Posted by Danielle Berrin
My old friend Brett Ratner is in the news yet again.
Only this time, it’s not as the “billion-dollar director” or “Hollywood playboy” we’ve come to know so well; it’s for something entirely different, something very un-Ratner like.
Which is a surprising choice for the rabble-rouser, because, for one who notoriously revels in notoriety, book publishing is about as controversial as vanilla ice cream. So we’re left to wonder: Is Hollywood’s most controversial young talent becoming a culture preservationist?
If you read my October 2008 profile of him, you’ll discover that’s exactly the kind of thing Ratner would do. Because as much as he is the “Popcorn King,” revered for his kind of lowbrow, high-grossing adventure flicks, and at the same time, vilified as the industry’s most shameless under-40 lothario, Ratner is every bit the culture cognescenti who would fund a coffee table book that he would buy himself.
As I remember, his dazzling collection of art books immediately caught my attention when I visited his home last summer:
He points out his book collection on the other side of the bookshelf, noting the values.
“These are all photographs of people having sex in parks,” Ratner announces, poring over his collection of art books. He picks out a limited-edition volume by Ed Ruscha, which he values at $5,000.
“This is like $100,000 in books right here,” he says, sweeping his arm across the bookcase.
Ratner’s taste in art and photography is undeniably highbrow. His shelves teem with examples: Leni Riefenstahl’s “1936,” Alessandro Bertolotti’s “Book of Nudes,” Fellini’s “Mirror of Venus,” Picasso, architect Jean Prouvé, French photographer Guy Bourdin. Andy Warhol’s General Mao portrait dangles in various iterations throughout the house. (Asked why he chose the Mao, he exclaims, “It’s Andy Warhol! The greatest artist who ever lived.”) Splayed across his bed is a collection of Helmut Newton photographs, a recent gift from the artist’s widow.
Ratner’s friend, L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein (whom Ratner was mad at after Goldstein wrote about my profile) reported earlier today about the director’s latest endeavor—aptly titled, “Rat Press.” The venture is not entirely new. In 2003, Ratner published “Hillhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures,” a collection of celebrity picture-strips taken in his private booth during parties. The book reads like a who’s who of young Hollywood, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Justin Timberlake to Penelope Cruz—and for political parity, Chelsea Clinton. And last year, Ratner published a collection of actor Scott Caan’s photography.
He’s just launched a new series of film books through his Rat Press imprint, including a James Toback memoir about his friendship with NFL running back turned actor Jim Brown, as well as two interview books from longtime Playboy Q&A king Lawrence Grobel—a collection of interviews with producer Robert Evans and an updated account of Grobel’s fascinating 1978 interviews with Marlon Brando.
“If I wasn’t a publisher, I’d still be handing out copies to my friends anyway,” Ratner told me the other day. “I gave a copy of the Toback book to the Hughes brothers, because they’re really interested in Jim Brown. I’ve given copies of the Brando book to Warren Beatty and Jeff Berg. To me, these are stories from some of the great characters who helped me understand the movie business. The whole idea is to have a series of books that makes a part of Hollywood history available to everyone.”
It’s no coincidence that the books are all about Hollywood characters who were in their prime during the 1960s and early 1970s. “I grew up in that period, which for me was the greatest time for creativity in the film business,” said Ratner. “But what all these guys have in common is that they’re great storytellers. When you read about Toback living with Jim Brown for two years, you feel like you’re right there, getting to see the parties and the orgies. These guys all had a great time, not just in their social lives, but they had a great time making movies.”
Goldstein seems quite taken with the Brando book, but you’ll have to read his blog for that bit.
There’s no question Ratner loves movies—making them, watching them, and now, cataloging them for posterity. But Ratner also loves himself, and this move signifies his foray into mini-moguldom.
