Santa Fighting Man

New Year’s Eve 2003 started like most others at B.S. and Christina Ong’s private island resort Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos. Bruce Willis, who some call the West Indies retreat’s de facto mayor, was going table to table meeting and greeting, while Demi and Ashton and the Willis/Moore kids and a hundred or so other guests, including the Rolling Stones guitarist, ate dinner under the stars. At two minutes to midnight Mr. Willis let out an ear-popping whistle, signaling the crowd to follow him down to the pool to watch the fireworks. Like the Pied Piper, the group of Wall Street business types, Hollywood hot shots and European aristocrats dutifully followed. After the fireworks, model Christie Brinkley and her architect husband Peter Cooke-who had purchased a villa there earlier in the week-danced to a Caribbean band while the wallflowers sipped tropical drinks until early in the morning.

In other words, another idyllic New Year’s celebration-save for one irksome detail. Contrasting with the hotel’s minimalist white-and-teak interior and Balinese décor was a five-foot electronic Santa Claus that Manhattan financier Doug Teitelbaum had shipped down to put in front of the hotel bar to entertain the kids.

In the days before Christmas, the Santa had filled the tropical air with Christmas carols whenever someone pressed a sensor on its inflatable body. But like those twisting Santa dolls in the window of every goddamned Duane Reade in the city, Mr. Teitelbaum’s inflatable Santa had become annoying, and a few days before the New Year festivities, someone or something had tossed it into the resort’s swimming pool, where it floated belly-up for almost half an hour, eerily illuminated by the pool lights.

Though his singing circuits were fried, Santa was rescued and reinstated to his position by the bar in time for the New Year. But even in his silent state, he was too much for one guest to take. And revelers at the Parrot Cay bash told The Transom that at approximately 3 a.m on New Year’s Day, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards took a knife and cut off Santa’s head. A spokeswoman for Keith Richards denied this. “Keith Richards did not cut the head off Santa,” she said.

More of a mystery is who placed the flaccid Santa head in Mr. Teitelbaum’s bed, Godfather style. “It’s true,” said Mr. Teitelbaum, who found the head when he returned to his room after the New Year’s shindig. “It was a gift someone had gotten me, so I shipped one down-and that’s why it ended up in my bed.”

Mr. Teitelbaum took it all in good fun. “I laughed,” he said. “I was glad they didn’t put anything there to ruin the bed, like fake blood.” Mr. Teitelbaum said he doesn’t know who the culprit was, but he added that when he returned to the party after finding the head, “just about everybody knew about it-everybody at the whole party!”

-Alexandra Wolfe

Bada-Bertolucci!

The director who got the world to equate butter with Maria Schneider’s ass is at it again. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers , set during the ’68 student riots in Paris, recently made headlines by getting an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, ostensibly for its depiction of an incestuous love triangle between an American college student, Matthew (Michael Pitt), and two Parisian siblings (Eva Green and Louis Garrel).

For most who’ve followed the press on this matter, the reports that The Dreamers got an NC-17 because it’s sexually explicit has been sufficient explanation. For the baby boomers in Westchester who remember exactly what they were doing-or at least that they were footloose and fancy free-when Marlon Brando ordered Ms. Schneider to get the butter in Mr. Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (a movie that got slapped with an X for its sexual content), the coverage has been sadly lacking in details.

So here’s a more precise explanation courtesy of Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight’s head of distribution, which will give the North American premiere of the movie at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 20 and release it here on Feb. 6: “It has fairly graphic close-ups of both male and female genitalia, in terms of full frontal nudity,” Mr. Gilula explained. “There are extended scenes of her on top of him and him between her legs. Y’know, the sort of sexual, y’know … it’s sexual activity .”

Mr. Gilula stressed, however, that “there is no hard-core sex in the film. But it has more explicit representations of sexual activity than is allowable in an R-rated movie.” He did not want to give away too many specific details, but he did admit that the audience would not be disappointed.

“I don’t know that there’s a scene as startling as the butter scene with Brando and Maria Schneider,” Mr. Gilula admitted. “But there’s a couple of scenes that will astonish, if not shock, the audiences.”

Although Mr. Gilula was somewhat coy, the Sundance catalog, however, is quite forthright (spoiler alert!): “Matthew quickly gets caught up in a triangle of personal/sexual exploration and seduction,” wrote festival head Geoffrey Gilmore, “allowing Bertolucci to combine a steamily graphic and transgressive”-read incestuous-”ménage à trois with an equally adversarial debate about” blah blah blah.

In order to diffuse the seriousness of an NC-17 rating, Mr. Gilula referenced Irréversible , Baise-moi and Y Tu Mamá También as foreign films with explicit content that found a niche audience. These films, however, were unrated.

