Posted by Danielle Berrin
Can a Hollywood action hero save Washington politics?
That seems to be the aim of former California “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, who last week launched the new Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at USC with characteristic bravado.
“If you don’t have political courage,” the former governor swaggered during his opening remarks, “You have nothing. Meaningful change takes balls.”
He would know. As governor, the centrist Republican strong-armed a Democratic legislature in order to reduce the debt during one California budget crisis early in his tenure, and then topped it off by calling his opponents “girlie men.” Even so, he was much lauded for working both sides of the aisle.
Now, he just wants everybody to get along.
Decrying “poisonous partisanship” and politicians who are “party servants, not public servants,” the daylong symposium at the Sol Price School for Public Policy was a rallying cry to restore “civility” and “decency” to Washington. The Governator’s brand-new bag — which brings with it a new job and new title as professor — promises to “advance policy, not politics.”
It sounds soul soothing, especially in the midst of a dramatic election that The New Republic’s Walter Kirn has called a “cross-dimensional struggle” between constitutional opposites. Of Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, Kirn wrote, “One reason their rivalry may try our patience is that the candidates speak such different languages that they seem to be talking past each other, like separate halves of one lobotomized brain.”
Now, in steps the action star to save us from political apocalypse:
“Political courage is not political suicide,” Schwarzenegger declared, rattling off a list of his most courageous acts as governor, like building infrastructure and supporting stem-cell research when it was unpopular in Washington. “People risk their lives in war,” he said of the bravery of American troops. “Why would a politician not risk his office to make the right decision?”
What politicians need to do, he said, is put aside personal beliefs and ask, “What does the state need? How do we serve the people?” So it was a little awkward when, intending to assert his own selflessness and altruism, his best evidence was his former marriage, which ended with his admission of infidelity: “Remember, I was married to a Democrat for 25 years,” he said with dizzying unselfconsciousness.
Decency and politics can make a bitter cocktail. At the morning panel, which included mostly former congressional and state leaders who can now afford to make nice — including former Senate majority leader and South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle, former Democratic governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson and the first Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge — former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist recalled how a 2009 hug with President Obama probably cost the former Republican his 2010 Senate race, so aggrieved were his GOP compatriots at his PDA with the enemy.
“The notion that some in my former party would so disdain an act of decency” really stunned him, Crist said. “We have to respect each other. We don’t have to agree.”
But all the talk of compromise and coming together eventually sounded ... like talk. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ominously warned that Congress couldn’t stand its 11 percent approval rating much longer without “something seismic happening.” Schwarzenegger promised to “bring [to Washington] the most dazzling ideas no matter the ideology behind it.”
Who is “right” in a face-off between values?
Enter Hollywood, a mysterious body whose political power is best described as something definite but inscrutable. During the afternoon panel on innovation with Universal Studios president Ron Meyer, Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer, Lionsgate co-chairman Rob Friedman and Interscope Geffen A&M chair Jimmy Iovine (James Cameron withdrew at the last minute because he was on a “creative roll” with his “Avatar 2” script), the conversation focused on Hollywood’s triumph in its own political battle — the culture wars.
“Anyone who’s covered politics knows the entertainment industry has this enormous power,” moderator and former Politico writer Ben Smith said, “but as a kind of dark matter.”
Yet, all one needs to do is turn toward the light of the projector or the television screen or the smartphone to see how Hollywood has, in some instances, moved the political pendulum in American culture. The panel agreed that it was Hollywood — or, more specifically, Grazer’s Fox series, “24”— that “got America used to the idea of a black president,” as well as classics like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” that brought interracial relationships to the fore, and shows like NBC’s “Will & Grace” and the Oscar-nominated “Brokeback Mountain” that helped to normalize homosexual love.
Hollywood has a history of promulgating progressive values not yet totally accepted by the culture. Hollywood at its best is about taking risks, showcasing shared humanity, working together in community and contributing to charity, all while amassing capitalist fortunes and affording mansions in Beverly Hills.
When the music business suffered through its own existential crisis, Iovine led a charge to develop headphones that would sound better than those of Apple’s iPod. If the industry couldn’t control where the music was being heard, it could at least attempt to control how. The Beats by Dr. Dre headphones were a hit, and the content-providing music industry discovered its competitive advantage over the platform-controlling Silicon Valley.
“It took being scared to death to be motivated to do this,” Iovine told the crowd.
Hollywood runs a good business. Must it also teach Washington how to act?
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September 23, 2012 | 9:51 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In a high stakes election season in which a slow moving economy has dampened national spirits, the 64th Annual Emmys telecast proved that television has a sense of humor about itself.
As the actress Julianne Moore put it when accepting an Emmy for her portrayal of Sarah Palin in “Game Change”: “I feel so validated because Sarah Palin gave me a big thumbs down.”