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March 25, 2009 | 11:13 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jews in Hollywood have long been changing their names to sound less…well, Jewish. Betty Joan Perske became Lauren Bacall; Isadore Demsky became Kirk Douglas; and Allen Konigsberg became Woody Allen—the list is quite long. For better or worse, the trend reflects that hiding identity or ethnicity makes stardom more plausible. And at the very least, it might attract more work.
So what happens when an actress with a plainly Jewish name doesn’t tweak her title?
Tovah Feldshuh, who currently stars on Broadway as a Polish Catholic in a Holocaust play, told Playbill her name keeps the Jewish roles coming. It’s with characters that lack an explicit ethnicity that she is sometimes overlooked.
She had this to say to Playbill.com:
Playbill.com: Many of your theatre projects deal with Jewish subject matter and feature Jewish characters. How important is that to you that your projects have that aspect?
Tovah Feldshuh: I’m interested in doing good projects. But I think, because people have busy lives, shorthand is a useful tool for everybody. Shakespeare says, “What’s in a name?” I say, “Yes, but you must put the effort forth.” It is much easier for me to be handed, without audition, the mini-series “Holocaust,” or Golda’s Balcony, than for me to be handed Love Letters, which I had trouble getting an audition for in New York, I’m sad to say. And I’m sad for the production, because how many other capable performers were passed over because the name didn’t sound right?
Playbill.com: So you’re saying your resume has as much to do with serendipity and other people’s perceptions than it does with your personal convictions about the kind of projects you want to do.
TF: My name was perceived, at first, when I was completely unknown — people wondered if I was foreign or from another country. I believe I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered projects that sometimes have to do with Jewish ethnicity and history that are the cream of the cream of those projects. The top. You don’t see me showing up for those I don’t consider of the highest rank. Let’s be frank here. I absolutely love being an American, and I’m proud to be an American Jew. I have no bones about it. But as an artist, you want to be able to play everything.
A friend of mine once wrote that there is something unbelievably transcendent about an artist who performs in their own accent (of course she has a very charming English one). And I thought, yes! A person who performs in their own skin is more real and raw than in any other role. I think of Tovah Feldshuh, who completely personified New York-Jewish mother perfection in one of my all time favorite films, “A Walk on the Moon.” And my passion for it has nothing to do with the scene where Diane Lane and Viggo Mortenson make love while submerged beneath a waterfall—with Joni Mitchell’s “Cactus Tree” playing in the background. Nothing to do with that at all.
March 25, 2009 | 4:16 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I simply don’t care that Julia Roberts isn’t Jewish—every woman should see this. I was ELATED to read this fantastic, life affirming, undermining of all horrible things about our beauty culture statement in the New York Times and I had to share. In A.O. Scott’s review of her new film, “Duplicity,” he writes, “Ms. Roberts has almost entirely left behind the coltish, America’s-sweetheart mannerisms, except when she uses them strategically, to disarm or confuse.” First thought: How nice, movie actresses, once coquettish and shy, can finally grow up. But here’s where it gets fantastic: “Curvier than she used to be and with a touch of weariness around her eyes and impatience in her voice, she is, at 41, u[n]mistakably in her prime.” YIPPEE! Growing up also means we can AGE. And eat carbs and be curvy! And still be beautiful. Our best selves. And I just want to applaud this promising new appraisal because pretty soon, no one will be able to afford botox anyway.
March 25, 2009 | 4:00 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The sexy starlet of “Slumdog Millionaire” will kick start her newfound film career in Israel. In the month since “Slumdog” swept the 2009 Oscars with eight wins, Pinto has become Hollywood’s hot, new commodity. Woody Allen snagged her for his next film, an untitled project set in London co-starring Nicole Kidman, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts. And earlier today, it was announced that Pinto is in Israel to film “Miral,” about Palestinian and Israeli women, written and directed by Julian Schnabel. Props to Pinto for her business savvy—even as a newbie, her choices suggest ambition for a serious acting career.
