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“The Artist,” a love letter to Hollywood, got hugs, kisses and the best-picture Oscar on Sunday at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony here. The film also took the awards for best actor and best director, in a minisweep that found the movie industry paying tribute to not just the movie but to its own roots as well.

“I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder and I want to thank Billy Wilder,” said Michel Hazanavicius, the film’s director, in keeping with a self-referential theme that ruled the evening.

Thomas Langmann, the producer, accepting his award for a mostly silent, black-and-white fable about an actor’s struggle with the end of silent film, said the achievement was dedicated to his father, the deceased French director Claude Berri.

Until Sunday no silent film had won the top Oscar since “Wings,” at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. But nostalgia ruled the night, as “Hugo,” about another silent star, Georges Méliès, won a string of less prominent awards, and “Midnight in Paris,” a comic time trip to Paris in the 1920s, took the prize for original screenplay for Woody Allen.

Meryl Streep, a winner for her portrayal of a doddering Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” made her victory look like a shock. But she hadn’t won since 1983, even though she reigns as the actor with the most nominations in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with 17 in all. Ms. Streep said she could imagine half of America gasping: “Oh no! Oh, come on! Why her? Again?” as her name was read.

When the only surprise is a victory by Ms. Streep, you know things are going by the script. Viola Davis, for her work in “The Help,” had been considered a strong candidate as the best-actress winner.

“Merci, beaucoup, I love you!” shouted Jean Dujardin, as he picked up his award as best actor for a movie that was conceived in France, but showered its adoration on the Hollywood of yore.

After a dry spell in the early evening, “The Artist” gained momentum as the major awards were presented, beginning with a prize for Mr. Hazanavicius. The winner unscrolled a long string of French-accented “thank yous” that included Uggie the dog.

Christopher Plummer, born in 1929, won his first Academy Award, as best supporting actor, for “Beginners.” “You’re only two years older than me, darling — where have you been all my life?” said Mr. Plummer, in picking up a statuette that was first given for films made in 1927 and 1928.

It was long overdue recognition for Mr. Plummer, who had appeared in dozens of films over more than 50 years, and finally won for his portrayal, in “Beginners,” of a father who in his final years acknowledges being gay.

“Congratulations to Mr. Plummer; the average age of the winners has now jumped to 67,” joked Mr. Crystal.

That was before Woody Allen, 76, won a best original screenplay Oscar for “Midnight in Paris,” bumping the average age still higher. That film was another nostalgia trip, about literary Paris in the 1920s. In keeping with a personal tradition, Mr. Allen was a no-show, and left the Academy to accept its own prize on his behalf.

Closer to present time, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash had just won an adapted-screenplay Oscar for “The Descendants.” It was welcome recognition for a movie that once appeared among the front-runners for best picture, but seemed to falter as a grueling, monthslong campaign season showered pre-Oscar prizes on “The Artist.”

There was a dollop of drama to the proceedings.

As the show passed its midpoint, “Hugo” had made the only show of force. A 3-D tale, set in Paris, it had won five Oscars, for cinematography, art direction, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

Meanwhile, two hours in, “The Artist,” supposedly the night’s front-runner, had won only two awards, those for its Jazz Age costume design and musical score. If the early snubs sent a shiver through Harvey Weinstein, whose company distributed “The Artist” in the United States, he could take comfort, at least, in a win for “Undefeated.”

That film, about a black urban high school football team and its white coach, was also distributed by the Weinstein Company, and took the Oscar for best documentary feature. One of the film’s makers drew a gasp in the auditorium when he broke Oscar protocol by tossing off a strictly forbidden obscenity — something rare at the tightly controlled Academy Awards.

Chris Rock followed with a racial joke, about black men getting lousy roles even in animated films. It may have been in questionable taste, but it jarred the show closer to modern times.

“Rango” was the animation winner, from the director Gore Verbinski and Paramount Pictures. Both DreamWorks Animation, which had “Kung Fu Panda 2” in the running, and Walt Disney’s Pixar Animation, which had no nominee in the category at all, had watched their grip on the prize slip to Mr. Verbinski, who had never before made an animated film.

Elizabeth Taylor was the capper in an especially crowded memorial sequence that paid tribute to one after another among the film figures who died in the last year. The actor Ben Gazzara, the movie executive John Calley, and the Oscar show producers Gil Cates and Laura Ziskin were among them.

Finally, the show settled into its inevitable rhythm of presentation, thanks, and congratulatory applause — in a typical Oscar broadcast, only a relatively small sliver goes to production numbers and pranks by the host. But the montage moments kept coming.

As the end neared, actors like Julia Roberts and Robert Downey Jr. were on film carrying on about why they love film. “I’ve never had any of those feelings,” said Mr. Crystal.

And the demographic jokes never stopped. “Perky gets old fast with this crowd,” Ben Stiller warned Emma Stone, as she milked a bit that wound around her status as a first-time presenter.

Indeed it was a mirth-by-any-means-necessary kind of night: Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig, Kermit the Frog and a parade of other comedians were among the presenters.

Mr. Crystal, his vaudeville grin firmly in place, set the tone early, opening the show with a song-and-dance montage that managed to send up the nine best-picture nominees, Tom Cruise, the movie “Bridesmaids,” and his own aging career all at once.

“This is my ninth time, my ninth time hosting the Oscars,” he quipped in an opening monologue that seemed bent on leaving no one out. “Just call me ‘War Horse.’ ” Pointing one of his barbs directly at the film industry, he added, “Nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with gold statues.”

