Van Sant Storm

Drugstore Cowboy director Gus Van Sant may be trying to do some sort of indie-film-world penance for his recent spate of unapologetically commercial films.

After 1997’s Academy-pleasing Good Will Hunting , 1998’s shot-by-shot remake of Psycho and 2000’s Finding Forrester , Mr. Van Sant is gearing up to release the wildly controversial art film Gerry in February and, as part of the promotional process, has taken some carefully aimed shots at his equally controversial colleagues, directors Darren Aronofsky and Oliver Stone.

Gerry , which premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, sounds like a ghostly negative of the peppy Good Will Hunting . Starring and co-written by Hunting ‘s Matt Damon and Casey Affleck-big brother Ben was apparently too busy diddling J. Lo and saving the world from nuclear terrorists-the film is about two guys who call each other “Gerry” and get lost in the desert. The picture has a good deal of trudging through sand, but little in the way of dialogue. And though some critics have hailed it as visually stunning, others have been much harsher.

In a Variety review of the film’s Sundance premiere, Todd McCarthy wrote that Gerry is as “empty as the vast desert landscapes in which it is set,” and charged that Mr. Van Sant “has lost his bearings-a sensation that will be shared by the few viewers this picture is likely to ever have.” The Variety critic also noted that “for uncharitable viewers, the ‘vegan chef’ credit in the end scroll will say all that needs to be said about this picture.”

Mr. Van Sant could not be reached for comment, but apparently he wants Gerry to stand in stark contrast to the visual overkill found in many of today’s films. Press kits distributed at advance screenings of the film contain an extended “interview” with Mr. Van Sant in which he talked about his film as an attempt to discover “what direction cinema can go in.”

Back in the early 80’s, Mr. Van Sant said in the interview, “filmmakers felt kind of threatened [by MTV]. They said, ‘This will never work. They’re just making stupid, little pieces of film to go with the songs.’ But, soon, filmmakers started working with MTV. They were no longer threatened and, eventually, a good number of them, people like Darren Aronofsky and Oliver Stone, began making films that looked like they were made by MTV. If it doesn’t look right, switch the image to black and white, do the jazzy stuff; hold the audience in the seat. Everybody’s doing it. It’s a certain style that came quickly, but it doesn’t take you anywhere. It’s nervous filmmaking. I guess I’m a holdout-somebody who doesn’t want to have MTV eyes.”

Representatives for Mr. Aronofsky and Mr. Stone did not return phone calls.

Reached by The Transom, Gerry ‘s East Coast publicist Mary Flanagan said, “That’s just a preliminary press release,” and also noted that “he’s just talking about the way those guys shoot drug scenes.”

Upon rereading the press release, The Transom confirmed that there is no reference to drug scenes in the document. Ms. Flanagan acknowledged that she hadn’t understood the question and made attempts to reach Mr. Van Sant-in Portland, Ore., shooting a new film-for comment. She was unsuccessful, but told The Transom, “I know he approved that press release, so he must have been O.K. with it.”

– Rebecca Traister

Bobby Specs

In the recent New York Times Magazine cover story on Leonardo Di Caprio, Robert De Niro offers the young turk some sage advice: to keep from being recognized on the street, shun the typical dark glasses and simply wear regular specs.

The Transom, however, is not so easily fooled, and on the evening of Nov. 26 had no difficulty spotting Mr. De Niro’s singular visage despite a pair of small, wire-rimmed glasses perched on Mr. De Niro’s nose. He was also outfitted in a navy pea coat and a rakish cap as he walked into the Carlyle around 8:30 p.m.

-Tom McGeveran

Trump World

Donald Trump may currently be suing the city for $500 million, but that doesn’t stop him from loving this crazy town.

At a private viewing of the penthouse of his Trump World Plaza residential building at First Avenue and 48th Street on Nov. 25, Mr. Trump gazed out of the 12-foot windows, his eyes reflecting the flickering candles that had been placed throughout the room. One thousand feet below, the traffic on First Avenue looked like hell. Helicopters buzzing over the East River seemed to be swarming around the United Nations building, where war was being pondered. The spike of the Chrysler Building, below eye level, seemed a little frightening.

It all felt very Ayn Rand.

“This view of the city has a calming affect for me,” murmured the robust mogul as he gazed out the window of the glass tower that he claims is the largest residential building in the world.

” Very calming. Very serene,” piped up stiff-haired Kathy Sloane, celebrity broker of Brown Harris Stevens.

Looking down, apparently unfazed by the height, the bushy-browed magnate mused on about his creation, which, according to New York Times architectural critic Herbert Muschamp, is “undeniably the most primal building New York has seen in quite a while.”

“If I weren’t happily ensconced in one of my other buildings, this is the apartment I’d choose,” Mr. Trump said.

Eighty-five percent of the tower’s units have already been sold, with Derek Jeter, Harrison Ford and Jocelyne Wildenstein all reportedly buying places there. Monday night’s party was held to show the four penthouse apartments to brokers and other interested parties. The spaces range from 4,600 to 5,000 square feet and are being sold from $12 million to $17 million each, with the option of combining all four units into one.