Read more from Haaretz:
Freida Pinto, the female lead in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” is in Israel to prepare for shooting a new film by Julian Schnabel, which will be entirely filmed here. French cinematographer Eric Gautier (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Hearts”) will be behind the camera. Shooting on “Miral” is scheduled to start next month, immediately after Pesach. The screenplay was adapted by Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) from a book by Palestinian-Italian writer Rula Jebreal, who collaborated on the script. It focuses on the interwoven lives of a few Israeli and Palestinian women, from the early years of the state through the early 1990s.
Pinto, 24, began her career as a model in Mumbai, switching to film acting only after British director Danny Boyle discovered her at an audition for “Slumdog Millionaire.”
In “Miral,” Pinto will be sharing the screen with female lead Hiam Abbass (“Lemon Tree”), a Palestinian actress who lives in France.
March 23, 2009 | 9:35 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I suppose it’s fair to think that this town’s frequent film panel discussions are just a way to fill theaters on off-nights. And non-cinephiles may find them utterly boring. (Why is it, exactly, that an audience will sit through a two-hour movie, but dash for the exit before a fifteen-minute Q-and-A with the director?) Remember, this is Hollywood—and the exciting things tend to happen after the curtain goes down. In Hollywood, an ordinary panel discussion is extraordinary because the people who made the film are sitting in the audience. Here, an otherwise routine discussion can result in a lead actor confronting the film’s cinematographer and declaiming against his having received an Oscar.
Such was the case at a recent screening of the Woody Guthrie biopic “Bound for Glory” at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica (the Westside wing of the American Cinemateque), when two of the film’s collaborators clashed in public. Directed by maverick filmmaker Hal Ashby, the film stars David Carradine, who was present at the Mar. 18 screening along with the film’s cinematographer, a Chicago-born Jew, Haskell Wexler. Carradine is a quirky veteran thesp with a prolific B-career, most widely seen in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” Wexler is considered one of the greatest living cinematographers in film history with two Oscars to prove it; he won his first in 1966 for his work on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and his second, a decade later, for “Bound for Glory.”
Unfortunately, I missed the juicy scene that transpired, but Chris Willman (former Entertainment Weekly music critic) took all the cliff notes you’ll need.
In light of a recent cover story I wrote on SAG President Alan Rosenberg, I was interested to read that the subject of unionism led to one of the most contentious moments of the evening. (More on this, later)
In any case, this fascinating film feud might convince you that the next time you see a panel discussion scheduled, you should go.
Willman’s play-by-play from the Huff Post:
Not since I saw Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner go at each other in an excellent production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a couple of years ago have I experienced a night of live theater quite as riveting as the three-way cage match between David Carradine, Haskell Wexler, and the audience that transpired at an L.A. repertory filmhouse after a screening the other night. If there’s anything that wouldn’t seem to scream “fireworks!,” it’d be a panel discussion about the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory, yet it’s just this innocuous-sounding an event, held at the American Cinematheque in Santa Monica the other night, that may go down in Hollywood feud lore. By popular request from film buffs who are kicking themselves they weren’t there, I’m providing a blow-by-blow of just what a nerve-wracking, weird and wonderful night out at the fights this was. Beware: This train is bound for bedlam—this train!
There’s a moment of calm. The presumptive moderator is silent, either because he’s enjoying this too much to stop it or has mentally gone to a better place. So an audience member takes it upon himself to shout out a question about cinematography. Who knew this would be a more dangerous subject than unions? Wexler talks about color desaturation (“You’ll notice the movie gets more colorful when we get to California”) and gives some very technical details. Carradine breaks in and starts talking about crane shots. Wexler, annoyed, goes back to the specs. And this is the point at which Carradine really goes off the rails, albeit it in a more subdued, passive-aggressive kind of way. He brings out a line—which he’ll repeats at least two more times—about how Wexler “got an Academy Award for ruining my movie.” You can feel the audience holding its collective breath as Carradine goes on to say that the film “looks like it was shot through a glass of milk.” When he explains what he wished the look of the film had been—which is grittier—again, it’s a lucid point, which some critics might even agree with. But the insulting way he’s making it is either tone-deaf or just evil.