The theater was gilded and draped in red, as were many of the starlets. The idea was to mimic a glamour that came with the movies of old — a time when, perhaps, they mattered a little more than they do in an age of multiplatform entertainment.

The big show-business smile that infused the ceremony was more than a ratings ploy. It was also an effort by the Academy to move past a tumultuous Oscar season that left the organization bruised if not bloodied.

Mr. Crystal came aboard as host at the last minute in November, pinch-hitting for Eddie Murphy, who dropped out when Brett Ratner, his friend and a producer of the show, resigned amid a media storm over his use of an anti-gay slur at a panel discussion in Hollywood. Simultaneously, the normally staid Academy had to deal with infighting over its new chief executive, Dawn Hudson, and the changes she was trying to implement. Ms. Hudson finally defended herself a few days ago in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

A generally weak box-office performance among the year’s nine best-picture contenders — only one of which, “The Help,” amassed more than $100 million in domestic ticket sales — had already caused worry about the Oscar show’s ratings potential. Then moviedom took an added blow to its confidence, watching this year’s Grammy Awards show attract about 40 million viewers as music fans rallied around the death of Whitney Houston; last year’s Oscars drew 37.9 million viewers.

Meanwhile, a demographic survey by The Los Angeles Times renewed questions about the 5,800-member Academy’s cultural relevance. Membership was found to be overwhelmingly white, male and 60ish. The results echoed conventional wisdom, but provoked new debate about whether the Oscars still mattered to an increasingly diverse America, let alone a global audience.

The television ratings may provide a clue. (At 3 hours 8 minutes, the show ranked among the shorter broadcasts in recent history.) In the meantime, the longing for past glory was perhaps most wistfully expressed by Bret McKenzie, whose composition, “Man or Muppet,” won for best original song.

Backstage, Mr. McKenzie modestly allowed that his song, for the film “The Muppets,” couldn’t hold a candle to Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher’s “Rainbow Connection,” which has been Kermit the Frog’s theme song through the years.

That song was a classic, Mr. McKenzie said; his own, he contended, was nothing by comparison. Somewhere in that was a lesson for the night.


* By MICHAEL CIEPLY and  (LOS ANGELES)

 

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: Those are the three things that men and women have as unalienable rights, according to the Declaration of Independence. Some might argue that just as the Declaration is an inalienably American document, the dedication to those particular rights counts as an intrinsic part of the American character. It stands to reason, then, that the American cinema teems with portrayals of its own people pursuing these rights, sometimes naively, sometimes stubbornly, sometimes bravely … sometimes even criminally. Here are 10 that made a very big impression — big enough that they might deserve to have their faces carved on a cinematic answer to Mount Rushmore.

 

10) Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

The American spirit is an ever-intrepid one, and it balks, sometimes violently, at boredom and oppression. For little Kansas girl Dorothy Gale, life on the farm with her kindly but strict aunt and uncle, not to mention the complaints of her uptight dog-hating schoolteacher, make her cry for escape. Dorothy’s own adventure, initiated by a twister that rips through the sepia-toned Kansas plain, takes her literally over the rainbow, into an enchanted land of witches and talking lions and straw men and all manner of weirdness. And it’s there that Dorothy learns a lesson that’s still dear to the heart of a lot of our fellow Americans: There’s no place like home. Even when we’re convinced that we can’t stand the sight of it!

 

9) Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)

“We rob banks,” one of this dynamic and dysfunctional duo blurts in an unguarded moment with strangers. The real-life Depression-era boy-girl bandits didn’t exactly ooze charisma, but their movie incarnations, both gorgeous, couldn’t help but do so. That Arthur Penn’s 1967 film depicted the couple as sympathetic to foreclosed farm folk also helps their peculiar status as American Robin Hoods minus the wealth redistribution. Their legend as reiterated in film spread worldwide: French chansoneur Serge Gainsbourg wrote a tribute tune to them as a duet for himself and Brigitte Bardot, while over in Merrie Olde England, Georgie Fame sang “Bonnie and Clyde/Were pretty looking people/But let me tell you, people/They were the devil’s children.” Does every country get the outlaws they deserve? Hard to say. But I think we can all agree this couple is more palatable than, say, Mr. Manson and his “family.”

 

 

8) Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs in “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

A groundbreaking post-Civil Rights movement depiction of an African-American character. That is, in a position of authority rather than servility. Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs is a Philadelphia detective who finds himself enlisted to help solve a Deep South murder, despite the reluctance of the bigoted Mississippi lawman Gillespie (Rod Steiger). Cool, calm, and collected, but clearly with a well of deep indignation beneath his surface, Tibbs keeps his head, and his manners, throughout, until he’s pushed the wrong way. Poitier’s character stands up against hundreds of years of racism and oppression when he responds to Gillespie’s taunt, “What do they call you up North, boy?” by very nearly spitting, “They call me MISTER Tibbs.”

 

 

7) Sally Field as Norma Rae in “Norma Rae” (1979)

The histories of American politics and activism are filled with the names of reluctant heroes, everyday people who, when called to a cause greater than themselves, rise to both the occasion and the cause with incredible strength and spirit. Sally Field won an Academy Award for playing a North Carolina single mom and textile worker who becomes a union organizer despite her initial determination not to stir up trouble at the plant. Based on the real-life story of Crystal Lee Sutton, the Martin Ritt-directed movie is a frank and gritty depiction not just of what’s at stake in big-picture struggles for workers rights, but what the cost can be for the individuals who lead the fights for those rights. The very ordinariness of Norma is part of what makes the character such an inspiration, and so uniquely American.

