Monday night at 9 p.m., 30 years after he left the United States under a legal cloud, Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski’s case finally gets heard.
In "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," on HBO, and soon to have a theatrical release, Roger Gunson, the man who prosecuted Polanski, tells documentary director Marina Zenovich: "I’m not surprised he left under those circumstances."
Roman Polanski was convicted not of rape but of one count of having sex with a minor, in 1978. Samantha Gailey Geimer, then 13, now 45, settled a civil case with Polanski in 1997. Consequently she publicly absolved Polanski of any perceived or actual crimes against her. In 2003, Geimer supported Polanski’s Oscar for "The Pianist."
She tells Zenovich in the film of the 1978 case: "I was young … the judge didn’t care about me and he didn’t care about Polanski."
The judge, now dead, was Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. Zenovich interviews his girlfriends of the time. Just to show you how Hollywood’s crazy world works, the judge was 54. His girlfriend was 20.
And nothing has changed. Just like Judge Ito in the O.J. Simpson trial debacle, Rittenband was a star-chaser who cherished his role in adjudicating a high-profile celebrity case. The result was that he quickly became tainted, the case grew out of control and justice could not be served.
By the time the judge was removed from the case, the damage was done. Polanski, who’d been convicted and then promised all kinds of under-the-table sentencing deals by the judge, fled the U.S.
It’s a fascinating story made no less interesting by what happened in 1997. With Geimer willing to back him, Polanski received an assurance from a new State Supreme Court judge that he would not imprisoned if he returned to the U.S. to end the matter. The judge, however, wanted the case televised (shades of Ito). Polanski — sensing another judge looking to make a career and ensuing circus — wisely declined.
Zenovich’s film is simply the must-not-miss event of the night. "Wanted and Desired" will soon get a limited U.S. theatrical release from Think Films, and then a wide European showing by The Weinstein Company. It’s eligible for an Oscar after a week-long showing this spring at a Los Angeles movie house. This is a slam-dunk nominee if ever there was one.
Usher Raymond tells me that he loses about 10 pounds per performance. Someone call Kirstie Alley . This is the program for her! On stage Friday night, water was literally pouring off the almost 30-year-old nice guy sex symbol as he crooned and the audience swooned.
Usher has been a star since he was a teenager. But on Friday night, he showed off a new maturity when he performed a private show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
The occasion was to promote his new album, "Here I Stand," on LaFace/BMG, and a tour underwritten by Sony Ericsson combination Walkman-phones.
What’s changed for Usher? He’s a dad now, a husband and stepfather to three more kids. Nevertheless, he’s a star, and the Apollo audience was proof enough. Mostly female, his adoring, screaming fans were almost falling out of the Apollo’s balconies as they sang along with every one of Usher’s old hits like "Yeah" and "U Remind Me."
Alas, many of those old hits came from the last generation of hip-hop and New Jack swing. They sound an awful lot alike. Not so the new songs, which I thought were the most impressive. The new album’s title track, plus "Moving Mountains" and the single "Love in the Club," showed Usher can out-emote the best of his forerunners. He’s grown into a very possible descendent of Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson and Luther Vandross not only in style but in substance.
Indeed, as we sat literally in the front row, which was almost kind of under him, you could see that Usher does all his own singing. There’s no timbre-faking or auto correcting. He’s an old timer in a young man’s body, and he doesn’t pretend to do something he can’t. There’s no magical keyboard plunking or guitar strumming. He sticks to the mike, where he shines.
Usher didn’t come to New York alone. He brought manager Benny Medina, who has a little down time from Mariah Carey’s world to launch Usher. He also brought wife Tameka and baby son, Usher the fifth . Tameka is bright and attractive, and articulate. She is also not, as I wrote in February, despite rumors, a Scientologist.
As she said then, and reiterated for me the other night: "I can’t even spell Scien—Scien—what?"
Seriously, she said: "I am a Christian. A real Christian. And nothing will change that."
Soon there will be one less virgin in New York City. And it could be worse than that.
Next February, the Virgin Megastore in Times Square will definitely be shutting its doors. This means no more record store in a neighborhood that used to boast at least two Sam Goody stores, Colony (when it featured its beloved, now lamented back wall of 45 rpm singles) and numerous other chains.
