Even though Barack Obama's Neighborhood Ball was beaten in the TV ratings last night by "American Idol," it was without a doubt the hottest of the official inaugural events.
Stevie Wonder, Sting, Mariah Carey, Aicia Keys, Queen Latifah, Jay Z and Beyonce were just some of the performers who wowed the crowd of 2,000 or more former Obama campaign workers and residents of Washington, DC.
And there was plenty of Hollywood star power with Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jamie Foxx all hanging out backstage and introducing segments. Leo brought his dad, who took video footage on a minicam of the acrobat troupe that formed a human pyramid. Denzel took a large freight elevator to the stage with a costumed gospel choir. They sang to him and asked if he had a voice. "Not me," he laughed. "My wife can sing. You don't want to hear me."
At the back of the elevator Sting, incognito in his brown beard, almost went unrecognized until one of the ladies gasped and the attention shifted.
Down in the dressing rooms - thin curtained partitions with card tables and couches - Sting and Stevie Wonder were next door neighbors. While Stevie practiced his harmonica riffs, Sting listened to an instrumental track of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" for the big group superstar singalong.
Suddenly Stevie started playing along from his side of the curtain while Sting tried out the lyrics on his side. Then Stevie went into a jazz riff that stopped everything. It was an extraordinary moment, topped only by the pair's show closer on Sting's "Brand New Day."
Meanwhile in the holding area, Alicia Keys greeted Queen Latifah. Their moms talked about how much they loved the women's performances in "The Secret Life of Bees." Latifah looked sensational in her gown. Sean Diddy Combs, dressed to the nines in a spiffy tux, lingered in a corner ,even though he wasn't on the show. Later Latifah went up on stage with the moms to watch Alicia's knockout performance of "No One" and took pictures with a beautiful nine-year old girl in a formal white gown. The mother was over the moon.
And then, of course, there was Mariah Carey with her young husband, Nick Cannon. The latter was perched above the stage where was deejaying, playing the songs that went with the artists. When Wonder finished his terrific new single "All About the Love Again" from the new Obama CD (on Hdden Beach Records), Cannon launched into a medley of Stevie's classic hits.
"Do you do bar mitzvahs?" I asked. He laughed. "Why not? It's good money!"
Mariah meantime was glowing (but not pregnant) and very happy with her performance of "Hero." "Was it ok?" she asked me when we ran into each other. Her next question was maybe more relevant. "Is Randy here?" She asked of pal Randy Jackson, our mutual friend.
Alas he wasn't. Jackson was busy on "American Idol," the ratings king, listening to "Gong Show" types. Something tells me he would have been happier here.
Robin Hood’s Maid Marian is about to get a little more mature.
I’m told that since Sienna Miller has left “Nottingham,” the latest big screen retelling of the Robin Hood saga, director Ridley Scott is now looking for an actress more in the range of “35 to 40” to play opposite Russell Crowe.
Miller left the picture in the last few weeks as the “Nottingham” scenario has changed. Her exit is attributed to various reasons, from the actress looking too young next to Crowe as a love interest, to her also not being able to wait around as “Nottingham” sorts itself out.
The proposed epic has apparently already gone through many script changes, and incurred costs reach $40 million before it even starts. Universal Pictures is hoping to get things started soon, with a new Marian—someone who will likely not cost very much—and a final script.
So far, the Internet Movie Database lists two screenwriters—Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Vorus—plus just a writer, the better known Brian Helgeland, whose 2001 film “A Knight’s Tale” had just the right irreverent tone that Scott and Crowe should be looking to maintain.
Scott and Crowe, meanwhile, are said to be at peace after a period of fighting. Their disagreements are said to be legendary after making so many films together. Last fall at the premiere of “Body of Lies,” a failed Crowe-Scott collaboration, one actor told me, “They fight like father and son all the time.” And who wins? “The one with the money, of course. Russell.”
Miller, meantime, is prominently featured in the R.J. Cutler documentary about Vogue magazine, “The September Issue,” which debuted at Sundance this weekend. (See a fuller report below.) Miller was the cover subject of the September 2007 issue of the fashion bible, and makes a cameo appearance as the mag’s photo editors make a composite picture from Mario Testino’s portraits for the cover. They literally take the head from one shot and put it on the neck of another. So much for truth in advertising! Poor Miller: editor Anna Wintour keeps complaining that in the pictures that the young beauty is too “toothy”!
Remember the name Carey Mulligan. The twenty three old British actress is about to become an It girl. Everything is in place for it too. Yesterday at Sundance the fire marshall had to turn away ticket holders at the Egyptian Theatre because word was Mulligan’s star role in “An Education” was so hot. I hate to say it—because who knows what will happen—but Mulligan turns in an Oscar and award winning performance much on the par of Ellen Page in “Juno” in the Lone Scherfig (a gorgeous Danish director) film.
“An Education” is just about perfect, too: written by Nick Hornby based on the memoir of a British journalist, the early 60s suburban London story has all the makings of a substantial hit for any distributor. The cast includes Peter Saarsgard, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, and a terrific Alfred Molina in this coming of age story. But it’s 23-year-old Mulligan playing a wise 16-year-old who just pops off the screen. The amazing thing, she’s just as memorable in “The Greatest,” a film seen on Saturday that was so good it prompted a standing ovation.