The presidential campaign provided the butt of most jokes Sunday evening as host Jimmy Kimmel mocked Hollywood Republicans and well, Republicans in general.
The British class drama Downtown Abbey? “It really gives you a sense of what it must have been like to grow up in Mitt Romney’s house,” Kimmel joked about the best drama series nominee.
Accepting the award for outstanding miniseries or movie, actor and “Game Change” producer Tom Hanks said, “We’d like to thank our founding fathers for the Democratic process they came up with that has provided us with a plethora of material.”
If anything, the television academy showed itself to be playful and teasing, the more at ease counterpart to the self-serious Oscars.
“What kinds of people make the best comedy directors?” Kathy Bates and Jimmy Fallon wondered before presenting the award for best comedy direction.
“Jewish men?” Lena Dunham muttered, albeit ironically, in a pre-taped video sketch (Dunham, the 26-year-old Jewish female virtuoso was nominated in the writing, directing and acting categories for her work on HBO’s “Girls”).
Jason Winer, whose work directing “Modern Family” got him a gig directing feature films, was more blunt: “Jews,” he said, undoubtedly referring to himself and his former boss Steve Levitan, creator of “Modern Family” which took home awards for acting, directing and finally best comedy series for the third year in a row.
Jon Stewart, whose politically deft “Daily Show” took home its 10th consecutive Emmy for outstanding variety series countervailed his gratitude with a dose of humility, “We make topical comedy,” Stewart said, “which has the shelf life of egg salad.” Though in all honesty, Stewart’s searing and satirical takedown of media and political hypocrisy has kept his long-running show fresh and relevant.
Had Stewart’s team been available to write the Emmy’s telecast, Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke might not have griped about the show’s lack of wit. “Oh...Stupid me,” Finke wrote on Deadline.com. “The comedy is absent because the writers, presenters, and Hollywood audience are all practicing solemnity for Yom Kippur next week.”
So much for Stewart’s firmly censored “F-bomb.”
Jokes about Jews were second, however, to comments on female power.
“I don’t see anything funny abut me being Vice President of the United States,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus said during her acceptance speech for lead actress in a comedy for HBO’s “Veep”.
“We’ve heard a lot this [election] year about the war on women,” Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” said while presenting the award to Dreyfus. “I think we can hope this is the last year this happens. We should be celebrating women! Women are wonderful -- for the most part, obviously. Some women are awful,” he said dryly.
Not the women of “Homeland,” however. Upon accepting their first award of the evening for best drama writing, “Homeland” creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa accompanied by executive producer Gideon Raff, whose Israeli series “Prisoners of War” provided the conceit upon which “Homeland” is based -- made a show of thanking their wives. “Wives, we love you!” Gordon shouted before being escorted off stage.
“Homeland” was the evening’s big winner, taking home the outstanding drama series Emmy -- Showtime’s first -- and an upset for “Mad Men” whose cast and crew had hoped to make history with a fifth consecutive win. Instead, “Homeland” swept the night, also taking home acting awards for its stars Claire Danes and Damien Lewis.
In an eloquent display of female confidence, a radiant and pregnant Danes thanked her husband, the actor Hugh Dancy, “my husband, my love, my life -- this doesn’t mean anything without you,” she said, holding up her golden statuette.
So much for prevailing myths about “The End of Men.”
A campaign’s war on women becomes an award show’s parade of female power.
What’s a male host to do except, well, joke about it?
“The important thing is you get out of here as soon as possible so you can go home and put on your fat pants,” Kimmel joked. Kimmel seems to have learned a thing or two about the ways that women suffer; after all, his evening began when TV’s leading ladies literally beat the Botox out of him.
September 19, 2012 | 1:50 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
This article was updated October 9: It’s 9 p.m. on a Thursday night at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio in Santa Monica, a state-of-the-art recording facility normally leased to musicians such as Mick Jagger or John Fogerty, or lately, Adele; artists whose grandeur requires the technical perfection and engineering genius a place like this offers. But tonight it isn’t classic rock blaring through the pitch-perfect speakers; it isn’t the vengeful, determined elegy for lost love rolling through this deep. It’s something wildly unfamiliar, even anachronistic for this setting: Jewish liturgy.
The composer, Hillel Tigay, is in the house, and he’s as giddy as one might imagine a one-time aspiring pop rocker might be, even though he took a different turn and became a kind of cantor instead. Kind of, because he inhabits the role of cantor for the popular Westside shul IKAR, even though he never went to cantorial school. He didn’t actually have to, because by the time he was 13 he could chant Torah and haftarah and lead Shabbat services “cold”; by 14, he had mastered the special tropes for all five scrolls — Esther, Eicha, Ecclesiastes, Shir HaShirim and Ruth; and by his senior year of high school, he was already being hired to lead High Holy Days services, making what he thought was a bundle at the time ($1,300), which he spent on his true passion: guitars.
