: Defense in Full Swing

The defense has been putting on its case. Detective Cranham of the Beverly Hills police department was called to the stand and questioned as to whether she had interviewed the rape victims, or alleged ones, in person or by phone. It emerged that some were only interviewed by phone.

The defense is also trying to knock down allegations involving the suggestion that Jon drugged his victims. Questions are being asked to demonstrate that no date rape drugs were found in Jon's apartment. (But as I've noted earlier, there are photos that show alcohol in abundance.) The credibility of the accusers is being attacked - they wanted to make money off of accusing Jon, they were angry at him for being dumped. The defense has always maintained that the girls were, essentially, a conspiracy because they communicated with one another. I don't know that the jury will see it that way.

But this dances around the heart of the matter. I am told by people close to the defense team that Anand Jon will not be testifying. If true, that's a shame. We all would like to hear him convincingly deny the rape of nine women (actually, i've already heard him deny it, but it's quite another thing in open court). This says to me that his defense team feels that there are enough inconsistencies in the testimony of the rape victims to exonerate their client, or at least have a shot at that. All through this case, Jon has indicated to me that he couldn't wait to tell his story. Having spoken to him several times, I'm sure he'd be a convincing witness in his own defense.

But it's always a risk to put a defendant on the stand. Jon could come off as arrogant and lacking compassion. His belief that he has done no wrong at all may not sit well with a jury that, whatever the fine points of the law, would like to see a remorseful Lothario, at the very least. The problem there is that Jon truly believes in his own martyrdom. And his worshipful family has reinforced his deep faith that he has done nothing wrong. (Even my taxi driver in Dubai, an Indian from Kerala, had heard of Jon and said: "That fashion designer who's in trouble for rape?") My information is that the case will be dark on Friday, and that closing statements begin on Wednesday, October 29. I will try to be there for at least some of that, and fill you in.

October 21, 2008

Video: Dubai

Dubai: Money and Momentum in a City of Diversity

1 Here’s something I didn’t expect about Dubai: it doesn’t feel very Arab. Most of the faces you see on the streets and in the malls are non-Arab. My cab driver is Ethiopian. My waitress is Philippine. The hotel security guard is Pakistani. Only every so often do you see a figure in a flowing white dishdasha, sweeping through the mall, a keffiyah pinned up by his ears, and a wife in abaya – two eyes through a keyhole – in tow.

Officially, 80 percent of the 4 million residents of the United Arab Emirates are non-nationals, and unofficially some say it’s as high as 90 percent. And because the country barely existed before 1960, there’s little indigenous culture. Much of the city’s architecture is drawn from elsewhere, while being conceived on a grand scale. This leaves the impression on the order of Las Vegas meets Arabian Nights. I spent yesterday on a four hour tour of five-star hotels, gleaming new shopping malls and a host of unfinished construction projects. That included the Jumeira Palm, the manmade island in the shape of a palm tree where Dubai has built a solid mile of luxury apartment buildings, and high-end villas. At the tip, the Atlantis hotel has just opened, and still construction goes on.

2 What can you say about a society that has decided to create not just one island out of sand and stone in the shape of a palm tree -- but three of them? And more manmade islands in the shape of the continents? And another, in the shape of the Milky Way, if the sheikh feels like it? That’s the vibe of this place: anything is possible if the sheikh – that would be Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai - says it is. And the sheikh is in a big hurry. Everywhere you look is scaffolding, or a modernist curve jutting out into the sky, or the concrete pylons of the above-ground monorail, public transportation that should be ready to go by next year. I have a film that shows what I’m talking about. (It’s giving me technical trouble, but I hope to post it later.) The place hums with activity, and loads of upscale Westerners in working clothes, not on vacation. Will post later about how women fare here, given the extreme conservatism of other parts of this region.

The First Excerpt from "Loot," at The Daily Beast

The first excerpt from "Loot" is up on "The Daily Beast," ahead of publication on October 28. Here's how it starts: One thing stood out about the Getty Museum, and that was the sex. Numerous current and former Getty employees describe the atmosphere from the 1970s onward as convivial in the most carnal sense of the word. “It was like Peyton Place,” was how one former employee described it. “Sodom and Gomorrah” was the phrase used by another. Peggy Garrity, a lawyer who sued the Getty over a client’s sexual harassment claim, put it this way: “They were fucking like rabbits behind the paintings.” Here's the rest of it.

October 18, 2008

Winging my way to the desert

Traveling to United Arab Emirates for the coming week on assignment for ARTnews Magazine; will be blogging from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.  Looking forward to sharing my impressions on this first trip to a new world of burgeoning media, entertainment and finance.  Watch this space for updates.

