Posted by Danielle Berrin
At a time when they desperately need it, the gay movement may be getting a most precious addition: Adam Lambert. The edgy rocker from “American Idol” who in the past has been coy about his sexuality, is reportedly coming out to Rolling Stone magazine in next month’s cover story. NOT that this is at all shocking, after photos of Lambert dressed in drag and kissing men went viral on the Internet. Though it does raise questions as to why he wasn’t more direct in the first place when even an “ambiguous” sexuality worked against him.
“I am who I am,” Lambert said in response to the photos that leaked last March. “I have nothing to hide.” Not exactly a confirmation—or a denial.
As recently as last week, he told reporters to “keep speculating” about his mysterious sexuality, and then this morning, the NY Post reported that a “well placed source” inside Rolling Stone has said, “He didn’t want it to be an issue during the contest, but he’s fine with his sexuality.”
It’s a bit ironic that Lambert didn’t want his sexuality to be an issue when it clearly was. The outcome of American Idol, in which an innocuous and bland talent won the contest, is proof that America didn’t need Lambert to “come out” in order not to vote for him. His “edginess” was code enough for a values clash with conservatives. And although the additional minority stripe of his being Jewish may not have helped him in the way Kris Allen’s Christianity did, it’s unlikely that enough people even knew he was Jewish for that to have had an impact.
I don’t think anyone would suggest that Lambert lost because he had less talent.
What two other Hollywood Jews have to say about being Jewish and gay:
Howard Bragman, Hollywood publicist: “As I tell people I grew up fat, Jewish and gay in Flint, Michigan. It made me a very empathetic guy.”
Bruce Vilanch, comedy writer: “I grew up gay and Jewish. I had a grounding in guilt rich with lore.”
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May 29, 2009 | 5:29 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Wacky music producer Phil Spector who last April was convicted of the murder of actress Lana Clarkson has been sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.
Spector was once one of the most sought after music producers in the industry, having worked with the Ronettes, the Beatles, Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones. As respected as he was for his talent and trademark Wall of Sound technique, he was also known as a short-tempered bully.
Many have speculated that Spector’s tragic childhood produced a mentally imbalanced adult. He was brought up in a working class Jewish family in the Bronx. When he was 9 years-old his father committed suicide. With no male model, Spector had only his bulllying mother to turn to, who instead of nurturing him, inflicted psychological abuse. Spector’s sister spent time in a mental institution and later in life, Spector became known for behaving violently towards women.
The climax of that flaw occurred the night he invited Clarkson to his home. The two had met at Sunset Boulevard’s House of Blues where Clarkson, a B-movie actress, took a bar tending job to pay the bills. Later that night she was found dead in Spector’s home, with a gunshot wound to the mouth. Spector’s lawyers claimed she was despondent over her failing career and committed suicide.
Spector, 69, who revolutionized pop music in the 1960s with his layered “Wall of Sound” production technique, was convicted in April of second-degree murder by a Los Angeles jury after a second trial. The first trial ended in a deadlock in 2007.
Lana Clarkson, 40, a B-movie actress, died of a shot to the mouth, fired from Spector’s gun in the foyer of his mock castle home outside Los Angeles on February 3, 2003. The two had met hours earlier at a Hollywood nightclub.
The sentence means that Spector must spend at least 19 years in prison before being eligible for parole. If not paroled, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Spector, who worked with The Ronettes, The Beatles, Cher and Leonard Cohen at the height of his fame, denied murdering Clarkson but did not testify at either trial.
May 29, 2009 | 2:42 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It was the “American Idol” scandal heard round the world.
When word leaked that AT&T may have swayed American Idol’s outcome in favor of Kris Allen, Adam Lambert fans went crazy on the internet. According to the NY Times, AT&T, the only wireless provider that can be used to cast ‘Idol’ votes via text message, provided free text messaging phones and lessons in how to block vote at two parties organized by Kris Allen fans in Arkansas. The reps from AT&T reportedly showed Allen fans how to cast up to 10 votes in one click. When Allen was announced the show’s winner last Wednesday night, even he was surprised: “Adam deserves this,” he said.
All across the country, ‘AI’ fans were calling for a recount. The scandal brought up questions of how the show regulates its voting process, especially because ‘AI’ brings in 100 million votes—far more than a U.S. presidential election. But unlike the electoral college that organizes national voting, or the consulting firms tasked with tallying and protecting Academy Award ballots, FOX is mum about the inner-workings of the ‘AI’ voting system. And they’re sticking by their story: “Fox and the producers of ‘American Idol’ are absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified,” the official statement read. “Kris Allen is, without a doubt, the American Idol.”