Tonight, more than two decades after he gave up trying to “make it” in the music industry, he’s recording a cutting-edge imagining of what prayer might have sounded like in the ancient Temple. “When people think about the way our ancestors practiced, the thing that comes to mind is sacrifices,” Tigay said. “But people don’t understand that they were putting on an incredible spectacle of music and song and prayer — that was the emotional offering. The same way we were supposed to offer the best of our oxen or goats, we’re supposed to offer the best of our song.”
The new album, whose working title is “Judeo,” features liturgical chants and songs used during services at IKAR and sung by members of that community. It is so musically complex and sophisticated, a “Hallelujah” track combining nearly 80 separate vocal and instrumental pieces has just crashed an ostensibly un-crash-able supercomputer. “Can you believe it? This pisher little shul record!” Tigay said, plunking down for a rest on the couch. Usually more understated than ebullient, Tigay right now is plotzed with pride, which is more than a little out of character. Those who know him tend to focus on his wry humor, moderate cynicism and sometimes unconventional behavior (several years ago, though the rabbi and others strongly dispute this, he visibly nursed a Diet Coke while leading services on Yom Kippur). But this recording represents something more serious, a culminating moment for him, combining what he always wanted to do (music) with what he actually does (Judaism). “This is, like, the greatest mix studio in the world, and they couldn’t handle what we were doing!”
Although this is Tigay’s third music CD with IKAR, it is also the most ambitious. With the help of music executive and IKAR member Jeff Ayeroff, who helped launch Madonna’s career, among others, Tigay was able to fund the project to the tune of nearly $60,000. But despite his desire to create something professional and polished, Tigay said he isn’t aiming for absolute authenticity; rather, he selected texts and instruments that suggest fidelity to the spirit of our time. What he wants most is to move you.
Deep, emotional engagement is an animating force behind prayer at IKAR, the progressive start-up community founded by Rabbi Sharon Brous. And much of the fuss you may have heard about the soul-shattering davening that occurs there is largely because of the musical stylings and spiritual leadership of Tigay. Although you’d be hard pressed to tell just by looking at him: At 43, the 6-foot-tall musician is ruggedly handsome with pool-blue eyes and long, tousled hair, more rock star than religious figure, who rounds out his eccentric persona with a daring penchant for tweed.
How, exactly, someone who counts listening to a Beatles record as his first religious experience and whose crowning musical moment was jumping onstage during a U2 concert to riff with Bono, ended up as a Jewish prayer leader is somewhat puzzling. For Tigay, it was even disheartening at first. “I really wasn’t comfortable at all,” he said of the day Brous offered him the job almost eight years ago. “It was like, ‘Ohmigod, is this what my life has come to?’”
Not that it was so far from where he had already been. His first name alone suggests Tigay hails from a solid Jewish background (his brothers are Hanan, Eitan and Israel, and “our middle names are worse,” he joked). Their father, Jeffrey Tigay, is a rabbi, renowned Bible scholar, professor and prolific author, who co-authored the five-volume JPS Torah Commentary, a staple of the Conservative movement. Tigay’s mother, Helene, was also a Jewish educator and deeply involved in the Philadelphia Jewish community where Tigay and his brothers grew up. That is, when they weren’t living in Israel while his father took sabbatical at Hebrew University.
Given all this, a clerical role actually seems like a natural fit, especially since Tigay practically considers Hebrew his first language. But he insists the cantor thing was a big fluke, an accident of fate: “I was always trying to rebel against my parents’ profession; I was trying to go in the opposite direction. I always saw a [Jewish] job as something removed from who I thought I was.”
Seven years in, though, Tigay has found his calling writing and recording music that brings progressive pop sensibilities to classic Jewish texts, many of which he gets to “test drive” during services at IKAR, where his wife, Beth, and two daughters, Mila, 12, and Eden, 9, are often present. But when he first arrived there, in 2005, things were a bit mussy. He quickly picked up, for instance, that the community was aiming for an authentic, engaged prayer experience, but musically, he felt it was mired in a one-dimensional, predominantly Shlomo Carlebach style.
“I immediately started to run through my head the melodies they had and wondered, ‘How would this sound if I added different harmonies, different instruments to make it more beautiful?’ I thought it would be fun to try to write my own melodies.” He jumped onto eBay and purchased an oud, a saz and a cumbus, Middle Eastern instruments that would help infuse the service with more textured, Sephardic sounds, and include the Mizrahi and Ladino music he was exposed to in Israel. “IKAR’s early service had spirit and joy, but it needed more color and texture so it was not just hora, hora, hora — Carlebach energy, or Oy! Oy! Oy! —shtetl music.”
