Published February 20, 2009
There was only one place to go last night in Hollywood as Oscar weekend started to buzz up: Cecconi’s, the SoHo House restaurant that in 48 hours has become the red hot spot of the hip crowd.
It was at Cecconi’s last night that Madonna arrived with Jesus and a rabbi. Well, it was Jesus, her Brazilian boytoy, Michael Berg, her Kabbalah Center business partner. But you get the idea.
At the same time, Elton John came in to give his blessing to the Cecconi’s owners, while Harvey Weinstein was seen buzzing about. In short order, I ran into Sienna Miller, her old flame Matthew Rhys, Josh Hartnett, Marisa Tomei and Logan Marshall Green, Benny Medina, Anthony Mackie, Eddie Redmayne, and about two dozen more actors, agents and other Tinseltown types. One whole table was devoted just to folks from Armani. Oliver Stone asked me if I were just hanging out or eating dinner. (The food at Cecconi’s is excellent.)
At Cecconi’s lunch yesterday: both Rob Lowe and Kate Bosworth.
It had already been a long night of A list names. Over on Beverly Boulevard, director Paul Haggis and friends unveiled their new project, Brand Aid, with the help of Vanity Fair and Dior. Here’s the deal: Haggis is bring Haitian art to Los Angeles to sell and raise money for this poor country. Josh Brolin and Diane Lane, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, and several others are all pitching in.
In the meantime, I did learn that the Dior watch Sharon Stone sent sailing across the stone floor of the Chateau Marmont the other night costs — are you ready? — $23,500. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking!
My favorite moment of the night was a reunion of Brolin and Cromwell, who played George Bushes 43 and 41 respectively in Oliver Stone’s “W.”
And then there was the Australian Film Institute’s strange cocktail party over in the Chateau lobby. “We don’t want press, get out!” a very short Australian talent agent whose name, I believe, is Marsala – like the veal or chicken — instructed me. Oh well, so much for film production down under.
Inside the party, I was told, was the family of the late Heath Ledger. They may have been starting some kind of foundation or charity, but no one was interested in explaining it, and the Haitian art exhibit — with all those actual stars — beckoned.
Outside, a freelancer for US Weekly told me, “Heath Ledger’s whole family came, and they wouldn’t talk to anyone.” None of the other expected Australian celeb guests like Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman materialized. So there was no one to talk to, a Chateau rarity. As for Marsala, a friend quipped: “He’s done a disservice to a fine Italian meal.”
Everyone out here is crossing fingers for no rain this weekend, especially on Saturday for the Independent Spirit Awards. This favorite show takes place under a huge tent on the beach in Santa Monica. Bad weather is a real downer. Steve Coogan, star of “Hamlet 2” and the guy who played the exploding director in “Tropic Thunder,” is hosting the live broadcast on IFC. Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway, Claire Danes, Penelope Cruz, Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke, Cameron Diaz, Michelle Williams, Javier Bardem and Debra Winger will all be at the show and the after party at Shutters on the Beach for IFC’s Indie Film Celebration soiree. DJ Momjeans aka Danny Masterson from That 70s Show will be spinning diss programming IPods…
…Booked on the program for Stevie Wonder’s Gershwin Prize at the White House next Wednesday—to be shown on PBS the next night—Wonder himself and Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Martina McBride, Esperanza Spalding, Will.i.am, and the gospel duo Mary Mary…
Here’s an irony: Roman Polanski’s much admired and awarded famous film, Chinatown, is all about police corruption in Los Angeles in the 1930s.
In a documentary made last year, it was alleged that Polanski himself was the victim of judicial misconduct in Los Angeles Superior Court regarding his 1977 plea bargain in a teen sex case.
More recently, emails that this column has uncovered between the Los Angeles Superior Court’s press office and various media outlets suggest that the court has played an unusually aggressive role in defending itself and attacking Polanski at every turn.
The emails I’ve seen were all generated by the court’s Allan Parachini, the chief press officer, in regards to the June 2008 release of Marina Zenovich’s highly praised HBO documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.
The emails contain some of the most aggressive flackery seen in some time as the court went into overdrive to protect itself against a perceived threat by Zenovich. Parachini sent most of the emails in June 2008, right after the documentary debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and just before it was shown on HBO.
At the heart of Parachini’s campaign was an assertion by Zenovich, backed up by Polanski’s lawyer Douglas Dalton and Roger Gunson, a former assistant DA in the Los Angeles Superior Court. That assertion was: in 1997, twenty years after Polanski split for France, Judge Larry Fidler told the two lawyers that Polanski could only return to the U.S. for a hearing if it were televised. Polanski declined the offer.