 

 

6) Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in “Rocky” (1976)

“Palooka” is old-school boxing slang for “loser,” and in all the annals of boxing lore both literary and cinematic, there’s never been a palooka quite so palooka-ish as looming, droopy-lidded, marble-mouthed Rocky Balboa, a Philly mook who dreams of something like a title shot while romancing a neighborhood girl who’s so punishingly shy that she’s presumed by most of the local hood rats to be mentally disabled. Poster taglines are marketing devices, we know, but there’s hardly been an apter one than one of those for this picture: “His whole life was a million-to-one shot.” This great underdog character and his story in themselves constitute a great underdog film: The character was conceived and written by star Sylvester Stallone for himself just as he was about to bail from showbiz, and the film was made on a shoestring budget. It’s hard to look at Stallone now and see his legendary character, but every time you see the movie, he shuffles back to sleepy life, and you can’t help but root for him as he works out to Bill Conti’s cornball powerhouse theme music.

 

 

5) Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (1993)

We love our all-American song-and-dance men and women, from George M. Cohan and Kate Smith to Lady Gaga. Tina Turner seems to represent a particularly American brand of resilience. This biopic depicts her incredibly humble origins as Annie Mae Bullock, the discovery of her dynamic musical talent, her road to both fame and a form of servitude under husband and musical partner Ike Turner, and, after a stretch of near-unendurable abuse, her liberation, which leaves her with nothing but her name. After which she goes on to even greater accomplishment, fame and fortune all by her super-bad self. And although Turner herself has made Europe her home for many years, her particular pursuit of happiness is, you have to say, as American as it gets.

 

 

4) Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind” (1939)

Novelist Margaret Mitchell’s perverse Southern belle touched a deep chord in American culture well before the movie version of her book was made — so deep that producer David O. Selznick felt compelled to cast a relative unknown in the role, so as not to create a certain specific expectation. What British actress Leigh had to live up to was a Scarlett of the popular imagination, in all its bizarre glory: spoiled, petulant, pigheaded, unforgivably selfish and dissembling, but also with incredible reserves of strength, will, resourcefulness and a guile that almost resembled brilliant strategizing when perceived from a certain angle. Not to mention the all-American optimism of tomorrow being another day and all. Leigh wound up nailing the role so beautifully that it defined her subsequent career, for all intents and purposes. She only broke out of the Scarlett mold when she played an older, and almost entirely ruined, variation of the character, Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” well over a decade later.

 

 

3) James Stewart as Jefferson Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)

Funny thing about this picture: The earnest, awkward, almost criminally naïve draftee-senator played by Stewart and the gum-cracking cynical D.C. smart alecks who are so negatively awestruck by his lack of worldliness that they can’t even believe he’s too good to be true are two sides of the same American-character coin. In director Frank Capra’s wrenching tale of corruption and redemption in Our Democracy, it’s Smith, the onetime Boy Ranger leader who consults with the statue of Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial when he really needs boosting, who has to win over the swells who take him for a sap. Which of course he does, reminding them of their better angels, but not before going against an engine of graft so formidable that it nearly wears the young man (and the film’s audience) down to a nub.

 

 

2) John Wayne as Sgt. John M. Stryker in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” (1949)

The tough drillmaster who whips young army whelps into shape has gone through some interesting cinematic mutations over the years, climaxing in a sense with R. Lee Ermey’s formidable quasi-monster in “Full Metal Jacket.” Wayne’s Sgt. Stryker is from a different time, a different war, a war some still call the Good War. Those coming to the film expecting the character to be a patriotic cardboard cutout are in for a surprise. Wayne’s Stryker rides the recruits raw, but he’s hardly perfect himself: He drinks too much, has one mess of a personal life, all that. No paragon, then, but when it counts, he’s all guts, and by just being that, he teaches his charges, including the particularly irascible private played by John Agar, what it means not just to be a hero, but a Marine. A stirring character in a stirring film.

 

 

1) Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln in “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939)

Between the two of them, director John Ford and actor Henry Fonda etched quite a few indelible American portraits, both together and apart. “Young Mr. Lincoln” is a deceptively plain-seeming film with Fonda giving a deceptively understated performance chronicling Lincoln’s early adventures in love, loss and eventually lawyering in rural Illinois. Throughout, Fonda’s performance embodies a very basic decency and innate grasp of common sense, both practical and moral, that were to define Lincoln’s qualities as president. And there’s also the famously dry Lincoln wit, the cleverly deployed Solomonic wisdom, and more. And finally, a deep sense of individual loneliness, a sense of standing apart from the greatness of the country at the same time as one is poised to help define it. Such a paradox is also a big part of being an American, and Fonda captures it without overselling it.

 

 

*By Glenn Kenny For MSN Movies

I WAS driving home listening to the radio on Thursday when I heard that Michael Jackson was dead. I turned it off and thought about my brother. It’s not that I don’t think about him — I suppose I could say that though he’s only sometimes on my mind, he’s always in it. He moves, or I move him, from an impressionistic figure in a background to a man in sharp focus.

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He is in trouble and, now that I think about it, has been for the better part of a quarter-century. Over that time we’ve become strangers. We haven’t had a substantive conversation in years — not about my marriage, my children, our father’s death, or why we’ve grown apart. It has, of course, something to do with logistics, geography, the complications of growing up and old, but it’s mostly because we don’t trust each other, and perhaps never have. I know he’s a liar, and he knows I don’t care about him, or what he thinks of me, what he thinks of anything.


I can’t remember in my adult life when I’ve thought of him fairly: He’s in jail now, far away from home, and it’s difficult to imagine that, now that he’s 46, there’s much more in his future than more of the same. And so I have, unfairly — though for me, practically — decided what remains for him so that I may rationalize, sanctimoniously, how I’ll continue to reject him.

