For those who wonder just how powerful sports has become in the American psyche, take heart from the latest polling results that show two figures surpass -- albeit barely -- the favorability rating of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ edge out Rodgers, a feat that could not be accomplished by the likes of George Washington, Mother Theresa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and even Santa Claus.
In fact, an astounding 13% of Americans said they have a negative opinion of Santa Claus, the mythic figure who does nothing more horrible than drop off presents once a year. To be fair, 67%, or almost two-thirds, said they have a positive opinion of the fat bearded one, according to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated polling firm, which released the survey findings Thursday.
The polling firm found that 75% of Republicans gave Santa Claus good marks, while just 61% of Democrats backed the gift-giver. (It may be worth noting that, as outsiders, Republicans are hoping for a present-filled 2012 election cycle, with most national polls showing a steady disenchantment with how the country is doing, particularly on the economy. Thus, Democrats may be expecting stockings stuffed with coal or perhaps an alternative energy source, like solar power.)
The firm said it undertook the current poll after it found that Rodgers was viewed favorably by 89% of voters in Wisconsin, a record high in the agency’s polling. “It got us to wondering -- can anyone top that?” the firm said in a statement.
So it tested a bunch of leading personalities last weekend.
Lincoln, who freed the slaves while fighting to keep the United States together in the Civil War, was seen positively by 91% of Americans, compared to only 2% who had an unfavorable opinion. Jesus Christ came in with a 90% favorability rating, but 3% of voters saw him in a negative light.
Two other figures beat the 80% favorability mark: George Washington, the general who earned the title of “Father of his country,” at 86% and Mother Teresa, the late humanitarian who tended the sick and dying in India for more than four decades and who is on her way to becoming a Roman Catholic saint. She rated an 83% favorability score.
The poll was based on 800 people surveyed from Nov. 10 to Sunday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Perhaps not so surprising was the top answer.
When asked, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of yourself,” 93% gave themselves a positive rating, compared to just 1% who had a negative opinion, proving the old adage that the person to trust the most is yourself.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: The Green Bay Packers, led by QB Aaron Rodgers, No. 12, huddle on the field. Credit: Matt Ludtke / Associated Press
Bob Gruen at his studio, with his portraits of John Lennon.
Bob Gruen's work includes Sid Vicious in 1978.
“He was ringing doorbells,” Mr. Gruen recalled. “Four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone in the building is an artist, so they were opening the door saying: ‘Oh, my God, John Lennon! Let me show you my painting. Let me read you my poem.’ ” When he finally found the apartment, Mr. Gruen said, he told him, “ ‘Man, you’ve got some weird neighbors.’ ”
“I always figured if he could find it in that condition,” Mr. Gruen added, “anyone could.”
And everyone seemingly has. Since his days as a personal photographer for Mr. Lennon and Yoko Ono in the 1970s, Mr. Gruen has seen his cluttered loft serve as a clubhouse for countless rock legends: Joe Strummer of the Clash, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, and members of Blondie, to name a few. This unassuming behind-the-lens figure embedded himself with rock bands so deeply that in some cases he was regarded as a virtual member.
Along the way, Mr. Gruen, a self-taught photographer who spent much of his career as a freelancer hustling shots to Rock Scene and Creem magazines for as little as $5 each, snapped some of rock’s most iconic images. Perhaps most famous is that of Mr. Lennon, arms folded, standing in front of the skyline in his “New York City” T-shirt. That shot has become something of a rock ’n’ roll Mona Lisa, knocked off on postcards and T-shirts around the world (sometimes with Popeye or Curly of the Three Stooges superimposed on Mr. Lennon’s face — a true measure of its impact as a pop-culture totem).
“It’s bootlegged as much as Marilyn and Elvis,” Mr. Gruen said. “I would love someday to get a percentage — they’re selling a lot of them.” But he’s not exactly talking to a lawyer. “People who bootleg and steal can steal anything,” he added. “The fact that they steal mine over and over again I take as a compliment.”
But lately, Mr. Gruen is getting his due in other ways. At 65, he finds himself the one in focus, for a change. Last month, Abrams published “Rock Seen,” a retrospective art book featuring 500 of his photographs. He is the subject of a British television film, “Rock ’N’ Roll Exposed,” directed by Don Letts, the filmmaker and a member of Big Audio Dynamite. And, on a neighborly level, Marc Jacobs, an old friend, recently devoted the front of his Bleecker Street boutique to an elaborate installation celebrating Mr. Gruen’s work (a teenager’s mock bedroom, it featured a bed and television and walls covered floor-to-ceiling in Gruen photos).
“Bob Gruen was a part of the entire rock scene, as much as any band, really, because he was one of those guys that everybody really liked,” Alice Cooper says in the Letts movie. “And he always seemed to get the money shot.”
With his friendly manner, neatly cropped shock of silver hair and rubbery grin, Mr. Gruen seems like an unlikely figure to have growled with rock’s lions. But his apartment tells a different story.
Scattered inside are 28 file cabinets filled with negatives and contact sheets, and on nearby shelves, a museum’s worth of rock memorabilia. There are signed photos from Keith Richards and members of Led Zeppelin. One shelf holds a bugle that Mr. Gruen used to blow a cavalry charge to open shows in the Clash’s famous 17-night run at Bonds International Casino in Times Square in 1981. (“People ask me what’s the best show I’ve ever seen, and I include every show the Clash ever did.”)
From the beginning, Mr. Gruen showed a knack for stumbling into music history. In the summer of 1965, he used his camera to wrangle a press pass into the Newport Folk Festival. That happened to be the Dylan-goes-electric show, one of the most dissected gigs in rock history. “It was chaos,” he said, of the moment when Mr. Dylan shocked the folkies by plugging in a Stratocaster. “They didn’t quite get it. Over the years thinking about it, what he was doing was making a statement that rock ’n’ roll was the folk music of America.”