Zenovich ended her film with this statement. Parachini jumped on it, and demanded it be removed before the HBO airing. He claimed in a media advisory and dozens of emails to media writers that the statement was a "fabrication." A series of emails sent by him to various media outlets, not only chronicles his efforts to have the statement changed, but his gloating when it was accomplished.
Even more interesting: One recipient of those emails was a correspondent for website TMZ.com, who several months later left that job and went to work for Parachini in his office.
Complicating that scenario: in December, when Polanski’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss his 32-year-old case, they also filed for access to all of the emails between the court, the D.A.’s office, and media outlets.
Parachini is particularly aggressive about this with the Los Angeles Times, and confides in emails to NPR’s Kim Masters his frustrations about getting the job done. When HBO finally agrees to alter Zenovich's ending, he calls it a "surrender."
In June 2008, when this was happening, Parachini pitched the story of HBO’s surrender to TMZ.com’s Vania Stuelp and her boss, Harvey Levin. On June 9th, he wrote to them:
"I know that Roman Polanski isn't on your normal radar screen, but if you look at recent coverage of the documentary HBO is airing tonight, you might see it a little differently in view of the spurious allegation it makes about Judge Fidler. Let me know if you want to pursue. Thx."
To Stuelp, at TMZ.com, he wrote on June 9th in his pitch:
"HBO has, in fact, altered the text that concludes the film, so what they'll air tonight represents a major editorial change from the version they showed at Sundance and Cannes and have been using for media. Personally, this strikes me as huge, but I'm in the middle of it, I know."
"I agree, I think it's a great story! I'll see if I can get them to record it and maybe we'll do it tomorrow."
In fact, at least checking in TMZ archives, they weren’t interested. No TMZ story ran at that time. But six months later, Stuelp had left TMZ and gone to work for Parachini. After Polanski’s lawyers filed the motion to see his emails, this one turned up from Parachini to Stuelp on December 3, 2008:
"Because we have to assume that our interactions with HBO relating to Polanski could become the subject of a discovery demand, I did a search to identify all of my email that had anything to do with Polanski. There are, of course, a number of emails back and forth between you and me, all to or from your TMZ address. Some of them are responses that actually refer to the position vacancy you eventually filled. But some of them do address the situation relating to Judge Fidler’s concern about the original version of the documentary ending. There is at least one email from Harvey [Levin] about it, too.
"I think this is extremely unlikely, but it’s not impossible to imagine that Polanski’s lawyers could either make a discovery demand so broad that it would include any email that mentioned his name, in which case our email exchanges would surface. That, in turn, could lead to the attorney seeing some kind of kind of opportunity in the fact that you and Harvey and I had email correspondence relating to this episode and trying to link your eventual employment here to the court’s concern about Polanski. As bizarre as that might seem, his lawyers must represent their client as aggressively as they can, so anything is possible. If by any chance you still have electronic versions of any email between you and me relating you Polanski, please be sure that you do nothing to damage or delete it.
"For, you, Mary and me this means we need to be especially sensitive to inquires relating to any involvement in Polanski. In your case, I suspect TMZ would raise immediate First Amendment objections to disclosure of anything to or from you, but that would not prevent the court from being subject to a discovery for the same stuff. As you probably know, Mary was the one who initially handled the interactions with HBO and continued to be the primary contact until nearly the very end of the process.
"Should any of this come up as a discovery issue, our response will that discovery matters must be handled by our court counsel’s office and there is nothing we can say about it. Please don’t raise this issue with anyone at TMZ. We’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there, but I think the chances of this occurring are VERY low."
Parachini was so proud of getting HBO to change the ending of the film that he even sent an email to Judge Fidler, who recently presided over the botched Phil Spector murder trial, with a clip from a blog called L.A. Observed.
To most of his other email recipients, Parachini mostly just cannot get over the fact that HBO has "surrendered" without much of a protest, and that the change, he believes, has totally altered Zenovich’s film.
In one email, to the L.A. Times’s Greg Braxton, Parachini writes on June 9, 2008: "I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a content alteration of this degree of substance in a project like this, especially after it’s already been screened at Sundance and Cannes …"
And Parachini doesn’t even bother trying for a tone of objectivity when the subject of Polanski comes up with the media. He writes to Jack Leonard of the L.A. Times:
"Im not sure I've ever heard of the climactic ending of a documentary being changed under these circumstances before, but then [expletive] can always happen ....