Viacom vs. Tom Cruise
Hardly “alternative film” news, and hardly “news,” period, at this point …
… But after 14 years of marriage, Paramount – following orders from 83-year-old Viacom top dog Sumner Redstone – has split up with Cruise/Wagner, the film company owned by Tom Cruise and his former agent, Paula Wagner. For those not in the know, the Viacom octopus owns Paramount, DreamWorks, MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Showtime, Infinity Broadcasting, Simon & Schuster, United Cinemas International, and a number of other media-related businesses. It also has close ties to CBS, with which Viacom was fully associated until recently. (The Columbia Journalism Review has a list of Viacom-owned businesses and a company timetable that goes up to 2004.)
Redstone claims in a Wall Street Journal article that Cruise's public behavior in the last year or so – referred to as “creative suicide” – has damaged the box office take of his latest film, Mission: Impossible III, which earned a – ahem – paltry US$390 million worldwide. And never mind the fact that Cruise's previous film, War of the Worlds, which opened at the height of the Cruise-Katie Holmes-couch-jumping-on-Oprah-Scientology-Brooke-Shields-and-anti-depressants-etc. controversy, has reportedly earned $591 million worldwide, while boasting Cruise's biggest U.S. opening weekend ever. So much for Cruise's off-screen behavior affecting his box office standing.
Redstone, sounding more like a spurned lover than the much-too-powerful head of a much-too-powerful global conglomerate, went public in a manner that was aptly described by Paula Wagner in the Los Angeles Times: “It is graceless. It is undignified. It's not businesslike.” In Daily Variety, Wagner stated that in the last six years the Cruise/Wagner movies have accounted for 32 percent of Paramount's theatrical revenue, and she also claimed that she and Cruise were the ones who stopped negotiating with Paramount, after having secured independent financing from two hedge funds worth more than $100 million. Considering Redstone's below-the-belt remarks, Wagner could well be telling the truth. (Some sources have stated that the Paramount-Cruise deal had given most of the profits to the actor, leaving Paramount with the crumbs. According to that scenario, the studio wanted a larger slice of the Cruise revenue cake.)
Now, imagine if Tom Cruise had come out as, say, being gay, or anti-Iraq war (in the days when it wasn't fashionable), or – gasp – a devout Muslim, or anything else that might truly have affected his box office standing. Would Redstone have been as blunt in his public criticism of Cruise's behavior? That's quite possible, especially considering that such public humiliations might serve as a lesson to others: Take your money and shut up. Also, with a net worth of US$7.7 billion and with the Viacom empire under his thumb, Redstone can afford to say – and most probably do – whatever the hell he wishes.
If only Cruise had behaved like a real businessman. He could have claimed to be a “liberal Democrat” while pushing for Republican George W. Bush during the 2004 U.S. presidential election because that was in the best interest of U.S.-based media conglomerates such as Viacom. That role, however, was played by Redstone himself. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the year before the election Viacom's Showtime presented the made-for-cable movie DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a propaganda piece designed to fool viewers into believing that Bush was a tough leader with brains to match.)
The box office receipts of Paramount films were not affected by Redstone's stance. But who cares about political partisanship in the media, of the sort that could actually change world history (and no, I'm not referring to just a stupid cable movie), when you have a war of the words between the star of Top Gun and the star of The Blue Lagoon?
In any case, Tom Cruise is welcome to come work for me any time he wishes – as long as:
- I don't have to invest more than few hundred bucks on his projects
- I get a sizable percentage of the sure-to-come profits
- I don't have to watch any of his films
At Forbes, Lea Goldman offers an insightful analysis of the Paramount-Cruise split in “Paramount's Big Mistake.”
Robert Greenwald denounces corruption and profiteering in Iraq, courtesy of the American political, military, and corporate establishment
The 2006 Robert Greenwald documentary Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers presents corruption and profiteering as the business-as-usual tactics of American corporations in war-ravaged Iraq – with the acquiescence of the U.S. government and military establishment. As an example, Iraq for Sale reports charges of US$45 for Coke – either per case or per six-pack, depending on the source – and a $100 fee for washing a bag of laundry.
Robert Greenwald has previously gone after giant retailer Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price), Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism), and the George W. Bush's White House-led Iraq War (Uncovered: The War on Iraq). In Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Greenwald takes particular aim at Halliburton, a conglomerate with close ties to both the “war effort” in Iraq (Halliburton was actually granted no-bid contracts) and to U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, Halliburton's chief executive prior to the 2000 elections. According to U.S. army figures cited in a Reuters article by Daniel Trotta, Halliburton subsidiary KBR “has had orders worth $17.1 billion since the start of the contract, including about $15.4 billion in Iraq.”
“As a citizen,” explains Robert Greenwald, “I'm looking for my elected leaders to protect me, to protect my tax dollars and to protect my security. And the obscenity over war profiteering is doing neither.”