Then he tells the story of how Ashby, the director, hated the look of the film, too, and had frequently expressed the wish that he could fire Wexler. Gasps go up. Carradine then says he talked Ashby out of firing Wexler, “because if you fire somebody, they just go out in the parking lot and steal your hubcaps.” I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor, but the audience doesn’t know what to do with this image other than to nervously titter. There will be a lot more of that—oh, yes, there will.
Naturally, Wexler is enraged by Carradine’s story. Speaking at some length for the first time, he retorts: “I didn’t know that I was going to be confronted with a story which I don’t think is necessarily a public story. But since it is public, I have to say something. Hal Ashby sent somebody to fire me, and he said ‘You’re fired,’ okay? And then after I heard that and got the message, I went to Hal and I said ‘Hal, just take a minute and STOP SNIFFING THAT STUFF UP YOUR NOSE!’ And if David will tell me there wasn’t heavy duty doping on that film, and that that wasn’t the comradeship he was talking about…” He lets that thought trail off, but adds: “When I showed up the next day, I went to work, and I was the UNFIRED director of photography. Now, that’s the goddamned truth!”
Carradine (drolly): “Okay. I don’t think that changes my story at all. Except that Haskell is a little down on people who snort cocaine.” That gets a good, nervous audience laugh. He goes on to tell a story about visiting Ashby’s mammoth trailer, and picking up a copy of the L.A. Times, which he hadn’t seen during many weeks of location shooting. “Underneath it there were about six lines of cocaine… Hal was looking at me and I said ‘Hal, do you do a lot of this stuff?’ And he said ‘As much as I can get.’ And I said ‘I’ll talk to you later,’ and I left the trailer. Because it’s not my thing. And yes, Hal was a great user of cocaine. It does not change the fact that he was… ” Carradine goes for the superlatives. “Quentin Tarantino doesn’t beat Hal Ashby, and he’s one of my favorite directors. Quentin is incredible. And he’s a big cocaine freak, too!” Okay, you want to talk about nervous laughter… (Just for the record, I’m not sure you can tell with 100% certainty from the tape whether Carradine says the present-tense “He’s a….” or, possibly, the past-tense “He was a…”) The actor continues: “But Hal was a fucking genius. I don’t like anybody to put him down and say the drugs got in the way or anything else, because they didn’t get in the way. They got in the way of him living longer, but they did not get in the way of his movies. There is not one movie he made that you cannot say it’s one of the best fucking movies that has ever been made…”
Patrick Goldstein gives the showdown more coverage:
It’s still early, but it’s pretty safe to say that the award for the “Craziest Post-Screening Panel Discussion of the Year” has to go to David Carradine and Haskell Wexler, who got to show everyone who stayed after an American Cinematheque screening of Hal Ashby’s “Bound for Glory” just what it must’ve been like to have lived through the ‘60s.
It’s not exactly a news flash that Carradine, best known for his many small and big screen roles (“Kung Fu,” “Kill Bill,” etc.) is a tad, shall we say ...eccentric—he’s up to, at last count, his fifth wife. But according to this marvelous blow-by-blow account from ex-Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman (posted on Hollywood Elsewhere, which offers a briefer account here), Carradine really went over the top in what was supposed to be one of those evenings devoted to affectionate reminiscences about working on a movie classic, a film that earned Wexler an Oscar for best cinematography.
At first, Carradine was just odd, “in a had-too-many-highballs-before-dinner kind of way,” as Willman put it. But when the subject of unions came up, he went completely gonzo, saying unions no longer served the same purpose they used to, which prompted a ferocious shouting match with a woman in the back of the audience. With all hell breaking loose, Cinematheque publicist Margot Gerber, who was in the front row, stood up and demanded that the woman be tossed out. Carradine continued his rant, saying he’s had to cut back on buying groceries for his family because of the economy and the SAG labor tumult, adding for emphasis: “I AM NOT A RICH PERSON!” When someone in the crowd suggested that he let the lady heckler have the mike, Carradine half-heartedly tossed the mike into the audience, which instead of landing safely in the aisle—wouldn’t you just know it—bonked Gerber right on the head.