October 16, 2008

Lootbook.com is Live

To fans and readers: We now have a sister site, Lootbook.com, where you will find all things related to my new book, "Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World." (With sincere thanks to Tim Doyle for design and execution.)

Hope you will check it out, order the book, and participate in the discussion over where the ancient treasures that now reside in our great museums properly belong. More information to come as the book rolls out from October 28, and we head out on book tour in November.

October 14, 2008

New "Loot" review: Book Page Likes It.

Review_bookpage The fight to reclaim stolen artifacts By Angela Leeper

In her evocative new book, Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, Sharon Waxman travels to Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Italy to investigate the persistent tribulations of looting and restitution. Presenting more questions than answers, Loot reveals that there is no easy solution to the centuries-old problem of stolen antiquities.

Egypt, for example, wants the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, the Denderah zodiac from the Louvre and the bust of Nefertiti from the Altes Museum in Berlin. Western museums, on the other hand, argue that after hundreds of years, artifacts have a new cultural value in their current locations. Antiquities seen by the hundreds in mere hours in major museums would be seen by only hundreds annually in their source countries. And what about security and climate-control? Consider Turkey, which forced the Met to return the Lydian Hoard, only to have it stolen from a national museum without a functioning security system.

Throughout her journeys, Waxman traces the history of prestigious cultural icons, and how in the name of building collections, these antiquities arrived in renowned Western museums, including four of the worst offenders—so named for their rampant acquisition of looted artifacts and their refusal to disclose the real provenance of these items—the Louvre, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The most intriguing areas of Loot are the accounts of and interviews with flashy government officials, journalists who have received death threats and sacrificed their families in the name of restitution, shady dealers and curators turned scapegoats. Among all the finger-pointing, Waxman hopes museum and government officials around the world can meet somewhere in the middle, cracking down on looting by only purchasing artifacts with a clear provenance and being honest about the history of looted artifacts when displaying them. As the battle continues, enlightened readers and art observers will be among the victors.

October 12, 2008

We Asked for Input; You Gave It. Preview to The Wrap News

What do our readers want?

Independence. Context. Analysis. Investigation. Fact-based reporting. A forward-looking narrative. A global perspective.

Those were the comments from those who took our survey last week about the landscape of entertainment news, sent to nearly 1,000 Hollywood insiders. From the shortest response to the longest commentary, the thought-leaders who took our survey  confirm what I believe to be true: there is a void where thoughtful, substantive coverage of Hollywood and media ought to be.

"They all need an overhaul," writes one respondent of the current alternatives. "There's too much celebrity, gossip news that serves as blaring white noise to block out the good things happening in the industry outside of the blockbuster films."

"The lies bother me most about online entertainment reporting," writes another. "Would like to see more reporting on traditional entertainment trends and less gossip."

Other comments were shorter and to the point:

  • "Missing: perspective Bothers me: lack of thought."
  • "There is no serious coverage of the film and television industries and absolutely no investigative reporting being done."
  • "No information about future trends and most news is very superficial. No in depth stories."

Some were concerned about the lack of independent reporting, free of agendas and personal favors. "There is too much obligation in the relationships between the trades and the studios," writes one. "The daily papers don't have enough insight; much of the blogging has a personal agenda." Also this: "Most news on most all sites is exactly the same information; some reporting is needed and not just posting pre-prepared press releases."

And a thought frequently repeated was the need for smart reporting on the ways in which the entertainment industry is shifting in fundamental ways.   "I think the business is changing rapidly and there needs to be more focus on companies that are forging ahead, making changes, part of the new landscape," wrote one.

Finally, there was this gem of a comment: "Hollywood is neck-and-neck with Washington for being choked by spin. Too much PR power-brokering and captivity to trends. Someone needs to call it like they see it, and hold entertainment to the same accountability standards as other industries."

That is precisely what we intend to do when The Wrap News launches in January. Aggressive reporting to the highest of standards, for the purpose of informing our readership and engaging their participation.

If we don’t live up to this standard, I trust that all you readers will let us know. But the hope is that you will be active participants in the community that we create, a community of real-time news and information, of analysis and criticism, of ideas and debate.

The survey went out to a broad range of entertainment insiders and media professionals. They were divided evenly among men and women; about a third of our respondents are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Prosecution to Rest in Anand Jon; Defense this Week

Anand4 The prosecution nears the end of its run in the trial of Anand Jon. In more than two weeks of testimony, all nine women plaintiffs have taken the stand to accuse him of rape, and several more have testified as to his poor character, giving their versions of assault.

There have been emotional moments, and sidebar discussions involving intimidation, or alleged intimidation by Sanjana, Anand’s sister. It is hard to overstate how attached both Sanjana and her mother, Shashi, are to the accused, Anand. Throughout, Sanjana sits in the hall outside the trial, and apparently some witnesses find her dagger-gaze intimidating.

