After June’s ugly shuttering of the Shooting Gallery, the outlook for New York’s film community got considerably brighter on Aug. 2 with the announcement that United Artists, the film company founded in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and William S. Hart, would be returning to its New York birthplace with independent-film pioneer Bingham Ray at the helm.
Mr. Ray co-founded October Films in 1991, and his work there was based largely on relationships he cultivated with such idiosyncratic filmmakers as Lars von Trier and Mike Leigh. October released Mr. Leigh’s Secrets & Lies , Mr. von Trier’s Breaking the Waves , as well as such independent hits as The Apostle, Hilary and Jackie and The War Room , and Trey Parker’s critically ignored Orgazmo . Mr. Ray left the company in 1998. October has since been absorbed into Barry Diller’s USA Films.
“We want to return United Artists to its roots, which was an artist-friendly artists’ studio. That means smaller movies through labors of love,” explained Chris McGurk, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired the studio in 1981 and closed U.A.’s original New York offices at 729 Seventh Avenue in 1983.
“We really felt that it was important that there be some space from MGM, which does major studio projects,” Mr. McGurk said, adding that New York’s “fertile and vibrant” film community, where Mr. Ray is extremely well connected, didn’t hurt either. Mr. McGurk also pointed out that the move means that United Artists will be “closer, geographically and time-wise, to London and the European film community.”
That said, the revived United Artists headquarters will be located in the MGM building on Sixth Avenue and 55th Street, where Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope offices have set up shop. Mr. Coppola’s production company has its first-look deal with United Artists, as does Fisher Stevens and John Penotti’s Gotham-based GreeneStreet Films; Michael Stipe’s Single-Cell Pictures; Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution Films; and Crossroads Films, which had been headed by Mr. Ray and now will continue its U.A. deal with Leon Falk at the helm.
When United Artists was founded in 1919, it was an unprecedented attempt by film actors to wrestle business and artistic control from the major studio bosses. At the time, Metro Pictures president Richard Rowland was famously quoted as saying “The lunatics have taken over the asylum.”
In 1951, Ms. Pickford and Mr. Chaplin finally sold their controlling shares in the company to Arthur Krim, who turned it into the artistic powerhouse behind such films as West Side Story , Midnight Cowboy and Apocalypse Now .
This summer, United Artists released what Mr. McGurk proudly called “the best-reviewed film of the year,” the comic-book-based Ghostworld . Come autumn, U.A. will distribute the American Zoetrope horror film Jeepers Creepers .
While Mr. McGurk would only say that he and Mr. Ray were still in the process of determining how large the New York headquarters would be, he estimated that they would start small, at “five to 10 people.” Mr. Ray, in Los Angeles ironing out details, planned to take a week’s vacation and then return to jumpstart his new operation on September 1.
“Mommy, when’s daddy coming home?”
“When the war’s over.”
No, that’s not Nicole Kidman explaining the caustic reality of Hollywood mega-divorce to her daughter Isabella; rather it’s a snippet of dialogue from Ms. Kidman’s latest film, the period spookfest The Others , which her now rancorously estranged husband, Tom Cruise, produced.
The eeriness of art imitating life in The Others practically supersedes the film’s attempt at tackling the supernatural. Ms. Kidman plays a woman whose husband has disappeared at war (or did he desert her? she later demands to know). Isolated in a sequestered, ghost-ridden mansion, she stops at nothing to protect her two solar-allergic children from exposure to sunlight.
To make matters even more meta, The Others ‘ Chilean director, Alejandro Amenábar, directed Penélope Cruz in 1997’s Open Your Eyes , which was recently remade in high Hollywood fashion under the name Vanilla Sky , starring Ms. Cruz and Mr. Cruise. The homonymically named duo have since erupted into romantic entanglement and recently spent a week cavorting on a secluded Fiji island.
On Aug. 2, Ms. Kidman arrived at the New York premiere at the Paris Theater in full movie-star regalia. Swathed in a slinky Chanel black chiffon get-up and vampily made up by Kevyn Aucoin, Ms. Kidman looked like a Cat Woman for the masses.
Ms. Kidman told a group of reporters that she had spent her summer in Australia, and on the (infamous) Fiji island–though she and Mr. Cruise were there at separate times (her platonic guest was lady-killer Russell Crowe).