Robert Greenwald movies
Believe it or not, the Robert Greenwald who directed Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism is the same Robert Greenwald who directed, gasp!, Xanadu, the campy 1980 musical starring a post-Grease Olivia Newton-John, former MGM star Gene Kelly (On the Town, Singin' in the Rain), and Michael Beck.
Among the other dozen or so Robert Greenwald-directed movies, whether for the big or the small screen, are the TV melodrama Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress (1977), with Trish Van Devere and Patrick O'Neal; the well-regarded domestic violence TV drama The Burning Bed (1984), starring Farrah Fawcett and Paul Le Mat; the thriller Hear No Evil (1993), with Marlee Matlin and Martin Sheen; the TV miniseries A Woman of Independent Means (1995), with Sally Field and Tony Goldwyn; and Breaking Up (1997), with Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek as an on-again, off-again couple.
Check out the Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers website.
Robert Greenwald's Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers poster: Brave New Films.
'Project Hope' Screening
Press Release: The Oscar®-winning documentaries of 1961 and 1962 will screen on Monday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m., in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Linwood Dunn Theater as the kick-off to “Oscar's Docs, Part Two: Academy Award-Winning Documentaries 1961-1976.” The 11-week series showcases the short and feature-length documentaries honored each year by the Academy.
In 1961, Project Hope took home the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject for its chronicling of the maiden voyage, in 1960, of the hospital ship SS Hope. A 16mm print which had suffered complete color fading, was used as the basis for a digital restoration of the film, making it the first fully digital restoration project funded by the Academy Film Archive. A new 35mm print of Project Hope was created from the restored elements and will screen courtesy of Klaeger Films.
Le Ciel et la boue / The Sky Above – The Mud Below, which received the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1961, follows French filmmaker Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau's 1959 expedition through the island of New Guinea. The seven-month adventure exposed a marked contrast between the superb aerial photography made possible by the technology of the outside world, and the seemingly “prehistoric” rituals of the indigenous population. A new 35mm print, courtesy of Arthur Cohn, one of the film's Oscar-winning producers, and Rank Films, will be screened.
The 1962 Oscar winner for Documentary Short Subject, Dylan Thomas, uses film to translate the poet's words into a visual language. Director Jack Howells, a former schoolmaster, used images to mirror Thomas' words and to explore the world of the writer himself. Actor Richard Burton serves as both a surrogate Dylan on screen and a commentator off-screen. A 35mm print of Dylan Thomas, preserved by the Academy Film Archive and presented courtesy of Janus Films, will be screened.
The medieval tale of Reynard the Fox and the rise of the Nazi Party are intricately connected in the 1962 Academy Award-winning Documentary Feature Black Fox: The True Story of Adolf Hitler. Narrated by Marlene Dietrich, the film cuts back and forth between historical images of Hitler's rise and Wilhelm von Kaulbach's 1846 illustrations of the fable. A new 35mm print, preserved by the British Film Institute and presented courtesy of Image Productions, will be screened.
Passes for “Oscar's Docs, Part Two: Academy Award-Winning Documentaries 1961-1976” are available at a cost of $30 for the general public and $25 for Academy members and students with valid ID. Tickets for individual evenings of the series are available for $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with valid ID. Passes and tickets may be purchased by mail, in person at the Academy during regular business hours or, pending availability, the night of the screening when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. The Academy's Linwood Dunn Theater is located at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood. For more information call (310) 247-3600.
'Perfume' Premiere in Germany
Via The Guardian: The film version of Patrick Süskind's best-selling novel Das Parfum - Die Geschichte eines Mörders / Perfume, the tale of a twisted 18th-century Frenchman with no body odor but ironically gifted with a freakish olfactory sense, had its world premiere last night, Sept. 7, in Munich.
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Perfume's English-speaking cast includes Ben Whishaw (as the odorless freak), Dustin Hoffman, and Alan Rickman. Produced by Bernd Eichinger (Downfall / Der Untergang) on a €50 million budget, Perfume is supposed to be the most expensive German production to date. (Stanley Kubrick was attached to the project at one point, but found the book “unfilmable.”)
Süskind's novel sold 15 million copies worldwide, thus becoming one of the most successful German literary works in decades. For the enjoyment of the unusual but silly novel – and quite probably the film – disbelief must be completely suspended.
I'm curious to see how the filmmakers have dealt with a massive sex orgy that takes place near the story's climax (no pun intended). Since this is a German production, sex shouldn't be a problem – except that Perfume is an English-language production geared to the “international” (read: American) market. That most likely means the sex will have to be considerably toned down. (I'm not sure if a pun was intended here, but the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said that Perfume “in the end failed to emerge as the orgasm of a film it wanted to be.”)
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.