Regardless, the testimony on the stand from the plaintiffs has been as confounding as the accounts in the grand jury. On one hand, many of them have recounted heart-rending tales of being lured to Jon’s apartment and then raped. On the other hand, their behavior after the alleged rape is still difficult to fathom – failing to go to police, staying with Jon, paying him rent. And under cross-examination, some of the stories seem flimsy.Anand_family 

Among the more upsetting testimonies – and they are all upsetting – was Britney O., from Arroyo Grande. She testified that shortly after meeting Jon, she was given vodka, passed out, and awoke to the smell of Jon’s anus, and to find him sitting on her face.

(I should note that Sanjana and Anand insisted that he never drank alcohol, and didn’t have it around. The prosecution has introduced photos of Jon’s apartment with bottles of Grey Goose crowded into the freezer.)

But Britney O. was among the least convincing witnesses during the grand jury phase. She testified that Jon forced her to give him a blow job on the couch while two friends, Janice and another Brittany, sat on an adjacent couch. She’s disturbingly vague: “And I realized that his penis was in my mouth, and I didn’t even notice.” Then came the horrific encounter with Jon’s anus. But she called him a few days later with a fashion question: “I felt really weird and I didn’t want to, and I never intended on seeing him again, which I did not, so I didn’t want to have a friendship with him or anything.”

Many of the plaintiffs suggest they were drugged and plied with alcohol. But that leaves their accounts of rape hard to pin down. Several said they were raped when they were unconscious.

Personally, it seems to me that with such uneven testimony, the exhibits are the more convincing evidence against Jon thus far. His “conquest list,” in which he boasts of having “fst fkd” girls, and compliments one for “blow job good – swallow very well,” is just plain repulsive. (It is not necessarily evidence of rape, but it betrays a sexual obsessiveness that feels abnormal.)  Similarly, a video of him fingering the privates of a trembling, naked model is damning (there seems to be a difference of opinion whether he inserted his finger or not, but either way, it’s hardly acceptable designer-model interaction).

So with about half of the argument made, it's very hard to call this case. In the meantime, evidence is emerging of Britney O. having hours-long chats with a hacker in England who gave her information about how to tamper with Jon’s computer. If and when I get documentary proof of this, I will post it. The defense believes this shows evidence of a conspiracy against him.

The defense is scheduled to begin its case on Wednesday. I will keep you updated on any bombshells that emerge. What we all really want to see is Jon on the stand - denying. We should expect nothing less. Denial seems to reign supreme in this case, on both sides.

(Note to readers: I took down comments from previous posts that in my view got out of hand. I will leave these comments open for as long as the discourse remains civil and intelligent.)

October 06, 2008

Nick Denton: Live by the Snark, Die by the Snark

Gawkershot "The golden age of the blog is over."

So writes Nick Denton, the chief honcho at Gawker Media, explaining in an internal memo his reason for firing 19 people last week. This, even as he reports that his advertising is up 30 percent over last year. He's cutting people and incentive bonuses, he says, because he expects advertising to go down.

So, now Nick Denton is laying people off, just like those dinosaurs in mainstream media.

The difference is, mainstream newspapers fired real journalists.

What the Gawker empire represents is as transitory as the people he employs. Denton has indisputably proved that you can create a lucrative business model out of highly targeted blogs, fed by tightly managed staffs of journalists who've numbed themselves to nagging doubts that what they do every day is journalism.

If Gawker's advertising goes down, it won't only be because of the economic downturn. For years, Denton - a savvy businessman - has been incentivizing his staff to reach deeper into the gutter by paying people based on the number of page views (and what do you think gets more clicks - naked Lindsay commentary? or John McCain's "unsubstantiated rumor" of a love triangle? And, yes, I wrote about John Edwards' love shenanigans, when it became an issue of media ignoring a major story). Meanwhile, the Internet has mushroomed as a community where more and more people turn for information.

I know Denton's traffic is up, overall. Nonetheless, I believe that readers and advertisers alike are fully saturated with the sort of substance-free-snark that feeds the Gawker machine and its many tentacles. There are really only so many times you can read "Britney Spears in Hail Mary Sex Embargo " before deciding you'd really rather do something, anything, else. And as newspapers wither, people need reported information.

It's hard to come by on the Internet. The online world is changing and evolving, and quality is the next big thing. When the internet superhighway first debuted, it was pornography that drew all the eyeballs and clicks. The next wave was the independent bloggers -- the likes of Wonkette, and Gawker and Defamer. As those got bought up by bigger companies, or grew into bigger companies, we've been flooded with attitude. Aggregation, and attitude. What about some well-reported facts, surrounded by intelligent analysis, in a timely manner? That's what we're hungry for.

