Yoko Ono did sell John Lennon’s rare home recording of "Real Love" to JCPenney for a commercial.
The spot began airing on Sunday night during ABC’s "Brothers & Sisters" before JCPenney could even make the announcement.
The Beatles have had their songs licensed for commercials in the past, but with the rare exception of perhaps "Revolution" years ago, they never have allowed master recordings out. The songs are always re-recorded.
Ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi handled the deal, I’m told, with Ono directly. The much-disliked widow of Lennon has sold a number of items under her late husband’s name over the years, including glasses, art and an action figure. But using a rare, acoustic home recording — and a beautiful, haunting one at that — as the Christmas song for a department store seems particularly greedy.
Ono, who should be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, prides herself on being a "citizen of the world" who advocates peace. For years she’s promoted her own charity, The Spirit Foundation. But a check of the Spirit Foundation’s recent federal tax filings shows that Ono does a lot less for charity than one might have supposed.
I know I always thought she did a lot more, given that — because Lennon died — Ono as his heir receives a larger portion of his and Paul McCartney’s songwriting royalties.
But here’s the breakdown. From 2000 through 2005, Ono’s Spirit Foundation gave away only $2.6 million — a fraction of her enormous income. In 2005-2006, her donations were: $239,000 to Foster Plan Japan (to build school classrooms in China and Africa); $15,000 to Bailey House in New York City for people living with AIDS; $10,000 to a school in Harlem; and $30,000 to a small Los Angeles charity called Real Medicine Foundation.
Ono also recently gave Amnesty International the rights to two dozen post-Beatle Lennon songs for an album of "covers" by other artists ranging from REM and U2 to lesser-known names. The money goes to AI’s "Save Darfur" campaign, but it’s not clear how much has been derived since Warner Music, the issuing label, has kept the project a secret.
Still, the small cash outlay is a little surprising. While no one would question Ono’s generosity to these groups, it also seems like a few are missing. All this time I would have assumed Yoko Ono was giving money directly to Amnesty International, for example, and Greenpeace, as well as to record industry charities such as T.J. Martell and MusiCares.
How about a worthy cause such as Elton John’s AIDS Foundation, Sting and Trudie Styler’s Rainforest Foundation or a New York charity, for example, the Robin Hood Foundation? But maybe that’s what she’ll do with the JCPenney money. You never know.
U2 has two big projects for the coming year — a new album and a Broadway musical of "Spider-Man" directed by "The Lion King" guru Julie Taymor.
At last week’s Broadway premiere of "Young Frankenstein," sharp-eyed observers noticed U2’s own guru, manager Paul McGuiness, scoping out the Hilton Theater on 42nd Street with an eye toward putting "Spider-Man" in there. The show requires a very high ceiling stage for all the flying that will go on.
Alas, McGuiness is said to have commented, "I guess we’re out of luck" when he saw how successful "Young Frankenstein" is going to be.
For one, it’s in one of the few theaters unaffected by the stagehands strike crippling Broadway. "Young Frankenstein" is packing audiences in while most other big musicals are shut down.
U2, according to insiders, has already written 20 songs for "Spider-Man." The show will be all original, with none of the group’s prior hits scheduled for inclusion.
At the same time, the group is getting ready to record an album that will hit stores before the end of 2008, they say. There may be one song in common between both albums, but that’s it. And that’s a lot of new material in one year.
I hope Taymor and the group will not forget to include the famous "Spider-Man" theme song from the cartoon show. It’s been used wittily in all the new Tobey Maguire movies. You simply cannot have "Spider-Man" without that number to whistle on the way out.
Sting and the Police are making a DVD, but it’s not the one some people read about last week in the Hollywood trades.
The group will issue a DVD of live concerts, probably taken from next month’s South American shows, in spring 2008 via Interscope.
But that’s the only Police video coming out. Sources say a documentary being produced by Brett Morgen, Bob Yari and Nicolas Cage about the group’s ace guitarist, Andy Summers, is about him and his photography. Called "One Train Later," this doc will not be about the group per se, nor will it contain much footage of the current tour. Rather, it will be Summers’ reflections on his own career, including his years before The Police.
Summers, by the way, has really blossomed as a stunningly good photographer. His 25,000 pictures, some of which were recently published in book form, will be used in "One Train Later" the way Morgen used snaps in Bob Evans’ "The Kid Stays in the Picture."
Right toward the end of "Atonement," a soap opera of a film made from Ian McEwan’s edgy novel about romance and war, there’s a little inside joke. Anthony Minghella, who directed the Oscar-winning gauzy soap opera about romance and war called "The English Patient," makes an appearance as a TV interviewer.
Maybe Minghella is friendly with director Joe Wright. But it wasn’t a good idea. I’d already been thinking, this is no "English Patient." Minghella’s cameo didn’t help.
Everyone has been telling me about "Atonement" for months. It’s the Best Picture this year, they say. Before the screening started last week on a rainy afternoon, an annoying blogger was carping to someone behind me about this was "Gone With Wind" for women and gays, the greatest movie of the year.
I felt the way Elaine did years ago on "Seinfeld" when everyone kept raving about "The English Patient." OK — I get it.
So what about "Atonement." I know the novel, and this is quite a soft-focus view of it. But is that a bad thing? Maybe not.
"Atonement" is so mushy at its center that you really appreciate the times when Wright regains his senses and shows us some crust.
His World War II scenes, for example, are terrific. There’s one long sequence on a just-blown-up French beach, with a Ferris wheel turning in the background, that was damn near eloquent. How often do you get to say that these days?
The principal actors, all quite good, are James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Romola Garai. If you don’t know the story, then: Saorise Ronan’s Briony intercepts a randy letter between her sister (Keira) and her lover (McAvoy) on their Brideshead-like estate. The letter contains an unprintable word (the "c" word), which leads Briony to think Robbie is a "Sex fiend."
Later, when there’s a rape on the estate, Briony — flushed from the letter and seeing her sister with Robbie en flagrante — claims he’s the villain. Robbie’s life is ruined, as is the family’s. The title refers to how Briony has handled this as their lives progress.
Late in the film, Vanessa Redgrave — in what is the only certain Oscar nomination here — plays Briony as an older woman and actually manages to make the film coherent.
A lot of people, especially women and maybe gay men, will love "Atonement." It’s a Lifetime movie amped all the way up. There are many comparisons to "The English Patient," some good and some not.
There is beautiful cinematography and some extraordinary production work. There are Golden Globe nominations to be found ‘round every corner. And more often than not there are truly affecting moments, largely due to McAvoy, who bears a striking resemblance in this film to a young Charlie Chaplin. I think Knightley will surprise people here as well. It’s a 10-hanky experience, that’s for sure.
So what about the Oscars? I’m not sure "Atonement" is such a slam dunk for Best Picture. It has a long, slow, first half hour that reminded me of "Lust/Caution." And it faces a lot of competition. For example: I found "The Savages" and "The Namesake" to be a lot truer in many ways, more direct and emotionally harder hitting. "The Kite Runner" has a starker, more contemplative tone.
There’s more: "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" is the masterwork of the year in true crime. "American Gangster" is the blood-soaked fable. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is exquisite. There are a few others, outside shots such as "Juno." And, of course, almost no one has seen "There Will Be Blood," "Charlie Wilson’s War" or "The Great Debaters." "Atonement" may yet be nominated, but not until all the information is available.