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Posted by Danielle Berrin
An unusual silence has blanketed the circumstances leading up to music icon Stevie Wonder’s canceled performance at the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala on Dec. 6 at the Hyatt Regency in Century City.
The 25-time Grammy winner was set to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the United States and Israel as well as friends in Hollywood, when he suddenly canceled on Nov. 29. A press release issued by the FIDF national office last week reported “representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization.” The release also included a statement from Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, FIDF’s national director and CEO, that said, “We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers.
“FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.”
Not mentioned was the fact that an online campaign entreating Wonder to cancel his performance in protest of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians had garnered thousands of signatures. Members of that same coalition are also planning to protest outside the event; as of press time, according to the event’s Facebook page “Protest Dec. 6 at LA Fundraiser Supporting Israel’s War Crimes,” more than 1,000 had said they would show up.
Wonder was appointed a U.N. Messenger of Peace in December 2009 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. His cancellation came on the same day that the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian territories to a non-member observer state through an overwhelming majority vote of 138 to 9, with 41 countries abstaining
The Messenger of Peace role is a largely ceremonial post held by distinguished figures in the fields of art, literature, music and sports who agree to use their celebrity to bring attention to U.N. concerns and causes. Other messengers include author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, actor and activist George Clooney and world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
That FIDF officials did not condemn Wonder, however, may have its root in the fact that FIDF Western Region dinner chairs, media mogul Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, also have close ties to the United Nations. In September, President Barack Obama appointed Cheryl to the post of U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly.
The Internet campaign calling for a boycott of the FIDF event only targeted Wonder, however. Cheryl Saban’s longstanding support of Israel and the FIDF, along with her husband, distinguishes her from Wonder, who in 1995 performed in Israel and met with Israeli and Palestinian officials, but has not performed there since.
The Web site endtheoccupation.org, an arm of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — the international group that advocates for the use of economic, political and cultural pressure on Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights,” according to one of the movement’s major Web sites — featured a letter with more than 4,000 electronic signatories pressing Wonder to abandon his FIDF plans.
“We are a diverse group of people of conscience and social justice organizations around the world, saddened by the announcement that you will be performing and helping to raise money for the Israeli army,” the letter said. It also draws parallels between South African apartheid and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, and says a performance by Wonder at the FIDF gala would show support for those practices.
Another letter, posted on the Web site change.org, which listed 4,570 signatories on the day of Wonder’s cancellation, made a more direct address: “We call on Stevie Wonder, as a conscientious American advocate for human rights and dignity not to support the Israeli Defense Force by performing at their gala fundraiser ... The IDF is an institution which promotes, enables, and protects Israel’s Apartheid regime.”
Moments after Wonder made his announcement, endtheoccupation.org wrote that they were celebrating a “victory.”
The targeting of high-profile celebrities who express plans to perform in or on behalf of the State of Israel is not uncommon. In response to such efforts, a group of music industry executives established the nonprofit Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) to privately and publicly counter artist boycotts of Israel. The group’s co-founder, former Universal Music Group CEO David Renzer, now president of music ventures at Saban Capital Group, has, in the past, spoken out against such intimidation but declined to comment for this article.
However, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel was quick to point fingers at the BDS movement, referring to a press release issued by the consulate that specifically condemns the BDS movement as a “front for a campaign aimed at delegitimizing the very existence of the State of Israel.”
“BDS is not about peace,” Siegel said during a phone interview on Dec. 3. “It’s about vilifying Israel.”
Asked if he thought the FIDF’s U.N. explanation might be intended to deflect attention from an effective boycott by Wonder of one of the largest Israel fundraisers in the country, Siegel said, “I don’t know. We weren’t involved in the whole FIDF thing. But the BDS effort is very significant; we know that.”
When asked how or why he had made the connection between Wonder’s cancellation and BDS when the FIDF was offering a different account, Siegel said, “I didn’t mean to make any connection like that. What we’re talking about is BDS in general; there are attempts to enact a cultural boycott, which we think is counterproductive. That’s a general statement. It doesn’t relate to Stevie Wonder.”