I’ve allowed his troubles, though, to affect how I think about our pasts. Because of who I am now, my troubles as a boy, adolescent, young adult and man are things I’ve overcome: that makes me good, strong. Looking back through the lens of my current success ennobles my past — how I failed, or was failed — to the same degree my brother’s failure derides his.

And as liberal or dynamic-thinking as I’m supposed to be, my decision to reject him is informed by the inhumane notion of tough love: he had his chances, more than I, and look what he’s done with them.

What does this have to do with Michael Jackson? Grimly, I’ve been waiting for — through the hair relaxer, the surgeries, the blanching, the eccentricities and the fall into madness — that news flash. Just as I’ve been waiting for a phone call telling me my brother is dead, or at least, far beyond any possible care — our gap ever widening, irreconcilable.

The Jackson 5 — not the Jacksons, or any other iteration — were like family. My brother, sister, cousins and I grew up with them. When we were young and together, they were all we’d listen to, and really, in pop-culture terms, all we really knew about. They were a conduit — unlike the dead, white authors we were told to read and emulate, and the dead, black martyrs we were to told to mimic and revere — to a larger world. His death, as I’m sure is the case for many others, makes me scan time backward and forward in order to understand, how he, we, came to be here now. My backward trek — unlike my children’s relationship to their time capsule discovery of “Thriller” and “Beat It,” unlike my white high school friends and their adoration of “Billie Jean” — has little connection to those periods, that person.

My Michael — not M. J., or Jacko — has an Afro, a broad nose and deep brown skin. His voice, rather than clipped and formulaic, is clear, ringing and bright. His vocalizations aren’t clicks and chirps, but screeches and moans.

I never believed in anything he sang as an adult. He never seemed to understand, or be convinced himself. But now, listening to him sing as a child, even though I know he was too young to have a clue as to what he was singing about, I feel, just as I felt when I was a boy, that he knew and he felt exactly what he was singing.

Do you remember those Polaroid Instamatics? The ones with the accordion muzzle? With the hot popping one-time flash, the chemical smell of that toxic magic jelly? You had to pull the print from the side of the camera by the tab of the cellophane it was wrapped in, and wait 60 seconds before peeling it open like a Kraft single. I remember counting down, or up, the time, and then adding extra seconds, and still more by shaking the package, or wiping my fingers — “Come on! Come on!” — before looking. There’d been, even in my young life, too many blotchy prints, ghost images, lost moments.

I have a framed photograph in my bedroom. It’s of my brother, David, my sister, Tracey, my two first cousins — Lisa and Russell — and me. It’s at my aunt and uncle’s house. We’re all very young. We’re all dressed in fantastic early-’70s gear. (I’m wearing a bright red long-sleeve jersey with a blue collar, bellbottoms with wide white and blue vertical stripes and moccasins.) We are dancing. I’m doing — although some years before it was named — what can only be called the rock.

Tracey has her arms stretched high and spread wide. Russell, I think, would’ve twirled had he not looked up and seen the camera. Most people who see this photo have the same reaction — a melancholic smile — and then they guess, not the group, because everyone knows, but the song.

I tell them that we were the Cousin 5. Then they state: “You’re Michael.” I tell them no. They scan the 3×5, confused. I point to David, the oldest. He looks, from how the picture was taken, to be on the periphery, but he’s really up front, while we other four are gathered in support. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m Jermaine.”

They snicker. My brother, to most of my friends, has always seemed ridiculous. To me, David’s a combination of all the things I despise in people. I’ve always thought him to be narcissistic, self-serving and grandiose. He took the qualities that made our father charismatic, and made them petty. And although even as a boy I sensed my father was both delusional and a liar, his performances — where we’d go, what we’d do, how we’d make it — were inspirational. My brother sounded like a petty dictator, or a bad con.

After our father left, David — four years older than I — tried to fill that void. He wasn’t good at it. The space was too big and most of what he did for or to me was wrong. I knew I was smarter than him, I knew I’d be bigger than him, and I didn’t understand why I didn’t outrank him. It seemed absurd that he had authority over me in anything.

But I never, fairly, tried to understand — who he was, what he was asked to do — by our parents, by himself. And he was just a boy, how would he even know the question to ask? The accident of his birth threw him into his role — front man — and he assumed it, whether he had the talent or stomach to fit. So I can look at the Polaroid, and snort or rage. I can construct a narrative from that moment onward that conveniently depicts his demise. But I’ve never thought about, for long, why he’s dancing alone.

The photo must have been taken in Waltham, Mass., because there’s a house directly outside the window, and my aunt and uncle’s next place had more space between it and the neighbors. But we’re in that blurred time — ’73 to ’75 — before they left the duplex rental across the street from the railroad tracks, and before my father left home for good.

He never came with us. Sometimes he’d drop us off, or pick us up. When the car worked my mother drove, but usually my uncle made the round trip. Just as I never understood, because my uncle was always very kind to us, that those Saturday trips in and out of Boston — three exits east and west on the turnpike — probably were a pain for him, they were escapes for my mother. Perhaps she spent her time there confiding in her sister, perhaps it was simply that she didn’t want to cook. Whatever the case, we all knew — intellectually or viscerally — that my family was ending. There was no place else for my mother to go.