But this isn’t all: the Virgin Megastore in Union Square, which was considered the anchor attraction when it opened more than decade ago, is being marketed by real estate agents. That means it will likely hit the chopping block as soon as enough shoes and ice cream can be found to fill it up. (What we really need is another bank or drugstore — not!) No decision has been made about the remaining stores, but the writing is on the wall.
This is all a result of Virgin’s billionaire balloon traveler Richard Branson quietly leasing the existing 12 megastores to Vornado Realty and Related Properties last year. Branson, who made his billions in the music business, obviously wanted someone else to do his dirty work as the business died. Now the two real estate concerns control the fate of what’s left of the "record" biz.
In Manhattan, the end of the Virgin stores is particularly bitter. Tower Records is gone, so is Sam Goody, Coconuts, FYE and HMV. There are few record stores left and they are specialty-driven: Bleecker Bob’s, House of Oldies, the Golden Disc, Disco Rama, etc. Only J&R Music World down on Park Row still sells CDs and even vinyl, but who knows how long that will last.
According to the New York Times, 80 record stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn have closed since 2003. Soho’s beloved Rocks in Your Head closed in 2006, two years shy of its 30th birthday.
Of course, I sound like an old curmudgeon when I lament the passing of the record store. Idling away hours at such a place must seem like a big waste of time to today’s 20-year-olds. But it was one of the most pleasurable experiences I knew as a youth — a community experience of discovery. And there was nothing like being there to get a new recording as it was released. You’d rush home to play it, and nothing else mattered.
How life has become so much less rich in a short time! Waiting in front of a computer screen for a download is not quite the same thing. It’s just another soulless experience. And maybe that’s why "kids today" don’t care much about music, the artists or paying them for their work. The passion is gone. So are valued New York haunts like CBGB’s, the Lion’s Head, the Cedar Tavern, Chumley’s and so on. At least we still have Starbucks!
On a more serious note: the remaining record labels should be concerned about this occurrence. So should the big-name recording acts. Frank DiLeo, Michael Jackson’s former manager, recently suggested that the labels get together and open a "state" store, one in each big city, to carry their catalogs and new releases. It’s not a bad idea. Otherwise, the record industry will soon have no public face at all.
This week’s FOX411 bonus video is a tribute to "fifth Beatle"Billy Preston. It’s a tribute to him on the second anniversary of his untimely 2006 death.
Billy wrote "You Are So Beautiful," and Joe Cocker had the hit with it in the 1970s. In this version, he duets with best pal Sam "Soul Man" Moore . Eric Clapton added guitar. It was one of Billy’s final recordings before he went into a coma six months before his death.
A talented man who was troubled by demons, Billy was nevertheless a kind soul and a great friend to everyone who knew him. The video was put together by Joyce Moore, his manager and Sam’s wife, with loving kindness. Rest in peace, Billy. ...
All the foodies in the world got together Sunday night at Avery Fisher Hall for the annual James Beard Awards. Best restaurant went to Danny Meyer’s blazing Gramercy Tavern here in New York. Best New York chef went to a guy who has a 12-seat Japanese restaurant for which you can’t get reservations. It’s called Momofoku, same as Elvis Costello’s new album. How weird. Who cares, really, if you can’t get in? ...
The Beards are not just about New York and L.A. You meet cool people from all over the country, including South Dakota, Alabama, Georgia, Texas. They’re all cooking up a storm. Tribeca Grill/Nobu owner Drew Nieporent, who’s seen it all, guided me after the awards show around the many delicious buffet stations set up by the gourmets.
And you hear amazing American stories. For example, Jean Nakayama of Seattle’s famed Maneki Sushi told how her family had been placed in an internment camp during World War II because they were of Japanese descent. Chicago’s Grant Achatz (Alinea restaurant), named Best Chef in the country, recalled his recent battle with tongue cancer almost killing him and/or his career.
And two of my favorite L.A. eateries were nominated; Campanile, for Best Restaurant, and Suzanne Goin, Best Chef for Lucques, a place for which you can get reservations. Momo-what?