“The film is adult. It is graphic. And the NC-17 is appropriate,” said Mr. Gilula. “Bernardo Bertolucci is revisiting Last Tango . He’s back in Paris, and he’s dealing with human sexuality and human relations and how sexuality affects that. It’s a very sophisticated film.”

There is, to be sure, more sex in terms of “sheer volume” and “running time” in The Dreamers than in Tango , Mr. Gilula told The Transom. “It’s [Mr.] Bertolucci telling a story where sexuality is an important element in it. And so rather than pulling his punches, he shot it the way that he in his vision wanted to do it. And we decided to support that vision.”

In a statement printed in The Hollywood Reporter , Mr. Bertolucci said, “I’m relieved-in so many ways-that the distributor has had the vision to release my original film. After all, an orgasm is better than a bomb.”

-Jake Brooks

Churchill Down?

Society girls Annie Churchill and Gillian Hearst-Shaw are joining the ranks of their fellow prep-school fashion entrepreneurs CK Bradley and Shoshanna Lonstein and starting their own clothing line, aptly called Annie Churchill. The two met at Soho House one night through a mutual friend, Fabian Basabe (see the profile of Mr. Basabe on page 1), and it turned into an instant partnership. “It all happened in one night,” said Ms. Churchill, whose husband is a descendant of Winston Churchill. “We just loved each other and merged.”

Ms. Hearst-Shaw handles the marketing and business side, and Ms. Churchill is more the creative force behind the line. “It’s a contemporary sportswear line similar to Juicy Couture; we’re going to blast them away.” The duo said they hope to work with Swarovski, which helps fashion designers decorate their wares with crystals.

Ms. Churchill said she has always wanted to go into fashion: “I was an actress, but that was too hard.” Though Juicy Couture inspired the line, Ms. Churchill contended that the Annie Churchill line will offer a fresh alternative. “Everyone’s so bored of Juicy Couture,” Ms. Churchill said. “We wanted to create a new niche.” The partners had planned to launch the line at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but Ms. Churchill said the line wasn’t ready yet. “Now we’re just doing trade shows, and we’re going to start [selling] at Scoop, Intermix, Bendel, Barneys-just cool boutiques for now.”

-A.W.

Cheers for Broadway

In the 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader , a Marcia Brady–type 17-year-old is suspected of being gay by her “good Christian” family and sent to a homosexual-rehabilitation camp. Now she’s being sent to Broadway-or at least that’s the goal. Bill Augustin, a reformed actor who now works for public-relations kingpin Bobby Zarem as an assistant or publicist or office manager (“It’s a blurry line,” he said), has written a musical adaptation of the film which he dreams of seeing mounted on the Great White Way.

On Jan. 12, a reading of the musical was given at Primary Stages with Hairspra y star Laura Bell Bundy playing the part of the sexually confused teen Megan and Urinetown ‘s Nancy Opel as Mary, the gender-obsessed head of the rehab camp. It was something of a producer party: Representatives from the Schubert Organization, the Araca Group, New Line Cinema and the Weisslers, among others, were in attendance. Thanks, Bobby Zarem! “He definitely helped me learn how to write press releases and all that stuff,” Mr. Augustin said. No money has been exchanged as yet, but Lions Gate Films is currently holding the rights for Mr. Augustin and has agreed to negotiate with whatever producer he finds.

The seed for this idea was planted two and a half years ago, when Mr. Augustin’s roommate rented the movie, which was written by Jamie Babbitt and Brian Wayne Peterson. “I thought it was a very colorful film-weird and quirky,” said Mr. Augustin, 28. “I didn’t think it was brilliant, but I thought it had potential.” At the time he first saw the movie, he was right in the middle of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop-the workshop from which Avenue Q was born-and needed a project. So he and fellow classmate Andrew Abrams started writing songs that would jibe with the film. (Their project before that had been to write a swan song for Death of a Salesman ‘s Willy Loman.)

Mr. Augustin feels that with a cast of at least 17, this project won’t fly financially anywhere except Broadway. But he thinks that could really happen-and soon. “I think people are ready right now to accept new ideas, and I think if something is well-written, you can say anything as long as you commit to it,” Mr. Augustin said. “And with all this attention on lesbians right now-like the new Showtime show The L Word -a friend was just telling me how this is so the right time for this. ‘Everyone is going to be jumping on the lesbian bandwagon,’ she said.”

-Anna Jane Grossman

Company Line

It’s been rough going for Robert Altman’s new ballet flick, The Company . While the film, as a whole, has been almost uniformly praised, the actual ballet has been raked over the coals. Even by critics who actually liked the movie.

