Sean (P. Diddy) Combs is not known for being at a loss for words.
But the hip-hop impresario was speechless for several seconds when The Transom asked him about his own voting record at a press conference on Tuesday morning to introduce Citizen Change, the voter-registration task force that he founded. Asked about the last time he’d voted, Mr. Combs, wearing sunglasses and a dark sports jacket over a “Vote or Die” T-shirt, confessed that he last entered a voting booth and pulled the lever in 2000. Mr. Combs stood at a podium in Kimmel Auditorium at N.Y.U., surrounded by red-white-and-blue balloons in front of an audience that half-expected him to launch his own run for office.
When queried whether he voted in city elections, Mr. Combs said, “No.” An awkward silence ensued; the microphone squealed. Could he elaborate on why? “To be honest, I’m just-I was just as disenfranchised as the younger disenfranchised voters,” he stammered, before the smooth-talking salesman kicked in. “It’s just recently, in 2000, that I started to educate myself and understand the way the system works. So that’s what makes this thing so much more relevant, because I’m not talking from the outside. I understand a lot about how young people feel and how minorities feel; we feel that the system doesn’t work. But I can’t just sit back and complain about it, you know-I can do something about it. So I don’t have a long-lasting record history of voting, but I do have a long-lasting record of communicating and motivating and energizing and synergizing young people and, you know, I’m just like them. You know, I didn’t believe in the process, so I can explain to young people why they should get motivated with this.” The applause was thunderous.
“Now wasn’t that a good answer!?” shouted a member of the Citizen Change posse, a group that includes political bulldog James Carville, who showed up in a sport coat, pink shirt and green plaid tie to fulfill his duties as chairman. (“He didn’t take no paper because he knows we ain’t got no money,” Mr. Combs had said earlier. “He was so nice to donate his time.”)
One exuberant participant shouted, “We’ve got bullhorns! And balloons!”
Mr. Combs isn’t the only music-industry titan who could be accused of hypocrisy. Christina Aguilera and Outkast’s Andre (Andre 3000) Benjamin are featured on giant billboards in Times Square as the faces of Declare Yourself, another campaign “encouraging young people to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.” In photos taken by celebrity shutterbug David LaChapelle, Ms. Aguilera and Mr. Benjamin are shown being gagged, with the tagline “Only You Can Silence Yourself.”
Up until now, the two have indeed been silent during several recent elections. According to The Transom’s recent survey of voting records, neither Ms. Aguilera nor Mr. Benjamin appear to have ever exercised the right to vote. Ms. Aguilera registered as a Democrat in October 2000, but does not appear to have voted since then, according to the Los Angeles County Board of Elections. As for Mr. Benjamin, he registered to vote on Oct. 5, 2000, in Georgia and again as a Democrat in March 2004 in Los Angeles, but does not appear to have ever voted. His registration in Los Angeles is currently inactive. Both have vowed to pull the lever for the upcoming Presidential election.
Ms. Aguilera and Mr. Benjamin are not alone in their failure to vote. Last January, amNew York reported that almost a dozen hip-hop stars affiliated with the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network voter-registration campaign, including Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Eminem, Ja Rule and DMX, had never voted. At the time, HSAN president Benjamin Chavis had vowed that the rappers would vote in November’s Presidential election.
-Noelle Hancock and Marcus Baram
More than a year has come and gone in the meatpacking district: Jersey Girl influx, overpriced pan-Asian slop, neon-lit boutique hotels, a “refurbished” Man-Hole and, of course, Soho House, still closing its doors to Chad Lowe (along with certain more bona fide celebrities). Despite well-documented complaints about a mediocre menu and obnoxious guests, membership renewal rates are at 92 percent and counting at the club. “Everyone is asking me to support their application. They’re sidling up to me, hoping I’ll extend an invitation to them,” one recently renewed member said. “I got a call last week from someone I went to law school with, who wanted to meet me for drinks-at Soho House. I mean, I haven’t seen this girl in, like, six years!”