Denton is ripe for mocking, and he knows it. "I could come up with some bullshit line about how much worse it would have been to wait until we were forced to control costs; or how much more unpleasant life will be at the many internet ventures and newspapers that won't make it through the downturn," he writes. He then does this adorable pirouette to head off the expected snarkback: "Gawker Media is behaving like those big media companies that we mock so easily." (Used to? Does this mean they will no longer mock and smear and malign journalists at big media companies? Too late. Had I known, I might have stayed at The New York Times.)

Quality. And while I'm at it, let me publicly lament the flight of talented colleagues, Jeff Leeds of the Times and Gabriel Snyder, once of Variety, to the world of celebrity infotainment, and the kingdom of snark, respectively. Leeds, one of the best music journalists working (or, rather, not working) has gone to Buzznet, where he will be the editor-in-chief. Snyder becomes managing editor at Gawker. Like other journalists, they have to eat, so one can hardly blame them. But their joining the world of lowest-common-denominator-clicks makes those of us seekers in the world of information-that-matters the poorer.

October 04, 2008

Sarah Palin Visits SoCal

Palin Sarah Palin at a rally in Carson today. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn. More at his blog.

October 03, 2008

Is Tyler Perry a Cheapskate? His Writers, Fired, to Picket

Four fired writers from Tyler Perry's production company, House of Payne, are planning to picket the opening of the niche superstar's new studio in Atlanta on Saturday. They had been demanding the right to unionize, and were fired instead on Tuesday. Perry

"Disrespected, betrayed, saddened," is how one of those writers, Lamont Ferrell described himself, on being fired after working on 100 episodes of "House of Payne," the flagship show. Perry has raked in millions from the show and his series of movies that have been huge hits in the African-American community -- including "Meet the Browns" and "The Family That Preys" -- but is not interested in a guild contract.

Meanwhile, The Writers Guild of America, West, which has been trying to organize these writers, filed unfair labor practice charges against Perry's company with the National Labor Relations Board. They'll be striking at the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios at 4 pm on Saturday.

September 27, 2008

Anand Jon Trial: Holly Gavel In the CrossHairs

Anand3Trial Update: Two alleged victims of the former designer have testified this month. The first Heather, had a blonde bob and a sweet smile. She testified that when she was just 14 in 2003, Jon tongue-kissed her at a fashion event. She trembled and teared up on the stand. Jon “terrified” her, she said. Under cross-examination, she admitted that at the time of going to the police about the incident, she had not mentioned that she was terrified, a key component in proving sexual assault.

More troublesome was Holly Gavel, who testified that Jon had raped her, but was among the group of 11 who the prosecutors removed just before the trial began. She was nonetheless called to testify, presumably to establish a pattern of Jon’s behavior.

But the prosecutors took a decided risk. Gavel's grand jury was among the least believable of those I read earlier this year, and she was similarly problematic on the stand. The 20-year-old detailed how Jon raped her in 2006, including oral and anal sex. But under two hours of cross-examination by Tony Brooklier, she seemed unable to remember much of what was asked of her. By one count, she said “I don’t remember” or ”I don’t know” more than 70 times.

Brooklier: “Why didn’t you ask for help?”

Gavel: “I don’t recall.”

And later:

Brooklier: “Isn’t it true that you have been lying throughout your testimony?

Gavel: “I don’t recall.”

Gavel lived with Anand Jon, paid him rent, and worked as his assistant. After she was supposedly raped by Jon, she went with his mother and sister to India. Why? “I wanted to get away,” she testified, “and AIDS awareness is a very important thing people need to know about.”

Victims who are not credible are not value-neutral in this trial. They will tip the balance in favor of the defendant, whether or not he is guilty, and whether or not other plaintiffs are credible. One wonders what prosecutors believe that witnesses like Holly add to the case. If her story is not strong enough to stand up under scrutiny, witnesses like this, with fantastic tales of assault and weak rejoinders under cross, lend weight to the argument of the defense, that there is some kind of vendetta at work in this case.

Next week – more victims.

b

September 17, 2008

SAG Poll: Keep Negotiating. AMPTP: Your Poll's No Good

A self-selecting poll by the Screen Actors Guild of 10,298 its members came up with fairly predictable results: 87 percent favor continuing to negotiate. Another 12.7 percent would like to accept the $250 million package offered by the studios and producing companies, represented by the AMPTP.

The AMPTP took about five minutes to reject the poll as a "farce," and the results as "meaningless." The stalemate wears on; Hollywood continues at a slow-go pace, and actors remain without a contract.

Obama on the Cheap: Pierce Brosnan - Magic Johnson???

