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All the talk in Hollywood this week is about A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This is Steven Spielberg's new movie, which hits theaters June 29th. Time magazine features it this week. Everyone's raving. Spielberg has done it again. Warner Bros. (which is part of the AOL-Time Warner family) finally has a real hit.
A.I. is based on Brian Aldiss's short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, a 2,000-word piece Aldiss wrote in 1969 and sold to Stanley Kubrick in 1982. The two of them tried like crazy to write a screenplay together. It never worked out, but Aldiss reminisces about the experience in the new edition of Supertoys published by St. Martin's Press.
To Aldiss, Kubrick was just as eccentric and mysterious as he was to the general public. For a long time, Aldiss recalls, he would make visits to "Castle Kubrick" outside London where the pair attempted to make Supertoys come alive. Aldiss remembers that Kubrick's wife, Christiane, was busy painting large canvasses the whole time. When Kubrick decided the main character - an android boy named David, played in the movie by Haley Joel Osment - should actually be a robot, the director called heads of various electronics corporations to see if it could be done.
From Aldiss: "Get me Mitsubishi on the line," (Let's just say it was Mitsubishi, since I have forgotten which company it actually was.) "Who do you want to speak to at Mitsubishi, Stanley?" "Get Mr. Mitsubishi on the line." A while later, the phone rang, Stanley picked it up. A voice at the other end said, 'Oh, Mr. Stanley Kubrick? It's Mr. Mitsubishi speaking. How can I help you?"
Aldiss also reveals that Spielberg has optioned all three Supertoys short stories. In a letter to Spielberg after Kubrick's death, Aldiss suggested that David "might meet with a thousand replicas of himself." Spielberg offered to buy just the one sentence from Aldiss, but Aldiss decided instead to write a whole short story around it.
My favorite part of Aldiss's memory, though, is Kubrick's fascination with Star Wars - particularly how much money it made. In one letter, Kubrick refers to a lunch he and Aldiss had in which they discussed "Star Wars and why fairly dumb stories might really be an art form."
Dionne Warwick - let's face it - is not crazy about Elvis Costello singing her old hits.
When Costello showed up at the glamorous Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner to croon "Don't Make Me Over," Warwick was less than pleased. The reason? Costello has made friends with Burt Bacharach in recent years, and has taken to performing songs that Dionne made famous like "Walk On By" and "I Say A Little Prayer."
I asked Dionne what she thought of Elvis helping to induct her into the Hall. Her terse response? "Not much. What do you want me to say?"
It's an unfortunate feud. Costello works hard and puts the songs over pretty well at this point. I think he'd be the first to admit he's not the songbird Warwick is. But that's not the point, is it? We're not going to hear Dionne singing "Alison" or "So Like Candy" anytime soon, that's for sure.
Dionne, by the way, skipped out of the show the minute the awards had been handed out and missed the big finale jam session. Dionne also seemed to keep her distance from lyricist Hal David, who wrote the words to all those Bacharach hits. She did make plans to get together soon with producer Phil Ramone. Now there's a combo I'd like to hear. Dionne - the voice of voices - promises a new album soon.
Meanwhile, actor Tony Randall was on hand to give out an award. But he didn't like it when the orchestra, led by the indefatigable Paul Shaffer, broke into the theme from TV's The Odd Couple.
"That's the piece of music I hate most," Randall sniffed as he took the stage, shutting Shaffer down faster than any David Letterman barb.
Randall, who's 81, made the scene all night with his hot-looking 31-year-old blond wife, Heather. What still remains a mystery is the story of Randall's first wife, Florence, who died in 1992. The couple was married for 50 years but she was seen as rarely as Greta Garbo, never ever discussed, interviewed or photographed.
So you think that all songwriters are like the Beatles or Bacharach and David, living off millions in royalties? Think again. The niece of the co-author of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" - which The Sopranos' Dominic Chianese performed beautifully on Thursday night - told us, "There's really not much coming in anymore. Last year I got a check for $3.78."
If you'e interested, and I hope you are, there are a bunch of new albums out that may prove rock music is back. Travis' The Invisible Band; R.E.M.'s Reveal; ELO's Zoom; and Paul Weller's Heliocentric are all worth a trip to the local record store (if you can stand the racket from the p.a. system).
While Travis is already No. 1 in the U.K., R.E.M. - truly an American band - is faltering with Reveal. What a shame too. "All the Way to Reno" and "I'll Take the Rain" are gorgeous anthems equal to the band's best work. But a combination of weird things - Michael Stipe announcing he's gay, then taking it back; no clear marketing plan and tour; and Peter Buck's run-in at Heathrow Airport in London have taken away from Reveal's bottom line. This should be a top five album.
Travis is what I call a Beatle spin-off band: XTC, Squeeze, Electric Light Orchestra and a dozen less gifted groups have each mined some part of the Beatles' career to great effect. Travis initiated this plan last year with The Man Who. "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" was their brilliant theme song, and drove the album to cult status.
On Invisible, Fran Healy (not the former New York Yankee and announcer) writes delicate subtle melodies that seem simple but are deceptively textured. The lead off single, "Sing," should be a hit but probably won't. There are many more to choose from. I do hope Epic Records picks "Side," the third track, next.
Is rock back? I sure hope so. Between the boy bands and the lip-synching girls, the last five years have been dismal. There's a flicker of light now at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it will grow.