Symphonic atmosphere? Good. Actual symphony? Not a chance. After the Temple was destroyed, music became one of its casualties; as an act of mourning, instruments were halachically banned from Jewish worship, so the issue of whether or not to use instruments during services brought about Tigay’s first and biggest clash with Brous, which he said almost derailed their partnership. “She had this image in her mind of Carlebach-style, singing your hearts out, closing eyes, banging on the tables, having this ‘real’ davening experience; and I was imagining this Peter Gabriel experience where you could create this mesmerizing soundtrack for prayer. I felt the whole thing about not using instruments was just one of those Jewish hamstrings.”
Rabbi and cantor duked it out for awhile; rabbi won. “In any partnership, two people coming together with different visions have to learn how to live together,” Brous said. “For me, not only was there halachic discomfort with instruments, I also felt like I wanted to sometimes start in the wrong key. I wanted to deal with the very human struggle of having to make something beautiful out of something ugly. I wanted people to feel cacophony; sometimes we make mistakes. It’s about giving people the experience of something messy that needs to be worked on.”
Out of that early conflict arose a very close, symbiotic partnership. “Sharon cares about every detail, every little melody and note. And in the beginning, it was a pain to have to run everything by her, but then I was turned on by her passion. Sometimes we get into these married-couple blowouts, where we’re going to kill each other and quit, but I think everybody knows we’re going to overcome them and that we’re solidly on the same page.”
Their dynamic serves the community well, explained Rabbi Brad Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, and a member of IKAR. Artson points to their relationship as a reason for the uniqueness and quality of IKAR’s prayer service. “They think through every single step of the service together, and that’s very rare,” Artson said. “They bring a level of mindfulness and partnership that I’ve rarely encountered anywhere else.” Artson also added that what sets apart Tigay from other Jewish prayer leaders is his immense musical knowledge, a mostly innate skill that was honed with a degree in musicology from the University of Pennsylvania. “He knows traditional liturgy very well, and he knows world music really well, so in any given service, he manages to pull on different musical traditions in ways that break it open all the time. It’s always fresh; there’s always something new, always something you hadn’t expected.”
Tigay’s success at making music the guiding portal for IKAR’s prayer has surprised even Brous. “I never imagined it could be like this,” she said.
She recalled that last year on Rosh Hashanah, Tigay taught the community a complex, multiple-line melody for the “Hallelujah” that appears on “Judeo” — a challenge most rabbis would prefer to avoid during the High Holy Days. But by the end of Neilah on Yom Kippur, the community had learned it well enough to sing it. After the shofar service, Brous found herself stunned: “People stayed for 40 minutes after the fast ended, because they were caught in the grip of this ‘Hallelujah’! It was so incredibly powerful. And I remember watching the faces of a couple of the kids who were sitting on the shoulders of their parents, and I thought, ‘Hillel is a genius. He somehow figured out how to break open the hearts of a thousand people at once.’ It was one of the most moving spiritual experiences I’ve ever had.”
Tigay is quick to credit an entire davening “team” that helps him lead services each week, several of whom have been there since IKAR’s founding. Jaclyn Beck, 33, is a stunning chanteuse who has lent her voice to services for the past seven years. Ross Levinson, a founding member of IKAR, adds a husky baritone and skilled drumming. Both are accomplished, mature musicians in their own right (Levinson is also a co-producer of “Judeo”), yet they all seem to cling to the credo that prayer is not a performance. They see themselves as vessels not stars. “They came to this as musicians,” Brous said, “but they’re all spiritual leaders.”
Tigay almost sounds like a guru when he describes leading prayer: “It’s like climbing a mountain; you’re getting emotionally higher and higher until you go into the stratosphere, and you keep adding new things in, climbing even higher, to the point where you forget you’re climbing and you’re just floating.”
It’s a little weird to hear a rock guy talk this way, but it’s what makes his persona so compelling. Is he a rock star in a synagogue, or a spirit master with rock ’n’ roll skills?
“Look,” he says, “I wasn’t hired for this job because I’m an incredible quarterback team leader. I’ve always been a lone wolf. My greatest strength, I think, is just creating the musical soundscape that makes everybody feel the power of the prayer. I try to make the music so good and so beautiful, to the point where everybody in the room is singing and something magical happens and everything else vanishes.”
“Judeo” is the embodiment of all that, a marriage of Tigay’s musical skill with his spiritual depth. Without the halachic restrictions: “This is my revenge,” he says with a mischievous look in his eyes. “This is what I always thought I would do in services.”
To hear the music, visit Judeomusic.com
NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated that Hebrew is Tigay's first language. Hebrew was the first language in which he learned to read and write with fluency.