A coalition of self-described L.A. “peace activists” had promised, however, to stage a large demonstration outside the Hyatt, where they planned to enact a mock funeral procession with a “child’s casket” on the night of the gala. The protest also was to include participants donning placards with the names and ages of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last month.
In a press release, the coalition of two dozen groups and a half-dozen individuals claims credit for Wonder’s cancellation is due to “thousands of activists around the world using social media, e-mail and phone calls.”
A collection of speakers from both secular and religious organizations say they will appear, including Israeli-American activist Miko Peled, son of an Israeli general and author of “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.”
As of press time on Dec. 4, the Western Region FIDF had not announced plans for a prominent musical replacement, though, as in past years, Grammy winner David Foster & Friends will perform, and “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander will reprise his role as emcee. The absence of a major headliner stands out because the gala is known for bringing in rarified, glamorous musical acts. Past years have featured musical legends such as Barbra Streisand and the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
But Haim Saban, known for dazzling surprises, insisted on Dec. 3 that the gala will go on with its usual splendor, undeterred.
“Life is good,” he wrote in an e-mail, “and we’ll have the best gala YET.”
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November 29, 2012 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Earlier this week, I asked political commentator and comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" to weigh in on the outcome of the 2012 election and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Below is the uncut, uncensored interview in which he talks about America's number one political priority, the negative edification of the Bible and what his (Jewish) mother taught him about anti-Semitism.
Hollywood Jew: What was your big takeaway from the election this year?
Bill Maher: It’s the year Obama won. I was for that, so you know, I’m very happy about it. I’m more relieved than I even thought I would be.
HJ: Any lessons from a historic campaign that cost nearly $1.5 billion?
BM: After the election, Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page that Romney lost because early money in the swing states defined him, and that’s the whole reason I made my contribution to the Obama PAC. That’s what the Democratic strategists thought, and it kinda worked, because those numbers really never budged throughout the whole campaign. The media went through hoops covering all the ups and downs but people just basically made up their minds pretty early.
HJ: What do you think will be the single most important issue facing the American people in the next decade?
BM: The environment. Because if we don’t fix that, there are no other issues.
HJ: What are your favored sources for news and commentary? Or what book or writer influenced you the most? I know it wasn’t the Bible.
BM: (laughs) Well, it could be -- in a negative sense. Actually I took a bible course in college. It’s funny, making the movie “Religulous,” what I found out is that people who are religious have no idea about their own religion. They are completely clueless; they do not know what’s in the Bible. You could quote them something and say it was from the Bible and they would nod their head. I think if they read the bible, especially the Old Testament, I think they would be appalled. If you just told them it was something else, if you just said, ‘Read this story,’ you know, about this God – let’s call him Spor -- and how he’s wiping these people out and ethnically cleaning them for no apparent reason, how he does things on a whim and how he’s jealous; They’d go, ‘This is terrible.’
HJ: It’s no secret you’re not a great admirer of religion. But I’ve seen your live stand-up show and it seemed to me the religion you poke fun of the least is Judaism. Why is that?
BM: We do poke fun of it quite a bit in “Religulous” but I mean it’s certainly not as dangerous as Islam and Christianity. Those are warlike religions. The Muslim world was conquered in a century. Mohammad died in 632; by 732, they were at the gates of France, they were in the Pyrenees. Jesus Christ, I mean, you don’t do that by handing out pamphlets and singing ‘Cumbaya.’ They conquered by the sword.
HJ: So, in your opinion, Judaism is not as bad because it’s not as violent?
BM: There’s a lot to be made fun of in any religion, and that includes Buddhism, by the way. A lot of my Hollywood friends think ‘Oh, Buddhism is a philosophy, it’s not a religion.’ It’s a religion because it includes crazy whack shit that doesn’t exist, that somebody made up, like reincarnation. OK. But I mean, Judaism, we had a lot of fun when we did “Religulous” [because] we went to the institute where they invent devices that allow people on the Sabbath who cannot use electricity to take an elevator or ride in a wheelchair.