AND so while my father was off chasing who knows what, or who, wherever, we were there, at my aunt and uncle’s, or on our way there. And winding along the Charles River and approaching the left turn onto their street I’d begin to feel the awful convergence of all the reasons we were rolling up onto the crabgrass and gravel of the curb-less sidewalk in front of their house, the walk along the driveway to the side door, and then my aunt holding the screen door, or the storm door open at the top of the four-step porch. My mother’s tired, familiar greeting. My aunt’s mid-sized smile. She was one of the few people who was truly happy to share, unconditionally, what she had.

Tracey and my cousin Lisa were best friends, 19 days apart in age. Russell, 18 months younger than I, and with our affections, secrets and rivalries, was much more like a brother to me than David. Even with this, there was always an awkward moment at the threshold that could stretch through dinner and into the evening. It could’ve been as simple as that they were engaged in something before we came, and most young children are terrible with transition. It could’ve been that we outnumbered them. I see it now when a large family is at our door. My children take pause and wonder how the people on the stoop will fit.

But I also know that we must have seemed like wild children. At home our mother was outnumbered. Our neighborhood was full of kids, and we’d roam the streets, parks and yards, and she couldn’t keep up. At home I could sleep in gym shorts, or long underwear. I could sneak into the bathroom, or hide under the covers with a flashlight and read as late as I wanted. In the morning I could shuffle around barefoot. Sleeping over at my aunt and uncle’s I had to wear pajamas. Lights-out wasn’t debatable. And in the morning my uncle would make me wear a robe and slippers around the house.

And we, as families, were going in different directions. There’d always been a rift between the adults — real-world practicality versus altruistic erudition. My father read books, argued Socratically, haunted jazz bars, and never saved a cent. My uncle worked hard, and kept whatever fanciful notions he might have had to himself, and had reasonable expectations of the future. They were soon to move from a blue-collar town to a wealthy Boston suburb. We would soon lose our house and our private school scholarships, and have to use their address to attend the good public schools. They had stuff, were getting more, but something we thought we had, every day, disappeared.

Finally, though, there was music. I don’t fully remember, but I think our cousins had a portable stereo. Lisa would get it out and the party would start. The Jackson 5 was the only music we’d play. My family had 45’s, but my cousins had albums. I’d stare at them, read the tiny print, feel the wax paper sleeve to see if it was real. All of the album covers, like the days, have combined into one emblematic memory. And I’m not one to dissect the converged body of the past into pre-gestalt moments.

I don’t know if it was the “Greatest Hits,” but one cover was the color of midnight, and one was like a Creamsicle, but they all had bright photographs of the Jackson 5: Afros, bellbottoms, suede boots, tasseled nubuck vests, stripes, stars and peace signs. Then the crackle of the grooves, then my aunt from the next room: “Not too loud.” The music: piano glissando, guitar, bass — bum bum, bum bum, bum bah bump. Michael: “Uh-huh … let me tell you now…” and we were up — snapping, clapping and rocking. Trying to do twirls and splits barefoot on the thick-pile wall-to-wall. No one would feel those burns until bedtime.

“I Want You Back.” I’d lose track of where I was, whom I was with. Heat, sound and movement, until the song faded. But even then I’d be part lost. I’d construct the pop of tires on gravel, the heavy door slam, footsteps up the porch, the first door whine, the second door jingle, and see my father enter, call for my mother and sing: “I want you back! I want you back!” But my father’s voice, I knew, was coarse-grit baritone, better suited for brooding and regret, rather than epiphany and hope.

“Michael.” David would snap. I’d come back from wherever I was to find everyone staring at me. He’d shrug his shoulders, raise his eyebrows and tap on his temple with his index finger. “We need to do that again.” He’d say at the player, holding the arm, looking at us four, now, flatly. I’d hate him for doing this, for wanting to control those moments, make them his, take them from me.

“Ready?” And we’d pick up our imaginary instruments, take our places and wait. He’d drop the needle and rush to the front.
We’d rehearse until we were soaked. We always did the same routines to the same songs, and David would ignore our ideas about new choreography. Start with “ABC,” slow it down with “I’ll Be There,” blow it out with “Going Back to Indiana.”

It never failed: we’d be set to call the adults in to watch our performance, just as they were getting up to go. We’d have to plead with them to let us do it. We worked so hard: just once, maybe twice, O.K., three times. I’ve conveniently forgotten, but in those moments, and the ones to follow, I felt protected — a part. I forgot about my resentment of my brother. Rather than being alone in my individual reveries, I was with my family.

The role of front man — because of who David was, who we were, and what we, at that time, faced — was his. He was a child and I was a younger child, and in some ways he stopped being one so I wouldn’t have to. I’ve never thanked David for that. I know that the time I’ve wasted ridiculing and shunning him, watching him fall, waiting for that call rather than helping to keep it from coming, can’t be regained, or undone in the years to come by re-rationalizing, glorifying or erasing his actions, but it’s a place to start.

People will point to Michael Jackson’s discography, his surgeries, madness, all that he’s been given, earned and squandered. Many will testify about what he’s given, but I, in this moment, can only think of what he’s, we’ve, lost. The price he’s paid for where he’s been is his life. And I think about David in much the same way — the wake behind, and his narrowing future — where he is now, and how it cost him me.


*Text By MICHAEL THOMAS; NYT, June 28, 2009
Michael Thomas is the author of the novel “Man Gone Down.”

For all the talk of his sustained adolescence, no performer made a more compelling entrance into manhood than Michael Jackson did with the release of his 1979 album, “Off the Wall” just a couple of weeks before his 21st birthday.

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It was all the more stunning because we had watched his childhood and adolescence. He wasn’t an apparition rising out of obscurity, like Elvis Presley. To become who he was in “Off the Wall,” he had to annul — if not destroy — the performer he had been in the Jackson 5.