September 16, 2012 | 9:02 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“Fundamentally, your job is not that different from my job,” screenwriter Alex Litvak told a room full of rabbis assembled at American Jewish University for the annual High Holy Days conference sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
While most of the 165 attendees were off attending sermon workshops on topics ranging from social media to Mussar, about 20 opted to touch-up their Torah with insights from film and TV. Rabbi Jon Hanish from Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills began the session by asking a panel of eight Hollywood writers what was on their minds this year.
“Why am I here?” one said. “Materialism,” another said. “Political and social divisiveness,” a third added.
It was a fun but unorthodox match, bringing Hollywood currency to holy categories.
“I’d want to know what King David’s approval rating would be in the digital age,” said Seth Kurland, a sitcom writer and producer best known for his work on “Friends.” “You think of him probably as courageous and compassionate, but he kills Bathsheba’s husband! Even he must have had a Yom Kippur day; he must have asked, ‘Do I want to define my life by moments of weakness or moments of strength?’ ”
This second annual Professional Writers Workshop, which paired some of Hollywood’s finest with the rabbinate’s most fastidious, looked like an episode of “In Treatment,” offering the best sermon therapy money can buy (and for the bargain conference price of $150). In cross-denominational groups of three, the questions ranged from the practical (“Should I start with a question, crack a joke or tell a story?”) to the philosophical (“What would you say you’re trying to say in this sermon?”) to the political (“This is the time to go for it — make the big point!”). It was classic Freudian role-reversal, with the rabbis in the hot seat and the writers going righteous.
“I don’t know if by the end [of this session] we’re gonna pitch you sermons or you’re gonna pitch us TV shows,” said David Kendall, creator of ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” who also worked on older hits like “Growing Pains” and “Boy Meets World.”
In one group, Rabbi Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Orange County puzzled over how to make a trite topic like tzedakah sexy. He worried about sounding “canned” and “predictable,” but even more so, Spitz said, “There is discomfort in asking for money on High Holy Days, when people want to be spiritual.” To which Kendall offered straightforward advice on the merits of truth: “Say, ‘It feels horrible to talk about this,’ ” Kendall said. “In writer’s terms we’d say, ‘Let’s hang a lantern on it,’ which means you’re going to do something obvious. If something is unavoidable in the plot or exposition, you ‘hang a lantern on it.’ ”
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ Rabbi Laura Geller suggested that Spitz tell a story about an event that changed his relationship to money. “That takes people to very personal places,” she said.
But just how deep can you go, she wondered. “How personal can you get?” she asked Kendall. “My sermon is about growing older; about how we devote so much energy and resources to youth. Well, what about me? I’m not dead yet. How vulnerable do I get in speaking about my own fears about aging; how my mother’s getting older? How much do congregants really want their rabbi to reveal?”
Get intimate, he said. A message becomes more memorable if tied to a resonant or relatable story.
Things were less fraught for Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, who will serve this year as interim rabbi at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley after the retirement of 36-year-veteran Rabbi Stephen Einstein.
“Which gives me the luxury of reusing sermons,” Kaiserman joked to his Hollywood helper, Sam Baum, creator of Fox’s “Lie to Me.”
“And,” Baum added guilefully, “you can swing for the fences.”
Rabbi Daniel Feder was more interested in milking Baum for entertainment tips. “I always try to have one or two chuckle moments,” Feder said. “Maybe you could suggest, ‘Put Humor Here.’ ”
Baum rejoined his request with plot-development 101: “I try to force myself to write a single sentence that gets at the core of the story,” he began. “The first couple of minutes are crucial to creating the feeling that there is a hand quietly guiding you.” And, as Hollywood proverbs go, action must follow inspiration. “It is crucial that in the last two minutes there is something actionable — you have to give the character something to do, not just something to think about.”
It is telling that the people who usually do the teaching were so willing to be taught. And perhaps a little bit ironic that those who often self-protect from congregants felt safe among storytellers with the world’s largest soapbox.
But as writer and producer David Sacks, known for shows “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Malcolm in the Middle” encouraged, be fearless! Don’t be cowed into feel-good Torah. Although this hardly compelled Rabbi Miriam Hamrell of Ahavat Torah in Brentwood: “Last year I gave a sermon on Israel, and people had a hard time with it,” Hamrell said. “People said, ‘We’re not here to hear politics. We’re coming here to heal, to listen, to open our hearts.” In the wake of that, she said, she had to lead a decompressing discussion circle.
Monica Henderson Beletsky, a Harvard graduate who writes for NBC’s “Parenthood” got a kick out of the strange and wonderful convergence of Hollywood and holy themes.
“It’s so funny,” she said, “one rabbi wrote about being in a personal prison and another wrote about happiness, and they both came to the same conclusion. And, you know, we’re working with a similar theme on our show, but I can’t tell you about it.”
Hanish, an organizer of the event, said the confluence of high-minded rabbis with highly accomplished writers is a good fit.
