Open Mic

February 2012

Costume Designers Guild Awards: Hollywood Dresses Up to Honor Those Who Dress Up Hollywood

Hillary Atkin Posted February 23, 2012 at 12:10 PM

It's the one night of the year when costume designers in film and television get more glory than the actors who wear their creations in an event that has a rep for being loose and rollicking, the Costume Designers Guild Awards.

Actress Jane Lynch, outfitted in a stunning long red gown, ably hosted the 14th annual edition of the gala awards ceremony, held Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, which was packed with well-dressed attendees.

Lynch has close ties with a double honoree of the evening, “Glee” costume designer Lou Eyrich, who was awarded with trophies for Career Achievement in Television, presented by Ryan Murphy, and for Outstanding Contemporary TV Series. The actress recalled their initial encounter for the Fox show.

"The first fitting, she gave me an off-the-rack Adidas track suit. She had ripped it apart. But I am so hard to fit, she (Eyrich) just said, 'We're going to have to make them for you.' Now I have 35 custom track suits in my wardrobe closet. And you won't rip that track suit off my body until it goes into the Smithsonian," Lynch told the appreciative crowd. "That's the magic of costume design."

Eyrich reflected on her career, which began in 1988 when she was a production assistant on a music video, then worked on a movie with Prince in her native Minneapolis before beginning television costume design with the WB show "Popular" and moving on to work with Murphy on his acclaimed FX series "Nip/Tuck" and then on to "Glee."

"I've learned to handle everything with grace and a sense of humor," Eyrich said. “Costume design is like falling off a cliff and you have actors that need to be dressed by the time you hit the ground."

In the contemporary television series category, she competed with the costume designers from "Modern Family," "Revenge," "Saturday Night Live" and "Sons of Anarchy."

Viewing the recap reel of the year in design, it was easy to appreciate the artistry in shows ranging from "Downton Abbey” to ”Pan Am,” “Boardwalk Empire" to "the Kennedys" and films including "Hugo," "The Help,” “The Iron Lady," "The Descendants," "Bridesmaids” and "Moneyball” that were showcased.

In the period/fantasy television series category, “Empire” and ”Pan Am” competed with "Game of Thrones," "Once Upon a Time" and "The Borgias," with John A. Dunn and Lisa Padovani taking the prize for their 1920s period costume work for the large ensemble cast of HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire."

The awards ceremony was sponsored by Lacoste and Disaranno, which each presented honors, to Kate Beckinsale and Marlene Stewart, respectively, and studded with actors of the nominated programs as presenters, including Katey Sagal, Penelope Ann Miller, Amber Valletta and Madeleine Stowe.

But it was Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood and his longtime costume designer Deborah Hopper who stole the spotlight as they were honored for their 20 films during 28 years of collaboration.

Marcia Gay Harden introduced them, and noted Eastwood’s early contribution to the concept of his clothing in the Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns where he played the Man With No Name. “That iconic serape, Clint came up with that idea. Sergio not only approved the olive green poncho, that serape was never washed, never even dry-cleaned, and with each film ... it became a darker shade of olive,” she said.

Actor Ken Watanabe made a surprise appearance to honor the two as well, having worked with them on “Letters From Iwo Jima.”

Eastwood charmed the audience by noting that he never subscribed to the auteur theory of film -- that he considered people on his productions a platoon and a company, with Hopper playing a key role. "I feel lucky every minute," she said, alluding to one of his iconic movie lines.

It was a feeling that swept through the ballroom.

For a complete list of winners, please click here.

An Oscar Hopeful's Very Special Mentor, and the Best Saturday Afternoon Ever

Chuck Ross Posted February 22, 2012 at 6:39 AM

A writer writes.

He was 12 years old -- almost 13 -- that blustery winter weekend. It really seemed like it got much colder in L.A. back then, especially with the pelting rain and belting wind that howled like animals who were way too hungry.

“Can I read your story yet,” she asked. “I’ll bet it’s a good one.”

He said hold on, just a minute. He re-read it one more time and then said, “OK”

Here’s the story she read:

“Perhaps It Was a Mishap” was the title.

It was a balmy morning, that morn when he had spotted her out by the natatorium.

She stopped reading. “What’s a natatorium?”

“An indoor swimming pool.”

“Wow. Good word. How’d you know that?”

“They have an indoor pool at the Y. And there’s plaque by it saying when ‘This natatorium’ was dedicated.”

She nodded and continued reading:

He had come to do battle with her once again. She had always been superior in these conflicts, which was detestable, but it had been necessary for him to get in a scrap with her. Not that he had antagonized her or anything; it was just that her very presence had annoyed him. By his nature he HAD to be dominant.

Then it had been time. He entered the courtyard and met her head on. She had not been feeling well that day, and after a while he abominably decimated her person. He had not meant to kill her. It was purely a mishap.

Or was it? This was his query now, and he did not know the answer. So after the slaying he ran, and this brings us to the present.

A block away from the accident scene now, and still running. HE stopped. He thought he heard something. He twirled around. He could not see anyone. He was frightened. He was confused. What had he done?