The first gig he got paid for was less glamorous: Tommy James and the Shondells opening for Hubert Humphrey in a parking lot in Yonkers. But Mr. Gruen managed to hitch a ride back to the city with the band, and they became friends.
His knack for making friends came in handy in 1972, when he met Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono at an Apollo Theater benefit. He talked his way backstage, and found himself in a scrum of fans snapping shots of the couple with Instamatics. Mr. Lennon remarked that so many fans took pictures, but he never saw any. “I said, ‘I live around the corner,’ ” said Mr. Gruen. “Well, slip them under the door,” said Mr. Lennon, who was living in an apartment on Bank Street at the time.
“Years later when we were friends, Yoko mentioned that I was one of the few people who didn’t try to get something,” Mr. Gruen said. “I just gave them something.”
Before long, he became the go-to photographer whenever the couple wanted unguarded shots of them messing around at the piano with Mick Jagger, or nuzzling in bed with their new baby, Sean. “Bob understood what we were doing,” Ms. Ono said in an e-mail message. “He was interested in photographing John as he was, whether the photos would one day sell or not.
“The magazines and newspapers wanted the Beatle John’s photo,” she added. “Not photos of John living and working with me, his wife. That was embarrassing and boring to them.”
The T-shirt photo shoot didn’t seem particularly portentous, Mr. Gruen said. It was August 1974, and Mr. Lennon phoned while recording the “Walls and Bridges” album to say he needed some shots for the cover package. Mr. Gruen showed up at Mr. Lennon’s East 52nd Street apartment — this was during the couple’s separation — and started snapping the musician on the penthouse’s terrace. Then he noticed the skyline.
“Do you still have that T-shirt I gave you?” he asked Mr. Lennon. (Mr. Gruen had at least seven of the shirts, which he considered part of his uniform. He used to buy them in Times Square and cut off the sleeves with his Buck knife.) Mr. Lennon retrieved it from his bedroom, they shot a few rolls and the session was over.
The photo became famous only in 1980 when Mr. Gruen selected it to be displayed in the Central Park band shell for Mr. Lennon’s public memorial. Mr. Gruen thought it was the perfect image to reinforce Ms. Ono’s point that Mr. Lennon loved the city and that it bore no responsibility for his death. “Yoko always said, don’t blame New York for John’s death,” Mr. Gruen said. “John died in New York because he lived in New York.”
Mr. Gruen was devastated by Mr. Lennon’s death. Still, his career was flourishing on another front. He had become the rare holdover from the hippie era to be embraced by the emerging punk bands of the time. He became a fixture at CBGB, followed the Sex Pistols on their chaotic 1978 tour of the American South, and rode shotgun with the Clash through England and North America.
Despite the generation gap, punk didn’t seem all that different to him. “I like music that’s saying something,” he said. His camera focused on the intimate moments away from the stage: the sweat, the laughter, the tedium of life in a dressing room or on a tour bus.
Three decades later, not much has changed. Mr. Gruen still slips on his Beatle boots and hits rock clubs four or five nights a week, often with his wife, Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen, an artist and coat designer for Michael Kors.
“People ask me how do I get to be friends with musicians,” Mr. Gruen said. “How do you get to be friends with anybody?” He thinks about it for a moment. “Joe Franklin used to say, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.’ ”
By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
September 5, 2011
Comedy is king
Fall 1961 heralded the arrival of the seminal CBS comedy series "The Dick Van Dyke Show," created by Carl Reiner, starring Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, a writer on the Alan Brady (Reiner) TV series; Mary Tyler Moore played his capri-wearing wife, Laura; and Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were Rob's fellow writers, Buddy and Sally. Though "Dick Van Dyke" was the sitcom that defined the decade, audiences were scarce that first season and the show was nearly canceled. By the following year, though, it was No. 10 in the ratings. It continued until 1966 but has lived on thanks to reruns and DVD.
Oscar-winning actress Shirley Booth ("Come Back, Little Sheba") came to series TV in NBC's comedy "Hazel," a sitcom based on Ted Key's "Saturday Evening Post" cartoons about the well-organized maid-housekeeper of the Baxter family. The series was an instant hit, and Booth won an Emmy for her performance. The series ran until 1966.
Nat Hiken, the force behind the fabulous "The Phil Silvers Show" in the 1950s, also created the NBC comedy series "Car 54, Where Are You?" It starred Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne as the clueless New York policemen Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon who worked out of the 53rd precinct in the Bronx. Al Lewis, Nipsey Russell and Bea Pons also starred in the slapstick comedy. The series was memorable, but it lasted only two seasons.
Other comedies making their debuts: "The Joey Bishop Show" (NBC); "Mrs. G Goes to College" (CBS), "Window on Main Street" (CBS) "and "The Bob Newhart Show" (NBC).
The doctors are in
NBC and ABC unveiled their new medical dramas that fall. Vince Edwards, known for his tough-guy roles in B movies, became a TV superstar as the gifted, young resident surgeon at a general hospital in ABC's "Ben Casey." Veteran character actor Sam Jaffe played his mentor, Dr. David Zorba, and Jaffe's wife, Bettye Ackerman, played Dr. Maggie Graham. The series became the biggest hit on ABC that season. It continued through 1966.