Magic UPDATE: Ron Howard, it turns out, may yet become the ambassador to Portugal. I'm informed that he did BUY two tickets to the dinner last night, but did not attend because he is shooting "Angels & Demons" every day. His wife Cheryl and daughter Bryce went in his stead, sitting with Brian Grazer and Jim Wiatt, who also may have a shot at a fancy posting. (But wait -- do we really want Brian as our diplomat-on-the-loose?)

Still, apologies to all those who emptied their checkbooks and were not acknowledged.

Earlier: Obama is Ronhoward_2 not about to forget this soon. When the going got rough, some people in Hollywood reached deep and handed over... $250?

Only some of the rich and famous in Hollywood went to the Obama fund-raising dinner last night in Beverly Hills, and paid $28,500 each for the privilege of helping The One defeat the Palin-McCain machine.

They included all three cofounders of DreamWorks - David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. Stars like Leonardo diCaprio, Will Ferrell and Tobey Maguire. The evening netted a record $9 million for the candidate.

But some got away dirt cheap, and showed up later to a fundraiser-concert with Barbra Streisand crooning bits of tunes, apparently, rather than whole songs. (That would cost a whole lot more than $250, methinks.) So - Ron Howard? You've been duly noted. You too, Magic Johnson. Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Silverman too. You folks can kiss those hoped-for European ambassadorships good-bye.

September 16, 2008

The L.A. Times Sues Itself

In an astonishing turn in the sad saga of the Los Angeles Times, a group of ex-reporters have filed a lawsuit against Sam Zell and the Tribune Company.  A federal, class-action lawsuit, no less. I will comment on this down the line, but for the moment, have a look at Kevin Roderick's account of this development, and the press release that details their complaints. And to think that just months ago, many L.A. Times reporters and editors who I know celebrated Zell's purchase of the paper.

September 14, 2008

Now There's Nine: Anand Jon Trial Opens

Anand2_2 “I am my own God. I can get whatever I want.”

Thus did deputy district attorney Frances Young quote the target of her prosecution, former designer Anand Jon, whose trial on multiple rape charges opened on Friday.

The prosecutor used a power point presentation, with the previous quote as one of the slides, to paint a picture of Jon as a predatory sex fiend. For well over an hour, she distilled the most graphic testimony of plaintiffs who gave grand jury testimony a year ago, describing how Jon lured them to his apartment, and then assaulted them sexually. Young offered up a glimpse of the coming argument as to why almost none of these victims went to the police, or why many of them followed Jon to other cities. "Human reactions to trauma," read the card, "Fight, flight, freeze."

Before getting started, though, Young asked the judge to drop yet another plaintiff from the original list of 20 women accusing Jon of assault. That struck four more counts against him, leaving just 25 alleged crimes against nine women. Defense attorney Leonard Levine told reporters this was a sign that the prosecution's case "was falling apart."

Only two women remain accusing him of the most serious charge, forcible rape.

Still. Nine women, if they are credible, are more than enough to put Jon away for the rest of his life. And the visual evidence, if circumstantial, is highly emotive; Young showed a videotape of Jon asking a 17-year-old to take off her clothes.

Throughout, Jon sat at the defense table, dressed in a suit, without a discernable reaction.

His lawyer, Levine, responded with a power-point of his own. "What are the issues?" read one card. "Where is the evidence?" read another.

The jury, comprising 6 women and 10 men (including four alternates) and with a racial mix, will have a challenging task ahead of them. Monday will bring the first witnesses, the victims themselves. In the absence of physical evidence to convict Jon, their testimony will be the whole case. Stay tuned.

September 13, 2008

The Chatsworth Train Tragedy, by Alcorn

Train_ja_11 This gripping image by Jonathan Alcorn is from the tragic train wreck in Chatsworth, California, which as of now has claimed 23 lives. It is expected to claim more before the search is through.

No clear word yet as to the cause, but it appears that the commuter train missed a red signal, placing it on the same track as a freight train. Said a spokeswoman for Metrolink, the commuter line: "Our preliminary investigation shows it was a Metrolink engineer that failed to stop at a red signal and was the probable cause of the accident."

Alcorn's photos were taken for the New York Times, and more of his vivid images can be seen at his blog.

September 09, 2008

A Director for the Met: A Young European

After 31 years of the leadership of the legendary Philippe de Montebello, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York went in-house, and young, and British.

Thomas Campbell, a 46-year-old curator in the department of European sculpture and decorative arts, was the talent behind the Met's quiet blockbuster in 2002, "Tapestry in the Renaissance," and the young prince tapped for one of the most important jobs in art scholarship and preservation in the world.

Leading lights in the art world like Neil MacGregor at the British Museum, or Michael Govan here at the L.A. County Museum of Art, were passed over, as was reported finalist Max Hollein, of the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt.