This was not his first violation. And after each violation he ran. All of the killings had been accidental. At least he thought that they were accidents. His mind was in a turmoil.

He decided to cross the street. A car almost hit him as he scrambled from curb to curb. The horn on the auto blasted. It scared him. He suspected everything and everyone. Had the car been deliberately gunning for him? What if someone had found out what he had done? He ran.

A man started walking his way. Was the man after him? Had he heard about the mishap? The killer did not know. The man was coming closer. He had to do something. He hid. The shrubbery camouflaged him. The man came closer. The killer’s mind became irrational, so he lunged, narrowly missing the man’s torso. The man twisted around. The assailant ran, and ran, and ran.

He became tired, so he stopped. He was scared. He was confused. His mind labored. Where should he go? Then he thought of it. The house. That exquisitely hideous place, his house. He thought the home confining, but at least it would be safe.

He started up again, slower this time. He did not want to arouse suspicion. Then he heard a bark. And another. It was becoming louder. Just what he needed, a dog to attack him, to attract attention. His hair stood on end. He panicked.

He ran. The dog chased. A tree came into his view. He ran. He leaped up and climbed into its lap. The dog passed. He came down, panting. It was late afternoon. He wondered if he would ever get there. He ran.

Blackness now engulfed him. As his eyes adjusted to the sublime nothingness of the darkness, he saw the house in front of him. Its gray paint blended ominously with the gray coat he was wearing. He approached the abode with caution.

Again, he thought he heard footsteps. He swung around and nothing was there. He was confused. He ran. The door was semi-open. He gave it a little shove. He entered. He breathed easier now, for he was safe. But he was still confused. He was in sort of a stupor, not knowing what was happening , and not caring; only wanting to find his favorite spot, lie down, and sleep forever…

Which he did, for just as he started to get comfortable someone accidentally nudged the scissors off the console. It plowed through his esophagus and he was killed. The cat was now dead. No more cars would swerve out of his path and honk. And the dogs would have one less cat to chase. A small boy would miss his faithful pet, and the natatorium area would be full of mice once again. Yes indeed, it was a terrible mishap.

“What a great story. Like Hitchcock.”

He was thrilled that his mom had totally gotten it. “Yeah. I think it would be a good short movie.”

His mom put the story down and went into the living room, returning with the Herald Examiner from the day before. “If you’re gonna make movies, you’ve got to see more movies. Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

As she perused the movie section of the paper, he thought how much she loved movies just like he did.

He loved the story she told of being in the movies at a theater on Hollywood Boulevard that fateful day in December 1941 when they stopped the movie and turned the house lights on and the theater manager stood in front of the screen and told everyone that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and everyone should go home.

He thought it must have been very scary for her, just like last year, when the principal came on the intercom to announce that JFK had been shot and killed.

“Found a good one. Really, a good two.”

“Which ones?”

“Topkapi’ and “Fate Is the Hunter.”

“Are they Hitchcock?”

“No, but they’re supposed to be like him. ‘Topkapi’s’ a heist movie. This other one I don’t know much about except that it’s got Glenn Ford and Rod Taylor and it’s some sort of mystery involving an airplane crash. Oh, oh, forget it. I’m sorry honey. I was looking at the wrong place. They’re playing way in the Valley.”

The boy and his mom lived in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles, which was nowhere near the Valley.

She looked to see if that double bill was playing anywhere closer, but it wasn’t. She could see how disappointed her son looked.

“Well, the storm seems to be letting up. Maybe just this once.”

Her son could not believe it. They had never gone on an adventure like this before. They usually only went to the Valley to visit their cousins.

She pulled the old blue 1954 Plymouth out of the garage and, on that Saturday afternoon, they began the long trek, through Beverly Hills and over Coldwater Canyon. He usually got car sick when the canyon got real curvy as it descended into the Valley. But the rain had stopped and while it was still mostly gray outside, there was a hole in the clouds where the sunshine had snuck in, bringing a rainbow with it. That kept his attention away from the curves in the road.

They arrived at the Fox Studio City theater with just a few minutes to spare.

That 12-year-old boy was me, back in the winter of 1964, and to this day, that double bill remains the most memorable I ever saw. Of course it’s been many years since theaters have shown double bills.

My mom and I never missed watching the Academy Awards together when I was a kid. We were very excited when Peter Ustinov won the Oscar for “Topkapi” that year. We thought he was wonderful in the part and were rooting for him.

Despite my mom’s unfailing encouragement of my writing, I haven’t yet made it into the movie biz. Maybe some day. But I did become a journalist.

All these years later we still watch the Oscars together, though it’s by phone now. I’m still here in L.A., but she lives in a small town in Northern California. The nearest movie theater is about 12 miles from her, but she still goes to the movies religiously. And every so often she’ll drive about 30 miles to a much bigger town, Santa Rosa, to see some of the art house movies she wouldn’t otherwise be able to see on the big screen.