An even bigger sensation was NBC's "Dr. Kildare," starring über-handsome Richard Chamberlain as the earnest intern at Blair General. The character of Dr. James Kildare had been introduced to audiences in the late 1930s in a popular MGM movie franchise starring Lew Ayres. Oscar-nominated actor Raymond Massey played his crusty mentor, Dr. Leonard Gillespie. Like "Ben Casey," "Dr. Kildare" lasted until 1966.
The breakout new dramatic series of the season was CBS' courtroom drama "The Defenders," which went on to dominate the Emmys, winning for dramatic series, dramatic actor for E.G. Marshall as well as for Franklin Schaffner's direction and Reginald Rose's writing. Marshall and Robert Reed, who would later headline "The Brady Bunch," played father-and-son attorneys. Each week they would be involved in a court case that included such hot-bed issues as abortion, euthanasia and the Hollywood blacklist. The series was based on the 1957 two-part episode of "Studio One" called "The Defender," written by Rose, which starred Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner as the attorneys and Steve McQueen as their defendant. The series continued through 1965.
Other dramas premiering: "New Breed" (ABC). "Cain's Hundred" (NBC) and "Frontier Circus" (CBS).
Variety was a staple of TV in this period, and perhaps the most offbeat one was NBC's "International Showtime," hosted by movie star Don Ameche. Each week, Ameche would present various European spectaculars, including circuses and ice shows. Though never a huge ratings' success, the series continued through 1965.
The four men who made up the Beatles are, to the vast majority of us, larger-than-life figures who made a tremendous and lasting impact on music, film and fashion and in numerous other arenas of popular culture. But to a select few, they are just – or are also – people: friends, siblings, parents, husbands. Among the members of that exclusive club is Olivia Harrison, who married George Harrison in 1978 and remained with him until his death in 2001. Ms. Harrison, who is the mother of Harrison’s son, Dhani, does not consider herself a celebrity and does not fully embrace the spotlight, but she has become a guardian of her husband’s legacy and of the mementos and artifacts he left behind at Friar Park, their sizable estate in Henley-on-Thames, England.
Many of these letters and recordings – along with the lives of the people behind them – are revealed in a new Martin Scorsese documentary, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” which will be shown in two parts, on Oct. 5 and 6, on HBO. It is a film for which Ms. Harrison serves as an interview subject as well as a producer, and a project with which she is still trying to get comfortable. For an article about the documentary in this Sunday’s Arts & Leisure section, Ms. Harrison spoke about the development of the project, her life with George Harrison and how she learned to share it with the cameras. These are excerpts from that conversation.
How did you and Martin Scorsese first become connected on this project?
I went to see “No Direction Home,” which I thought was brilliant. And some production companies were approaching me to do a documentary on George’s life. And I had so many requests, eventually, I thought, someone’s going to do this. Two months after he died, somebody wanted to do it. I really didn’t want someone who didn’t know George, who wasn’t involved with the family, to take on the project. Marty was approached, and he was very interested in George and interested in his journey. Marty’s really looking for the journey and the man.
Had you already started organizing George’s possessions and archives in preparation for a film?
I had started gathering things, but it was always after the fact. It doesn’t usually happen that way, where you have an archive and then you do a project. I mean, normal people do that. People who are on top of life, I don’t know how they manage. George had wanted to do his own anthology, from the time the Beatles had their anthology in 1995. When four people do a story, it’s “Rashomon.” He had a series of cameras from the time I met him. Movie cameras, 8-mil cameras. DVs, Hi-8s, Super VHS, U-matics. He said once, “I’m stockpiling all this material for when I’m dead,” but this was 20 years ago. He just wanted to share what he loved with people and his friends.
When he would talk about his own death so matter-of-factly, was that just his morbid sarcasm?
There wasn’t a real divide between life and death for George. Even though, yes, he was human and he wanted to live, he didn’t see it so defined. He saw similarities in the sacred and the profane, in life and death. But it wasn’t morbid at all. He wanted to make something fun. I decided to do what I knew he would have done.
So all these items of his – were you just keeping them in a vault in Friar Park?
No vault. Lots of drawers, cupboards, roof space, basements. Just everywhere. Always cassettes, there were a lot of cassettes around. And one of them said, “Sitar lesson.” And it was 1966 and it was his first sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar. And you hear Ravi saying, “Now, for our first lesson…” To me, that’s just fantastic.
Were these items organized around the house in a deliberate way?
I think it was thoughtful, but at the same time, there were so many drawers and so many rooms that he would just throw things in there and that’s what would stay. Occasionally I would find something and go, “Wow, look at this, what I found in the drawer.” And he’d say [stolidly] “I know it’s there. I put it there.” And I’d say, “Oh, O.K. So that’s why it’s there.”
Very often he wouldn’t unpack a suitcase, so there’d be like a time capsule. And you’d find a local currency, and souvenirs and Polaroids. He left – and I think this came from his mother’s house – a rusty tin box, and in the box was football cards and lyrics written in a very young hand. I didn’t want to disturb any of it.
Was it hard for you to part with all these personal items so that the movie could be made?
Now, in hindsight, I see that they were very patient with me, because I couldn’t let go of anything. The production team came over, spent a lot of time and slowly pried things from my hands. We figured out a way to transfer all the home movies. I didn’t want to send them out anywhere. It was my life. So, we did that in the house. And one of my son’s school friends, who’s become our archivist and who knew George, he was around a lot of the time and transferred all the DVs.
Since George is no longer with us, do you feel you have an obligation to tell his story in his absence and to carry on his legacy?
Honestly, I have an overdeveloped sense of duty, I think. It’s not what I want to do. It’s not a carrot for me, at all. In fact, this film is really making me want to go hide somewhere. It’s my life. Everybody says, “George, he was such a private person, why are you doing this?” And he was, but he was out there in the world. I know that he would have done his own story. By default, I have to be the one. I’m talking to you but I’m not talking to everybody and I’m saying, no, I do not want to be on television. I’m not a celebrity.