HJ: The Shabbes Elevator
BM. The Shabbes Elevator. Stuff like that is just insane and it’s funny but it doesn’t really threaten anybody’s life. I did a joke in my act about, ‘I’d like to see Joe Lieberman as President because he doesn’t use electricity on Friday night and so if there’s a nuclear attack, he gets a Shabbes goy to launch our nuclear missiles.’
HJ: I know you’ve been to Israel and that you’re part Jewish. What’s your view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How optimistic are you that they’ll find a two-state solution?
BM: I’m optimistic that it’ll get worked out in the same way I’m optimistic that Marijuana will be legal all across the country; perhaps not in my lifetime, but at some point. But I’ve never hid the fact that I don’t think it’s a conflict where both sides are equally guilty. I’m more on the side of the Israelis; that’s why Benjamin Netanyahu did my show a few years ago, before he was Prime Minister.
HJ: Why are you more on the side of Israelis?
BM: Take this conflict; here, everyone in the newspapers, the pundits, they talk about it like it’s very complicated. It’s not that complicated: Stop firing rockets into Israel and perhaps they won’t annihilate you. I mean, it’s so crazy when you look at these images on TV. Ok, they just had a little war. It lasted a week like most Israeli wars do; the Israelis lost a handful of people, shot down most of the rockets, and the neighborhoods in Gaza are devastated. They’re rubble. They lost over 1,000 people and yet somehow Palestinians are celebrating in the streets? I don’t get this celebrating when you just totally got your ass kicked.
HJ: The Atlantic journalist Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out that many in the media tend to point out the disproportionate casualty count between Israelis and Palestinians, and he wisely wondered if there is a moral difference between attempted murder and successful murder.
BM: It’s obvious that Israelis, in all of their battles with the Palestinians, show restraint. Because they have nuclear weapons. And if the situation was reversed, I don’t doubt for a second that Palestinians would fire them immediately. They’d use the maximum of what they have available and the Israelis don’t.
HJ: There was a big debate this week in the Jewish world that arose from a dispute between two rabbis about whether Judaism should be more universal and humane or more tribal and self interested. But it is widely felt that the Israeli army conducts itself with deep concern for the humanity of the people they are fighting.
BM: Let’s not forget the other side of this issue, which is, the Palestinians do have gripes, and most Israelis do not agree with the Netanyahu government on the settlement issue. [Israelis] want a two state solution. I don’t think anybody’s ever gonna be happy or the conflict will ever end before that happens and as many writers have pointed out, Israel faces the problem of becoming a minority Jewish state within their own country if they allow this to keep going. There has to be some solution. In a lot of ways, what we see in Israel is their government has been taken over by the equivalent of what would be the Tea Party in this country. If you talk to most people in Tel Aviv, I don’t think they’re for what the government is doing, but when it comes to self-defense -- Obama himself said the other day: There’s just not another country in the world that would allow missiles to be rained down on them without fighting back. What I find so ironic is that after World War II, everybody said, ‘I don’t understand the Jews. How could they have just gone to their slaughter like that?’ OK, and then when they fight back: ‘I don’t understand the Jews. Why can’t they just go to their slaughter?’ It’s like, ‘You know what? We did that once. It’s not gonna happen again. You’re just gonna have to get used to the fact that Jews now defend themselves -- and by the way, defend themselves better. I mean, this is a country, after all, that is surrounded by far greater numbers than their own [and] they are like two generations ahead in the military technology they have.
HJ: Considering the reality of an unstable Middle East, an Iranian nuclear threat, a stalled peace process and a civil war in Syria, what’s the best thing Israel can do to engender moral support from the international community?
BM: I think they’re over worrying about international goodwill. I hope they are, because it’s great to have but it doesn’t really feed the bulldog, you know? As my Jewish mother used to say, whenever there was a problem in the world, she would go, ‘Oh I know they’re gonna get around to blaming the Jews.’ [Laughs] And it’s kinda true. I mean, you know, it’s like somebody who’s always worrying whether everyone’s gonna like them -- Obama kinda had that problem in his first term -- but at a certain point you learn: You know what? A lot of people are not gonna like you no matter what you do, so just do what you’re gonna do. Just be yourself. And do what you think is right. And if they condemn you or hate you, that’s really kinda their problem.