Lambert and Allen went right along with it. When they appeared together on The Today Show yesterday morning, Lambert said, “I rolled my eyes actually when I heard about it. I think people are just looking for something to be dramatic about.” The two contestants seemed relatively unfazed by the hoopla and quickly squelched further speculation. Either they’re thinking, ‘Who cares? We get to make records anyway’ or pressure from the network has settled onto their lips.
Watch Kris Allen and Adam Lambert discuss the scandal on The Today Show:
Watch Adam Lambert perform “Mad World”:
May 28, 2009 | 4:03 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Anyone who got stuck in massive road closures yesterday might have guessed that President Obama was in town. And they would be right: the nation’s chief executive headed straight to the chieftains of Hollywood to raise some cash for democratic debt. Tinseltown’s mightiest threesome—Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen—reunited to host the $30K-per-couple dinner at the Beverly Hilton, aided by some of their influential brethren: Ron Burkle, the billionaire business magnate; Casey Wasserman, grandson of movie mogul Lew; and Ari Emanuel, William Morris Endeavor chief and brother to Rahm, the president’s right hand man.
According to yesterday’s L.A. Times, desperate times call for Hollywood’s toughest deal-makers.
“Both dinners are part of Obama’s personal effort to overcome the Democrats’ failure to match the Republicans’ fundraising efforts for so-called “party building,” a crucial aspect of the current political competition,” Tina Daunt wrote for The Times. “Though the Dems have fared well in recent years raising money for individual congressional and presidential candidates, particularly in California, they continue to run behind in gathering funds for the party itself. That even was true last year, when both Obama and Democratic hopefuls for the House and Senate dramatically outpaced their GOP rivals, while the party lost out to the Republicans.”
“So far this year, the national Republican Party is ahead with $23.9 million in reserves and no debt, while the Democrats have just $9.8 million on hand and $6.7 million in liabilities,” Daunt added.
Obama’s presence was enough of a pitch because the dinner brought in more than $3 million. But instead of focusing on economics, Obama used his platform to focus on his choice for supreme court justice, Sonia Sotomayor. He appealed to Hollywood sensibilities by touting Sotomayor’s rags-to-politics background, how she rose to great heights through hard work and struggle. And everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood knows, it’s tough to climb the industry ladder—you need a thick skin and an unlimited Starbucks card.
The Associated Press reports:
President Barack Obama defended his Supreme Court pick and painted an upbeat vision of the economy Wednesday as he addressed major donors to the Democratic Party in Beverly Hills.
“It’s safe to say we have stepped back from the brink, that there is some calm that didn’t exist before,” Obama told donors and celebrities at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. He said the stimulus bill that Congress passed three months ago is starting to improve the economy.
He also addressed critics of his choice of federal judge Sonia Sotomayor for the nation’s highest court. Sotomayor has stirred some controversy by saying her experiences as a Latina from a struggling, immigrant family make her more sensitive to certain cases than more privileged people might be.
“A lot has been made about the Supreme Court and my criteria,” Obama said in a 20-minute speech to 250 of the night’s biggest donors. “I want people who have a common touch, who have a sense of what it’s like to struggle.”
He praised Sotomayor because she knows that “every once in a while, people need a hand up.”
May 25, 2009 | 11:21 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I saw ‘Terminator Salvation’ last night in New York City. It was big, loud and emotionally devoid of any character or outcome I might care about. Either ‘Terminator’ 1 and 2 were far superior films or I couldn’t muster the belief that Christian Bale’s John Connor was a hero when he played a villain on the set. (Anyone who missed his infamous paroxysm aimed at the film’s director of photography can listen to it here.)
Despite my personal misgivings about the film, there are, however, a number of Jewish points of interest: One of the film’s producers, Jeff Silver, is Jewish (see Q&A below). Anton Yelchin (who plays Connor’s young father Kyle Reese) is a Russian Jew, born in Leningrad in the former Soviet Union, to figure skater parents who qualified for the ‘72 Munich Olympics but were not allowed to attend the games because they were Jewish.
And, as my colleague Adam Wills discusses in his review, there are several Holocaust references in the film.
I caught up with Blockbuster producer Jeff Silver, 53, a few months ago at the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood. Silver has produced more than 30 feature films, including “300,” “Training Day” and his latest and biggest project, “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment in the sci-fi franchise starring Christian Bale. There, he talked about his first boss, Otto Preminger, Hollywood’s chronic work obsession and how to deal with megalomaniacs.