Club aficionados insist that the house doesn’t deserve the bad-mouthing, especially compared to other elitist members’ clubs like the Brook, the Harmonie or the Century Club, with their extortionate fees. The club’s velvet rope is considerably slacker than most, and the $900 annual membership fee-even once it increases to $1,100 (surely to cover the costs of last week’s smashed-glassware debacle)-is lower than the annual fee at a mediocre gym on Avenue B.
But complaining is an old sport in this town, and even renewing members love to take a swing (“I’ve complained and gone, all on the same day,” says one cheerfully)-something the club’s resident novelist and committee member Tim Geary acknowledges, without glossing over the substance of their complaints. “Given the fact that there have been so many glitches, it’s astounding that we’re doing so well. Sales have doubled in the last year, hotel occupancy is at 90 percent currently, and there are 1,200 people on the waiting list.” There is still plenty to criticize, from the service (“Well,” says one renewed member, “the service on the roof tends to be a bit lackadaisical at best”) to the food (“patchy”) to the clientele (“Let’s just say there seems to be a surplus of finance types every now and again”). One member claims to have recently overheard two gentlemen heatedly arguing about the different branches of the Scores strip club. “Every place becomes a victim of its own success,” says Mr. Geary. “On some nights you arrive, it’s completely heaving and you think to yourself, ‘Where did all these people come from?’” Grooming the masses may take time, but Mr. Geary confided that Soho House is taking more immediate measures on another front and has hired a new star chef to start this fall, trained at London’s J. Sheekey’s.
Vincent Gallo isn’t making any apologies.
“If you didn’t like the movie at Cannes, you won’t like the movie now,” he said over the phone about his first film in six years, The Brown Bunny, which polarized the Croisette last year. “That said, the boos that came out of Cannes happened before the first frame of the film started. They happened on my opening-credit sequence, which included my name. Did people hate The Brown Bunny? Or did they hate Vincent Gallo? Or the idea of a person writing, directing and starring in a movie where they get blown?”
On Aug. 27, the moviegoing public will finally have the chance to make up its own mind, thanks to the New York–based independent Wellspring, which picked up the film over a year after it premiered at Cannes. In the meantime, Mr. Gallo has cut down the film to a svelte 92 minutes, 26 minutes less than the version shown at Cannes. The film has much-improved sound. Mr. Gallo no longer appears on a tandem bicycle with Chloë Sevigny. An opening sequence involving a motorcycle race has been tightened substantially. Some of the “redundant” road footage has been taken out. And, most importantly, the ending has been changed. (Mr. Gallo claims that the Cannes ending was done simply to appease his Japanese financiers, Kinetique, and did not reflect the original screenplay. In the end, he opted for minimalism, the specifics of which would give away too much of the film.) Everything else-and I mean everything else-has been kept.
“The part in the hotel is slightly shortened, but the actual graphic part of the scene is exactly the same. It’s been untouched,” said Ryan Werner, the 30-year-old head of theatrical distribution for Wellspring, after much prodding by The Transom over lunch at the Flatiron eatery Bolo. He is referring to the scene that left people humming, in which Ms. Sevigny (playing Daisy Lemon, the girlfriend) fellates Mr. Gallo’s character, Bud Clay, a motorcycle racer.
Mr. Werner, along with the company’s head of acquisitions, Marie-Therese Guirgis, spearheaded the campaign to have Wellspring swallow the distribution costs of The Brown Bunny. He was part of that other Cannes contingent, those who gave the film a 15-minute standing ovation. “The concept of the movie hasn’t changed at all. It’s exactly the movie he wanted to make. But he actually had the time to pare it down and focus it toward his goals.”
Wellspring, however, has a long road to travel in changing people’s perceptions of The Brown Bunny following the absurd amount of negative press surrounding the film’s premiere. As part of the marketing campaign, Mr. Gallo will embark on a cross-country road trip-quite like the one his character takes in the film-hosting screenings of the film for the press and select members of the public. And he’ll be on hand afterward to conduct a Q&A.