So 2009 should be the year of Carey Mulligan. Isn’t it interesting too that she’s already got powerhouse CAA talent agency on her side, with Kevin Huvane and Chris Andrews—who know talent—steering her along. Shades of Gwyneth and Cate!
Last night also brought the debut of Joe Berlinger’s sensational and controversial documentary, “Crude,” about the long and winding lawsuit between the people of Ecuador and Chevron Oil, formerly Texaco. Vanity Fair readers may recall a story last year about Pablo Fajardo, a young Ecuadorean who instead of working in the Quito oil fields went to college and law school, then sued Texaco — now Chevron -- for allegedly polluting Ecuador’s water supply and causing rampant cancer and death.
Berlinger does present the oil company’s side and even offered them a chance to appear at Sundance, but so far they won’t even see the film. Meanwhile, the director expertly weaves together the story of a bigger oil spill disaster than the Exxon Valdez, the saga of locals who’ve died, and the tragedy of an all but ignored country that doesn’t have clean drinking water thanks to corporate negligence.
Into this mix last year came Trudie Styler and Sting with their Rainforest Foundation. US attorney Steven Danziger, working with Fajardo, contacted Styler who not only immediately flew down to Quito but then interceded with UNICEF to get water filtration systems for Ecuador villages. These water “tanks” are a temporary solution – they last 15 years—but at $300 a pop they’re a great immediate savior for these people. Luckily, Styler already knew the landscape after having built 60 schools in Ecuador through the Foundation.
The story isn’t over by far in Quito, as the lawsuits drag on. But Berlinger’s film is eye opening. It’s also so well made that it shouldn’t have any trouble getting theatrical distribution. For more information you can read about it at www.crudethemovie.com.
Last night after the screening, Fajardo and Berlinger were toasted at a dinner sponsored by Self magazine at the Greenhouse, with lots of celeb support including Styler and Sting, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, John Cleese, Chris Botti, and Pierce Brosnan—all of whom will be hit up for multiples of that 300 clams, I’m sure. I couldn’t help thinking during this film that if every American who didn’t need bottled water set the money aside and sent it to UNICEF, this problem could be solved. I’m just saying …
No one’s ever accused Anna Wintour, the long time editor in chief of Vogue magazine, of being too emotional. Smart, yes. But in R.J. Cutler’s disarming documentary, “The September Issue,” Vogue’s own publisher Tom Florio actually says it: “She’s not warm and friendly.”
That’s for sure. Cutler got extraordinary access to Wintour and the Vogue staff as they prepared the 2007 September issue of the magazine, the advertising cornerstone of the year or as one department store chief says in the movie: “I’m sure it will as big as a phone book.”
It will, just like past Vogue September issues. But to see how it’s put together, all the backstage stuff, the politics, the fear, the anxiety—Cutler’s scored big time with a documentary that’s beautifully shot and has enough dramatic tension to make “Project Runway” look like “Mary Poppins.”
“The September Issue” also has a star, and it’s not Wintour. As even she acknowledged at an usual question and answer session after Saturday afternoon’s Sundance premiere, the real star of the film is Grace Coddington, her number 2 editor and unsung hero of Vogue for the last two decades. Now a raven haired beauty in her 60s, Coddington was a British supermodel for years before a car accident disfigured her face and cut her career short. She is a remarkable figure, and emerges as the heart and soul of an organism that is otherwise devoid of humanity.
Wintour is not stupid. Far from it. She is wise enough to step aside and let Coddington become the sympathetic center of “The September Issue” while she, Wintour, does the dirty work. That entails meeting with advertisers like Neiman Marcus and the Gap, presenting her finished work to Conde Nast publisher and owner Si Newhouse, and keeping a dicey business together. You can almost sense that the journalist’s daughter in her allowed Cutler to come in and do his job unfettered. She deserves a lot of credit for that.
Still, Wintour does not disappoint fans of “The Devil Wears Prada.” She’s abrupt, chilling, and cold to those around her. Warm and fuzzy? Not a chance. She comes across as vulnerable, a little insecure and uncertain about how to function in non-Vogue situations. Cutler only includes her 20-something daughter who wants to go to law school and proclaims the fashion world an odd business. Although Wintour talks a little about her father and siblings, there’s scant mention of a mother, or Wintour’s son, her ex-husband or her boyfriend. There’s a passing mention of tennis champ Roger Federer, with whom she is said to be obsessed.
Otherwise, the Anna Wintour of “The September Issue” keeps it all business. When she cuts people down, or snubs them, she almost seems oblivious. Cutler’s cameras are very good at capturing her expressions of disgust or dismay over people or ideas with whom or which she clearly disapproves. But what did we expect? A secret interest in Rachael Ray? Her father, she says, retired as a newspaper editor because he felt he was getting angry too often and it didn’t feel good. She says, “There are times I get too angry,” and you can only imagine what they are.
For those who’ve gossiped about Wintour leaving Vogue any time soon, I didn’t see it here. And even though Coddington—who deserves an Oscar for her appearance—says, “I wouldn’t care I saw another celebrity,” something tells me she enjoys her pas de deux with Wintour and would care a lot if she gave it up. In any case, “The September Issue” is set for TV on A&E, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this gang – including the larger than life Andre Leon Talley—make it art houses for a short but memorable theatrical run.