So this Sunday, as we watch the Oscars, I’m sure we’ll be comparing notes during the commercials as to how we each think Billy Crystal has done, if Michelle Williams is wearing a dress that Marilyn would have worn, and why the heck aren’t they playing the best song nominees.

Did I mention that my mom is about to turn 85?

Mom, I don’t know if you realize how special you are. You’ve always been my No. 1 fan. I cannot thank you enough for all the encouragement you’ve always given me.

And no matter how the Oscars turn out this weekend, thank you for sharing with me your lifelong love of the movies, which I’ve inherited from you.

We were on the phone together the other night, and out of the blue she brought up that short story I wrote years ago.

“You know,” she said, “with Hitchcock long gone, I think this David Fincher could do it.”

“Not a bad choice.”

“I liked ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ though not as much as that girl in the original," mom explained. "Fincher should have won last year for the Facebook movie.”

“I agree.”

“Well, Hitchcock never won an Oscar either," she said, "Except for an honorary one, and that doesn’t count. And neither did my dear Eddie G.”

“I love Eddie G," I replied. "Do you remember when you let me stay up late once so we could see ‘Woman in the Window’ on Channel 2’s ‘The Fabulous ’52?’ ”

“What a great movie. Joan Bennett. Are you gonna send me your Oscar picks? It’s almost Sunday.”

“Mom, if I get to it.”

“Don’t start up. It’s only because I beat you every year. Email it to me. Did you see the Streep movie? She’s terrific, but it put me to sleep. Send me those picks. Do you have Streep down to win?

“Yeah.”

“Not gonna happen. Send me the list. Love you. Talk to you Sunday.”

Presentation of Writers Guild of America Awards Brings Up Touchy Race Issue

Hillary Atkin Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:48 AM

As usual during the Writers Guild of America kudofest, which was presented on Sunday night, Feb. 19, 2012, some of the best material came during the presentation and acceptance speeches of the honorary awards.

“The Help” co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both sitting pretty for the Academy Awards next weekend in their respective lead and supporting actress categories, presented screenwriter-director Tate Taylor with the Paul Selvin Award, which recognizes work that embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Taylor, a white man from Mississippi, has been maligned in some quarters for adapting Kathryn Stockwell’s novel about black maids working in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s, on the brink of the civil rights movement -- as has Stockwell herself, because she is white.

In his acceptance speech, Taylor articulately addressed those issues, after revealing that he was co-raised by a black woman and had been roommates with Spencer for years as they both tried to break into the entertainment industry, noting that they kept loaning each other the same $500 and would fight over the last bowl of chili in their apartment.

"I've become aware of a troubling irony," Taylor said. "As ‘The Help’ began its rise, there are those that said two white people had no right to tell the story. Two white people in 2010 had no right to tell the story of people in 1963. But we came from a place of love as Southerners with respect and admiration for those women and millions like her the world over -- who may be home with your children right now. People should have the right to tell any story they choose. If not, we all lose. We should strive for a place for people to tell the kind of stories they want without judgment."

On the lighter side, these truly are the glory days of ABC's smash hit comedy “Modern Family," which by the conclusion of the 2012 Writers Guild Awards ceremony had added two more trophies to its already kudos-laden mantel.

It was the third year in a row that "MF” walked away with the guild’s top comedy series award, cementing its position as the one to beat against other laughers in the category that included "30 Rock," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Louie" and "Parks & Recreation.”

"We are very scared that people are sick of us," showrunner Steve Levitan admitted to the audience, referring to the freshness of the show's recent wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. Not to mention those five Emmy Awards from last fall.

When his show also took the statuette for episodic comedy, which recognizes specific episodes, all of the credited writers came up on stage and spit out one-liners indicative of their talent, including Elaine Ko, who spoofed Asian-American stereotypes by saying, "I'm bad at math, I don't play an instrument, and I'm not Jeremy Lin.”

TO SEE A COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS OF THE WRITERS GUILD AWARDS, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

The WGA West ceremony at the Hollywood Palladium -- a simultaneous one was held by WGA, East at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York -- was filled with such laughs, due in no small part to its hosts, “Community’s” Joel McHale and this season’s TV comedy "it" girl, Zooey Deschanel. The star of "New Girl" started off the festivities by saying "Welcome to the nerd prom” and proceeding to make fun of male writers’ penchant for wardrobes filled with plaid shirts, admonishing them to shield themselves from the harsh lights of the outside world.

The list of West Coast presenters ranged from Tom Selleck to Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan, Patton Oswalt and Lisa Kudrow as the Guild awarded a series of honors in other television categories, new media, video games, documentary and feature films.

AMC’s "Breaking Bad" gained proof that it is stronger than ever, taking home two trophies, one for drama series and one for episodic drama, tying with up-and-comer "Homeland," which is already stacking up a cache of awards from its freshman season on Showtime.

With Poehler, who had appeared on “SNL” the night before, pushing for her former show in the tough competition for the comedy/variety (including talk) prize, it was Colbert that was in the cards. Stephen’s writing staff bested the scribes at “Conan,” “Jon Benjamin Has a Van," “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Since no one from “The Colbert Report” was in the audience, Poehler temporarily claimed the winged statue.