“Rabbis know a thing or two about writing, but rabbinic school is about academic writing, and we end up writing things that are too intellectual and not connecting on a human level. Film writers understand how to write to the general populace and get deep messages across.”
And, of course, Hollywood is always seeking good material, a plentiful resource in the life of a rabbi.
“The writers get just as much out of it as the rabbis,” Hanish said. “They come for fun, but they get rejuvenated. Afterward, they’ll say, ‘I was on the fringe of my Judaism, but these rabbis understand today’s world’ —and some consider returning to Judaism.”
For Dahvi Waller, who won an Emmy for her work on “Mad Men,” things got a little too close for comfort. Last year, after a Jewish Journal article covered her session at the workshop, she was bombarded by requests for help from rabbis all over the country. “I can’t say ‘no’!” she gushed, explaining why she didn’t want her session to be written up this year. “They wanted way more than an hour of my time.”
September 12, 2012 | 11:39 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin and Jonah Lowenfeld
UPDATE (Thurs Noon): There was something fishy from the start of a bizarre story linking violent riots in Egypt and Libya to a controversial "Muhammad" film said to be the work of filmmaker Sam Bacile, an L.A. based Israeli American who claimed he raised money for the film from "Jewish donors."
After reporters around the country spent the morning scrambling after the facts, it was soon discovered that Sam Bacile was a pseudonym, and probably not Israeli, or even Jewish, as he described himself to The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.
By evening, the Associated Press tracked down an address for the cellphone number with which they had spoken to Sam Bacile, and found instead Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Egyptian who tried to hide his middle name from reporters when showing them his drivers license. Nakoula denied he had directed the film, but said he managed the production company that produced it, according to National Public Radio.
It was not long before the AP discovered other documents tying Nakoula to Bacile, including a criminal record with charges of bank fraud for which he served time in prison. Nakoula apparently has a history of using aliases; NPR even located a casting call notice for a film "Desert Warriors" produced by "Sam Bassiel."
Nakoula is a Coptic Christian, however, and questions remain regarding the strange conflation of religious affiliation and provocation around which this story centers. Whoever made the stunt film "Innocence of Muslims" (or at least the trailer for it) clearly intended to implicate Jews in the incitement that ensued after its dissemination. On his blog at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg suggested this has endangered Jews. "The story that 'Sam Bacile' is an Israeli Jew, with '100 Jewish donors,' has spread across the Middle East. It is not possible to withdraw such a story."
Though there are many to blame in the generating of this scheme and the violence it inspired, Goldberg was quick to point his finger at the two major media outlets that helped spread this story. "'Sam Bacile' could not have spread the apparent fiction that Jews were behind this film without the help of the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, which both reported, without independently checking, 'Sam Bacile's' claim to be Israeli."
BREAKING (Weds Noon): Developing: Filmmaker who outraged Muslims unknown to L.A. Jews, Israelis, industry pros
The director of a film that sparked violent protests in Libya and Egypt, who is alleged to be an Israeli Jew based in California, in fact appears to be completely unknown among both Jewish and Israeli leaders in Los Angeles, including top-level people involved in the film industry.
The filmmaker, whose name -- or perhaps pseudomyn -- is Sam Bacile, gave interviews by phone to the Associated Press and others about the film on Tuesday, in which he called Islam “a cancer.” He said he had intended the film to be “a political movie,” and that he had gone into hiding.
Israelis involved in the film industry contacted by The Journal on Wednesday morning, however, have never heard of anyone by that name.
“I don’t know him, never heard about him, don’t know anything about this guy,” said Meir Fenigstein, who founded the Los Angeles-based Israel Film Festival in 1982.
That would confirm reporting by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, who reported this morning that he was told by a “self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., that the name, “Sam Bacile,” is a pseudonym. Klein has been described in media accounts as a “consultant” to the film.
But according to scores of interviews conducted by Journal reporters, not a single person has seen the complete film, allegedly entitled, "The Innocence of Muslims;" only a short trailer is available on YouTube.
Bacile, meanwhile, according to the Associated Press' report, is “a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew.”
Individuals in the real estate community also found that claim dubious.
“If there was something happening in the real estate business in L.A., I would know about it,” said Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Jesse Scharf is chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s real estate division and co-chair of the real estate division at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Scharf echoed Sanderson’s refrain, saying he hadn’t heard of anyone named Bacile. “If this person was, in fact, Israeli, in the real estate business, in Los Angeles, somebody would know the guy,” he said. “Pretty rare that a person active in real estate wouldn't have a story.”
The film reportedly portrays the prophet Mohammed in a negative light. Muslim protesters killed four Americans in the eastern Libyan city of Bengahzi, including the American ambassador to Libya, and burned down U.S. Consulate there. Similar protests took place at an American mission in Cairo. The Obama administration suspects that the attack in Libya may have been planned, according to the New York Times.