November 8, 2012 | 9:30 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It’s hard to read “The Richard Burton Diaries” without feeling just a tad envious.
His love with Liz, as Dwight Garner wrote recently in The New York Times, was “so robust you could nearly warm your hands on its flames.”
Although the legendary couple was hardly a paragon of marital virtue (they married twice and divorced twice, drank recklessly and fought fiendishly), they did form a beguiling blueprint for marital bliss.
On their first honeymoon, Burton cautioned himself: “Have to be careful. I might become idolatrous.” Years later, when they had been apart for a mere three days, he whined, “I miss her like food.”
For Burton, a vaunted actor with a literate mind who could buy jets and rubies on an exultant whim, Elizabeth Taylor was “the greatest luck” in an otherwise inordinately lucky life. Sure, their relationship was characterized by erratic behavior and emotional tumult, but Burton knew its merits outweighed its deficiencies: “She has turned me into a moral man,” he wrote in 1968. “[S]he is a wildly exciting lover-mistress … she is a brilliant actress, she is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography … and she loves me!”
But such rapturous romance can be confounding for anyone who believes marriage should be about safety and stability. Never one-note, their relationship proved that sometimes the deepest love can come in a most chaotic package.
“Marriage doesn’t have to be a partnership of equals,” writer Ada Calhoun observed after reading the aptly titled Liz and Dick biography “Furious Love,” on which the upcoming Lifetime movie “Liz & Dick” is based. “It can be a bodice-ripping, booze-soaked, jewel-bedecked brawl that survives even death.”
It is the je ne sais quoi quality of the Taylor-Burton romance that author and speaker Esther Perel describes as eroticism. In her nearly three decades as a marriage-and-couples therapist, the Belgian-born Perel has learned a thing or two about how to sustain Liz-and-Dick desire over time. A self-professed sexuality expert, the Hebrew University and Oxford-educated guru is also the author of the internationally acclaimed book “Mating in Captivity,” which has been translated into 24 languages and seeks to answer the rub: “Why does great sex so often fade for couples who claim to love each other as much as ever?”
This is what Perel calls the crisis of modern love.
“How do you ask the same relationship to give you excitement and edge, novelty, adventure and risk, and, at the same time, give you security and predictability?” Perel said during an interview last week. (She will appear in conversation with me following Sinai Temple’s Friday Night Live service on Nov. 9.) “Whatever eroticism thrives on,” she added, “is what family life defends against.”
It isn’t exactly shocking that the need for secure love and the pursuit of passion can be antithetical: Love seeks comfort and familiarity; desire is about mystery and distance. Love is reliable; desire is unpredictable. Love prizes safety; desire thrives in danger. We yearn for what we imagine, not what we see.
“Emotional and erotic needs are quite different,” Perel explained, but when combined add up to “the ultimate adult relationship.”
For the first time in human history, couples are asking their monogamous relationships to satisfy not only biological and security needs, but also primal pleasure needs: the hungers, and longings, and yearnings that stir in their souls. This existential and philosophical challenge was unthinkable before women’s liberation, which granted sexual freedom; contraception, which liberated sex from the sole realm of biology; and the gay rights movement, which enabled the notion of sexuality as an identity.
But soul-shattering sex is not enough to end ennui. There are great marriages devoid of sex, and sex-filled marriages that are not erotic. “Eroticism is not about sex,” Perel said, though it demands that; rather, it is a sensibility, a worldview, that engages “our entire human drama.”
“It is the ultimate invitation of an other to be allowed to meet in those places of your being that go beyond words, beyond the civilized polished parts of ourselves. It is a level of intimacy that is unique. It is about maintaining a relationship that makes you feel alive.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Perel alighted on her theory as a consequence of growing up the daughter of Holocaust survivors. “When you’re the child of survivors, you never fully believe in security,” she said. “You live with the fear that everything can change from one minute to the next, that you can lose everything. And in response to that, some of us shut down.”
She wondered what would restore the desolate to life.