In the animation category, “The Simpsons” scored four of the six nominations (episodes from “Futurama” and “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien" were the others) and funny enough, Bart and company scored the prize for an episode titled “Homer the Father” by Joel H. Cohen.

In the long-form original category, only two contenders duked it out, “Five” on Lifetime and “Cinema Verite” on HBO, which took home the WGA. In long-form adapted, again only two candidates, and both aired on HBO: "Mildred Pierce" and "Too Big to Fail," a dramatization of the financial crisis starring William Hurt that bested its rival in the eyes of WGA voters.

Hurt mostly works in movies, as does director David Fincher, who presented the lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures, which the Writers Guild calls its Laurel Award for Screen. This year’s honoree is Eric Roth, whose work ranges from "Forrest Gump" to “The Insider” and from “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which Fincher directed.

“I found someone who hated more people in Hollywood than I did, and that was something to build on,” said Fincher, in a funny taped piece set on a soundstage.

For his turn, Roth read a lengthy email reply to Brad Pitt’s query about the importance of storytelling in film, starting out with, “Blondie, go back to what you do best -- off-road motorcycling.”

Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television. They received it after kudos from a writer they mentored, Jason Katims, and a lengthy clip from the pilot of their first breakout hit, “thirtysomething” that brought back a lot of memories of that groundbreaking 1980s show.

“Midnight in Paris” got the WGA’s top honor for original screenplay for its writer (and director) Woody Allen, a win to which McHale reacted by saying, “I can’t believe he’s not here.” He wasn’t at the New York ceremony either, but recently made his West Coast presence known through a taped piece for the DGA Awards.

For the best adapted screenplay, Alexander Payne won the prize for “The Descendants,” which he also directed, with co-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Payne thanked novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings for her Hawaii-set book, saying they had a very good time in her world.

Meanwhile, McHale noted that his friend Rash wrote all the dialog for George Clooney’s wife, who … um, hello, was in a coma.

It was that kind of night.

TO SEE A COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS OF THE WRITERS GUILD AWARDS, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Would We Have Ever Accepted a World-Weary Whitney Houston Whose Voice No Longer Soared Like an Angel? Plus, Oprah's Revealing Interview With Houston

Chuck Ross Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Try this paragraph on for size:

The only haze surrounding Whitney Houston now is cigarette smoke, but the singer retains an air of sublime mystery. The No. 1 wonder is how Houston, with a voice cracked and frayed from years of strife and just plain life, can convey such a wide range of emotions. In her stunning performance Sunday night at the Bacchanal, the last stop of a month-long American tour, Houston was equally compelling dealing songs with hopes and fears, dope, and tears.

With a voice that once soared with the angels, and an image to match during her first decade of hits, it’s doubtful that fans would have ever accepted Houston as the world-weary chanteuse the paragraph above describes.

That part of the Houston story is just plain bad luck.

The paragraph I cite above was written by Mikel Toombs in the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was NOT a review of a recent show by Houston, but actually of a 1990 gig by Marianne Faithfull -- I have substituted Houston's name in place of Toombs' references to Faithfull.

Faithfull was 17 years old in 1964 when she met Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham at a party. Within weeks she had recorded “As Tears Go By,” the first song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Faithfull’s voice on the song is reed-thin with a limited range, but it quickly became a hit both in the U.K. and here in America.

Soon Faithfull was Jagger’s girlfriend. As part of the hip music scene back then, it began for Faithfull a life full of that cliché of clichés -- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

For years smack was Faithfull’s drug of choice, and she became a major junkie. That it never killed her is a miracle -- especially since along the way she actually made two bona fide suicide attempts.

By 1979, ravaged by drugs, Faithfull's voice was virtually unrecognizable as anything close to the voice of her 17-year-old self. Now, she sounded almost as raspy as Tom Waits. Most of us hadn’t heard about her in years.

Then, out of the blue came this album, “Broken English,” and Faithfull the world-weary chanteuse was born.

Faithfull claims that she’s been clean for a number of years now.

In her 1994 book “Faithfull: An Autobiography,” she writes in the last chapter, “I run into Keith [Richards] a lot at airports lately. He’s no longer the Byronic lad I once knew [and slept with]. More a Shakespearean character, a combination of Prince Hal and Falstaff … The subject of drugs inevitably comes up.

“ 'What we really need is the next great chemical truth,' says Keith enthusiastically. 'I’m still waiting for the pharmaceutical companies to come up with the fucking BREAKTHROUGH molecule of all time. Most of the stuff they cook up just fucks with your head.' "

Faithfull then writes, "It IS in the great alchemical tradition, this quest for the ultimate potion, but I have gone beyond the point where I think drugs are the Holy Grail.

"Drugs are like a mask. When I finally got clean, I was horrified to find I had built up such an effective front I couldn’t get it off. It was as if the mask had been glued on me and had stuck. It had to be peeled off layer by layer. I was afraid I was going to be trapped inside it for life."

