Details from the set of Madonna's new movie are just now coming to light.
Swept Away was directed by the pop singer's husband, Guy Ritchie. The movie is a remake of Lina Wertmuller's classic film — shot last fall in Malta. Here's the plot in case you don't know the original: Madonna is a rich woman who's married to Bruce Greenwood. The couple and their friends go out for a bit of yachting. Madonna and a sexy ship's mate —played by Adriano Giannini, the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who originally played the part — wind up stranded on an island where they have a lot of sex and writhe around among the seaweed and shells.
But my spies tell me the three-week shoot was full of crazy stuff. Not the least of which was the fact that Ritchie didn't want to have Madonna appear naked in the movie.
"Why make the movie at all?" asked my insider. "That's what it's about."
Of course, this is ironic considering Madonna's videos and her infamous Sex book in which she was featured in various erotic poses.
But mostly, Swept Away will be remembered for its secrecy, according to those who were in on the Maltese adventure.
A security clampdown started after one actress, Elizabeth Banks, evidently got caught e-mailing pals back in Los Angeles about innocent set-side activities. Some of these activities included Madonna and friends doing Britney Spears imitations during down time. "They sang songs like 'Oops, I Pooped It Again,'" says my source. "Elizabeth's friends back home started circulating her e-mails and they got back to the set."
Banks was forced to apologize profusely to Madonna and Guy, I am told.
The relationship between the couple was also the subject of conversation on the set. "They have a very formal, scheduled existence," says my spy. "They're both learning to play the guitar, but not for fun. It seems like everything is done with a purpose, like they'll write songs so they can have the publishing."
After a full day of shooting, Madonna would spend time with her kids. But she also took a 2-and-a-half-hour yoga session to keep in shape.
"She never had dinner with the cast, but of course she was interested in family time."
On set, Ritchie regularly addressed Madonna as "Madge" or as "wife."
"He's extremely distant," I was told. Also, Ritchie does not get along with Madonna's daughter Lourdes whose father is Carlos Leon. It's something that's been alluded to in tabloid reports but was absolutely confirmed by my sources.
"He loves his son, though, and is devoted to him," was the observation. "But outwardly at least they are not a happy, affectionate family."
Nevertheless, I'm told that Madonna got positive reviews for having a sense of humor to go along with her dozen-person entourage and security force.
How Swept Away will fare when it's finally seen remains another matter. According to my source, Madonna's stilted acting technique has not improved much. "She drifted in and out of a fake English accent all the time," the source observed. "Plus Guy is not good at working with actors. He shoots quickly, mostly in one take. You could sense the frustration that he wasn't able to help her much as an actress."
The funniest story out of Swept Away though has to be one about Ritchie and a judo mat. Seems that he threatened the actors with time on the mat if they didn't arrive on the set punctually. Needless to say, no one — including Greenwood — took him up on the offer.
Even a seasoned guy like me can get snookered by a reporter with an agenda. On Monday, Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein called me up and told me how much he liked this column, and how his paper should carry it.
On Tuesday, he attacks me in that very paper. Whoops!
Goldstein — carrying the DreamWorks/Universal colors of black and blue — managed to attack this column as part of their ongoing war against Miramax. In a column that's supposed to be an objective piece called "Oscar Watch," Goldstein accused me of bashing A Beautiful Mind — which is co-produced by DreamWorks with Universal Pictures — and praising Miramax Oscar nominees because I have "ties" to Miramax.
Goldstein said he needed a quote from me for his story. I responded by saying readers of my column know a) my favorite movie of the year is Memento, which comes from an independent producer and b) my least favorite movie of the year was actually Miramax's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
My readers also know I have edited two special Oscar issues for the now-defunct Talk magazine, which was co-owned by Miramax, and I co-produced a low-budget documentary about soul singers which will be distributed by Miramax. But this is part of the world of corporate synergy.
As a Fox News reporter, my paycheck — which is what actually pays the rent — comes from 20th Century Fox, another division of News Corp., which also owns the Fox News Channel and operates FOXNews.com.
But you won't see any response from me in his column today. He chose not to include it. Perhaps it would have ruined his agenda.
The funny thing, of course, is that he has it all wrong. If he'd bothered to do a little research, he would have read the Fox 411 column that was published on Aug. 15, 2001. The column was called "August Dog Days Are Saved by Woody." It was a column that praised Woody Allen's new movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, to the point of distraction.
Jade Scorpion was produced and distributed by DreamWorks, Miramax's so-called rival.
In the same column, I wrote about the worst movie Miramax has ever released:
"All of this is very welcome considering the complete awfulness of Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ... There's not much to say about Jay and Silent Bob except that it shouldn't have been released. It looks like a homemade inside joke for Miramax after the party at the Oscars. If there was a budget, I'd like to see it."
So much for favoritism.
Goldstein also must have missed the Fox 411 column published on Nov. 1. That was the day I reported Miramax's Dimension division would be dumping a feature called Texas Rangers. The column was titled: "TV Stars From Practice, Dawson's, Strike Out in Big Screen Effort."
I wrote: "Texas Rangers, is considered so bad it's headed straight to video ... The $30 million catastrophe was filmed by Miramax's Dimension division two years ago, and was planned to capitalize on the popularity of [James Van Der Beek]. But by now the movie is felt to be so incredibly unsalvageable that it would best be never shown on the big screen. Dimension has announced several release dates for Texas Rangers, but none have come to fruition. And none will, I am told."
I also cited Miramax's unreleaseable Billy Bob Thornton movie, Daddy and Them, as "something of a movie industry legend. It's unlikely it will ever have a red carpet premiere." I'm sure the Miramax publicists are still drinking Mylanta cocktails over that one.
The venom in this Oscar war stems completely from the inaccuracies in Ron Howard's DreamWorks/Universal movie A Beautiful Mind. As I wrote twice last week, I was moved when I first saw this excellent movie. I thought Russell Crowe was stupendous, and deserved the Oscar.
Then the movie was released, and it turned out that this serious "factual" biography had left out some serious points about the life of its subject, John Forbes Nash. The producers also invented certain scenes to make the movie dramatically rich, but made these scenes seem factual as well.
Several publications — The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, even the Los Angeles Times — ran stories about this. I did too, and I quoted those stories.
But the DreamWorks/Universal camp can't take the criticism. They are striking back. And like Jay and Silent Bob, their arguments are cockamamie.
For this column and our readers, movies are a passion. We may disagree with each other, but we always speak our minds (you should see the Fox 411 mailbag) no matter who it might hurt. We never pull our punches. And we're not going to start now.
As for the Los Angeles Times, I guess Patrick Goldstein managed to pervert the truth. And it's a lesson to be learned. But it shows the general public is right when it's skeptical of the press and hidden agendas.
Just a reminder — Chris Cuomo profiles Bebe Buell tonight on ABC's 20/20 Downtown. Cuomo went with Buell to see her perform her rock show at Don Hill's in Soho, and gets down and dishy with her about Aerosmith, Mick Jagger and other tantalizing tidbits from Bebe's bestselling memoir, Rebel Heart. The paperback will be out later this spring from St. Martin's Press.