Jewish Journal: Was there an epiphany that inspired you to enter the movie biz?
Jeff Silver: My aunt gave me a little Super 8 camera for my bar mitzvah, and I thought I would use it to become Jacques Cousteau. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I thought I didn’t have to become a dentist like my father or a lawyer like the rest of the Jews.
JJ: Your first film job was working for Otto Preminger, a film giant. How’d you manage that?
JS: Preminger was this historical figure—an Austrian Jewish, Teutonic monster. He had a reputation as an ogre, larger than life, and he was completely bald. His office was at 711 Fifth Avenue, top floor penthouse, so I just decided to put on a suit and go visit him. I said, ‘I’ve got this ticket to go to Europe, I’m on my way to get a passport picture, but I’ll throw this away….’ And he replied, ‘You would sacrifice your trip to Europe? You start tomorrow! Fifty dollars a week.’ Mind you, this wasn’t the Depression—he just knew I wanted it, and he was an exploitative bastard.
JJ: Producers can do many different things. What kind of producer are you, exactly?
JS: Well, I think I’m a chameleon. I’m the producer that the director on the film needs me to be. I think a producer is somebody who enables art to happen: You take a vision and an economic framework, and you have to meld them together. The studio has an economic interest, and the director has a creative framework, and those grammars have to be applied creatively and cleverly.
JJ: You’ve worked with some of the biggest stars in the business—Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Denzel Washington. What’s it like telling movie stars what to do?
JS: I think it’s like karate. You use the weight of your sparring partner to get them to do what you want them to do, hopefully in a subtle fashion. A way that benefits everyone is to get people to do what you want them to do—and make them think it was their idea.
JJ: Were you ever star-struck?
JS: With Marlon Brando, certainly. He was so distant and unapproachable, so heavily weighted with history in my mind.
JJ: If I had to categorize the kinds of films that you make, I’d say most of them have to do with macho men. Are you trying to work something out here?
JS: I don’t really have, nor do I aspire to have, a brand, or working out of any deep personal issues. To grow as a producer, I’ve moved into these more challenging films, and while they are more macho in a way, I took them on because they’re extremely technically and artistically challenging. And, believe me, I begin every movie in a state of fear. It’s more than machismo.
JJ: With the advent of new media, not to mention the travails of the U.S. economy, studios are making fewer and fewer films. Does the future of the movie business scare you?
JS: Making fewer films is good, because there are too many films in the marketplace and too much pressure to perform in the first weekend. I think it’s a market correction to have fewer movies out there, and maybe there will be more of a premium on originality. Right now, there’s a lack of ideas in Hollywood. People are recycling ideas, not reinventing them.
JJ: How is another ‘Terminator’ film not recycling?
JS: First of all, there’s no Arnold. This is an Arnold-free ‘Terminator,’ although I do have a surprise there, but if I gave you the scoop I’d lose my producer stripes in Hollywood.
JJ: Are there as many megalomanics in Hollywood as people think?
JS: (Laughs.) You know, the funny thing is I think there are a lot of nice people in Hollywood. What people think is megalomania is work obsession and an obsessive desire to project power.
JJ: How do you deal with them when you find them?
JS: I used to want to fight the tough guys: Otto, Menachem Golan—this Israeli producer—Robert Duvall. Now my reaction is to work with them. Let them exhaust themselves until we’re on equal footing. It’s the Zen approach. Sometimes it takes exposing yourself, showing your vulnerability and then they’ll show you theirs. I find disarming is better than fighting.
JJ: There’s this myth that Jews run Hollywood. What does that mean to you?
JS: It means nothing to me. I’m not deeply religious or theistic. Half of my friends are Jewish probably, but they’re my friends first and Jews second. With a good portion of my business associates, it’s the same. There is a subtle way in which Judaism has infused my ethical life—which is significant, but it’s not Judaism per se that is a cognizant part of my day-to-day life.
May 24, 2009 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The endless analysis of this season’s “American Idol” just won’t taper. A mere three days after the Season 8 finale, the country is still rapt with curiosity as to why the innocuous Kris Allen won the title over offbeat Adam Lambert. Much of the press (including this guilty writer) has focused their attention on cultural differences between the two contestants. There was Allen, the bland banana who leads church worship and Lambert, the phenomenal voice with vampiric style. In both cases, their offscreen personas took precedent over their preening performances.