“Part of the reason we want to send him across the country-and why we thought this was a good idea-is because when you work with him and spend some time with him and get to know him, you like him,” said Mr. Werner between sips of pea soup. Mr. Gallo will also give a rare New York concert with special guests close to the release date. “We wanted to get him out in front of people.”
Considering that Mr. Gallo is often quoted in Page Six bad-mouthing anyone or anything, Wellspring’s decision to put him in front of an audience is a clear sign that the firm is not recoiling from the ballyhoo surrounding the film.
“I think one thing to point out is, pretty much we’re all in agreement-we and Vincent-on embracing the controversy of the film and not trying to shy away from it,” said Liza Burnett, a publicist working on the film from Dan Klores Communications,
That philosophy extends to the promotional materials. In one trailer, edited by Mr. Gallo and already in circulation, a quote from Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum reads, ” … no one in America will ever see one frame of this film …. ” Moments later, the trailer deems Brown Bunny “the most controversial American film ever made.” Moreover, a “wild posting”-half the size of a movie poster-cuts right to the quick-ie: Mr. Gallo stands peering down at the top of Ms. Sevigny’s head, which is positioned right in front of his crotch. In the bottom right-hand corner, it reads, “IN COLOR ‘X’ ADULTS ONLY.” (The film is being released unrated. Mr. Gallo, it appears, has a sense of humor.) The other marketing tools, however, are quite artful. An R-rated trailer-also edited by Mr. Gallo-that lasts two minutes employs a split screen, with one side showing a setting sun flooding an empty highway with golden light, while the other side displays Ms. Sevigny participating in some drugged-out sex romp (not with Mr. Gallo). Meanwhile, a mournful Jackson C. Frank song plays in the background.
The ultimate obstacle that Mr. Gallo and Wellspring will have to overcome is audiences conflating Mr. Gallo’s onscreen characterization with his offscreen persona.
“I don’t want to be Bud Clay. That’s a sad, sad character-an unredeemed character,” he said, adding, “If you find one girlfriend who’s ever said that I’ve walked around naked for a minute or have any exhibitionism …. I make love with my underwear on.”
In the end, Mr. Gallo puts it all into perspective.
“It’s clear that I’ve antagonized people in some way. What that way is, is between them and their priest. Certainly, the film has a certain place. It succeeds in certain ways. And it’s definitely original and ambitious. Whether it works, whether it’s perfect, whether it’s your favorite film, that’s personal. But to shrug it off-please!”
The Transom Also Hears …
… The Presidential campaign’s next battleground is haute couture. The Kerry daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra, not to be outdone by Jenna and Barbara Bush’s debut in Vogue, recently posed for a photo shoot to appear in an upcoming issue of Harper’s Bazaar. The brunette Alexandra Kerry’s previous fashion moment was the infamous off-shoulder see-through black gown that she wore on the red carpet at the Cannes premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 ….
… The dust keeps flying at Ground Zero. Architect Daniel Libeskind was willing to accept a few hundred thousand dollars for his “political seal of approval” on the design of the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, according to legal papers filed by a top executive at Silverstein Properties, with whom Mr. Libeskind is embroiled in an ugly legal dispute over how much he should be paid for his contributions to the Freedom Tower’s design. In court papers filed July 20 that respond to Mr. Libeskind’s lawsuit of July 13, Silverstein Properties senior executive Janno Lieber alleges: “During our negotiations, SDL representatives, on various occasions, attempted to justify this extra fee as compensation for Libeskind’s willingness to give the Tower his political seal of approval.” Mr. Lieber seemed to be suggesting that Mr. Libeskind was willing to trade on the widespread public approval of his master plan-and the popularity he enjoys with the public-in exchange for being paid a premium on his architectural fees. Mr. Libeskind’s lawyer, Ed Hayes, said that the very fact that they decided to sue rather than settle out of court is evidence that his client’s “seal of approval” was not up for sale. Mr. Libeskind claims he is owed $843,500 for his work; Mr. Silverstein allegedly last offered around $225,000.