Posted by Danielle Berrin
Why are U.S. billionaires absconding for London? The tax rate there is substantially higher for the wealthy than in the U.S., clocking in at 50%. But who cares, says Edgar Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune and who also belongs to one of the Jewish world’s most dedicated philanthropic families. He’s movin up and out: Bronfman will move his family of six from New York to London where he will take over Warner Music, the world’s third largest music company.
From the Times online:
Madonna may have rediscovered her appetite for the Big Apple, but the American media mogul who runs her former record company has decided that life may be a little better on this side of the Atlantic.
Undeterred by the rise in the higher rate of income tax to 50 per cent, Edgar Bronfman, the billionaire heir to the Seagram fortune and the chief executive of Warner Music, is leaving his native New York for a house in Kensington, West London, with his wife, Clarissa, and four young children from his second marriage.
He plans to run Warner Music — the world’s third-largest music company, home to Green Day and R.E.M — from both London and New York, in a move that is a coup for the British capital, which had been losing ground to its American rival as the City struggles amid the credit crunch.
Mr Bronfman said that his principal reason for moving was to give his children some experience of life outside the United States and he plans to stay in the UK “for a period of one or two school years”. His presence will help to boost Warner’s faltering British operations, which have performed worse than its American business.
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June 2, 2009 | 3:55 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The hilarious and high-profile stunt orchestrated by Sacha Baron Cohen and Eminem at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards was indeed staged, but it’s still stunning.
“As publicity stunts go, it might not have been the most imaginative, but you had to admire the precision of its execution and targeting,” writes Ben Child in The Guardian.
Child’s brilliant synopsis (which was almost as good as the real thing) describes Sacha Baron Cohen “in the guise of his flamboyantly gay fashionista alter ego Brüno” making a grand high-wire entrance “in full angel costume with a gold jockstrap and bare derrière” who lands his spread-eagled buttocks in the face of Eminem, a rapper known for his anti-gay lyrics. A disgusted Eminem shouts profanities at Bruno and then storms out of the auditorium with his bodyguards.
After it happened, the blogosphere went ballistic as to whether or not the stunt was real or staged. If it wasn’t completely authentic and improvisational, perhaps it wouldn’t have been as funny, the worries went. But when the L.A. Times reported that Scott Aukerman, the head writer of the MTV Movie Awards announced on his blog that it was all an act, the stunt gained added gravitas.
If it hadn’t been staged, it would have been the usual homophobic offensiveness that thrives in popular culture. But the fact that it was planned, purposeful and practiced is what makes it so interesting. According to Child, “If Baron Cohen’s impending film Brüno, a mockumentary about the eponymous presenter for the fictitious Austrian Gay TV, has any higher purpose beyond pure entertainment, it might be the lampooning of homophobic attitudes in the US and beyond.” The idea that one of the music industry’s most vocally anti-gay artists would participate in such a stunt proves this theory true—it wasn’t Bruno’s flaming queen being mocked, it was Eminem’s homophobia. That Eminem agreed to this kind of exposure, in which a public mockery is made of his homophobia proves Baron Cohen has something wise up his sleeve.
Baron Cohen’s characters are themselves, offensive, obnoxious and absurd. But in this case he proves even the ridiculous can have a meaningful impact.
June 1, 2009 | 1:55 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
A new spate of Holocaust films are finally letting Jews have their revenge.
This comes after decades of Hollywood’s preferred Holocaust, in which Jews diligently parade to their deaths and evil Nazis escape to Canada. But lately, a handful of filmmakers are imagining a new ending. And this time, it’s the Nazis who are in danger.
In Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” Brad Pitt and his cadre of Jewish-American commandos are tasked with a Nazi killing spree.
The only problem is, with the world so accustomed to Jewish victimhood, no one’s sure how to receive this new fantasy.
Some critics are praising the film for being subversive. Others condemn it for rewriting history. Patrick Goldstein from the L.A. Times quoted one of the film’s stars, actor/director Eli Roth, who called the film “kosher porn”.
“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth explained to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. For his part, Goldberg criticized the film for its excessive brutality and wrote that torturing Nazis “doesn’t sound like the Jewish thing to do.” Daniel Mendelsohn, who wrote the formidable tome, “The Lost” about his relatives who perished in the Holocaust, argued in Time that the film’s masterful accomplishment (or horrifying failure, depending on your outlook) is that it turns Jews into Nazis.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw named it a “WW2 shlocker...[that] is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious.”
Next up is “This Must Be the Place,” written by an Italian duo that puts Sean Penn on the prowl for his father’s Nazi-killer. Penn will play an aging musician who trades in retirement for first-degree murder. (Apparently, Penn is exploring his Jewish side—he won an Oscar last February for playing the Jewish activist Harvey Milk and recently found himself lip-locked with Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman, who denied their fling.)
Whether or not these ideas gain further momentum remains to be seen. Rewriting history is no small feat. But the idea of a retroactive Jewish fantasy in which Nazis pay for their crimes is certainly welcome entertainment. After all, Hollywood itself was created by Jews who wanted to escape their pasts and live a better future.
May 29, 2009 | 5:35 pm
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.”
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.