When asked if she was relaxing, she exhaled an emphatic “Yes! Yes!” But then, after discussing her upcoming projects–producing a film with Jane Campion, in talks with Lars von Trier ( Dancer in the Dark ) for an upcoming role–she exclaimed, with tragic fatigue: “I’m taking the rest of the year off. I’ve got to rest .”
Ms. Kidman really didn’t need to do anything for the rest of the evening. Everyone else involved in the project was prepared to gush sloppy buckets on her contributions to the art. Co-executive producer Paula Wagner, who’s better known for worshipping at the altar of Mr. Cruise, got the idolatry ball rolling during the pre-screening thank-you’s when she proclaimed Ms. Kidman “one of the most extraordinary and stunning actors I have ever met in my life.” Neither Ms. Wagner nor Mr. Amenábar mentioned Mr. Cruise in their comments, and when The Transom asked Ms. Wagner about it, her face soured: “We’re all partners in this,” she said.
At the party at the Hudson Hotel, Ms. Kidman sat removed from the crowd with the executives, chattering away and giggling excitedly. At one point, she reached slinkily across the table for a puff on someone’s cigarette.
Meanwhile, the gushing continued. “Nicole is so gorgeous , she’s, like, radiant. What a movie star ,” proclaimed the Kidman-obsessed SNL castmember Jimmy Fallon. “It seems like every time she’s on-screen, you can’t take your eyes off of her.”
“I was very moved by Nicole’s style,” announced People magazine’s West Coast style editor, Steven Cojocaru, who sported a “one-of-a-kind” D&G tank which proclaimed that “Italians do it better.”
“I think there should be a special Oscar for that–for well-preserved hair,” Mr. Cojocaru continued. “Nicole is honestly–and I say this with great emotion–honestly, from a style point of view, she’s so stylish. She really looks like a movie star. She’s got a kind of Joan Crawford old-school … I like people who spend nine hours getting ready.”
Ms. Kidman didn’t need anywhere near that amount of time to make an exit. Round midnight, she exclaimed, “I’ve gotta go to bed! I gotta get out of here now!” and was swept away by an entourage of ever-fawning girlfriends.
The July 16 edition of this column featured an item entitled “Gallo’s Song,” that contained excerpts of an interview with the actor, director and musical artist Vincent Gallo. Shortly after the story was published, Mr. Gallo called to take issue with several assertions in the article, some of which were made by its writer and some of which were made by its editor, yours truly. Mr. Gallo wrote a response, and after weighing his complaints against the original item, we felt we should publish his side of the story. His reply appears below.
I should be a journalist’s dream. A pig publicist doesn’t work for me. In fact, I have no publicist, no agent, no manager, no lawyer, no assistant, no helper, no intern, no maid, no gardener. I have a dentist. My shrink died last year. As far as friends go, I have one. She’s a girl. I like her a whole lot. One day the Post mentions our supposed affair in a Page Six column. I call them directly and tell them we’re just friends. Someone I know from The Observer asks if a writer from the paper could call me to talk about my new album which is going to be released in September. I say sure. I take all my calls and one of them is this journalist. We talk for nearly 45 minutes. He is not interested in my new album and he’s probably never seen my masterpiece film, Buffalo 66 . He’s been too busy. Drinking. Anyway, like a passenger on the Gay Love Boat, he wants to get info on my rumored affair with my new best and only friend. It’s true I may be a lot of bad things. Certainly I’m ugly. And vindictive. And very unforgiving. Unlikeable, for sure. But when I talk to anybody from the press I am unguarded, accessible, direct, honest, open and clear.
So this journalist takes our 45-minute conversation and offers it to you in the form of an item in this paper’s Transom. I think the piece was pure crap. It was not accurate or insightful and it was not objective. Its tone was like a gay boy stopping to chat to a bunch of Girl Scouts. Is this what a failed novelist becomes: a journalist?
Let me bore you for a moment with the truth. My new friend is Polly Jean Harvey, P.J. Harvey. I like her the most of anyone. Any free time I have, I like to spend with her. She’s my only friend. No, we are not boyfriend and girlfriend. She could do a whole lot better than me. As for me, I’ve just ended a relationship and it’s normal to need time to be open to a new relationship. Enough time has not passed yet. While she was in New York, P.J. and I spent a lot of time together, working on music. We’re going to record a song together for a Lee Hazelwood tribute album.