That turned out to be just a prelude for a really contentious skirmish between Carradine and Wexler, a world-class cinematographer who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, especially when they appear to be making light of his achievements. When Carradine complained that “Bound for Glory” “looks like it was shot through a glass of milk,” claimed that Ashby tried to fire Wexler and joked that Wexler “got an Academy Award for ruining my movie,” all hell broke loose.
March 23, 2009 | 2:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
While the rest of the country has endured job losses and pay cuts, Hollywood box office has soared.
Many in the industry will proudly tell you, “The movie business is recession-proof.” And if you measured by box office alone, that might be true.
But Hollywood is cutting corners like everybody else.
For one, media conglomerate ownership of the big studios has meant countless layoffs in recent months—if Sony electronics sales are down, someone over at Sony Pictures could get the boot. The Wall Street hedge funds that once watered the Hollywood well with hundreds-of-millions in financing have all but dried up. And once flush studios such as Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks are teetering on the brink (even after he was swindled by Bernie Madoff, Mr. Spielberg forked over as much as $13 million to keep DreamWorks afloat). So while Hollywood-in-recession appears unchanged—we’re still going to the movies, and every agent in town still drives a Mercedes Benz—there is quiet talk of Obama-style regime change among the industry’s elite. Or at the very least, some serious restructuring in the way Hollywood does business.
After riding two decades of almost nonstop growth from the cable and video revolutions, a new generation of Hollywood power players is finally being forced to test its mettle.
These executives — consummate insiders who enlisted when young and worked their way up — now find themselves pushing 50 just as some brutal problems are pushing back: a collapse in DVD sales, a credit crisis that has curtailed financing for new movies, a group of corporate owners determined to pull more profits from studios to compensate for hard-hit publishing and broadcast television divisions.
“These folks were born from a place where they knew no failure — all they could ever see was up, both for the business and their careers,” said Peter Guber, a former chairman of Sony Pictures who is now a producer and industry elder statesman. “Now they must confront the unsettling truth that failure is close at hand and that it’s on their backs to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Inevitably, the sudden shift has set off soul-searching among the loose network of allies and adversaries who must rewire the industry in the short span before a next Hollywoodgeneration comes along to replace them. They are tightening belts, lowering expectations and becoming occasionally more cutthroat, but also grappling with some unusually philosophic thoughts about a business for which they now have to fight.
“People are living in fear, and sometimes it manifests itself in bad behavior,” said Mr. Shmuger, 50, who started in the business during college as a freelance copywriter for movie posters, and who spoke recently of the general climate, not of a specific incident.
“Darwinian” is one word Patrick Whitesell, a partner at the Endeavor talent agency, uses to describe the current landscape, while Chris Silbermann, president of International Creative Management, calls it “disorganized.” Both agreed that people who were formerly able to succeed by clinging to mediocrity suddenly find themselves without cover.
“Everybody has to dig deeper than they ever have,” said Mr. Whitesell, who came up in television and now represents such stars as Christian Bale and Shia LaBeouf. “That means more creative deal-making, more complete understanding of the economics of the industry, more hard-edged business decisions.”
Mr. Silbermann said: “The only way to survive is to get beyond the knee-jerk resistance to change. What’s scary is that a lot of people in the movie business aren’t admitting that to themselves yet.”
My favorite part of the story is when the Times notes how many hotshots refused to talk to them. I’m continually baffled by the fact that people in Hollywood are press shy. I really hope my editors see this so they know I’m not making it up when I say, “Nobody will talk to me!”