And yet the change was organic as well as deliberate. Michael Jackson grew into his body, and out of that new body emerged a wholly new idea of what pop music, and the movement it generates, might be. It can be hard to remember now, 30 years later, just how ubiquitous the hits from that album, especially “Rock With You,” really were.

In soul, in rock ’n’ roll, and in pop, there is a long tradition of men singing in high voices, the height of the voice suggesting the pitch of the singer’s fervor. Michael Jackson made the sweetness of that high voice guttural and demanding. He showed that it was rooted in his feet and hips and hands. He re-sexualized it in a way that you could never really mistake — then — as androgynous.


Very few artists — certainly very few child stars — have ever redefined themselves as thoroughly or as successfully as Michael Jackson did. His second act was better than any number of first acts put together. The uncanny thing wasn’t just his physical transformation, his hypnotic new ability to move. It was the certainty of “Off the Wall” and its sequel “Thriller” that this was the music we wanted to hear. He knew, too, that this was a music we wanted to visualize, to see formalized and set loose in dance. In a sense, he was loosing his transformation upon the rest of us, expecting us to be caught up in the excitement the music caused in him. And we were.
Michael Jackson came to be synonymous with transformation — ultimately, with an eerie stasis that comes from seeking transformation all the time. The alchemy of change worked longer and better for him — through the ’80s and into the early ’90s — than it has for almost any other artist. And yet somehow all the changes always take us back to the album in which Michael Jackson grew up.


By VERLYN KLINKENBORG , NYT, Editorial, June 27, 2009

Charlton Heston, who appeared in some 100 films in his 60-year acting career but who is remembered chiefly for his monumental, jut-jawed portrayals of Moses, Ben-Hur and Michelangelo, died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 84.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the family, Bill Powers, who did not specify a cause. In August 2002, Mr. Heston announced that he had received a diagnosis of neurological symptoms “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“I’m neither giving up nor giving in,” he said.

Every actor dreams of a breakthrough role, the part that stamps him in the public memory, and Mr. Heston’s life changed forever when he caught the eye of the director Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille, who was planning his next biblical spectacular, “The Ten Commandments,” looked at the young, physically imposing Mr. Heston and saw his Moses.

When the film was released, in 1956, more than three and a half hours long and the most expensive that De Mille had ever made, Mr. Heston became a marquee name. Whether leading the Israelites through the wilderness, parting the Red Sea or coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets from God in hand, he was a Moses to remember.

Writing in The New York Times nearly 30 years afterward, when the film was re-released for a brief run, Vincent Canby called it “a gaudy, grandiloquent Hollywood classic” and suggested there was more than a touch of “the rugged American frontiersman of myth” in Mr. Heston’s Moses.

The same quality made Mr. Heston an effective spokesman, off screen, for the causes he believed in. Late in life he became a staunch opponent of gun control. Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1998, he proved to be a powerful campaigner against what he saw as the government’s attempt to infringe on a constitutional guarantee — the right to bear arms.

In Mr. Heston, the N.R.A. found its embodiment of pioneer values — pride, independence and valor. In a speech at the N.R.A.’s annual convention in 2000, he brought the audience to its feet with a ringing attack on gun-control advocates. Paraphrasing an N.R.A. bumper sticker (“I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands”), he waved a replica of a colonial musket above his head and shouted defiantly, “From my cold, dead hands!”

Mr. Heston’s screen presence was so commanding that he was never dominated by mammoth sets, spectacular effects or throngs of spear-waving extras. In his films, whether playing Buffalo Bill, an airline pilot, a naval captain or the commander of a spaceship, he essentially projected the same image — muscular, steely-eyed, courageous. If critics used terms like “marble-monumental” or “granitic” to describe his acting style, they just as often praised his forthright, no-nonsense characterizations.

After his success in “The Ten Commandments,” Mr. Heston tried a change of pace. Working for another legendary Hollywood director, Orson Welles, he played a Mexican narcotics investigator in the thriller “Touch of Evil,” in which Welles himself played a murderous sheriff in a border town. Also starring Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, the film, a modest success when it opened in 1958, came to be accepted as a noir classic.

A Biblical Specialty

But the following year Mr. Heston stepped back into the world of the biblical epic, this time for the director William Wyler. The movie was “Ben-Hur.” Cast as a prince in ancient Judea who rebels against the rule of Rome, Mr. Heston again dominated the screen. In the film’s most spectacular sequence, he and his co-star, Stephen Boyd, as his Roman rival, fight a thrilling duel with whips as their horse-drawn chariots career wheel-to-wheel around an arena filled with roaring spectators.

“Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards — a record at the time — including those for best picture, best director and, for Mr. Heston, best actor.

He went on to star opposite Sophia Loren in the 1961 film “El Cid,” battling the Moors in medieval Spain. As a Marine officer at the Forbidden City in 1900, he helped put down the Boxer Rebellion in Nicholas Ray’s 1963 epic “55 Days at Peking.” In “Khartoum” (1966), he played Gen. Charles (Chinese) Gordon, who was killed in a desert uprising, led in the film by Laurence Olivier’s Mahdi. When George Stevens produced and directed “The Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1965, there was Mr. Heston, back in ancient Judea, playing John the Baptist to Max von Sydow’s Jesus.

He portrayed Andrew Jackson twice, in “The President’s Lady” (1953) and “The Buccaneer” (1958). There were westerns (“Major Dundee,” “Will Penny,” “The Mountain Men”), costume dramas (“The Three Musketeers” and its sequel, “The Four Musketeers,” with Mr. Heston as the crafty Cardinal Richelieu in both) and action films aplenty. Whether playing a hard-bitten landowner in an adaptation of James Michener’s novel “The Hawaiians” (1970), or a daring pilot in “Airport 1975,” he could be relied on to give moviegoers their money’s worth.

