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I had an interesting conversation with Oprah Winfrey last week while she was in Hollywood supporting Halle Berry. I thought of it again after finally seeing Henry Bean's wretched movie The Believer on Showtime over the weekend.
The subject came up about having neo-Nazis and Klan members on talk shows. The discussion pertained to the cancellation of Sally Jessy Raphael's show who, like a lot of the bottom feeding talk show hosts, has featured such hateful types in the past.
"You know," said Oprah, "I won't do it anymore. We haven't done anything like that in a long time. The reason is we did it once and I was watching it and thinking, no one's been swayed by this. If you already agree with it, you're not changing your mind. And if you're against it, you don't want to see these people. There's no reason to continue with it except to be sensational."
This is why I love Oprah. And this is why I was so offended watching Bean's movie over the weekend. The story is that The Believer — about a Jewish kid who becomes a neo-Nazi and propagates terrible anti-Semitism — was shown at Sundance 2001 and won the Grand Jury Prize, but couldn't get a distributor. No movie company wanted to show it in theatres, probably for fear of violence. So Showtime bought it and has started showing it on TV. Bad idea.
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The Believer is provocative, which is why the Sundance jury liked it, but like American History X it's also unnecessary ugliness repurposed for a wide audience. It's like saying to a confessed murderer, "Could you show us again how you murdered the guy?" It's a sick joke, but really do audiences need to see how a Torah can be destroyed, or how a synagogue can be vandalized? I know Henry Bean probably thinks he's done someone a great service, but I can't help thinking that The Believer will become must-see viewing for very sick people. No one else will want to know about it.
I did have to laugh because immediately after the movie ended on Showtime — not after the credits, but after the last scene — the cable network aired a justification for the film. The idea was the awful subject matter was OK because it was based on a true story (or, as they say nowadays. "Inspired by but changed"). If it really happened, then it's fine to keep re-telling it? I don't know how comfortable we should be with that explanation.
You have rarely seen such a collection of vacuous and tiresome people as shown in Robin Leacock's numbingly mesmerizing documentary called It Girls. The 90-minute film, which looks like it was shot in secret on lapel cams, debuts April 7 on the Women's Entertainment Network. It's not a club anyone would want to belong to, so disregard the man in glasses on in the background while ex-Monkee Davy Jones is being interviewed. It's yours truly. (So much for my fifteen minutes of fame!)
"It Girls" of course were defined by the late great Clara Bow, who surprisingly still has quite a following even among young actresses like Brittany Murphy. Unfortunately, the "It Girls" of 2002 (or 2000, when most of this was shot), are an inarticulate and alarming lot of long legged blondes without a thought in their heads. But they are armed with trust funds and beauty products, and what they lack in education or common sense they make up for in sheer hilarity.
Not surprisingly as Leacock plows through this world of stultifying superficiality, few people come off well. The ones who do have a little in common: they are not blonde, and they are older. Marisa Berenson seems to embody so much grace, style, and beauty that you can’t figure out how she wound up in this group. Diane von Furstenberg also rises to the occasion, and as usual makes fashion seem more substantial than it is. The filmmakers missed sort of the third in what could have been a terrific trio in Paloma Picasso, who was once the "It Girl" and now is semi-retired in London.
Unfortunately the girls who are featured in Leacock's film come off as badly as possible. Paris and Nicky Hilton, granddaughters from the Hilton hotel family, are as insipid and annoying as ever. The British Sykes sisters, who work as fashion editors in New York, are incomprehensibly popular in their set. Casey Johnson, whose dad owns the New York Jets and is heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune — as well as being a cousin to Michael Douglas — makes the most of her cameo. But privilege has bought these girls more than enough credits in life. The sad thing is, they've done nothing with them.
An "It Girl" is best defined by fashion editor Hal Rubenstein, who cites Gwyneth Paltrow. It's not just beauty and popularity, but style and talent for something other than taking out a credit card. Candice Bergen and Ali MacGraw were "It Girls" 30 years ago. Sarah Jessica Parker may be one right now. Heiresses do not make good "It Girls" simply because, as it's demonstrated here, they are perfectly daft. The aforementioned Brittany Murphy, who is not very well known yet, manages to make an impression as someone lively, intelligent and attractive. She could be an "It Girl" if it's something she aspired to. But something tells me she's too smart to want It.
No one would have expected this, but at 47, British rocker Elvis Costello has done it again. He's made an album of such unexpectedly complex music and lyrics, catchy pop songs, and seething rage that it should be mandatory listening for wannabe rockers of any age. When I Was Cruel comes to stores on April 23, and I'll tell you this: if the naysayers in the music industry don't support this album then they have no one to blame for the end of it but themselves.
Costello astounds. After being defanged by Burt Bacharach, making records and appearances with country stars, opera singers and jazz musicians, it seemed like he would never be able to regain his footing. Indeed, a handful of his albums over the last quarter decade — Imperial Bedroom, All This Useless Beauty, and Brutal Youth among them — define rock and singer/songwriters since Springsteen.
Unfortunately, unlike the Boss and other popular rockers, Costello is not American and has no hometown from which to rally the troops. He's an international iconoclast with an Irish bent — a chip for each shoulder and then some.
Nevertheless, When I Was Cruel (released on the Island/DefJam label) is simply brilliant. With a pounding bass line, the album harkens back to Costello's best work with his group, the Attractions. His collaborator/keyboardist Steve Nieve has somehow found the spirit of some of Costello's most biting pieces — like the old "Pills and Soap" — and reinvented it all into a scathing track filled with witticisms (from ABBA, of all things) and inside jokes (one written by Costello's wife).
Since April 23 is a ways off, and you can only pre-order When I Was Cruel from the Internet, I will stop here and wait again until April 22 to tell you more. But considering the sorry state of pop music right now, this news about Elvis Costello is more than just heartening. Could it be his year at last? We can only hope and pray.