A number of executives and agents declined to be interviewed for this article, citing concerns about competitors or corporate overseers. Among those who preferred not to speak were Richard Lovett, 48, and Bryan Lourd, 49, both of whom are managing partners at the Creative Artists Agency; Rob Moore, 46, the vice chairman of the Viacom-owned Paramount under Brad Grey, who turns 52 this year; and Jeffrey Robinov, the 50-year-old president of the Warner Brothers Pictures Group, which is owned by Time Warner.
March 19, 2009 | 7:00 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
If you haven’t yet seen Gwyneth Paltrow’s appallingly self-obsessed website known as “GOOP,” well, you must. It’s just too much fun when the Oscar-winning actress spouts sage-like advice about detox diets. And fancy Parisian hotels. And Mario Batali recipes.
But there is one perk to Gwyneth’s gab. Her connections in Hollywood occasionally amplify the value of her verse: One of the better “newsletters” on GOOP (Gwyneth is apparently averse to the idea of a blog post) lists must-see flicks as chosen by some of Hollywood’s brightest directors—a la Steven Spielberg, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson and Jon Favreau.
I’m not one of those film people who can tell you who the cinematographer was on On The Waterfront or who most influenced Truffaut. When it comes to knowledge of film history, I’m semi-rubbish (a friend of mine once left the dinner table when I admitted I had never seen one of the most famous and most well-regarded films of all time). I can do the whole rap at the end of The Revenge of the Nerds and all of Jeff Spicoli’s dialogue, but sadly, my expertise ends there. I do, however, love film and whether it is an exceptional documentary, a classic or a Seth Rogen vehicle, I am always excited about seeing something that my friends love.
Gwyneth then defers to her film mentors and lists their perennial favorites. Read on to see what Steven Spielberg would rent tonight..
As told to Gwynnie:
(Steven Spielberg is a pretty good director, you might have heard of him. When I was seventeen he asked me to be in Hook [his film about Peter Pan] one night when we were all driving to a movie. They made me a custom wig and I only had one line! Filming that scene was one of the best, most memorable days of my life.)
Steven says: These are not necessarily my all-time favorite films….but good choices to rent and enjoy!
The Best Years of Our Lives
March 18, 2009 | 4:18 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Love! Food! Sotheby’s auctions? That’s the basic premise of a soon-to-be film starring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman, who championed the project.
The rights to the fresh-off-the-presses book, “Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry” by Leanne Shapton were purchased by Paramount at an auction last night; though it sounds like Portman has had her eye on the project for some time.
The P&P pair will of course play lovers; she, a NY Times food writer and he, an accomplished photographer. Their relationship is revealed through estate-artifact backstories that tell the story of their wild, passionate and heart wrenching romance.
And this is where I refuse to say anything about Angelina holding on to her honey. Period.
Paramount Pictures has attached Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman to star in a film based on the new Leanne Shapton book “Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry.” The book was just published by Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Paramount won an auction for the book rights Tuesday night, with Pitt’s Plan B producing with Portman’s Handsomecharlie Films banner. Portman brought the book to Pitt, whose company is Par-based.
The book takes the form of Sotheby’s-like estate auction catalog, with 325 entries and photographs depicting items that reveal the private moments and the rise and fall of a four-year relationship between the fictitious couple Hal Morris (a 40ish photographer) and Lenore Doolan, (a New York Times food columnist in her late 20s).
Shapton, an illustrator and art director of the NYT’s Op-Ed page, uses items that range from clothes to notes, e-mails and heirlooms to convey the excitement, the hopes and dreams, and ultimately the heartache of a love affair that runs its course.
CAA brokered the deal.
Pitt, who’ll next be seen starring in the Quentin Tarantino-directed “Inglourious Basterds” and the Terence Malick-directed “The Tree of Life,” is expected to next star in the Steven Soderbergh-directed “Moneyball.” It’s the latest high-profile lit buy for his Plan B, which has James Gray writing to direct an adaptation of the just-published David Grann book “The Lost City of Z.” Earlier this week, Par acquired the John Le Carre novel “The Night Manager” for Pitt to produce.
Portman will next be seen in the Jim Sheridan-directed drama “Brothers.”