You can see part of the mask that trapped Houston in a remarkable interview Oprah Winfrey did with the singer in September 2009 that is being repeated tonight on OWN at 9 p.m. PT/ET. If you can’t watch it at that time, set your DVR.

For my money, Oprah is the best interviewer we have, in any medium. She brings her A-game in this interview, and Houston is clearly ready to talk -- something she clearly was NOT ready to do with Diane Sawyer in a 2002 interview that was remarkable for how much Houston was not willing to say.

In the most harrowing part of the interview with Oprah, Houston talks about how devastating her marriage to Bobby Brown became.

It got to the point where Houston was praying to God to give her the strength to leave him, which finally happened.

Later Oprah asks, “Why did you think you couldn't leave without that prayer? What was holding you there?"

Houston: "Habit. Conforming to a way of life. Thinking that it's all right, that it will get better."

Then, after a commercial break Oprah asks, “So does that mean you're drug-free?"

Houston: "Yes, ma'am. Don't think I don't have desires for it. There are times it takes a minute to cleanse, get off. Get off me. Just leave me alone. Get off me. I have to pray it away. I'll have a drink every now and then. Don't get me wrong. If you see me at a bar, having a drink, don't think ..."

Winfrey: "Don't say she's gone back."

Houston: "No, please don't do that to me."

Winfrey: "Cause drinking was not your issue."

Houston: "No. That's not an issue for me. No weed. No coke. No."

Winfrey: "Do you think you ever will again? Be tempted?"

Houston: "Oprah, I can only take today. One day at a time. Right now, no."

With Houston’s death, I found the following to be the most heart-wrenching part of the interview:

Winfrey: "Are you enjoying being a mother?"

Houston: "I love it. I love being a mother and watching [Bobbi Kristina, who will be 19 on March 4] become a woman. There are times where she's going through that young womanhood where there's the boys, and there are little things and you got her little feelings being hurt. I love her to come to me, and she trusts me. She trusts me and I can tell her the truth and say: 'Listen. It's going to happen, but we're going to get through it. We're going to make it.' "#

'Your Love Was Cheap' -- As Katy Perry Showed, Not Everything at the Grammys Was Lovey-Dovey

Hillary Atkin Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:56 AM

The performances, more than the trophies themselves, are what makes the Grammys such a compelling watch. This year seemed to have more showstoppers and conversation starters than any in recent memory, perhaps even going back to Eminem joining with Elton John a decade ago.

Katy Perry wasted no time mining her divorce from Russell Brand in a scathing new song she performed with lyrics that included “Your love was cheap” and its laser-clear message “There’s part of me you’re never gonna ever take away from me.”

And then there was the Nicki Minaj exorcism fiasco. We’d say more, except we tuned out after two seconds and used the opportunity to check out what was happening on “Downton Abbey,” which also seems to have jumped the shark, albeit in a much more buttoned-up manner.

Although she died far too young, it was almost destined that Whitney Houston should take her permanent leave on the night of her mentor Clive Davis’ party, the eve of the 54th annual Grammy Awards -- as they always call it, music's biggest night. Although her heyday was 20 years ago, Houston left this world as one of music's biggest stars.

Grammy producers had to scramble to pay proper tribute to Houston during Sunday night’s show, but as Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said, "We’re musicians -- we improvise." And that they did, after host LL Cool J started things off with a prayer as the audience bowed their heads, the grief and shock still apparent.

Monday-morning quarterbacking had cognoscenti and fans alike debating whether it was enough, whether the “family” that LL referred to -- the music industry -- had done enough to honor Houston’s legacy, even as her catalog albums and hit singles reached renewed best-seller status on Amazon and iTunes.

As the show progressed, artists including Alicia Keys and Rihanna -- part of the R&B branch of Houston’s musical progeny -- gave shout-outs to Whitney, before Jennifer Hudson sang a heartrending version of Houston's top smash hit, "I Will Always Love You."

That it came midway through the three and a half hour program, culminating the “in memoriam” segment that honored other recently departed industry stalwarts including Amy Winehouse and Don Cornelius, disappointed some. To others, including this viewer, it seemed dignified and appropriate.

The resonance of Houston’s death and the official crowning of Adele as music’s favorite songstress with six trophies for the landmark “21” made this Grammys telecast the second-most-watched in history, after the 1984 edition in which Michael Jackson was coronated for his epic "Thriller."

Although the 23-year-old Brit, who performed for the first time since having vocal cord surgery in the fall, didn't mention Houston by name, she might do well to remember the lessons of the pop star’s life and stay away from further "rubbish relationships” -- even as they inspire best-selling songs.

Chris Brown, jumping around like an acrobat while lip-synching, was given not one, but two chances to redeem himself after the disgrace of battering Rihanna three years ago -- a move many thought entirely inappropriate, especially in light of Houston’s abuse at the hands of former husband Bobby Brown. Clearly, producers couldn’t renege, but it still begs the question: Why Brown and not another worthy nominee like Rihanna?