“What the body can express is way beyond what words can only hint at,” she said. It seems like an ironic comment from someone who counts reading Tolstoy as an erotic experience, but then, it is erotic in the way a nature-lover sees sublimity in a sunset. “A great writer creates through words an experience in our bodies,” she said.
True passion is a passion for the whole of life. It is lust for the fullness of the human experience. Even Burton admitted, “I am as thrilled by the English language as I am by a lovely woman or dreams.”
Burton teaches that passion begins in a single soul. It is the sacred and inviolable mystery of the human heart, a question seeking an answer. Burton found in Liz a partner in his quest. Their destination, always unknown.
“Passion comes with an amount of uncertainty that you can tolerate,” Perel said. “Can you live without it? Yes. But once you have known it, and it is absent from your life, do you long to go back there?
October 23, 2012 | 10:47 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
If you want to know what’s it like to be Steven Spielberg, there are three ways to intuit his psyche: 1) have a panic attack; 2) have a row with a parent; 3) feel shame over some aspect of your identity.
Because, at least according to a recent 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, those are the defining forces of Spielberg’s life, the vehicles that have driven his ambition, animated his movies and helped him evolve into an ostensibly well-adjusted adult.
Well, sort of.
“You’re a nervous wreck,” Stahl suggested at the beginning of the 13-minute segment which aired Oct. 21.
“Yes, it’s true,” Spielberg said coyly. “It’s much more of an anticipation of the unknown... it’s just kind of a level of anxiety having to do with not being able to write my life as well as I can write my movies.”
Ah, the perennial problem of the artist: How to reconcile the artist’s soul, with its depth of feeling and profound understanding, with ordinary human life. As countless writers have proclaimed (and they would know since many consider themselves artists), artists are sometimes simply unfit for life. In his essay on the evolutionary benefits of art (if there are indeed any), Adam Kirsch quotes from Nietzsche, who coined the pithy phrase “Art dangerous for the artist.”
It is more than that one’s art can be all-consuming, but that an artist has a certain temperament and certain cravings that conflict with societal standards.
According to Nietzsche’s “Human, All Too Human,” the artist craves excitements and danger, “believes in gods and demons, imbues nature with a soul, hates science, becomes unchangeable in his moods like the men of antiquity” and therefore finds himself at odds with others and inevitably dies in sadness.
But Spielberg is smarter. He told 60 Minutes he copes with existential angst by telling stories -- though he admitted it doesn’t quite abolish the affliction: “Well, it’s commercial,” he said, invoking Hollywood’s capitalistic upside. “I don’t want to lose it.”
Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Spielberg said he considered his mother, Leah Adler, a “big sister” and his father, Arnold, a workaholic. When they divorced, he blamed Dad (“I did pin it on him,” he said). Years later, his anger towards his father was expressed in his work and many of his subsequent movies featured disappointing or absent fathers. “E.T.” he said, was an attempt to tell a story about his parents’ divorce. But it would be years before he’d learn the truth: that it was really his mother who fell in love with one of her husband’s friends, because she was oh “so unhappy” (Arnold forgave her, he told Stahl, because he was “in love with her”).
But the demons of distant Dads and divorce had implanted themselves in young Spielberg, and so invested was he in the original dad’s-at-fault narrative, he admitted: “Even after I knew the truth I blamed my Dad.”
For the artist, easier to tell a story than surrender one.
“Even though my mother was like an older sister to me, I kind of put her up on a pedestal,” Spielberg said. “For some reason it was easier for me to blame [my father] than someone already exalted.”
Even a Hollywood icon needs an idol.
The gentlemen Spielberg eventually reconciled and the director then made movies painting fathers as heroes. “I stayed angry for too long,” Spielberg said, lamenting the “many, many wasted years” he and Arnold were estranged. By the time of their reconciliation, he had learned a thing or two about facing demons -- his movies, by gosh, were full of them: sharp-toothed sea creatures and extinct clawed-carnivores come to mind -- and through his work, he was able to expurgate the long-held family narrative that stifled his soul. For the creator of brave characters, helplessness would not do.