In 1965 he was cast as Michelangelo in the film version of Irving Stone’s novel “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” Directed by Carol Reed, the film pitted Mr. Heston’s temperamental artist against Rex Harrison’s testy Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to create frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Mr. Heston’s performance took a critical drubbing, but to audiences, the larger-than-life role seemed to be another perfect fit. Mr. Heston once joked: “I have played three presidents, three saints and two geniuses. If that doesn’t create an ego problem, nothing does.”

Foray Into the Future

Mr. Heston was catapulted into the distant future in the 1968 science-fiction film “Planet of the Apes,” in which he played an astronaut marooned on a desolate planet and then enslaved by its rulers, a race of anthropomorphic apes. The film was a hit. He reprised the role two years later in the sequel, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”

It was all a long way from Evanston, Ill., where Charlton Carter was born on Oct. 4, 1923, and from the small town of St. Helen, Mich., where his family moved when he was a small boy and where his father ran a lumber mill. He attended a one-room school and learned to fish and hunt and to savor the feeling of being self-reliant in the wild, where his shyness was no handicap.

When his parents divorced in the 1930s and his mother remarried — his stepfather’s surname was Heston — the family moved back to the Chicago suburbs, this time Winnetka. He joined the theater program at his new high school and went on to enroll at Northwestern University on a scholarship. By that time, he was convinced he had found his life’s work.

Mr. Heston also found a fellow drama student, Lydia Clarke, whom he married in 1944, just before he enlisted in the Army Air Forces. He became a radio-gunner and spent three years stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After his discharge, the Hestons moved to New York, failed to find work in the theater and, somewhat disenchanted but still determined, moved to North Carolina, where they spent several seasons working at the Thomas Wolfe memorial theater in Asheville.

When they returned to New York in 1947, Mr. Heston got his first big break, landing the role of Caesar’s lieutenant in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” staged by Guthrie McClintick and starring Katharine Cornell. The production ran for seven months and proved to be the high point of Mr. Heston’s New York stage career. He appeared in a handful of other plays, most of them dismal failures.

If Broadway had little to offer him, television was another matter. He made frequent appearances in dramatic series like “Robert Montgomery Presents” and “Philco Playhouse.” The door to Hollywood opened when the film producer Hal B. Wallis saw Mr. Heston’s performance as Rochester in a “Studio One” production of “Jane Eyre.” Wallis offered him a contract.

Mr. Heston made his film debut in 1950 in Wallis’s “Dark City,” a low-grade thriller in which he played a small-time gambler. Two years later, he did his first work for DeMille as a hard-driving circus boss in “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Throughout his career he studied long and hard for his roles. He prepared for the part of Moses by memorizing passages from the Old Testament. When filming began on the sun-baked slopes of Mount Sinai, he suggested to DeMille that he play the role barefoot — a decision that he felt lent an edge of truth to his performance.

Preparing for “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” he read hundreds of Michelangelo’s letters and practiced how to sculpt and paint convincingly. When filming “The Wreck of the Mary Deare” (1959), in which he played the pilot of a salvage boat, he learned deep-water diving. And he mostly rejected stunt doubles. In “Ben-Hur,” he said, he drove his own chariot for “about 80 percent of the race.”

“I worked six weeks learning how to manage the four white horses,” he said. “Nearly pulled my arms right out of their sockets.”

As the years wore on, the leading roles began to go to younger men, and by the 1980s, Mr. Heston’s appearances on screen were less frequent. He turned to stage work again, not on Broadway but in Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson Theater, where he played roles ranging from Macbeth to James Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” He also returned to television, appearing in 1983 as a paternalistic banker in the mini-series “Chiefs” and as an oil baron in the series “The Colbys.”

Mr. Heston was always able to channel some energies into the public arena. He was an active supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., calling him “a 20th-century Moses for his people,” and participated in the historic march on Washington in 1963.

Inspired by Reagan

He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1966 to 1971, following in the footsteps of his friend and role model Ronald Reagan. A registered Democrat for many years, he was nevertheless selective in the candidates he chose to support and often campaigned for conservatives.

In 1981, President Reagan appointed him co-chairman of the President’s Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, a group formed to devise ways to obtain financing for arts organizations. Although he had reservations about some projects supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. Heston wound up defending the agency against charges of elitism.

Again and again, he proved himself a cogent and effective speaker, but he rejected suggestions that he run for office. “I’d rather play a senator than be one,” he said.

He became a Republican after Democrats in the Senate blocked the confirmation of Judge Robert Bork, a conservative, to the Supreme Court in 1987. Mr. Heston had supported the nomination and was critical of the Reagan White House for misreading the depth of the liberal opposition.

Mr. Heston frequently spoke out against what he saw as evidence of the decline and debasement of American culture. In 1992, appalled by the lyrics on “Cop Killer,” a recording by the rap artist Ice T, he blasted the album at a Time Warner stockholders meeting and was a force in having it withdrawn from the marketplace.

In the 1996 elections, he campaigned on behalf of some 50 Republican candidates and began to speak out against gun control. In 1997, he was elected vice president of the N.R.A.

In December of that year, as the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary gala of the Free Congress Foundation, Mr. Heston described “a cultural war” raging across America, “storming our values, assaulting our freedoms, killing our self-confidence in who we are and what we believe.”