Oh, that’s right, she technically did perform two songs, one solo and one with an ultra-boring and off-key Chris Martin and Coldplay.

Several other genre- and generation-mashing combos hit the right notes, some more successfully than others, like Maroon 5 and Foster the People doing a medley of Beach Boys tunes until the original group joined them on stage. A bit hard to believe it has been 50 years since they brought their seminal California surf, sun and sand sound to the world, or that Brian Wilson agreed to the performance, but exciting nonetheless to see and hear the band.

Collective breaths were held as Glen Campbell appeared and sang lead on his iconic “Rhinestone Cowboy” with the likes of Blake Shelton and The Band Perry prefacing his entrance and joining in. It was only when you heard him say “Where do I go now?” after the tune ended that the reality of his Alzheimer’s hit.

Other favorite moments: Dave Grohl praising music not made by computers, talking about how the Foo Fighters’ Grammy-winning record was recorded in his garage, and Best New Artist, Bon Iver frontman/songwriter Justin Vernon thanking all the people who would never be up there accepting a Grammy.

But it was living legend Paul McCartney who stole our hearts, not only with his new single “My Valentine,” but the boffo show ending with the electric guitars of Grohl, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Walsh jamming to a medley from the Beatles’ iconic 1969 album “Abbey Road.”

And then to see that McCartney and new wife Nancy Shevell made a stop at the people’s tribute to Whitney Houston outside the Beverly Hilton, and deflected any comments about him to Houston, truly endeared the Beatle to us.

The Grammys Need To Recognize Four Great Artists as Lifetime Achievement Honorees

Chuck Ross Posted February 10, 2012 at 8:54 AM

When I was growing up the Grammys meant less than zero to me and my friends. We paid them no attention whatsoever.

Here’s an example of why. In 1965 some of the nominees for Best Folk Recording were Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Woody Guthrie and Peter, Paul & Mary.

And the Grammy went to Gale Garnett for “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” which was more pop than folk and definitely lightweight.

Over the years, however, the Grammys -- which will be telecast this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 -- have grown up and have made more relevant choices.

Beginning back in 1962, the Grammys did a better job with its first four selections for Lifetime Achievement Award: Crosby, Sinatra, Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

In the 1970s the Grammys only bestowed the Lifetime Achievement accolade three times, to Elvis, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson.

But starting in 1986, realizing that there were many more performers deserving of Lifetime kudos, the Grammys began naming multiple honorees every year, a mix of current artists and those who have passed on.

This year, for example, the Grammys have singled out the Allman Brothers Band, Glen Campbell, Antonio Carlos Jobim, George Jones, the Memphis Horns, Diana Ross and Gil Scott-Heron as “performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording."

Thus far the Grammys have recognized 142 individuals and groups for their lifetimes of achievement, including such disparate talents as Cab Calloway, the Carter Family, Pablo Casals, John Coltrane, Perry Como and Cream.

Here’s a trio I suggest be included in next year’s group for this prestigious honor: Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and the Louvin Brothers.

I thought of this group this week as I devoured a new book: “Satan is Real,” by Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer. Its subtitle is “The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers.”

 

satanisreal.jpgThe brothers were the massively talented alcoholic Ira Louvin -- who died, ironically, when the car he was driving was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver in 1965 -- and Charlie Louvin, the book’s author, who died at age 83 in January 2011, two months after he and Whitmer finished the book. The book was finally published last month by the Igniter Literary Group division of HarperCollins.

How talented were the Louvin Brothers? The authoritative Grove Dictionary of American Music says they were “probably the greatest traditional country duo in history.” Kris Kristofferson nails it when he says, “The legendary Louvin Brothers’ hauntingly beautiful Appalachian blood harmony is truly one of the treasures of American music.”

How crazy was the life of Ira Louvin? Once, when he and his third wife, Faye, were drunk in their bedroom, and Ira was trying to strangle her with a telephone cord, she managed to grab a small gun that Ira kept under his pillow, and shot him in the arm. And then in the chest. And then three more times in the back. And then, “for good measure,” once more in the front.

As Charlie writes, “Lucky for him, none of the bullets went deep enough to hit his vital organs.”

The day after the shooting, Charlie says he heard an item about the incident on Paul Harvey’s national radio newscast: Harvey said, “Ira Louvin and his wife were up drinking last night, and she shot him six times with a .22 pistol. Then she told the police, ‘If the blankety-blank don’t die, I’ll shoot him again.' And then Harvey gave one of his little pauses like he did and continued, ‘And he ain’t dead yet.’ “

Ira recovered and lived for two more years before he was killed in the auto accident.

By the time of the accident, Ira’s alcoholism had so taken its toll on Charlie that they were no longer singing together.

But before that happened they made beautiful, haunting harmonies. As Charlie writes, “It baffled a lot of people how we could change parts without nudging or winking at each other. [Ira would] take the high lead and I’d do the low harmony under it, and he knew exactly when my part would get too high for me just like I knew when his would get too low for him, and we could change in the middle of a word.”

Part of the reason they could do that, Charlie adds, “is that we were brothers. There’s no one that knows your weaknesses like a brother.”