Is there a moment at which you have to overcome your desire for privacy and put yourself out there, if only for the sake of this documentary?
The moment you’re talking about is now. I can’t say I’m really prepared. I almost don’t want people to see it. It’s like showing everybody into your most private place. But at the same time, I think it’s important. If there’s going to be a film made about George, then the most important thing was that his essence be represented and the truth be represented, and that is what Marty has done. And I know it’s truthful because it makes me squirm. [laughs]
Now that you’ve seen the documentary yourself, what do you think of it?
Every time I see the first part, I think, “God, it’s so much about the Beatles. Why is this about the Beatles? It’s never going to end.” And then you realize: Exactly. That’s how Marty gives you the idea of how it must have felt. You’re never going to get out of this. And I think that’s brilliant storytelling.
You’re interviewed in the documentary but you’re also one of its producers. Were you telling Scorsese and his team how you wanted certain parts of the story told, or what you wanted them to stay away from?
No, there were questions, like, “Why are you telling this story? Why is this so important?” I don’t know the filmmaking process. The whole point of having a director and a storyteller like Marty is to let him tell the story, and I am so glad that he did. Dhani was very helpful to me in – his feeling that the dark and the light, and the good and the bad have to be told. You can’t just have nice things.
You realize, of course, going into this that a Scorsese film about George Harrison will inevitably have to tell the story behind the creation of “Layla.”
[pretends to cover her ears] La la la la la la. [laughs] There were certain things that I know, with my life with George, did not define our lives. Now maybe it defined a certain period of time, but in hindsight, you look back at things and think, What’s the big deal? You’re 23 years old. You look at a 22-year-old, a 23-year-old, and you say, O.K., well, you’re young. Is that really who defined me in life? There are certain things that I didn’t think should be so definitive of George’s life. Same with the attack on us. I didn’t think that should be a defining moment, but in actual fact, it was something really profound came out of that, and that was the reason to talk about it.
Is it important to you that history preserve George in some way? Do there need to be projects like this from time to time that remind audiences who he was?
No, I don’t feel people need to be reminded. I think one just hopes, as you would about anyone, that they don’t become caricatures of themselves. But when he used to be asked, how would you like to be remembered, he said, [imitates his clenched accent] “I don’t care, I don’t care if I’m remembered.” And I really think he meant that. Not in a sarcastic way, but it’s like, Why do you have to be remembered? What’s the big deal?
I can’t imagine a world where people don’t know who the Beatles are, and then I see anecdotal evidence that younger generations aren’t as interested in them or don’t know who they are. Could their music ever be forgotten?
George’s music is there. He was a beautiful musician and he had a beautiful voice, and he had a fantastic touch on the guitar and I miss that touch. But I’m not doing it to promote him or to make him a legend, or try to make him anything. His music is there. I’m sure it goes for all musicians – how music can change someone’s life and really lead them somewhere. I think for George, he talked about the inner journey and that was very important to him, although he was yin-yang. He could hang with the best of them. [laughs] He was a scoundrel yogi. That’s what I loved about him, because he was honest. He was right up front about it. “I’m bad? O.K., I’m bad.”
He certainly seems like someone who did not do anything by half-measures.
That’s really true. We knew a lot of racing drivers and it’s the same thing. You’re just not going to know how raucous you can get on a guitar until you crank it up to 10. So he lived life like that. He said, “I’m lucky, I’ve got a tilt mechanism.” And I used to look at him and go, “Well, your tilt mechanism goes beyond mine.” He felt he always knew when to come back, but it can be a dangerous way to live. Because he had an inner anchor and a very pronounced consciousness – not conscience, but consciousness – he knew: This was bad, I’ve got to get back. And maybe that was the Catholic guilt he was always trying to leave behind. Maybe he never did. Maybe that was the tilt mechanism, I don’t know.
Through the band you’re also connected to the extended Beatle family, the band members’ spouses and children. What’s your relationship like with them?
They’ve been the most kind, embracing people in my life. The children, Paul’s family especially, I’m really close to them. Dhani’s close to the girls as well, and it’s an odd thing. They know what it’s like to have a dad, as a Beatle. With it comes certain baggage. They’re siblings, they understand, they get it. They roll their eyes at the same things. [laughs]
With the release of the documentary, does it feel as if you’re closing a chapter in your life? Is this the last substantial thing you want to say about George?
This is the definitive story. It is the definitive project for me. I don’t think there’s anything more I can do. That’s one reason I tried to just open up, as much as I possibly can. You can’t do this again. Marty’s told this story. It’s a whole life from beginning to end. There isn’t anything else to be done. There’s a lot of music that was never finished, beautiful tunes, beautiful guitar riffs, just vamping over and over, that I could listen to forever. But I don’t know what one does with that. I have some other projects I want to do, and they are sort of to do with George, but not overtly.
Does putting this film out there set you free? Is it a way of saying to the world, “I’ve dug deep into myself to give you this, but that entitles me to not have to keep doing it?”
Thank you very much for saying that. You could just say that I said that.
Mick Jagger performs with Damian Marley, left, during the filming of a music video for the SuperHeavy album.
SuperHeavy seems less an artistic collaboration than a temporary marketing partnership of a product called Middle-Aged Pop Music L.L.C. Mick Jagger, Joss Stone and Damian Marley are the primary singers. They wrote the self-titled album’s songs, together with Dave Stewart, formerly of the Eurythmics, and A. R. Rahman, the film composer and producer. Mr. Jagger and Mr. Stewart produced the album, and Mr. Jagger is the sun around which this thing spins: the spirit of much of the album — roots-reggae and R&B and arena rock and ballads — seems to descend from his duet collaborations in the 1970s and ’80s with Peter Tosh and Tina Turner. A few tracks, thanks to Mr. Rahman, come with tinctures of Indian pop. What could go wrong with all that?