A Relentless Drive

The next year, in his 70’s, he was elected president of the N.R.A. In his speech at the association’s convention before his election, he trained his oratorical artillery on President Bill Clinton: “Mr. Clinton, sir, America didn’t trust you with our health care system. America didn’t trust you with gays in the military. America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.”

He was in the news again after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, when he said that the N.R.A.’s annual membership meeting, scheduled to be held the following week in Denver, would be scaled back in light of the killings but not canceled.

In a memorable scene from “Bowling for Columbine,” a 2002 documentary about violence in America, the director, Michael Moore, visited Mr. Heston at his home and asked him how he could defend his pro-gun stance. Mr. Heston ended the interview without comment.

In May 2001, he was unanimously re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term by the association’s board of directors. The association had amended its bylaws in 2000 to allow Mr. Heston to serve a third one-year term as president. Two months after his celebrated speech at the 2000 convention, it was disclosed that he had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Mr. Heston was proud of his collection of some 30 guns at his longtime home in the Coldwater Canyon area of Los Angeles, where he and his wife raised their son, Fraser, and daughter, Holly Ann. They all survive him, along with three grandchildren.

Never much for socializing , he spent his days either working, exercising, reading (he was fond of biographies) or sketching. An active diarist, he published several accounts of his career, including “The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976.”

In 2003, Mr. Heston was among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Bush. In 1997, he was also a recipient of the annual Kennedy Center honors.

Mr. Heston continued working through the 1990s, acting more frequently on television but also in occasional films. His most recent film appearance found him playing a cameo role, in simian makeup, in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes.”

He announced in 1999 that he was receiving radiation treatments for prostate cancer, but said he would continue his film work and go on making appearances on behalf of Republicans running for office.

He had always hated the thought of retirement and once explained his relentless drive as an actor. “You never get it right,” he said in a 1986 interview. “Never once was it the way I imagined it lying awake at 4 o’clock in the morning thinking about it the next day.” His goal remained, he said, “to get it right one time.”

* By ROBERT BERKVIST (New York Times)

Correction: April 7, 2008
A front-page obituary and a headline in some editions on Sunday about the actor Charlton Heston misstated his age and the year of his birth. He was 84, not 83, and was born in 1923, not 1924.

The presidential candidates may have star qualities — and they also have stars in their families, according to a genealogical study linking Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie and Barack Obama to Brad Pitt.

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The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston on Wednesday released a study in which it traced the family trees of all three presidential candidates to find they all had famous relatives, both dead and alive.

It found Illinois Senator Barack Obama, whose mother is from Kansas, can claim at least six U.S. presidents as distant cousins, including George W. Bush and his father, Gerald R. Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry S. Truman, and James Madison.

But other cousins include British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill — and Brad Pitt who is a ninth cousin linked back Edwin Hickman who died in Virginia in 1769.

“Obama’s maternal ancestry includes the mid-Atlantic States and the South,” said Christopher Child, a genealogist with NEHGC that dates back to 1845 and describes itself as the United States oldest and largest non-profit genealogical organization.

Meanwhile his Democratic rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, shares a common ancestor with Pitt’s partner, actress Angelina Jolie. Clinton and Jolie are ninth cousins twice removed linked by Jean Cusson of St. Sulpice, Quebec, who died in 1718.

Child said Clinton is also a cousin of a number of famous people with French Canadian ancestry, including Madonna (ninth cousins linked by Pierre Gagne of Quebec who died in 1656) Celine Dion, and Alanis Morissette, as well as author Jack Kerouac. Another cousin is Camilla Parker-Bowles, wife of Prince Charles.

“It is common to find people of French Canadian descent to be related to large numbers of other French Canadians, including these notables,” said Child in a statement.

Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, is a sixth cousin of Laura Bush but it was hard track other ancestors.

“McCain’s ancestry is almost entirely southern,” said Child, adding this made notable connections harder to trace because of challenges to genealogists in that region.

Child said having famous cousins makes for interesting conversation but it “should not influence voters.”

“But at a time when the race focuses on pointing out differences, the candidates may enjoy learning about famous cousins and their varied family histories,” he said.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Wed Mar 26, 2008

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Some consider fatal to have feminist overtones. Do you think it’s a political film?

I think Fatal Attraction had a tremendous effect on this country when it came out. I think people brought political baggage to the film. I was astonished that so many feminists didn’t like Alex Forrest because they thought it was a terrible portrayal of a single working woman.
You can’t play somebody that represents all single women.
But she has become, I think, a symbol of women fighting back.

As an actress who is no longer in her 20s or 30s, are you frustrated with the roles you are offered in Hollywood?

I can’t complain. I think older women are very hard to write for. I really do, I mean culturally speaking. At a certain age you’re supposed to be in the back room rocking the grandchildren.

What do you do to look so young?
I think a lot of it is genetic, but I always was kind of a jock.
I went on my first triathlon in May, and my goal was just to finish, so my time was horrible…

* Summarized of U.S.News & World Report, June 4, 2007

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The movie, which depicts the brave stand of 300 Spartans against a marauding army of hundreds of thousands of Persians at Thermopylae in 480 BC. “Is about as violent as ‘Apocalypto’ and twice as stupid,”

The Iranians, who presumably don’t screen many Mel Gibson movies, were nonetheless even more offended. The movie is aimed at “humiliating” Iranians, who are descendants of the ancient Persians.

300 is “part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological warfare aimed at Iranian Culture” And this was the headline in the Ayan No newspaper: HOLLYWOOD DECLARES WAR ON IRANIANS.

Source: Summarized of Newsweek, March 2007