Let me respond directly to a few things that bothered me about the Transom piece. First, I was referred to as “an emotionally damaged man.” I never called myself that. I don’t think of myself in that way. And it’s a little presumptuous for a writer who knows nothing about me to say that. The article mentions that I tried to play the field, but every time I got someone into bed, I’d get repulsed. I don’t “play the field,” and I don’t get girls into my bed or into my apartment. I said if I see a girl who’s pretty and I think about what it would be like to be with her, when I actually get closer to her, I get turned off/repulsed. I think it’s normal. I was only physical with my last girlfriend who I loved a lot and was with for three years. It’s never been easy for me to feel comfortable with the taste and smell of someone I don’t love. The article mentioned that all P.J. and I do is talk about my “tortured life.” I have a good life. The life I want. I’m mostly happy and it’s an insult to P.J. to suggest that she would sit around quiet, listening to me talk. I didn’t say any of this. Maybe the projecting journalist is tortured. Maybe I do need a publicist and an agent and a manager and a lawyer and an assistant and somebody to answer my phone and just take a message and say, “I’m sorry. Mr. Gallo has no comment.”
Porno for Punks
On Aug. 4, Randall’s Island looked like a trailer park after a tornado. Such was the teenage punk-o-rama known as the Vans Warped Tour. Band buses, equipment vans and R.V.’s clogged the park, where herds of wiry white guys with paper-clip piercings, black nail polish and bruise-colored eye shadow were dirtying their new Vans as they kicked their way through piles of fetid trash to get to the PlayStation tent.
But no one stood out more among this mötley crowd than Kool Keith Thornton. Mr. Thornton–who, over the years, has called himself Rhythm X, Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom (who killed Dr. Octagon on 1999’s First Come, First Served !) and Mr. Gerbik–was the only notable rapper on a tour that featured Henry Rollins, Rancid and their thrashing ilk. (Rappers D-12 and Esham got kicked off the tour in Philadelphia for fighting.) Besides being one of the only black people on the island that day, Mr. Thornton also had the fewest tattoos (two).
The inside of Kool Keith’s bus was a different world. Dark except for a fluorescent blue light, several ladies and gentlemen were conversing on a loveseat while others slept on bunks in the hallway. Surrounded by 30 or so air fresheners, Mr. Thornton was relaxing in the den at the back of the bus after his half-hour performance.
Mr. Thornton began by talking a little about his new album, Spankmaster (TVT). “We are going through thought right now,” he said. His eyes were closed meditatively. “I really made some custom-made beats.” Lids fluttering shut, Mr. Thornton looked bored as he discussed the intricacies of songs like “Girls Would U F*ck Tonight.”
So did he want to talk about his neat-looking Nikes? “They make new kinds every month,” he said coldly. “Someday, they could probably make some shoes that burn gas. They walk with a tank on the side, and they got an exhaust pipe.”
Mr. Thornton likes shoes, but he’s a real Imelda Marcos when it comes to porn. An associate of his passed on a rumor that Mr. Thornton once blew an entire album advance on it. Nowadays, Mr. Thornton said, “I have a few books, but it’s not like I used to. I mean, I can’t get to any stores. We’re always touring through the desert.”
When he comes to New York, where he is from, he takes advantage of the city’s vast offerings. “I love 42nd Street,” he said. Even after Giuliani? “Oh yeah, it’s still good. I bought four movies this week. I bought Dark Side , I bought Joey Silvera’s movie and I bought two others. I forget the titles.” Mr. Thornton was sorry he hadn’t gotten more. “It was a poor weekend of releases,” he explained.
So did Mr. Thornton share his porn with Mr. Rollins and the other punks on the Warped Tour? He opened his eyes. “I watch my movies alone.”
– Ian Blecher
The Transom Also Hears …
… J.T. LeRoy, the truck-stop hustler turned cult novelist, was so happy to be mentioned on Page Six on July 22 that he sent Post reporter Chris Wilson three raccoon-penis bones. Autographed.
Mr. Wilson isn’t exactly sure what to do with the bones, which are taken from roadkill and sold on Mr. LeRoy’s Web site for $13 each. “I read the instructions on the site. It says it’s like a sexual amulet,” he said. “You’re supposed to either put it between your mattress and your box spring, and absorb the energy it casts off, or wear it as jewelry. In fact, there’s like a metal hook on it. So I could wear it. They’re really kind of bizarre-looking. They look like a long chicken bone. I’m not sure I should even be holding it, to be quite honest with you.” Mr. Wilson took a deep breath. “I’m going to put it away.”