If you have to ask you’ll never know. An almost total lack of good songs constitutes the album’s basic problem. Once that’s understood, the record becomes sort of entertaining: gaudy, vacuous, densely mannered. (Parts of the album were recorded off the coasts of Greece and Turkey on the Octopus, a boat owned by the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen that Wikipedia calls “the fifth largest superyacht not owned by a head of state.”) It is a credible soundtrack for someone’s gold-plated midwinter Caribbean vacation — someone who doesn’t really listen to music per se — and it could be a pretty heavy comedy album if its intent were moved a few inches.
Mr. Marley croaks and toasts his parts; Ms. Stone does her canned soul histrionics. Mr. Rahman sings a few lines in a few tracks and is otherwise most noticeable when playing some goopy synthesizer passages. But Mr. Jagger is the source of the record’s best unintentional humor. He throws effort into this record, whining, yammering, imprecating, imitating himself fabulously. In the ludicrous “Energy” (chorus: “I said hey! I need your crazy energy!”), you can hear him rapping, sort of, in the second verse and playing a “Midnight Rambler”-style harmonica solo, distorted so you know it’s done with feeling. There’s a “political” song called “I Can’t Take It No More”: it has a horn section and a party vibe. This is a polyglot record whose best song, the ballad “Never Gonna Change,” sounds the least like the rest of the tracks; it sounds as if it belongs on an early-’70s Stones record.
But you might want to jump straight to “One Day One Night,” in which Mr. Jagger — and Mr. Marley too, though not so memorably — pretends to be alone, heartbroken and cranky. He sings:
Where the hell is the bellman
Did I call downstairs?
Does anybody care?
Send me a packet of cigarettes please
Make that two
One bottle of vodka
The television doesn’t seem to work so well
What a situation.
What a situation. BEN RATLIFF
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcom McDowell, center, in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell (right) in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange." (Warner Bros. Entertainment)
With his bloodied cane and black bowler, Malcolm McDowell became a signature symbol of brutal youth in 1971′s “A Clockwork Orange” but the actor says he couldn’t truly appreciate that angry young man until he himself was old enough to comb white hair.
“For years, I didn’t see the same film everybody saw,” the 67-year-old actor said recently. “It was 10 years ago in Los Angeles when I went to a screening of it and I couldn’t believe what I saw, the accomplishment of the movie, the pure talent of [director] Stanley Kubrick. In truth, that’s when I began to look back in a different way.”
The movie’s 40th anniversary won’t arrive until a week before Christmas but the commemoration began months ago. The movie was also shown with great fanfare at the Cannes Film Festival in May, as was a well-reviewed documentary, “Once Upon a Time … Clockwork,” examining the legacy of the film and the novel by Anthony Burgess that inspired it. A lavish Blu-ray anniversary edition has inspired another wave of cultural essays and, on Friday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will host a McDowell tribute followed by a sold-out screening.
All of this has McDowell pondering his long, strange odyssey with the film.
“I was invited into the woods when Kubrick cast me in the film but I couldn’t see the trees until years later,” McDowell said. “For maybe 10 years, I resented it because everyone wanted me to repeat it. The best part for any actor is the next one and ‘Clockwork’ irritated me because it took that away at times.”
“Clockwork” and its tale of sociopathic thugs in a futuristic England shocked with its scenes of rape, murder and torture. It was released in the U.S. with an X rating and, amid a nasty furor in 1972, Kubrick withdrew the film from circulation in England. For more than 25 years, it was illegal to show the film in U.K. theaters.
The controversy only added to the allure of a film that still echoes loudly in pop culture. Gnarls Barkley and Bart Simpson are among the tricksters who have worn the bowlers and so didChristina Aguilera a few years ago at her “Clockwork”-themed birthday party. Acts as diverse as Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, My Chemical Romance, Usher, Blur and David Bowie have used the film’s iconography in their concert stagings or music videos. The prominence has a price. After pop star Kylie Minogue’s back-up singers appeared in “Clockwork” gear, the Guardian of London moaned that the classic had officially “ceased to be dangerous.”
Not a chance, says Steven Spielberg, who sees dark new shadings in the movie and its vision of youth numbed by sensory overload and sexualized violence in a society advancing in science but not spirit.
“The movie hasn’t worn out its welcome at all and I doubt it ever will,” Spielberg said in a recent Hero Complex interveiw. “Like all of Kubrick’s films, it’s still a cautionary tale that continues to occur in the world. It was considered a revolutionary film when it came out but not really a prophetic film. But like all of Kubrick’s films, it turned out to be more prophetic than is reasonable.”
At the center of it all is McDowell, the British actor who has one of the more disturbing resumes in cinema with “Caligula,” “O Lucky Man” and two “Halloween” films. He even killed off Captain Kirk in 1994′s “Star Trek: Generations,” but it is his cane-twirling as Alex DeLarge in “Clockwork” that people remember.
Kubrick first saw McDowell’s malevolent smirk in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film “If…” and Christiana Kubrick recalls that her husband, in his private screening room, called out to the projectionist to turn the reel back when he saw McDowell. He did that four more times.
“We have found our Alex,” the director announced.
The novel “A Clockwork Orange” had been published in 1962 and there was interest in a movie right away. Mick Jagger, eager to star, acquired the rights for a time but they ended up with Kubrick, who, after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was ready for something more manageable.