The choice of Campbell, who is young and untested as a leader, may reflect a desire for change and dynamism (can we call it the Obama effect?). But he is nonetheless rooted in the very traditional, Eurocentric traditions of museum scholarship. Will he have the vision to take the Met through the challenges that it and other encyclopaedic museums are facing in the 21st century?

I, for one, hope that Campbell will consider a fundamental change in the museum's posture when it comes to its own history of collecting and provenance. Greater transparency, and a sharing of this history with the public, is necessary for the Met to be worthy of its reputation as one of the finest museums in the world. More on this, of course, when "Loot" is published.

September 07, 2008

MSNBC to Olbermann: We Love You! We Hate You! We Love You!

Olbermann1 An identity crisis reigns at MSNBC. The network was sure it had found a niche when the ratings finally climbed out of the 25,000 viewer range this year. Who was the savior? None other than that master of the elegant put-down, host Keith Olbermann, combined with the pit bull interrogations of Hardball-man, Chris Matthews.

In the Year of Obama, this one-two punch seemed to put NBC-Universal's also-ran cable network on the map. It gave it an identity. MSNBC would be the foil to the right-leaning Fox. Viewers would tune in to a leftie, Hillary-hating network. All those HuffPo bloggers would have a friend on the cable air-waves. The journalism aspect of it didn't matter so much in the face of hard facts for Olbermann: ratings reaching beyond 1 million viewers.

The cable network seemed to confirm its embrace of its new left-wing status just three weeks ago, when it yanked veteran anchor Dan Abrams off the air in favor of Olbermann's protege, Rachel Maddow.

But now, what's this? As Brian Stelter reports in tomorrow's New York Times, it is neither Olbermann nor Matthews who will anchor news coverage of the debates and election night. Instead it is the vanilla stylings of David Gregory, whose daily show at 6 pm, "Race to the White House," has been a decided snooze.

What gives? It turns out that NBC is not so comfortable showcasing two big personalities with clearly defined political sympathies. More to the point, the tension between the two anchors had spilled out into the open, and led to questioning by the more traditional news staff at NBC.

Writes Stelter: "The coverage frequently descended into on-air squabbles between the anchors, embarrassing some workers at NBC’s news division, and quite possibly alienating viewers."

Two noted turning points in the past week: Brian Williams on the Jon Stewart Show, was asked by the host about the squabbling at MSNBC. Willliams blanched, squirmed, smiled broadly, and asked, "Are you serious?" Then there was that surprising moment at the Republican National Convention when the delegates actually began chanting "NBC, NBC," when veep nominee Sarah Palin took aim at the media.

It is difficult indeed to hew to old-fashioned principles of bias-free coverage when the ratings favor entertainment and spin. Here's my favorite quote from the Stelter piece: “MSNBC is behaving like a heroin addict,” one senior staff member observed. “They’re living from fix to fix and swearing they’ll go into rehab the next week.”   

September 04, 2008

Voir Dire for Anand Jon

UPDATE 9/6/08: Jury selection was completed on Friday. Opening statements are scheduled for next Friday, Sept. 12.

PREVIOUSLY: The trial of Anand Jon has begun in Los Angeles Superior Court downtown. As promised, I will be posting updates on the case. Yesterday and today lawyers dealt with procedural matters and arguments over whose and how many computers police seized from Jon's apartment. Today voir dire began, the process of jury selection. Judge David S. Wesley cleared the courtroom, so no reports yet from that process.

Opening statements are set for September 12.

(Thanks to Los Angeles Magazine for linking to these posts through the trial, at www.lamag.com.)

Shelby White Objets Returned to Greece

Update: My colleague David Gill writes in to observe that Greece has not, in fact, ruled out legal action against Shelby White, despite the return of these pieces. See his link in Comments on the reconstruction of the fragmented tombstone. Stele_composite (Photo is a composite of the two pieces, with thanks to Gill.)

Earlier:

Shelby White, the New York-based art collector and donor, has returned two pieces from her private collection to Greece, Reuters reports. This is in addition to items White has already returned to Italy, and which puts her out of further legal jeopardy.

The items, a bronze vase from the fourth-century B.C. and the upper part of a marble tombstone, have been put on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The tombstone will eventually be reunited with a lower fragment, which is housed at the Museum of Vravrona, meaning the tombstone can be exhibited as a whole for the first time. No word on how this monument came to be dismantled in the first place.

The Washington Post Tips Reader to "Loot"

From today's Washington Post, a nod to "Loot" as a book to watch for this fall:

Fall Books Preview

BY Marie Arana  |  AUGUST 31, 2008

There is special pleasure in pawing through books before they publish and imagining the insights they'll bring. Consider the years of work and accumulated wisdom that have gone into producing the 116 that follow. Here is a treasure trove of knowledge, from a chronicle of the White House war room to the artistry of Marc Chagall. Here, too, is a world of the imagination, from the slave trade as conjured by Toni Morrison to the nervous '50s with Philip Roth. This is but a mere fragment, a scattered sampling of what's in store for our readers as we head into the busiest season of the year.