In today’s NY Times, Jon Caramanica takes the discussion a step further and deftly analyzes each singer’s gift (or lack thereof) in a conclusive statement on this season’s ‘Idol.’ In addition to calling Allen’s singing “harmless” and “indefensible,” as well as describing the season finale as “the most anemic final competition in the show’s history,” Caramanica brilliantly realizes that the power of Lambert’s voice has drowned out criticism of his artistry. What Lambert lacks isn’t singing talent, he writes, it’s emotional depth. And although Allen may have been the ideological conservative on the show, Lambert’s talent, Caramanica says, is also conservative: He may be a fantastic singer but he is limited as a musician.
From NY Times:
Mr. Jackson once suggested that Mr. Lambert could make a record like one by the operatic emo band My Chemical Romance, but that presumes an emotional depth that he never displayed. Performative fireworks aside, Mr. Lambert does not seem to be a deep thinker, and his best appearances this season were also his most straightforward, his exceptional voice notwithstanding. (There’s no way, and little reason, to cover up an instrument so fascinating and dexterous.)
Instead the theatrically trained Mr. Lambert was often saddled by muddled, conflicting signifiers. His reference points came in flurries: David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Led Zeppelin, glam and goth and Broadway. His hairstyle changed by the week. His rock moves were vivid, but rarely completely convincing, the results-night performance with Kiss a notable exception. He only truly hit his stride toward the end of the season, leaving bizarre versions of “Ring of Fire” and “Play That Funky Music” and more in his wake. Those songs got him noticed, but they were too odd to sustain him.
That he shined on softer material — “Mad World,” “Feeling Good,” “One” — demonstrates a little-acknowledged truth about Mr. Lambert. Histrionics aside, he’s just an old-fashioned song-and-dance man, without the dancing. A lifetime in and around musical theater will do that to you. “Idol” wanted him to be something more, and he may well have wanted that for himself. So if he was hiding something, it wasn’t his sexual preference, it was his conservatism. If only he had let America see the real him.
Read more about Adam Lambert at Hollywood Jew:
Adam Lambert: The Jewish American Idol
Adam Lambert: The Jewish Mother Interview
Adam Lambert: Too Edgy for ‘Idol’?
Adam Lambert’s gay ‘liberation’ in Rolling Stone
May 21, 2009 | 3:09 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The opening moment of American Idol’s finale was dripping with irony.
Considering that this was the most culturally polarized competition in the show’s history, it was amusing that finalists Adam Lambert and Kris Allen were both dressed regally in white. This of course underscored the greatest irony of all: that Adam Lambert, whose devastating talent all but guaranteed his win, instead, lost the competition to Kris Allen, a sweet-faced, small-town folk singer. In what had to have been a disappointment to Idol’s four judges and to legions of Lambert fans across the country, the finale proved American Idol isn’t really about talent.
Actually, it felt more like a series of “Star Trek”. But here, the battle of good versus evil, dark versus light, played out in the context of a culture war. There’s Lambert, 27, the avant-garde rocker from San Diego with clear-eyed ambition for Hollywood fame; and Allen, 23, an evangelical Christian from Arkansas who plays acoustic guitar and does missionary work. In a pop contest starring these opposites, talent is secondary; who they are behind the scenes is much more important.
Lambert is the dark knight. He has raven hair, wears dark eyeliner, black nail polish and leather trench coats. His style recalls classic rock stars, school serial killers and vampires all at once. Beyond his trademark flamboyance, Lambert possesses a sexual ambiguity he’s hardly interested in dispelling: When photos of him dressed in drag and kissing other men leaked on the Internet, he responded with indifference: “I am who I am,” he said, and left his detractors to their own devices. And, if that wasn’t enough to jilt the evangelical crowd, Lambert is also Jewish.
Allen, by contrast, is clean-cut and pristine looking. He wears tshirts and jeans, sings sweetly and leads worship services at New Life Church back home. One look at him and you can imagine the hordes of teenage girls virtuously gathering their friends to call up and vote for him. Allen is the all-American boy, as inoffensive (and unexciting) as vanilla cream pie.
If it were about talent, Lambert might be the crowning glory of all eight seasons. But the majority of the 100 million votes that ended the Season 8 competition went inexplicably to Allen. Which left many ‘Idol’ fans dumbfounded at the end of last night’s competition. Before announcing the winner, host Ryan Seacrest’s face fell a little. Simon Cowell must have seen this coming, because two weeks ago he told Lambert, “If you are not in the final next week it will one of the biggest upsets on this show.” But Lambert’s loss didn’t seem to stop Cowell from looking crestfallen, a blow of defeat for the talent purist who insists that ‘Idol’ is about finding the brightest star.
Instead the nation’s conservatives changed the game by voting their conscience, not their common sense. And in the end, ‘Idol’ viewers proved that they’re not that interested in the best singer. They don’t even care about electing a star. All that matters is that they get to worship their Idol, the one who is just like them.