According to the Associated Press, “The Innocence of Muslims” was made on a budget of $5 million and was funded by 100 Jewish donors. It was reportedly screened once to a mostly empty theater in Hollywood this year.
One L.A. Jewish filmmaker familiar with the world of anti-Islamic documentaries estimated the production costs of the movie were "closer to $25,000."
But several members of the Hollywood community interviewed said they had never heard about the film before today, nor seen it. When asked about Bacile, Noa Tishby, an Israeli actress and producer wrote in an email, “Never heard of him.”
Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said Los Angeles donors are "serious" and would not have produced something so "goofy."
A mysterious air continues to surround the situation that has had dire consequences in the killing of American diplomats. Whoever Steve Bacile is -- or isn’t -- the question remains: Why did he describe himself as an Israeli American and claim that he funded an “anti-Muslim” film with donations from the Jews?
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States on Sept. 11. Photo by REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori
September 11, 2012 | 10:46 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
His mother called him King David.
Perhaps that’s why, when David Geffen was profiled in GQ magazine in 1991, the writer suggested that, “he seemingly swaggered straight from the womb.”
But from the start of Susan Lacy’s documentary “Inventing David Geffen,” airing in November as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series, Geffen appears more like Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, the brash and determined individualist of her triumphal 1943 novel, “The Fountainhead,” than the biblical hero. King David was part of a royal line; David Geffen made himself into Hollywood royalty.
Geffen’s charismatic, winsome personality drives Lacy’s documentary, with Geffen candidly narrating his own journey from middle-class Jewish boy from Brooklyn to masterful music and movie mogul. The story is peppered with dishy interviews from legendary friends, including Cher, Warren Beatty, Elton John, Steven Spielberg, Arianna Huffington and Rahm Emanuel, to name just a few, whose flattering accounts of Geffen seem to swell his stature into almost mythic importance. Pared down to its essential plot points, Geffen’s biography is a fascinating account of a hard-charging, radically ambitious man whose life became the embodiment of the American dream, at once an astonishing feat, but also a stark reminder that not too long ago radical mobility was possible.
Like Rand’s Roark, Geffen has played the architect, in his case refashioning the music and movie industries so substantially he’s been compared to Hollywood’s founding fathers. As actor Tom Hanks plainly puts it in the documentary’s opening sequence: “He defined this culture. He built it.”
A contribution to the culture of fandom devoid of any critique, Lacy’s fawning portrait is the one Geffen would most like you to see: He is the self-made, sensitive-souled star-maker, the biggest legend of all. But in his case, what might seem an inflated self-image isn’t actually that far from reality.
Gifted. Ruthless. Brutally honest. Friends and enemies alike characterize Geffen as a business firebrand. “His power comes from those Vesuvian impulses of his,” media mogul Barry Diller tells us.
Watching the film, it is hard to begrudge Geffen his storied reputation, his billions, or even his braggadocio, because he’s just so darned candid about who he is (“I don’t see ambition or ego as pejorative words”), as well as what he wants (“I wanted to get out of Brooklyn and move to California where the sunshine was constant, where everybody was pretty and good looking ... [and] everybody was rich”). He is also forthright about his flaws: He told the crowd assembled for his 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “I have no talent except for being able to enjoy and recognize it in others.”
David Geffen’s success arose more out of desperate yearning than a unique skill set. He grew up poor, and his mother was the family’s primary breadwinner and his deepest influence. He was ashamed of his father, a struggling intellectual who worked odd jobs, like pattern-cutting, before dying young, when the future mogul was just 18. Geffen’s mother, Batya, was a vivacious spirit who owned a corset shop and worked tirelessly to keep the family afloat. But the trauma of losing her entire family in the Holocaust, and then suppressing that history, brought her to a nervous breakdown. To this day, Geffen is reticent to discuss it (see sidebar). When prodded about his Jewish background at a recent press conference, he carped to The Journal’s Naomi Pfefferman, “I would think that everybody’s childhood is an influence on what happens in their future, don’t you think?”
Don Henley and David Geffen. Photo by Henry Diltz
Indeed, Geffen’s desire to transcend his childhood has been an animating force of his adult life. He tells Lacy: “My mother said, ‘You better learn to love to work, because we have no money and you’re going to be working the rest of your life.’ ” And since he believed himself to be “completely without gift,” he had to be more resourceful and more wanting than anyone else.
Before he became the industry godfather, Geffen had a protean career with many chapters. He started out in the William Morris mailroom, a job he notoriously obtained by lying, falsifying his resume with academic credentials from UCLA. The mythology goes that when a co-worker was fired for the same offense, Geffen arrived early at the mailroom for the next six months so he could intercept the inevitable letter from the school exposing him. He succeeded, replaced the incriminating missive with his own fabrication and, along the way, managed to impress the higher-ups with his dedication to sorting mail (given all this, one can only wonder whether his massive charitable contributions to UCLA don’t have their roots in reparative gratitude).