Artistic Pursuits

  • Breakdowns, by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon, Oct.). The creator of Maus looks back at the mad, MAD '60s.
  • Chagall, by Jackie Wullschlager (Knopf, Oct.). Born dirt poor in late 19th-century Russia, he became one of the great artists of the modern age.
  • John Lennon, by Philip Norman (Ecco, Oct.). The legendary musician began life as a psychologically scarred child, under the roof of his Aunt Mimi.
  • Le Corbusier, By Nicholas Fox Weber (Knopf, Nov.) One of the most admired and reviled architects of the 20th century worked for Mussolini and the USSR, too.
  • Loot, by Sharon Waxman (Times, Oct.). Who should own the great works of ancient art? And why were they stolen in the first place?
  • Mona Lisa in Camelot, by Margaret Leslie Davis (Da Capo, Nov.). How Jacqueline Kennedy helped bring Da Vinci's masterpiece to America.
  • Reagan, by Marc Eliot (Harmony, Sept.). Focusing on the actor's Hollywood years, an insight into the leader.
  • Spellbound by Beauty, by Donald Spoto (Harmony, Oct.) Alfred Hitchcock's complicated and often scandalous relations with his leading ladies.

August 30, 2008

Obama Snubs Foreign Media. Why?

This seems like myopic behavior by the Obama campaign.

At the coming out party for the Democratic nominee -- the past week's Obama-fest in Denver -- the campaign declined to give clearance to foreign television media to report live from the floor of the convention. This is like having the Olympics, and making the television cameras report from outside the water cube.

Can this be true? Barack Obama, who has pledged to change the perception in the world that America is arrogant and isolationist, self-centered and smug, took the first opportunity to undercut his argument. At the moment when he had the attention of millions of Americans, he blew it with the rest of the world -- and the rest of the world, by all accounts, is completely enamored of the man.

"I can't really call what I'm doing journalism," complained Laura Haim, the correspondent for the French cable station Canal Plus, on CNN this morning from Denver. She was pretty angry, and understandably so. She said that foreign correspondents such as herself were allowed a half-hour on the convention floor per day, which was essentially useless, and could not broadcast live.

In media as in war zones, we American journalists are usually treated as well as we treat others, so don't be surprised if there is some kind of retaliation in European circles.

This choice also makes me wonder if the decision to give access to dozens of bloggers at this year's convention has crowded out the journalists who have access to millions, truly millions, of decision-makers overseas. Most of all, this sends a message directly at odds with Obama's rhetoric.

This is not the first time that foreign journalists have complained about not having access to the candidate. In July, a German correspondent complained in an op-ed in The Washington Post that foreign journalists had not been allowed to interview Obama:

"This spring Obama allowed at least one foreign reporter on trips to Ohio and Texas. But as the campaign has progressed, access has become more difficult for foreign correspondents. E-mail inquiries get no reply, phone calls are not returned. My colleagues and I know: We are last in line. We don't matter,"  wrote Christoph von Marschall, of the Berlin-based Der Tagesspiegel.

Funny enough, Haim wrote a letter to the Post to say that she had had an interview with Obama, but that she had not been credentialed to travel with him abroad or in the United States.

August 28, 2008

Obama: Do We Dare Believe?

Obamania_2 My husband refused to watch Barack Obama.

He stayed in the bedroom, clicking on French television while the first African-American to seriously contest the U.S. presidency accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party before a throbbing wall of humanity in Invesco Field.

“This moment, this election, is our chance to keep the American promise alive,” Obama said, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech about his own lofty dreams.

    It was history, live. My husband wasn’t interested. 

     Me, I like Obama. How can I not? He’s likeable. He’s intelligent. Articulate. Empathic. Optimistic.

    Listening to him, it is possible – even just for a second or two – to leave behind the cynicism of our life experience. To embrace his belief, secretly our own, that as a country we can change. That as individuals we can grow and improve and collectively become a better society. That despite the obvious – that we are a deeply divided nation -- we can find common ground. 

     My husband doesn’t want to hear it. Which is kind of crazy. An immigrant to this country and a political junkie, my husband finally took the oath of American citizenship two years ago so that he could vote. This will be his first presidential election as a U.S. citizen, and yet he has sworn – since Hillary fell out of the running -- that he is going to sit it out. He will not vote for Obama, and he can’t support John McCain and the party of a failed administration.