“The climactic children’s ballet, so effusively designed it looks like a Peter Gabriel–era Genesis concert, is merely a costume maker’s indulgence,” said The Village Voice . “It ends with the company performing an awful fairy-tale number that looks like a dream ballet from Shrek ,” fretted that bastion of high culture, People magazine. And in our own pages, dance critic Robert Gottlieb even took other critics to task for praising the film: “Are they just relieved to see a ballet movie in which the heroine neither dies ( The Red Shoes ) nor has an overnight sensational success (most of the others)?” he asked.

The Jan. 12 reception for the Lincoln Center exhibition, The Enduring Legacy of George Balanchine , gave the dance community an opportunity to fight back. And they did-kind of.

“It didn’t have all the glamour and the other junk that you see in other pictures,” said Marian Horosko, a former Balanchine dancer whose hair-to appropriate Pauline Kael’s line about Robert Redford-has gone past platinum and into plutonium. “I thought it was very true. A dancer got kicked out-that happens. They don’t have much money, they have their little love affairs, and I thought it was very typical of the time. And they kept the level very high as far as dancing is concerned. And that’s not easy.”

Ms. Horosko also lauded Andrew Dunn’s cinematography: “The photography was good-I mean, you didn’t see pictures of somebody’s spinning head, or pictures of somebody’s crotch …. He did a very good job!”

An elderly dancer, who declined to be identified, said she also liked The Company , but felt that Mr. Altman may have taken liberties with reality. “This gal”-Neve Campbell-”snaps her Achilles tendon in the afternoon, and at night she comes to the theater wrapped up and on crutches! If you snap your Achilles tendon, you’re in the hospital for maybe two or three weeks! So that’s sort of bizarre.”

Choreographer Lars Lubovitch, who plays himself in The Company , shrugged off questions about the critical reception-and refused to cough up dirt on Neve Campbell.

“I think everybody took her very seriously. She behaved as a company member-not as an actress, or as a superior on any level. She took her place at the barre with everyone else.”

-Elon R. Green

The Transom Also Hears ….

· At Soho House, the Brit-packed private club in the meatpacking district, the Sykes name is something of a mainstay. Marie Claire editor at large Lucy Sykes is a member, as are her sisters Plum and Alice. But it looks like brother Tom has been banned. According to Soho House committee member Tim Geary, Mr. Sykes has been banned “because he’s not a member” but frequently attempted to gain entrance to the club as if he were.

Though Mr. Sykes confirmed that he is not a member of the club, he disputed some of the finer points of Mr. Geary’s statement. Mr. Sykes said he was banned for three months in the summer, but has since been allowed to cross the threshold once more as a guest of his family members. “I was basically asked to stay away for a couple of months during the summer because I was smoking”-Mayor Bloomberg’s smoking ban extends to private clubs-”and being obstreperous, and in true Brit fashion, I think, I wasn’t tipping enough, but I’ve only got my Britishness to blame,” Mr. Sykes said. “I completely understand and I put my hands up to it.”

-A.W.

· On Friday, Jan. 16, TNT will air a rocky television remake of the 1977 Neil Simon romantic comedy The Goodbye Girl , which was pretty perfect the first time-even Bernadette Peters couldn’t sustain a musical version of it on Broadway 11 years ago. This new version is supposed to be set in the present, but aside from an Avril Lavigne poster and perhaps one cell-phone cameo-it still feels like 1977. Pay phones are integral to the plot, $100 is made out to be enough to support an N.Y.C. family for more than a few hours, and actors can afford to live on Bleecker Street. Just like it happened during the Carter administration, the flaky, idiosyncratic actor Elliott (originally Richard Dreyfuss and now Dumb and Dumber ‘s Jeff Daniels) woos a single mother- cum -actor-hating-chorus-girl, Paula, who was originally played by Neil Simon’s ex-wife Marsha Mason and is now played by Everybody Loves Raymond ‘s Patricia Heaton (who’s 45 but is supposed to be 36 in the film). The film’s saving grace is Hallie Kate Eisenberg, who plays Paula’s precocious 10-year-old daughter Lucy with panache. At the Upper East Side’s City Cinemas at a Peggy Siegal–organized special screening of the film on Jan. 12, Ms. Eisenberg, 11, sat happily with a large Coke, and even larger dimples and smiled throughout the film. Does she agree with her on-screen mother character’s assertion that actors make lousy boyfriends? She said she imagines that-when the time comes-she’ll consider dating all types. “What’s most important,” she told The Transom, “is being nice.”

-A.J.G.