Spielberg would also have to contend with another source of deep shame -- his Jewishness. Having grown up in “an all non-Jewish neighborhood,” as his mother described it, Spielberg felt like an outsider. “People used to chant, ‘The Spielbergs are dirty Jews,’” Adler told Stahl. “And one night, Steve climbed out of his bedroom window and peanut-buttered their window.” Throwing her head back, she added, “which I thought was MAR-velous.”
Stahl asked Spielberg how he dealt with such “anti-Semitic attacks.”
“I denied it,” he said.
“Denied what? That you were Jewish?” Stahl asked.
“... My Judaism,” Spielberg affirmed.
“Were you ashamed?” she continued.
“Um-hm. I often told people my last name was German, not Jewish,” he said. “I’m sure my grandparents are rolling over in their graves right now hearing me say that, but I think that, you know, I was in denial.”
You can guess what he did when he overcame that plight: he made a little movie called “Schindler’s List.”
With “Schindler,” he explored one of the darkest blights on human history; with his next film, “Lincoln,” he illuminates another dark period -- the era of slavery and civil war in the United States -- but concerns himself mostly with its happy ending. “Lincoln” is not about the degradations of slavery, but Abraham Lincoln’s resolve to end them. His dogged pursuit of congressional approval to end that injustice is the movie’s primary focus, though it bespeaks its larger theme about the conflicting motives of one man.
“It’s about leadership and about telling the truth... about how you feel,” Spielberg said. “He was living with two agendas and I think there’s darkness in there.”
It’s difficult to hear him say this without wondering from whence it comes. Perhaps it is evidence of Spielberg’s psychological sophistication, the way he has worked to integrate his artist’s soul with his “ordinary” life (he has long been married to the actress Kate Capshaw and has six children) that he is able to extol the virtues of emotional truth. In Lincoln, he sees a great man whose soul was bound up in confusion.
If once he felt a similar discord, Spielberg seems to have found his footing. He has learned to live with the past without letting it beset him and found fulfillment in work and in life. Though it is exceedingly rare, he is both the artist who creates and the man who can love.
October 15, 2012 | 8:24 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Dear God, I gave up meeting Brad Pitt to attend a Shabbes dinner.
I thought this was a wise thing to do (and no one can ever say I'm starstruck). However, even though I enjoyed a delicious meal, observed one of your eminent Ten, and got to drink a lot of scotch, I think I made a mistake. You see, I missed a rare opportunity to report back to my readership on Brad Pitt's very esteemed opinions on the injustices of the drug war. And just last week, I wrote a column about this same problem, and Eugene Jarecki's documentary "The House I Live In", which is a deeply empathetic look at how U.S. drug laws have evolved into a dangerous, wasteful and unjust juggernaut (on this Brad and I agree!). Having thoroughly studied your Torah, God, I know that the moral imperative to restore human dignity to all your creatures would probably get me a hall pass for one Sabbath meal. Please forgive me, God (Please forgive me, readers!). Fortunately, you were prescient enough to include the role of Reuters in your great Creation:
(Reuters) - Brad Pitt has thrown his weight behind a documentary that blasts America's 40-year war on drugs as a failure, calling policies that imprison huge numbers of drug-users a "charade" in urgent need of a rethink.
The Hollywood actor came aboard recently as an executive producer of filmmaker Eugene Jarecki's "The House I Live In," which won the Grand Jury Prize in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The film opened in wide release in the United States on Friday.
Ahead of a Los Angeles screening, Pitt and Jarecki spoke passionately about the "War on Drugs" which, according to the documentary, has cost more than $1 trillion and accounted for over 45 million arrests since 1971, and which preys largely on poor and minority communities.
"I know people are suffering because of it. I know I've lived a very privileged life in comparison and I can't stand for it," Pitt told Reuters on Friday, calling the government's War on Drugs policy a "charade."
"It's such bad strategy. It makes no sense. It perpetuates itself. You make a bust, you drive up profit, which makes more people want to get into it," he added. "To me, there's no question; we have to rethink this policy and we have to rethink it now."
Read the rest here
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.”