Obama, my husband says, is a politician. A gifted orator. And the world is a hazardous place. Tonight he was offended by the spectacle of a mass, staged political event, a stadium packed with 80,000 people screaming the name of their new leader.  As a European, he’s seen such sights before.

“It’s manipulation,” he called out from the other room, disgusted. “It’s banal.”

I thought about this. I had found Obama’s speech moving. “All across America, something is stirring,” the candidate said. “What was lost in the past eight years was our sense of common purpose.” Now is the time, he said, to reclaim it.

In his speech, Obama denounced cynicism. He rejected “the same old politics” and its players. He dared to suggest that those who oppose abortion and those who support the right to choose can find things to agree about. That hunters in rural Ohio and those who fight gang-bangers in urban Cleveland can concur on banning automatic weapons.

He argued passionately for moderation. Would I have felt differently if the pulsing waves of people visible all the way up to the bleachers were cheering a different political message? Or a religious one? Would I have felt fearful, instead of moved? 

I was struck nonetheless by the unlikelihood of it all. Here’s a candidate close to my own age, vastly inexperienced for so weighty a position. In the moment, his argument is stirring. He conjures a vision that we yearn to grasp, a vision of change. Change is scary to most people. It is so much easier to choose the familiar, even when the familiar is not desirable.

But my husband, whose political instincts are finely honed, does not trust the message, or the man. He has believed before, and been disappointed. Barack Obama, he says, wants to be the president more than anything else, and his words are tailored to that goal. "This election has never been about me. It's about you," said Obama tonight. That's a good line, observed my husband, wryly.

    “I get it,” said Obama.

    Maybe he does. If so, do we dare believe it too?

Driving While Surfing: Please, Stop

This is the second time in a few weeks that I've nearly been crushed in a head-on collision by a car driving down my quiet, leafy street that inexplicably began to veer into my lane. I'm driving 30 mph. He/she's driving 30 mph. Except for my reflex to swerve into the curb, honk and pray, I wouldn't be writing these words. What could explain such stupid driving behavior? In both cases, they were looking at their cellphones while the car drifted off into opposing traffic. Readers, help me out here: how can we stop this epidemic of texting, emailing, message-checking and surfing the web - while driving?

August 26, 2008

Bratz Gets Off Easy; Mattel Sulks

A jury in Riverside awarded Mattel, the doll-making giant, $100 million in damages against MGA Entertainment over similarities between its "Bratz" doll franchise and the Barbie products of Mattel, Marc Lacter reports. That award is far less than the $2 billion award sought by the El Segundo-based toymaker.

MGA Entertainment, along with Avi Arad and Lions Gate, made last year's "Bratz" movie, which took in a paltry $10 million. But I guess they can now go make a sequel.

Hollywood Heavyweight Saban Might Defect to McCain

Hillarysaban One of Hollywood’s leading Democrats, billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, has been one of Hillary Clinton’s most stalwart supporters. Now that his gal is out of the running, he is not close to being won over by Barack Obama. Saban has studiously avoided Denver this week, and said today he might even vote for McCain.

“I’m on the fence about what to do,” he said in an interview. Obama and Joe Biden are simply too liberal for him, he said. “I’m happy to pay taxes and smile,” he said. “I have no problem with liberals, except for national security. I will worry about health care, education, the Supreme Court after I know that I will be alive. If I’m not alive, do I care if I have health care?”

A Cairo-born Israeli-American, Saban has contributed vast sums to Democratic causes -- $186,500 this year, together with his wife Cheryl – and has raised far more from his network of wealthy friends. Bill Clinton is on his speed dial. (Trust me, I’ve seen it.) But he thus far has not given a nickel to Obama, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Apparently even with the addition of foreign policy veteran Joe Biden to the ticket, Saban does not feel confident with Obama at the helm in a dangerous world. He believes, the mogul said, that Iran is preparing a nuclear weapon to wield against Israel in the next two years, while Biden seems to believe that such a threat is a decade or more away.

“As a Jew, a Holocaust in the 21st century is unacceptable to me,” said Saban.

Let's not get carried away: as a whole, Hollywood has gone crazy for Obama. But there is evidence that other Hillary supporters in Hollywood are similarly undecided, and might lean toward McCain. Stanley Gold, of Roy Disney’s Shamrock Holdings, has so far maxed out his contributions to the party, but given no money to Obama. Producer Stephen Bing has spread all kinds of largesse to Democratic candidates -- $110,200 this year – but none to Obama thus far.

Observed Saban: “Like every American, I have 3 options: vote for Obama, vote for McCain, or do nothing. Like some of my friends, I’m sitting on the fence.” The nominee will have his work cut out.

Defamer Loves Me

See the MGM post below for a genius graphic pitting yours truly against Nikki Finke.

And who said I had no sense of humor????

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