“It’s really a bargain,” Mr. Trump told the crowd. Indeed, as the developer recently told The Times , “I would’ve gotten much higher prices for my apartments had I been paying real taxes.” Mr. Trump’s lawsuit against the city alleges that Trump World Plaza was excessively taxed, robbing him of potential profits.

It couldn’t have helped that the Turkish telecom billionaire Cem Uzan, who had initially sought to buy all four penthouses, backed out of the deal. Then again, it couldn’t have hurt that much: Mr. Trump held onto the apartments and Mr. Uzan’s $10 million deposit.

Ms. Sloane predicted they’d be sold by January.

“This is the most secure air space, except for the White House, in all of America. There’s a feeling of being enveloped in security,” said Ms. Sloane, gesturing toward the U.N. “It makes you feel calm and strong. There are frogmen in the water down there!”

Let’s just hope they’re our frogmen.

Nearby stood the diminutive 85-year-old historian Arthur Schlesinger, wearing a black bowtie with a tan shirt. Towering over him was his wife Alexandra.

“It’s an exhilarating view,” said Mr. Schlesinger, who lives with his wife in a ground-floor apartment in the East 50’s. He had his back to the sprawling views of the tristate area. He nodded toward a 16-foot window-free white expanse with a fireplace. “If I lived here, I’d put in bookcases along that wall. Lots of bookcases.”

-Anna Jane Grossman

Depravity-Free Duchess

The Duchess of Devonshire, youngest of the Mitford sisters (“Debo” to her friends), flew in from Chatsworth, her English estate, to do New York-or at least Madison Avenue.

Here to publicize her pocket-size book Counting My Chickens , a diary-like memoir of her life among royalty and poultry, the 82-year-old duchess said she found New Yorkers to be “so polite” and “so tidy as well.” Manhattan was like “another planet,” she said, sitting white-haired and cross-legged in a beige suit in her Carlyle hotel suite with her daughter and son-in-law, Lady Sophia and Will Topley. Then again, compared to the quiet life in rural Bakewell, England, “everything else is very high-depravity,” the duchess added.

Indeed, Debo’s trip to the city seemed to have been engineered to minimize any encounters with New York depravity. The duchess would not be traipsing through Times Square or trolling the bars on Christopher Street or St. Mark’s Place, even though they sounded like proper British thoroughfares.

Nope, the duchess was sticking to an East Side agenda. The night before, Drew Heinz had thrown her a party at the wonderfully stuffy Morgan Library, and that day she was to lunch at the Four Seasons with Barbara Walters. “Should we dress very smart?” she asked The Transom.

The next day, the duchess was slated to give a lecture at Sotheby’s-where, let’s hope, no one told her about Alfred Taubman’s dreadful predicament. And on Thursday, she spoke at the Frick.

She had come to entertain, but did not seem interested in being entertained-certainly not by the coarse American media. “I’m terrified of movies,” she said. “They make me frightened.” And Broadway tested her patience. “I hate the theater. I can’t possibly sit still for three hours straight. As for opera, that’s another story …. “

Her daughter Sophia interrupted. “Let’s not get into that, Mum,” she said, looking a mite embarrassed.

So what cultural entertainment does Debo recommend for the holidays? Her own book, actually. “It’s very cheap,” she said. “It makes the perfect Christmas gift, and it’s the only thing out there with low depravity.”

“It’s actually no-depravity,” added her daughter with a prim smile.

But not even the Duchess of Devonshire can live a life completely free of debauchery. “I do listen to Elvis,” she said. Turns out Debo maintains an enviable collection of Elvis memorabilia and has even checked out Graceland, the Presley estate in Memphis.

When The Transom told the duchess that we had yet to visit the place, her eyes widened with shock. “You haven’t been to Graceland?” she said, in a way that suggested the spirit of the Jungle Room was alive and well and living in Devonshire. “You really must go.”

-Alexandra Wolfe

The Transom Also Hears …

American Psycho and Wall Street producer Edward Pressman wishes he could have cast Eminem in his new movie, Lazarus , when he had the chance. Mr. Pressman told The Transom that last year, when Pressman Films started working with Warner Brothers and the original director of the film, Joseph Kahn, Eminem wanted to play the bad guy opposite DMX as the good guy. Lazarus is a supernatural action thriller about two friends who commit a crime together, then become mortal enemies thanks to an ancient Asian curse. The movie was originally supposed to be the fourth installment in The Crow series, but now, under new direction, has no connection.

“We could have cast him back then for $2 million,” Mr. Pressman said at a dinner party at Le Cirque 2000 for Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist , which was hosted by the writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. “Now [Eminem]‘s probably going to ask for $20 million a movie.”

Mr. Pressman said that Lazarus lost its chance to be Eminem’s breakthrough film because a Warner Brothers executive, who he said was no longer with the company, doubted the musician’s ability to act. Now the studio has reassigned Mr. Kahn to direct Torque , a biker-gang film, and has brought in Tony Bui ( Three Seasons , Yellow Lotus ) to take over. “He’s rewriting the script for his own and will have it done in the next week or two,” said Mr. Pressman. “It’s different now, a new director’s vision of it. How it’s cast has to be reapproached.”

-A.W.