Later in the book Charlie talks about Ira’s biggest weakness, his drinking. Ira was the older of the two brothers and took most of the beatings from their father when they were kids.

Writes Charlie, “People always said that it was like Ira was trying to get even with somebody when he drank, and maybe Papa was the one he was trying to get even with. And maybe he was trying to get even with Mama and me a little, too, for never stopping those beatings. And maybe we deserved it.”

A lot of us probably would not know of the Louvin Brothers today if weren't for Emmylou Harris, who has championed their music during her entire career.

I’ve seen Emmylou Harris perform many times. Even got to meet her once. Back 30-35 years ago, she and her pal Linda Ronstadt gave an afternoon outdoor concert at UCLA. As I was leaving the show I went by a room in a building whose door was open, and I saw Harris inside presiding over a small after-party. I went into the room and immediately was asked to leave by a PR person. I begged to stay and he finally said, “OK, but under one condition. That you don’t try to talk to Ms. Harris.” I readily agreed and the moment I saw that he was distracted on the other side of the room I made a beeline for Emmylou.

I said, “Hi. I’m a big fan. I just want to thank you for keeping alive the music of the Louvin Brothers. And of Gram Parsons.” She was about to say something in reply when the PR thug came up to me, firmly grabbed me by the shoulder and threw me out, saying, “Jesus, I told you not to talk to her.”

Harris learned  about the Louvin Brothers primarily when, as she has said, she basically learned about country music from Gram Parsons. The late Parsons, himself a legendary figure in country-folk-rock, discovered Harris when she was singing in Washington, D.C., years ago, and they sang together for a short period. Parsons tragically died of a drug overdose at age 26 in 1973.

As Charlie Louvin writes in his book, "One guy I probably owe as much to as anybody is Gram Parsons. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him, but he was a Louvin Brothers nut. When Ira and I were playing with Elvis on that one tour [with him] that we did, we stopped in Waycross, Georgia, and Gram, who was only nine years old at the time, was in the audience. He went on to work with three or four rock and roll groups, and every time he'd con 'em into playing a Louvin Brothers song or two. ... He was responsible for introducing the Louvin Brothers music to a great number of people. His first recruit was Emmylou Harris, and I can't say how much she's helped me over the years."

In fact, Charlie and Harris did some duets. And an album released nine years ago, "Livin', Lovin', Losin' -- Songs of the Louvin Brothers," which featured Harris and a plethora of other artists, won a Grammy as Best Country Album.

As he neared the end of his life, Charlie said he was always asked whether he and Ira ever thought their songs would still be played and loved 60 years after they were written. 

His answer was nah, "we were merely trying to make a living, that's all we were trying to do.#"

In his book Charlie Louvin writes that "I think my favorite song on the [gospel] album ['Satan Is Real'] is 'Are You Afraid To Die?" In fact, it's one of my favorite Louvin Brothers songs ever." Here's Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, accompanied by Albert Lee, on the Louvin Brother's classic secular song "If I Could Only Win Your Love" Gram Parsons recorded a number of Louvin Brothers songs, but I've chosen to post a song influenced by the Louvin Brothers lyrically, structurally and harmonically but written and performed by Parsons and Emmylou Harris. It's called "In My Hour of Darkness" from Parsons' posthumously released album "Grievous Angel." The third person accompanying Parsons and Harris in the harmonies is Linda Ronstadt.

Shazam! Super Bowl Broke Ground in Media Technology, but Halftime Show Was Deja Vu

Hillary Atkin Posted February 8, 2012 at 12:37 PM

Even as the New York Giants pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind, down-to-the-last-play win over the New England Patriots in Indianapolis, what Super Bowl XLVI may be remembered for nearly as much are its record ratings for the NBC broadcast, the M.I.A bird flip during the Madonna halftime show and the Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial.

With :30 spots going for a pricey $3.5 million each, the majority of those that seemed to resonate most were for cars -- Matthew Broderick reprising his iconic Ferris Bueller role for Honda, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno shilling for Acura, an overweight dog running to get into a new Volkswagen Beetle, the Audi vampire party commercial -- along with Super Bowl party-perfect snack foods and beverages, like Pepsi, Doritos and M&Ms. Then, defying easy categorization, except for possibly “hot, sexy, heavily tattooed athletic bodies sell,” there was David Beckham in his skivvies for fast fashion retailer H&M.

The 46th edition of the NFL championship game also marked a digital milestone, with the gridiron play, halftime and more than one third of the commercials being “Shazamable.”

For those not familiar, Shazam is an audio/music recognition app for smartphones that made its name in the music industry before integrating its second screen experience into several television shows last year. It provided users with exclusive content and free songs for several awards telecasts, dramas and music competition programs -- and it’s clearly making major inroads into the TV business with its Super Bowl foray.

The U.K.-based company offered its users chances to download videos, enter sweepstakes and donate to charity and says the spot that received the most interaction was for Best Buy, which conveniently featured its founders, Chris Barton and Avery Wang, talking about innovations in mobile technology.

