Jacko Spurned Charity Invite for Own Project

Michael Jackson | Madonna  | Red Cross | Robert Altman

Jacko Spurned Charity Invite for Own Project

Michael Jackson wants to save the world, but on his own terms. His offer to record a song for World Trade Center victims has an interesting history.

According to sources, Jackson was originally invited on Sunday, Sept. 16 to be part of Nile Rodgers' "We Are Family" tribute. Certainly an incentive for Jackson to participate was the inclusion of Diana Ross, his mentor — even though Ross had declined to show up for Jackson's comeback concerts at Madison Square Garden.

But when Michael heard that Rodgers was moving forward with his own record, Jackson suddenly got the same idea. He turned down Rodgers' offer. On Monday, Sept. 17, a press release moved on the wires that Jackson intended to record his song, called "What More Can I Give?" He invited Britney Spears and 'N Sync to join him. Both acts had performed at his Garden shows.

Interestingly, the "What More Can I Give?" project disappeared as quickly as it was announced. (That song, written in 1999, was not considered good enough to make the cut for Jackson's new album, Invincible, due Oct. 30).

By Tuesday, Sept. 18, Rodgers set his recording dates for the next weekend, got a record company, a video deal with VH-1, and a director (Spike Lee). And Jackson's project was stalled.

Instead, on Thursday, Sept. 20, Jackson's record company, Sony, rushed to release a single from Invincible to radio stations. "Cry," a ballad in which Jackson sings about how he can't save the world by himself, was not the song Jackson intended to record with others. But with Rodgers about to make "We Are Family" a reality, Jackson, according to my sources, felt pressure to put something out and fast. "Cry" most certainly was meant to upstage the other project.

So far there's been no statement from the Jackson camp about donating proceeds from "Cry" to World Trade Center victims. But one wonders how much the public will be interested in a Jackson World Trade Center song anyway. According to his Web site, Michael bolted New York on the afternoon of Sept. 11. And since it couldn't have been by air, imagine the scene of Michael scooting cross-country by bus back to Neverland. Real New Yorkers stayed and toughed it out.

Calls to Jackson's management were not returned.

Madonna Swept Away to Malta for New Movie

Life, it seems, goes on.

This week Madonna and her entourage are on their way to Malta, south of Sicily, to start making a new movie. Madonna's previous credits include classic performances in such films as Shanghai Surprise, Dick Tracy, Evita, and The Next Best Thing.

The film is a remake of the 1974 classic Swept Away, which was written and directed by Lina Wertmuller and starred Giancarlo Giannini with Mariangela Melato. In this version, directed by Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie, Giannini's son, Giancarlo Jr., plays the communist sailor who becomes the lover of Madonna's older, bourgeoisie matron.

Giannini Jr. had to be picked because, according to the deal with Wertmuller, the lover had to be Italian. I guess he seemed to be the natural choice. He replaces John Turturro, who reportedly dropped out of the project.

Other co-stars in this project are Jeanne Tripplehorn (previously unannounced), Bruce Greenwood and David Thornton, among others. In the original version there were barely any other characters, but in this new turn Madonna's yacht will be filled with a boatload of rich jet-setters who have speaking parts. According to one source, the script is otherwise "not much different" from the old one.

How Madonna and her new husband will get along on this remote location shoot is anyone's guess. I am told that about two weeks ago Ritchie spent a "boy's night out" in Los Angeles with his pals. It ended with him spending the night at L'Hermitage Hotel, since Madonna was not pleased. "And the ironic thing is that he's not the type to go out like that. But he's unhappy."

So far, it's unclear who will release Swept Away since no studio jumped at the chance to have all this talent under its aegis. Matthew Vaughn, Ritchie's producer from his previous outings (Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and possible fiancé of model Claudia Schiffer, is said to have arranged financing.

Red Cross First on 'We Are Family' List

Joan Rivers got a little confused last weekend about the fundraising efforts from Nile Rodgers' "We Are Family." So she called Page Six in the New York Post and went around complaining that she'd been lied to by the organizers.

"Not so," says an insider. In fact, Rivers' anger was premature and misguided. Rodgers and co. have already selected the American Red Cross and will have two or three other charities chosen by Friday.

Too bad that Rivers didn't investigate thoroughly before making her pronouncements. A lot of the money is going to victims and families and some to education. The organizers are as concerned, they say, as President Bush that Arab Americans are being targeted for hate crimes by uninformed people. So some of the money raised by "We Are Family" will go to enlightening the public. And that sounds like a good idea to me.

You can read more about the recording session for "We Are Family" in the Fox 411 archives from Monday, Sept. 24, 2001.

Oscar Season Kicks Off With Altman Film

Despite all the difficulties in the world, Academy Awards will still be given out in March. Nominees will still be announced in February. The race is on.

Even though Memento is the only film from the first half of the year of any real quality, some really excellent releases are on their way.

First up is Robert Altman's Gosford Park, which opens in December. Every time the venerable, legendary Altman makes a movie with a large repertory company critics call it "Nashville with – blank."

Not fair, since Altman has shown considerable genius over the last 25 years since Nashville, making all kinds of interesting, innovative and edgy films well above the muck and mire of regular screen fare.

His The Gingerbread Man, sunk by its distributor, was superior in every way to another film of the same season set in Savannah, Ga. — Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But such is the lot for a working director. Ups and downs are his specialty.

Gosford Park is best described then as Nashville meets Upstairs, Downstairs and crosses with Murder on the Orient Express. A period piece of meticulous detail and brilliant cinematography, Gosford Park weaves a murder mystery through an English country weekend.

There are 20 or so main characters, all of whom are played to the hilt by a wonderful cast of mostly British actors: Maggie Smith as a rich dowager, Helen Mirren as the head housekeeper of the Gosford Park estate, Bob Balaban as a visiting Hollywood producer, Kristen Scott-Thomas and Michael Gambon as the lord and lady of the house, and Emily Watson as a housemaid with a secret — well all the characters have secrets, actually, and they are all quite marvelous. Believe it or not, Ryan Phillippe is well used as a Scottish butler who's really … but I can't tell you more than that.

Altman's big canvas films, such as A Wedding or Dr. T and the Women, are often confusing during the first viewing. Too many characters, and not enough plot lines wrapped up. The gems are simply lost in the muddle and only true believers stick it out. In Gosford Park those problems seem to have evaporated. There's a beginning, middle and end, satisfying climaxes and denouement, and little moments that remind you Altman is the equivalent of the collagist Joseph Cornell.

His art is full of texture, surprises and layers of nuance, with much humor and pathos swirling in and out. It's early yet, but I can't say enough good things about Gosford Park. It will be a very nice holiday present for all of us.