Geffen went on to become a rock ’n’ roll manager, record producer and, finally, a game-changing executive known for championing solo artists. During his heyday, which coincided with the cultural revolution of the 1970s, he helped launch the careers of iconic singer-songwriters Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Neil Young, among others. While music and pot whirred through the air, Geffen was at his desk cutting deals. But he was different from other executives: “He loved music like an innocent person loves music,” Young says in the film. His relationships with his clients were characterized by a loyalty and nurturing that often bordered on the familial. Geffen had no musical talent, but he possessed an artist’s soul — sensitive, wounded, mercurial and restless, qualities that burnished his ability to recognize and cultivate talents, and draw them close.
“It was always about the song; it was always about the spirit,” Elliot Roberts, his partner at Asylum Records tells us in the film.
Where Geffen was passionate, it was wise not to cross him. Once, when he brought a green Jackson Browne to see kingpin record-producer Clive Davis, Davis made the mistake of taking a call during Browne’s performance, and Geffen walked out. He started his own company, Asylum Records, in competition. Choicely located on the Sunset Strip, a boulevard lined with music halls and nightclubs, Asylum became a star factory, with Geffen poaching talent he discovered during the evening lineup. It was at the Troubadour, for instance, that he discovered the Eagles, a scouting method so effective he went on to cofound another legendary club, the Roxy, in 1973.
“We would do anything to be with David Geffen,” lead singer Glenn Frey tells Lacy. “ ‘Here: ‘Sign this.’ I didn’t care. I wanted David Geffen to be involved in as many aspects of my career as possible.”
By Geffen’s own account, his was a fast rise: In 1964 he was a lackey in the Morris mailroom; by 1972 he had sold his first record company and had $10 million in the bank. His success in music got him attention from the movie business, and he did a short stint as vice chairman of Warner Bros., but his maverick methods and flouting of authority quickly got him fired. In 1980, he assembled a small team of agents and created Geffen Records, which added alternative rock bands Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana to an already impressive roster that included Elton John, Irene Cara, Cher and Don Henley.
Geffen’s ineffable, je ne sais quoi eye for talent and fortuitous timing eventually enabled his success with movies. He took on the Tom Cruise star vehicle “Risky Business” when no one else would read the script, and followed up with a series of hits including “Lost in America” with Albert Brooks, “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Interview With the Vampire.” It is clear, however, that Geffen’s heart was never in the movie business in the same way it was in music. By 1990, he was getting restless. He sold Geffen Records to MCA (now Universal Music Group) for an unprecedented $550 million in stock, and when the Japanese company Matsushita purchased MCA, Geffen’s stock had risen to almost a billion in cash.
Geffen worked hard and played hard, achieving a lifestyle of decadence and glamour to match his Herculean work ethic. Though he has always lived as an openly gay man, the documentary makes no mention of any significant relationship with another man; instead Lacy portrays his 18-month romance with movie and music diva Cher as the one great love of his life. “It was the greatest high I had ever experienced,” Geffen said. After they broke up, Esquire magazine ran a cover story about Cher under the headline, “Who Is Man Enough For This Woman?” Geffen confessed: “Clearly I was not.”
The AIDS crisis compelled him to finally, officially “come out.” As friends attest, the difference between quietly living as openly gay and making a public declaration about his identity was significant. It meant “freedom” for him, the designer Calvin Klein says in the movie. Geffen kick-started his philanthropic side when he became a pioneering donor to AIDS research, and he admitted that, for a time, he feared he had the disease. “Every time I took a shower I looked at my body to see if there were marks,” he recounts in the film.
Cher and David Geffen. Photo by Nate Cutler/Globe Photos/Zumapress.com/Newscom
By the time Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg approached him to help them co-found DreamWorks, in 1994, Geffen, by then 51, had one foot in retirement. He had become more interested in political fundraising (he was close with the Clintons before he switched to Barack Obama) and enjoying his extravagant lifestyle. Still, he helped DreamWorks “overcapitalize” — his strategy for how a movie studio could succeed — by raising $2 billion dollars in just a few weeks, although from the start he had little interest in the day-to-day running of the studio.
Once the man-about-town, Geffen today is an enigmatic presence in Hollywood, his name more likely to appear on buildings — the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood — than in the headlines. After his meteoric rise and novel achievements, sources say that that he is now content to play a quiet, behind-the-scenes role as advisor and mentor to his many successors.
“He’s a kibitzer,” former Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein told me. “There are generations of people in music and film who call him for advice all the time — and he loves to give advice, and he’s very good at giving advice. He’s like the Cardinal Richelieu of the entertainment business.”