Movie ticketing site Fandango also experimented with a Super Bowl commercial for the first time. For Universal Pictures’ upcoming action-adventure film “Battleship,” viewers saw a call to action that linked them to the company’s mobile app. There, they could sign up for alerts that will notify them when tickets are available at their local theaters and could enter a contest to win five years’ worth of free movie tickets.

As television moves from a passive, sit-back-on-the-couch experience to a more interactive one, trailers for upcoming films are the perfect opportunity to get bodies in paid seats. "The campaign was highly successful for us, and we look forward to supporting all of our studio partners with on-air FanAlert promotional opportunities on more films in the future,” says company spokesperson Harry Medved.

It just wouldn’t be a complete Super Bowl halftime show without some controversy, and sort of, but not really, like Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” from eight years back, the one from XLVI happened in less than a blink of the eye.

During Madonna’s performance of her new single “Give Me All Your Luvin,” with guest stars Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., the latter pulled out a fourth-grade gesture, flipping off the massive audience, estimated at that point to be 116 million people, with her middle finger -- for some unknown reason other than she could.

NBC and the NFL, which is solely responsible for the content of the halftime show, apologized, saying the gesture could not be obscured in time. Apparently, if the FCC decides to fine NBC for indecency, the British rapper would be responsible for monetary damages for her finger wag. TMZ and other news organizations are reporting that she signed a contract with the NFL to indemnify it in the case of such a circumstance.

You may recall that CBS was hit with a $550,000 FCC fine after Jackson's nipple exposure in a song and dance routine with Justin Timberlake -- to this day a mystery of whether it was inadvertent or purposeful -- but that the fine was eventually thrown out by a federal appeals court.

In the court of public opinion, we can use another finger to describe M.I.A.’s behavior: thumbs down.

Directors Guild Awards Bring Vindication for 'Kennedys' Miniseries

Hillary Atkin Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:52 AM

It would be an understatement to say that “The Kennedys” began as a very rough road for Jon Cassar and everyone else involved in the production of the miniseries about the presidency of JFK, starring Greg Kinnear as President Kennedy and Katie Holmes as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Dropped like a hot potato by the History Channel, the eight-hour series was quickly picked up by Stanley Hubbard’s Reelz Channel, and since it aired in April 2011, it has shaken off the initial controversy attached to it and has become a huge awards magnet.

Perhaps the final vindication came when Cassar, well-known for his work on “24,” won the Directors Guild Award Saturday night in Hollywood in the prestigious movie for television/miniseries category. Cassar had previously won the DGA in 2006 for directing “24.”

Patty Jenkins took the drama trophy for directing the pilot of AMC’s "The Killing" and Robert B. Weide scored the comedy prize for the legendary "Palestinian Chicken" episode of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Other television winners included Glenn Weiss for musical/variety, “65th Annual Tony Awards”; Neil P. Degroot, reality program, for “Biggest Loser”; and Amy Schatz, children's programming, for “A Child’s Garden of Poetry.”

William Ludel took the DGA for an endangered species, daytime serial, for “General Hospital” and Noam Murro won in the commercial category for, among others, spots for Heineken, DirecTV and Volkswagen.

One of television's most famous faces hosted the non-televised ceremony, with Kelsey Grammer taking over the duties long performed by legendary comedian Carl Reiner.

The show has a bit of a unique format among kudofests. Each of the feature film directors up for the top prize is lauded by a colleague or co-workers involved the project at hand, and bestowed with a golden medallion, giving currency to the throwaway line that "it's an honor just to be nominated."

It's a crowd-pleasing tactic as well, and a chance to lobby the picture further down the awards path to the Oscars.

Ben Kingsley, who plays director Georges Melies in "Hugo," gave a moving introduction to the film's director, Martin Scorsese, who then received a standing ovation, presumably just for being Martin Scorsese.

Another George, Clooney, was the one to present "The Descendants" director Alexander Payne with his DGA medallion. Ever the gentleman, Clooney, who has been ubiquitous on the awards campaign trail with recognition for his lead role in that film, and for producing, directing, co-writing and acting in "The Ides of March," was careful not to overshadow Payne when it came to photo ops.

Kathy Bates, who plays Gertrude Stein in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," was tapped to do the honors for Allen, who is notorious for rarely showing up at Left Coast awards presentations. In a rare turn of events, he spoke to the crowd of industry peers in a previously taped bit explaining why -- saying that his funny facade, the nebbishy, neurotic Jewish guy from New York, disappears once he has to mingle with people, because he really has nothing to say.

DGA President Taylor Hackford lauded the also absent David Fincher for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

It was “The Artist’s” freshly and French-ly talkative, charming co-starring duo, Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin, who regaled the crowd with memories of making the silent film, directed by Michel Hazanavicius. They said that after multiple takes of the tap dance routine, he told them simply that it was “pretty good,” but to “smile more.”

After his win of the trophy, the trio had nothing but smiles on their faces, and after Dujardin’s surprise lead actor SAG win, presumably they will keep them through the Academy Awards.