More about Adam Lambert:
May 20, 2009 | 4:23 pm
Posted by JewishJournal.com
by Rabbi Mendel Schwartz
As my plane entered its final approach over Nice Airport, all I could see was spectacular, crystal turquoise water. Further along the horizon were the beautiful mountains and the glistening French Riviera.
I was off grabbing a cab from the airport to the center of Cannes: The Palais des Festivals on esplanade Georges Pompidou, where the 62nd annual festival was to breakdown the following night.
My buddy, Scott Einbinder, came up with a wild idea: to host a Friday night Shabbat dinner under the stars at the International Cannes Film Festival (known in the biz as “Cannes”). It seemed like a wild idea, and at best, somewhat obnoxious. Is Cannes the place where secular Jews from around the world would care to be invited for Shabbat dinner? Maybe they do Shabbat at home? Maybe a Passover with their folks in Brooklyn? But Dinner with a Rabbi at Cannes? After all, Friday night is a working night at the festival. These people, who pay on average $10K for their trip, would rather be working that night (they need to be working to clock their hours). The notion was absurd! Scott assured me he knew tens of people in the biz and they were sure to come if we marketed the evening correctly, so I said “I’m in!”
The Chai Center supported this evening with all of its resources, secured sponsors and processed reservations with credit cards, etc…My good friend, Max Gottleib, handled logistics, such as wire transfers to the caterer in France, centerpieces, security, photographers, etc…
Food was a tough issue, as we were marketing to Jews from all over the world. Will we serve gefilte fish for the Ashkenazim, or should it be Moroccan fish for the Sephardim? French dry or white zin? Chicken soup or lentil? Should we do the abridged version of Shalom Aleichem and Kidush or should we do the whole nine yards? As a Rabbi, I had no manual to look up these questions!
My taxi pulls up in Cannes, now my fifth year returning for my greatest Rabbinical gig! It’s Thursday evening and I’m ready to hit town! I have on my Chai cap, tzitzit hanging to the sides, beard in full exposure and I head to the Carlton Hotel, where many Jews in the biz conduct business. Armed only with a pocket full of business cards, I begin my walk up the Boulevard de la Croisette, heading to the hotel. I pass club after club overflowing with people in their twenties spilling from the sidewalk onto the street clutching cameras and hoping for a glimpse of a celebrity entering or exiting one of the clubs. I continue my walk and see thousands of men in their finest tuxedos and ladies in their gowns, all leaving a premiere at the main palace of the festival. The looks I was receiving as I continued my trek made it uneasy for me during my first year at Cannes. As this was my fifth year, I felt like a pro and I belonged there! I would tell everybody I’m part of the festival program. We even had the Deputy Mayor join us! I climbed the steps to the Carlton Hotel terrace and notice 300 people sitting around small French tables, 20 waiters noisily serving glass bottles of Coca cola, Cigars, snacks, etc… the noise is deafening. Security asks for my film badge or press pass and I respond “I’m with the festival as the Jewish Rabbi from Los Angeles!” It works! After passing through security and feeling all eyes upon me, I’m wondering if I should just dodge and exit? I really have no business there! Or should I pretend I’m waiting for a meeting and sit at one of those tables and start ordering drinks at roughly $19 for a Perrier? Thankfully, someone screams from across the terrace “Koom Aher” – “come here!” I sit down at his table and thus found my first Jewish contact: a 55 year old German Jew who buys two films per festival, then distributes them locally. He tells me he’s a Reform Jew who is involved in his community in Berlin, goes to a monthly Yiddish speaking club, and swore to me his kids will only marry Jewish! He then starts to grill me. Un ver Bist Du? - And who are you? He really could not quite understand why I was there, even after I explained I was involved in “outreach.” I explained I was Hassidik-Reform and he agreed to come to the Shabbat dinner!
(After his fourth year attending, he is now one of our six sponsors).
The dinner was once again a big hit, with the women commencing the evening lighting traditional Shabbat candles, followed by the singing of Shalom Aleichem. We sang and danced under the twinkling stars as millions of Angels looked down upon a small family keeping alive a 4,000 year old tradition.
This Shabbat was made possible through our generous sponsors Alex Barder, Scott Einbinder, Craig Emanuel, Max Gottlieb, Michael Helfant, Steve Kaplan, Robby Rajber, Lawrence Silverstein, Gadi Wildstrom, The Chai Center & Lubavitch Of Cannes.
Special thanks to Max Gottleib for making this evening possible.