The director gave McDowell the book and (like many readers) he found it difficult to wade through the slang argot Burgess had created. After three readings, “the penny dropped” and the actor grasped the “amazing potential” of the role.
McDowell would suffer for his art. In the film, Alex, a prisoner of the state, is subjected to a hideous experiment where his eyes are kept open by metal clips and, on the set, the actor’s howls were real.
“I ended up with scratched corneas — nasty, viciously painful,” McDowell said. “It heals up pretty quick but a few days later Stanley says he needs one more, a real close-up. The stand-in wouldn’t do it; he saw what happened to me. So it was back in the chair. It was the last day of the shoot. I was terrified and you can see it in the shot.”
At another point, Kubrick was flummoxed by a scene that called for McDowell and his mates to break into a home and brutalize the owners.
“As written, they just come in and menace and throw bottles through a window,” McDowell said. “There was really nothing there. The way we were doing the whole movie was in this dark, surreal manner, it was real but heightened. To do something naturalistic wouldn’t work. We sat around thinking about it — for five days the camera did not move — which is unimaginable with anyone other than Kubrick.”
McDowell came up with the solution — a robust rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain,” an unforgettable flourish of the perverse and, for the actor, a signature career moment. “It just came out,” the actor said, “and it added so much horror to it all.”
“Clockwork” would be nominated for the best picture Oscar (and become the first sci-fi film to get that honor) but the acclaim was hardly uniform. In the view of McDowell, the central message is often missed.
“It’s about big brother and the freedom to choose,” McDowell said. “Burgess was brilliant in that he made this anti-hero — a despicable guy, a murderer and a rapist — but does the state have the right to alter his mind? Obviously not. And Kubrick found in this novel a black comedy although when it came out not everyone was laughing.”
Consider author Tom Wolfe a voice for the unamused. In a phone interview, he groaned when asked about the film: “It was a shock, just the cynical cruelty of it. The film went after everybody as target, the criminals and society and the government. Nothing went quite as far as ‘wild kids’ as that film and for years when there was a brutal crime, the news reports would use ‘Clockwork Orange’ as shorthand. The characters in the film, to use the police term, showed no affect. That’s what I remember most.”
The movie’s long exile from the theaters of England, however, resulted from a decision by Kubrick, not the censors, McDowell said. Amid incendiary reports of “copycat” crimes and death threats, the director consulted with Scotland Yard and then pulled the film.
“It created a kind of craze,” McDowell said. “People would fly to Paris and buy these awful videos made by people aiming cameras at some movie screen. Stanley moved on. He just didn’t think to go back to the whole thing.”
McDowell had a similar attitude, both toward the film and the filmmaker. McDowell was vague on the specifics of the estrangement but spoke fondly of Kubrick, who dressed “schlubby” and seemed forever distracted, like some astrophysicist too busy with knotty cosmic puzzles to notice his shoes were untied.
“I suppose if I regret anything in life it’s that I didn’t pick up the phone,” McDowell said. “But then neither did he.”
McDowell said “A Clockwork Orange” now feels more like a time traveler than a time capsule. That was another insight he gleaned at the 30th anniversary screening in Los Angeles.
“I went to the bathroom and this kid, maybe 16, walks past and says, ‘Hey, ‘Clockwork,’ right?’ I said, ‘Well, yes.’ He asked, ‘Which part were you? The old guy?’ He thought it was a new film. And he thought I was the old guy. Maybe he was right about both.”
– Geoff Boucher
I LOVE wearing other people’s clothes. Hand-me-downs, vintage, loaners, whatever. I like clothes with a provenance, a history. Somehow I imagine that I can feel the traces of another person’s energy lingering in the threads.
Farrah Fawcett in a roller-derby jersey that she wore in a 1977 episode of the original “Charlie's Angels.” The author was in possession of the jersey for a while and found that good things happened whenever she wore it.
The well-dressed stars of the new “Charlie's Angels” series, from left, Annie Ilonzeh, Rachael Taylor and Minka Kelly.
One of my grand acquisitions in this regard was an incredibly tight and plunging roller-derby jersey that Farrah Fawcett wore in a memorable episode of “Charlie’s Angels” in 1977. It was a truly amazing garment. Not long after she wore it, the jersey found its way to me and briefly into my college wardrobe. Then I had to give it back.
My roommate at U.C.L.A., Victoria Craze, reminded me of this recently on a call from London, where she lives now. We’d heard that a TV remake of “Charlie’s Angels” was beginning soon on ABC. Minka Kelly, one of the new Angels, had just broken up with Derek Jeter.
Actually, we weren’t really interested in that. We were trying to remember how I wound up with Farrah’s jersey in the first place.
“I think Mom loaned it to me — to wear on Halloween,” Victoria said. “But I couldn’t zip up the front because of my chest. Mom said I looked too squished. So you got it.”
Victoria’s mother, Carolina Ewart, was a costumer for “Charlie’s Angels” for the first few years. Occasionally she would lend us things to wear, if we could squeeze into them. The Angels — originally played by Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson and Ms. Fawcett — chased criminals down L.A. streets, beaches and piers, their bodies squeezed tight in some places and jiggling in others. This fascinating duality, this tightness and looseness, was artfully created by Ms. Ewart, with as much good taste as she was allowed. Aaron Spelling, the producer (and father of Tori), was always riding her to get more skin on the show. “He wants somebody in a bikini in every scene,” Ms. Ewart would say, rolling her eyes. The ratings soared.
