Madonna | Sigourney Weaver | Martin Scorsese | Edwin Starr  

Madonna's New Song Already a Commercial

"American Life," Madonna's new single, became the music for an HBO commercial today.

That's right. And, strangely enough, I predicted only yesterday that the "controversial" recording would quickly assimilate into the culture. Only two days ago, "American Life" was considered subversive. Go figure.

HBO is using the song for a promotional spot promoting its Sunday night line-up of Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The song blares away while various images pop up from the shows. At the end, a chyron appears reading: "HBO Sunday....American Life."

The record isn't even going to be released until April 22.

Of course, Madonna and HBO are both part of the AOL Time Warner family. But such intra-corporate synergy is rare even for this monolithic outfit. But don't think it's an accident. Madonna, my personal marketing hero, would have had to approve licensing of the track and OK the publishing rights of her song.

This means HBO viewers will now be hearing what amounts to a commercial for Madonna's new album several times a day for the next 19 days leading up to her new album's release.

What next? Look for Madonna to appear in an episode of the WB Network's Everwood as the lover of Treat Williams's kid, for Madge to become the automated voice for AOL's "You've Got Mail" service, and for a her cameo in the next Harry Potter. Just kidding! Sorta.

Sigourney's 'Guys' Are a Winner

Sigourney Weaver's big Sept. 11 project, The Guys, is finally getting a film release this weekend.

The Guys started out as a play that was whipped together right after the World Trade Center attacks. It was written by journalist Anne Nelson and directed by Weaver's husband, Jim Simpson, who runs Manhattan's Flea Theatre. The two character play is about a fire department chief trying to write eulogies for eight of buddies who were killed in the disaster. He goes to see a female writer to help him through his grief.

Originally, Weaver starred with Bill Murray. But then a lot of big name actors jumped in and started rotating through the show. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were among them.

Now Simpson has made the play into a movie, and Weaver co-stars with Anthony LaPaglia. Focus Features, which is riding a crest right now with The Pianist and Far From Heaven, is distributing it. This is the mini-studio that was formerly known as USA Films and is now run by screenwriter James Schamus (Crouching Tiger) and David Linde.

The Guys is great on DVD, and I think it will be a big hit on HBO or Bravo. How it will fare in theaters is hard to say, but Focus is brave to put it out there even for a couple of weeks.

Weaver and LaPaglia are as good as it gets as they perform this pas de deux. They are both highly underrated commodities. The film has a win-win feel to it: Its higher purpose sort of mutes any possible criticism. This is a historical document to go into Ground Zero's time vault.

Scorsese Faces Real Gangs of New York

The irony cannot be lost on famed director Martin Scorsese: He just released a film about political factions fighting to take over New York in the 1850s. Now he's up against a modern dilemma of similar proportions.

Scorsese is currently locked in a fight with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The problem is that the MTA -- which operates the subways, buses and trains in New York -- is planning a $4.3 billion expansion of the subway and the Long Island Railroad.

But you might say Scorsese doesn't dig this plan. It seems that the MTA's proposed Big Dig is right under his house, where they plan to bring Long Island trains through the existing unused East 63rd St. tunnel, then down the East Side to Grand Central Station.

Friends say Scorsese and his wife Helen have been fighting the expansion for more than a year, with Meow Mix founder Richard Thompson. Thompson is saying Ciao, ciao, ciao (now chow, chow, chow) to the MTA. Thompson sends memos out about the train expansion crisis on stationery that reads "Top Cat." (That might be good for catching all the rats that lurk in the subway.)

The city, according to its plans, wants to take six of the houses on Scorsese's block under eminent domain and raze them to start this project. While it's waiting to get started, the secondary plan is to dig 100 feet under them to start the tunnel expansion.

"The houses are all 19th century and have shaky foundations," says a friend.

Scorsese, who deferred his most recent salary -- for Gangs of New York -- spent a good deal of time going back and forth between that film's long shoot and community board meetings trying to stop the bulldozers.

The new 5,000 foot tunnel would bring LIRR commuters to Grand Central Station for the first time in history. Right now they have to ride another 15 minutes to get to Penn Station on the West Side.

My advice: send Joe Pesci in to talk to these guys at the MTA. The only problem is, Pesci has been AWOL for about five years since he made, Lethal Weapon 4. Old friends say Pesci, who got his start from Scorsese in GoodFellas, then had hits with Home Alone and My Cousin Vinny -- has possibly retired from acting.

"He never wanted to do it anyway," an old Pesci pal told me yesterday.

Still, it's worth a shot.

A Soul Starr -- Two R's -- Forever

Edwin Starr (real name Charles Hatcher), one of the great Motown stars and R&B legends, passed away yesterday at age 61. Not in great health, Starr died of a heart attack in England.

His hits were important and indelible: "War -- What Is It Good For?," "Twenty Five Miles to Nowhere" and "Agent Double-O Soul." He was still an active artist, having just performed in the U.K. over the weekend. He was also recently seen on the PBS soul music concert taped by WQED in Pittsburgh.

Joyce Moore, an old friend and wife of "Soul Man" Sam Moore, talked to me about Starr last night. "He was the sweetest, nicest man. You couldn't say nicer things about him."

Starr performed last year with Moore at a show produced in London by Jools Holland. He's on Holland's most recent album More Friends doing "Snowflake Boogie."

Starr moved to England because R&B stars had become abandoned in the U.S., overtaken by disco, rap and hip-hop. There he found a loyal audience and toured frequently. In 2000, he was on a bill in the UK with two other Motown stars, Mary Wilson and Martha Reeves.

On a personal note, a lot of people ask me about the film I co-produced and which Miramax will release on May 2, Only the Strong Survive. Starr's death is the reason we strove to make this movie. There was no permanent document of the great soul legends as they are now. Many of them -- more than there should be -- are gone at an early age. Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Johnnie Taylor, Betty Everett, most of the Temptations, etc. Starr joins that galaxy of stars now in the soul heavens. I only wish we could have filmed him.

Ironically, a lot of oldies stations will be playing "War" today. Ironic is the only word that can come to mind. When it was released in 1970, as a Vietnam era protest, it was banned initially.