Maybe you had to be there early yesterday evening on 124th St. and Frederick Douglass Boulevard to believe it: Tom Cruise, Hollywood's boy-wonder superstar, lost in a crowd of black fans, signing autographs like he was Reverend Al Sharpton.
Of course, what makes Cruise such a big movie star is that his popularity cuts across racial and class lines.
This could not have been clearer than on the block behind the Magic Johnson Theater, where DreamWorks had set up a long red carpet and Oscar ceremony-style bleachers for the premiere of Cruise's new movie, "Collateral."
Why Harlem? "Collateral" was the opening-night film at the UrbanWorld Festival, which is mainly for black filmmakers. Michael Mann — who created "Miami Vice," directed "Ali," "The Insider" and "Heat" — is not black, but the other stars of "Collateral" are Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith. Thus, the qualification.
For a solid 90 minutes at dusk in Harlem, Cruise worked that crowd, signing everything that was put in front of him: old magazine covers, movie posters, even a dollar bill.
When he was pulled away to do press on the red carpet, the scorned crowd would shout, "Tommy! Tommy!" And then Cruise, accompanied by his sister/publicist Lee Ann Mapother, would go right back and pick up where he left off.
If he'd been running for office, he would have won.
Not to be outdone, petite Pinkett Smith, in a slinky dress, did the same thing, rushing to greet fans and giving less attention to the media on the carpet. At one point she ran over to a group in the bleachers, without her famously attentive publicist or even a security guard in tow, and dove right in. The fans went wild.
Meanwhile, director Mann gave his red-carpet interviews accompanied by a sunny-looking older woman with blond hair and a big grin.
This was legendary publicist Pat Kingsley, who recently dropped Cruise as a client after 14 years, and no longer has to run after him or keep a watchful eye over him. The result is that she looks a decade younger. She even removed her jacket in the humid summer air, a Kingsley first.
But "Collateral," even with Tom Cruise at its command, belongs to Jamie Foxx. This is the year of the Foxx, you know.
He stars in the upcoming "Ray," about Ray Charles, and will likely get a Best Actor nomination for it. There's a good chance he'll also be in the Best Supporting Actor category for "Collateral," in which he plays a nerdy cabdriver who gets pressed into service as getaway driver for a hit man (Cruise). Foxx nails every bit of this role, holding on even when the movie itself gets a little sketchy.
Happily, I can report that Foxx's biggest fan at last night's screening — which started an hour and 10 minutes late and was followed by a rat-cluster of a party that yours truly skipped for fear of being trampled — was ... Jamie Foxx.
He sat through the whole film, clapped, laughed, shouted out and had a grand time watching himself on screen. He has good taste.
Most actors don't like to watch themselves on screen, but Foxx seems to have no such inhibition. Only a few times did he check his cell phone for messages while the film wound along.
HBO is a sponsor of UrbanWorld, and right before the screening it treated us to a promotional clip for the network, featuring every black actor on their shows, as well as James Gandolfini and Edie Falco from "The Sopranos."
I don't know if this was a contractual thing or if the marketing department says "The Sopranos" has a black audience, but it was interesting from a cultural perspective to see how the cable studio pitches itself to a "niche" audience.
What of "Collateral"? Michael Mann returns to his "Miami Vice" moodiness in this one, with gorgeous cinematography, a moody soundtrack and an overall stylish, edgy feel that should make the film a hit.
All the acting is good — Cruise is underrated as the robotic, existential hit man. (The movie is essentially a two-character play.)
Ironically, "Collateral" winds up on a commuter train, bringing Cruise's career full circle from the ending of "Risky Business" in 1982. Maybe that's a good thing, because he's got to go to another level next or risk getting stale. Something tells me he won't let that happen.
If you recall, 20 years ago Bruce Springsteen did not want his song "Born in the USA" used for political purposes. Republicans adopted it during the Reagan era as a patriotic anthem, but the Boss — who probably did not vote along those lines — demurred when it came to politics.
Other than the "No Nukes" movement, he has kept his politics on the down-low.
All changed last week, when Springsteen's song "No Surrender" blared out over the FleetCenter sound system as John Kerry took the stage to make his acceptance speech as the Democratic nominee. You don't use a Springsteen song without permission, that's for sure.
Springsteen confirmed his position when he appeared in a brief interview with Ted Koppel last night on "Nightline." Now comes word that Bruce will be heading up an all-star group of rockers who will fan out between October 1 and 8 on six separate tours around the country.
The other artists involved in "Vote for Change" include Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, James Taylor, the Dixie Chicks, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, John Mellencamp, Keb' Mo', Ben Harper, Jackson Browne and the Dave Matthews Band. The tour will be co-sponsored by Moveon.org and ACT (America Coming Together). Details are on the moveon.org Web site.
Springsteen's tour — which features his E Street Band — also includes John Fogerty, R.E.M. and the Nebraska indie-rock stars Bright Eyes. The dates are Philadelphia (Oct 1), Cleveland (Oct 2), Ann Arbor, Mich., (Oct 3), St. Paul, Minn. (Oct 5) and, finally, Orlando, Fla., on October 8.
As a matter of fact, all six tours end up in different Florida cities on October 8: Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and Kissimmee.
(That's a lot of concentration on a state that doesn't like a lot of concentrate!)
'The Village': Collapsing or Just Stabilizing?
Box-office chaos may be setting in for M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village."
Even though the allegorical thriller has maintained itself at No. 1 all week, the fall-off from Monday to Tuesday was a precipitous 21 percent. By comparison, the other top movies of the week dropped an average of 8 to 10 percent in the same stretch.
Disney marketing took a gamble by pushing faux secrets of "The Village" in an upfront frenzy. Looking back, they got their money's worth on opening night — $20 million — which set the relatively inexpensive thriller on a course to at least recoup its costs.
Even if this weekend's box office is 60 percent off — which by all estimates it will be — the studio will make back its expenses. It's not a joyous success, but it's one in the win column. That's a lot for a studio that put up $25 million on "Around the World in 80 Days" only to see it all go down the drain.
Meantime, negotiations of some kind continue between Disney and its two foster children, Miramax and Pixar. What could possibly be affecting Michael Eisner's thinking at this point?
"That's just the way he does it," one industry source told me yesterday. "My guess is, in the end, he has to make deals with both of them, like it or not."
Filing late last night, I suddenly saw the obituary for Gloria Emerson, the great and brave journalist who was the first woman to write about Vietnam.
Suffering from Parkinson's disease, she apparently took her own life. Some people might call suicide cowardly, but I knew Gloria and although I do know these circumstances, she was a person of tremendous courage.
Her book, "Winners and Losers," about Vietnam, remains full of resonance. More importantly, so does she.
Before she wrote about Vietnam for the New York Times, she wrote about fashion and other subjects that did not hold her interest from Paris. Tall and raspy-voiced from cigarettes, she cut an imposing figure.
She was full of opinions and stuck to them, believing in the rights of Vietnam vets and fighting for them all the time. She held strongly to her convictions and did not vary from them. You had to love that in her.
She was a great New Yorker, a great character, and a great writer. God bless you, Gloria.