Ms. Ewart was a realist. She was also a nurturing, recently divorced Italian mother of four who needed a job. She had studied fashion design and dressmaking at Pratt, and had been a wardrobe assistant on “Young Frankenstein” and “Planet of the Apes,” but she still had a couple of children at home and wanted regular work — not on location. A TV gig was perfect.
Sometimes Victoria and I shopped with her for the show, helping to haul armloads of bags from boutiques in Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley. The high-fashion chains now established along Rodeo Drive hadn’t arrived yet — no Prada or Chanel or YSL. Armani was 11 years away.
Beverly Hills didn’t take its cues from New York or Paris then. It had its own white-pants resort style, kind of French Riviera meets Tampa, Fla. In 1977, running shoes were becoming trendy, and even Ms. Fawcett managed to look impossibly sexy in them. “Farrah has the cutest, most perfect body,” Ms. Ewart would say. “She can wear anything.”
Focusing on flaws is part of the job of a costumer. Ms. Ewart, a zaftig Anne Bancroft look-alike, had a way of talking matter-of-factly about body types without causing hurt feelings. “You have no chest,” she’d say to me. “Play up your legs!”
Dressing actors wasn’t just an art or science to her. It seemed more natural than that, and powerful, as if sprung from her mothering instincts. “Sweetie, hold that up,” she’d say to me, as we stood in boutiques and shopped for the Angels, whom Ms. Ewart and her loyal assistant, Erica Phillips, inevitably referred to as “the girls.”
The alchemy began when the shopping bags arrived at 20th Century Fox Studios, in Century City, where the show was shot. Each Angel tried on Ms. Ewart’s finds, choosing some, rejecting others. They stood for fittings during which the jiggle factor was carefully calibrated. If there was a real Charlie behind the Angels, maybe it was Ms. Ewart.
Each Angel had her own look. Ms. Jackson had a New England style, a Katharine Hepburn aura — pants and turtlenecks and beautiful plaid collared shirts from Ralph Lauren. Ms. Smith was given fuzzy sweaters and ladylike blouses. Most of the super-sex-bomb stuff went directly to Ms. Fawcett.
In one episode, called “Angels on Wheels,” they investigate the death of a roller-derby star, and Ms. Fawcett’s character, Jill, poses as a new member of the team. Her jersey was taken in so drastically that there was barely room for the team name and number.
As soon as the jersey came into Victoria’s possession and she was unable to breathe in it, I tried it on. I’m tall and stringy (“no chest,” as Ms. Ewart would say), but, for some almost supernatural reason, the jersey fit perfectly. I won’t pretend that it looked on me as it did on Ms. Fawcett. But something was definitely working, as if the magic Ms. Ewart had created for Farrah had transferred to me. The reaction was immediate. Guys asked me out. Friends asked to try it on. I didn’t even have to say where it had come from. I wore it to take art history finals and aced them.
And as my old roommate Victoria so keenly remembers, I was wearing it one night when our college dorm had a fire drill. “You didn’t want to go outside, remember? So you hid in the dorm closet. And the fire marshal found you.”
“And when he opened the closet door,” I replied, “all he said was ‘Nice shirt.’ ”
Ms. Ewart died five years ago at the Motion Picture and Television Fund hospital in Calabasas, Calif., after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. A few weeks ago, when I was missing her and thinking about her fun job — and all she taught me about clothes — I called ABC Entertainment and said I was writing about a former costumer for “Charlie’s Angels.” Promptly, I got a call back.
“I’m definitely a people-person,” said Roemehl Hawkins, the costumer for the new “Charlie’s Angels.” “I like to take everybody under my wing.” She used to be a pharmacist but changed careers seven years ago, took a job as a costume production assistant on “Desperate Housewives,” then another on “Entourage.”
She doesn’t shop in malls or boutiques so much. “I look at what’s on the runway,” she said, “and try to track things down that I’ve seen online or in magazines. Like, two months ago I saw a pair of silver high-heeled loafers by Alexander Wang in Vogue and it took me forever to get a pair. I am still waiting for a Stella McCarthy polka-dotted dress from the fall line. Actually, I think it might come today.”
Just like the old Angels, the new ones have fantastic hair and distinct personal styles. “Annie Ilonzeh has a semi-international flavor,” Ms. Hawkins said. “Sexy but street-tough.” And Rachael Taylor “plays a girl who grew up in affluent Manhattan.”
“She’s put-together, high fashion, luxe, sophisticated. She’s the one who can run in a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.”
And Minka? “She’s my homage to Farrah,” Ms. Hawkins said. “If there’s a T-shirt on her, it’s going to fall off the shoulder.”
“Where do they keep their guns?” I asked.
“Oh,” Ms. Hawkins began, laughing, “we kind of fudge that. The guns are in the back of their pants, I guess. Or sometimes a purse. No way would we use a holster.”
About six months after I borrowed the jersey, Ms. Ewart called her daughter to ask where it was. I got a call soon afterward. “Martha, sweetie, did you wind up with Farrah’s jersey?” she asked. I sheepishly admitted that I had. “Darling, love. Could you please bring it back?”
So hard to do. But I did.
The 40-year career of the English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe constitutes a paradox: the songs he has written are better known than he is. He cheerfully acknowledges that many people think that Elvis Costello is the author of the Lowe song “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and that the Johnny Cash version of “The Beast in Me” has come to overshadow his own, which was used on the soundtrack of the HBO series “The Sopranos.”
But at a stage in life when many of his peers are content to live off past glories, Mr. Lowe, now 62, is enjoying a remarkable second wind. Originally a purveyor of witty subversions of Top 40 confections — his first United States solo album, released in 1978, was called “Pure Pop for Now People” — he has reinvented himself in recent years as a writer and performer of spare, reflective songs rooted in the American country music and rhythm ’n’ blues he imbibed as a child.
