Moulin Rouge, Monkees and Michael Jackson's Rabbi

Moulin Rouge | Michael Jackson | Virtual Ads | New For 2000

Moulin Rouge: The Monkees, On Acid

Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge is selling out its exclusive two-theatre run in New York and Los Angeles. And why not? It’s a curiosity and a spectacle.

I’ve never had much interest in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I would guess Moulin Rouge has more to do with cult phenomenon  than with anything else. If it catches on, it will strictly follow that pattern.

The movie, which I saw last night, is part Monkees, part Monty Python, with a lot of Elton John. In fact, Elton’s first hit, "Your Song," figures prominently in the film. Moulin Rouge is a hodgepodge of pop songs all sort of knitted together as if to seem hip but instead coming off as pedestrian and campy. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

Luhrmann doesn’t know which kind of movie he wants to make, so he makes all of them in Moulin. The first 45 minutes are frenetically paced; the rest of the movie, about an hour fifteen, is enervating. Of all the chaotic musical numbers, only the one set to "Like A Virgin," is a standout and that’s because of the miraculous Jim Broadbent. He saves the day. Not to say that Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are anything less than courageous. But even bravery isn’t enough to keep Moulin Rouge from collapsing under its own substantial weight. 

Michael Jackson's Rabbi Had To Re-Pay UK Charity; Cambridge Society Disavows Him

Michael Jackson's rabbi friend Shmuley Boteach, a publicity hungry clergyman who’s made a name for himself writing books like Kosher Sex, left England not a moment too soon.

Boteach and his wife, Debbie, were forced to repay the L’Chaim Society of Oxford University about $250,000 after an investigation by the charity’s trustees and the British Charity Commission, a government organization.

On Tuesday, Rabbi Boteach denied to me in front of witnesses at Court TV that he’d ever had to make restitution to the charity.

Shmuley — as he likes to be called — inveigled himself into the U.S. press when he emerged as Michael Jackson’s counsel and adviser last November.

In February he hosted a celebrity panel discussion at Carnegie Hall on child care with Jackson — who once settled a claim of pedophilia with a reported $25 million payout — as well Fox News’s Judith Regan, and TV game show host Chuck Woolery. There were many empty seats in the hall.

Yesterday I spoke with a former assistant to Boteach in Oxford, England who knew the ins and outs of the now defunct L’Chaim Society. She said, "He was run out of town, in the old sense of the word."

Valerie Harris says that during Boteach’s reign at the L’Chaim Society he and his wife Debbie lived in two large houses, one in Oxford and the other in London. The houses, she said, "were beautiful." One of them was estimated in reports to be worth more than half million dollars. Harris says the Boteachs sold their Oxford home for an estimated 450,000 pounds British sterling.

"A guru friend of mine said recently, If you’re daft enough to give me your money, I’ll take it," laughed Mrs. Harris. "That was Shmuley."

Mrs. Harris also added that on many occasions Rabbi Boteach was known to take expensive vacations including ski trips to Switzerland. "He used to say he was going there to fund-raise. All his trips he said were about fund-raising."

Switzerland by coincidence is the home of Marc Rich, former U.S. fugitive.

Rich’s close friend, U.S.-based Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, funds Boteach’s operation in New York and provides him with free office space. Last fall, it was Steinhardt who helped broker the deal to bring Boteach and Jackson to Denise Rich’s Angel Ball at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, the same ball at which Denise Rich famously gave Bill Clinton his new saxophone. Steinhardt was also responsible for helping put on the Carnegie Hall event.

Boteach, in my talks, or rather confrontations with him, on Tuesday, proves one thing. He can out-talk anyone and does so in such an annoying way that you’re apt to just throw up your hands and walk away from him.

He has an answer for everything. For example: He boldly claimed that the L’Chaim Society was still in business in Cambridge. "They’re the same organization as yours?" I asked. "The same!" he yelled.

However, the director of the L’Chaim Society of Cambridge, told me yesterday Boteach "has nothing to do with us whatsoever and we are considering a name change to stop the confusion." Maccabee Avishur told me: "We haven’t heard from him in a year and a half. He makes no donations to us. When he was here with Michael Jackson, we didn’t hear anything from him. We have nothing to do with him."

Boteach is also said by former friends of his in the town of Oxford to have left town quite suddenly, surprising them. Said Donald Silk, who knew Boteach for the decade he was there, "We loved and trusted him and he broke that trust. He threw over the job for a handful of silver."

Virtual Ads: Evertything Old Is New Again

E! Online reported a "new" phenomenon yesterday in virtual advertising on TV shows.

We reported this item on January 5, 2000:

New For 2000: TV Commercials During The Shows

The future is here. You can decide for yourselves how you like it.

TV shows like Friends and Caroline in the City are on the verge of making deals to have products-cereal, soda, Ritz Crackers-digitally grafted into scenes that have already been filmed. This is called "virtual advertising" and it’s already done in football games.

Next spring, ESPN will be including it in their Sunday baseball game. What is it? A company called Princeton Video Imaging out of Princeton, New Jersey has the patent on this thing. They can plop soda cans, GameBoys, you name it, down onto surfaces in scenes from reruns.

So Friends, for which PVI has already done a demo, each season could have a different brand of microwave popcorn sitting on Joey and Chandler’s kitchen counter. In the demo, a Victoria’s Secret bag has been inserted into a scene in Monica’s living room; shampoo has been placed in the bathroom.

Paul Slagle, the president of the company, says this is just the beginning. "We can re-do each episode every season and change the ads or their placement," he told me yesterday. "The idea is just not to make it obtrusive."

PVI is close to signing a deal with Eyemark, CBS’s syndication arm, to put their products into Caroline in the City. Warner Bros. Domestic Television, which has Friends and Murphy Brown and soon Dawson’s Creek in syndication, among other shows, is considering going along with this plan too.

Once these two fall, Paramount-the biggest syndicator, through Viacom-should be next. Every year Norm could be drinking a different brand of beer at Cheers.(Imagine that.) Advertisers, of course, are loving this proposal. But the people who do product placement now, says Slagle, are on notice that their world is about to change big time. "They’ll be out of business if they don’t change with it," he says.