At the same time Mr. Lowe has remade his image to align it with the more mature content of his work, the latest example of which is “The Old Magic,” a CD released on Tuesday. Once the prototypical long-haired, insouciant rocker, he now affects an avuncular look, with a shock of snow white hair, à la the older Cary Grant, and a pair of black Buddy Holly specs. That way “I won’t have to continually be pretending, like a lot of my contemporaries sadly have to, that they’re still young and copping this act they used to do and are condemned to do,” Mr. Lowe said during an interview in New York last month. “It’s a sort of unseemly sight, and one which I wish to avoid.”
It’s a remarkable turnabout for Mr. Lowe, who was associated with three of the most important British pop movements of the 1970s: pub rock, punk and new wave. An early band of his, Brinsley Schwarz, was the anchor of pub rock, and as a producer, he shaped and supervised Mr. Costello’s influential first five albums, as well as recordings by Graham Parker, the Pretenders, the Damned and Dr. Feelgood.
“When the punk scene came along, Nick was in the right place at the right time,” said Will Birch, an English musician, songwriter and producer who is also the author of two books about 1970s British rock. “He was Mr. Fixit, the guy who could produce a record,” but also “a sort of headmaster who made sure everything was kept very to the point, short and snappy.” A subsequent rockabilly-inspired group, Rockpile, generated gems like “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’n’ Roll)” and “When I Write the Book.” But Mr. Lowe also maintained a skeptical distance from what was going on around him. “I’ve never really liked being in somebody’s gang,” he said. “As soon as I feel like I’m being encouraged to join someone else’s gang, I react rather badly to that.”
What set Mr. Lowe on the path to his current sound was a run of bad luck in the early 1990s. His record label had dropped him; he was coming off what he described as “the disastrous end to a love affair”; and even a return to producing seem closed to him, since “the general public had become conditioned to hearing a record sound a certain way, with a certain sheen,” rather than with the “scruffy, homemade sound” he prefers.
But then he had an extraordinary stroke of good fortune. Curtis Stigers’s version of “Peace, Love and Understanding” was included on the soundtrack album of the movie “The Bodyguard” (1992), which went on to sell an estimated 44 million copies worldwide and earn Mr. Lowe a windfall in songwriter’s royalties.
“I didn’t buy racehorses or yachts or anything like that,” he recalled, “but it was a big, big payday, and it enabled me to make a break with the past. I didn’t have the pressure to play the game. I could turn stuff down and avoid the slippery slope of me being forever in a ‘Remember those fabulous punk rock days? Well here they are again!’ sort of thing.”
Instead Mr. Lowe followed the advice of two friends whose records he had produced, Mr. Costello and John Hiatt. Touring with Mr. Costello, he began performing solo, and when he got home to London, where he still lives with his wife and 6-year-old son, he emulated Mr. Hiatt’s habit of “going to work every day” to write songs in a sort of office at a performance space in a neighborhood pub.
What emerged from that process was a CD called “The Impossible Bird,” released in 1994, and a new stripped-down and rootsy sound. “The Beast in Me,” written specifically for Johnny Cash, Mr. Lowe’s former father-in-law, emerged from those sessions, and on subsequent recordings like “Dig My Mood,” “The Convincer” and “At My Age,” that approach has been refined.
” A lot of people overproduce records, and in the early days he and I both did the kitchen sink. But now he’s focused on what he really wants to be, and there is no dead wood at all,” the singer-songwriter Daryl Hall said.
In recent years Mr. Lowe’s virtues as a songwriter and performer have been garnering more recognition, especially among younger musicians. Two tribute albums featuring other artists interpreting his songs, “Lowe Profile” and “Labour of Love,” have been issued, and this year he was invited to do performances-cum-songwriting-workshops at both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville and the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
“Nick Lowe is a major, major influence for me,” said the indie rock and alt-country singer Neko Case, who has recorded a pair of his songs. “He’s the most consistent artist I can think of, and there is something about the lyricism and gracefulness of his songs that I just love. Their cadences are unusual and addictive, and the way he sings them, his phrasing, it’s just beautiful.”
This fall Mr. Lowe will tour with Wilco, which just recorded his tongue-in-cheek late-’70s composition “I Love My Label.” But Mr. Lowe will undoubtedly be doing things in his own understated way, even if it costs him: Huey Lewis, a friend for 30 years who credits Mr. Lowe for jump-starting his career, recalls inviting him to join him onstage for “I Knew the Bride” a few years ago, only to be told “Huey, I don’t rock anymore.”
“Obviously success is crowned with some sort of financial reward, that’s what puts the stamp on it,” Mr. Lowe said of his current trajectory. “That sort of stuff comes along, but that’s not really what I’m after. I’m not a greedy man. I’ve lived well, but I’m not really interested in that. I’m more interested in seeing what happens next, what the end of the movie is.”
But don't count on anyone using them to buy a snack on the island (population: 1,311), which is linked to nearby New Zealand and recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its sovereign.
Each coin will be minted with a fully colored image of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO or other famous face from the Star Wars universe on one side, with a mug of Queen Elizabeth on the other, according to the New Zealand Mint.
Coins with a $2 face value in New Zealand dollars (that converts to about $1.60 in the U.S.) will be made of one ounce of pure silver to be sold in sets of four in specially designed cases shaped like Darth Vader's head or the Millennium Falcon ship. Each retails for $469 (about $385 USD).
"This first series is a limited mintage and are quite simply out of this Universe," the sales website said. "Don't deny the Force within you."
Collectors all around the world can buy the coins, but only people on the island of Niue, known as "the Rock," will be able to use it as real cash.