Sunday, July 15, 2001

We Who Are About to Pop Wheelies Salute You


Sunday July 15, 2001

So SoCal / Metropolis
We Who Are About to Pop Wheelies Salute You


"Fast Eddie" sails on his silver bike across Santa Fe Street, boxing-glove-and-broom-handle lance extending from his left hand. He thrusts to his opponent's chest, sending him into a whirl spin that ends on the asphalt. The crowd's roar celebrates the 23-year-old's 100th win as a "bicycle jouster." It's business as usual for the few hundred punks and pedestrians who revel every other month in live music, medieval era-inspired sports and other irreverent entertainment at downtown's 5IFTYBUCKS Gallery.

Other rites at the evenings organized by Punx of the Round Keg (P.O.R.K.) can include pie-eating contests, "flaming chariot races" (bikes dragging shovels holding flaming kerosene), skateboard jousts, raffles of punk rock paraphernalia and, of course, performances by local punk bands.

P.O.R.K. began when a group of L.A. punk veterans, including former L7 bassist Jennifer Precious Finch, decided it was time to resurrect downtown's punk rock scene. The event at 5IFTYBUCKS, Finch explains, is "meant to bring people together, both young and old--it's just fun, artistic energy."

But why all the shenanigans? Co-founder Cali Dewitt looks perplexed at the question. "It just makes intuitive sense," he says.


Event information: 8p.m.-midnight, first wednesday of every odd-numbered month, 5iftybucks gallery, 2055 e. 7th St., downtown los angeles. dates change and may be confirmed at (323) 663-9300 or

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Under Cover of Night: Crashing Oscar's Party


Thursday March 29, 2001

First Person
Under Cover of Night: Crashing Oscar's Party

By Steven Barrie-Anthony and Katie Flynn

Neither I nor my girlfriend, Katie Flynn, is very interested in movies or the people who make them. We'd probably have a hard time naming a dozen movie stars between us. We didn't even plan on watching the Academy Awards on TV. But the Oscars were being held across the street from USC, where Katie goes to school, and as recent transplants from the Bay Area, we were intrigued by the hype surrounding Hollywood. And so I got a phone call at 7 p.m.

"Wanna see if we can get into the Academy Awards?" Katie asked.

"Well, sure," I said.

Only problem was that I didn't have a suit, much less a tux. A borrowing spree in the Occidental College dorm I call home turned up some black slacks (too long), dress shoes (too tight) and a black jacket (too small). The only thing that actually fit me was a borrowed blue shirt, but the outfit had to do.

In the meantime, Katie had donned her baby-blue prom dress from high school and some strappy high-heeled sandals. She was just pinning up her hair when I walked in at almost 8. I was underdressed even for a high school dance, and her outfit would never pass for Versace, but we were in the mood for adventure.

We circled the Shrine in Katie's Ford Bronco, looking for the best point of entry. They say that security at the awards is about as tight as security at the White House--and they seemed to be right. Hundreds of tense-looking cops patrolled the perimeter, and private security guards flanked the entrances and exits.

We parked the car a few blocks away and stood just outside of the barrier, feeling hopeless and a bit ridiculous. But all that disappeared when a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt approached us and asked what we were doing.

"We were trying to get in there," I said, motioning toward the VIP sanctum. "Oh, that's no problem," he said. "You guys look great! Just walk right by, they won't even question you. Feel like you belong, and you will."

That's what we did. Katie looped her arm around mine, threw back her head, and we waltzed right by the cops and the security guards, laughing and talking boisterously as if the place belonged to us.

By this time, the awards were mostly over, so we opted to stand our ground on the famous red carpet outside the auditorium.

Feel like you belong, and you will!

"Can you believe he did that?" Katie asked, apropos of nothing, at one point. I smiled, played along. "What nerve!" I said in mock horror. Talking about nothing at all had never been more entertaining. We even pulled out Katie's camera and summoned an academy employee to take our picture in front of the two huge Oscar statues.

"What after-party are you going to?" I casually asked a couple standing nearby.

"I think the Beverly Hills Hotel party's dead," the bearded man informed us, "but I hear the Vanity Fair thing at Morton's is kicking."

Morton's it was. We parked the Bronco a few blocks away and walked toward the restaurant, past cordoned-off lines of gawkers who were trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Chalk it up to our inexperience, but we hadn't counted on such extensive security. Cops were all over the place along with chiseled bouncers in tuxedos who had little earpiece walkie-talkies like Secret Service agents. Even the stars had to show ID.

Once again we circled, this time on foot. Once again, getting in seemed impossible. "Maybe if we get a limo driver to drive us right up to the front, they'll let us in," Katie said.

The driver we asked smiled and declined. But just as we were ready to walk away, he offered some advice: "Try the kitchen," he said conspiratorially. "You can usually get in through the kitchen."

That turned out to be a joke. At least five security guards and cops blocked the back entrance, where maybe 20 or 30 people--all better-dressed than Katie and I--were vying to get in. We made eye contact with security, and a middle-aged cop approached us and whispered that the bouncers only make 20 bucks an hour, and it costs, like, a grand to get in here normally, "if you know what I mean."

But the truth is, we didn't have any money on us--not even a buck--and we weren't really interested in bribery.

As time ticked by, the people waiting with us seemed to become more and more desperate. A few people even made rushed attempts at the door, only to be led back outside. Finally, a guard with a crew cut, apparently the head honcho, sidled up beside us.

"Why are you guys here?" he asked.

"Actually, we don't really know why we're here, we don't have any connections, and we don't have any money, to be honest," Katie said. Surprisingly, he smiled.

"Well, thank you for that honesty," he said. "That means a lot."

Fifteen minutes passed. We stood there laughing out loud and flashing curious smiles to the (possible) stars who strolled by. We couldn't bluff or name-drop, and there was no way to hide our complete naivete.

At one point Katie, kidding around, asked the friendly guard if there was a secret password.

"Pick a number between one and 1,000," he said, hinting that he wanted us to name a price.

"784," Katie answered promptly.

The guard stifled a laugh. He must have seen that our born-yesterday appearance wasn't a charade. Soon, he pulled us aside and said in a hushed voice, "You really want in, don't you? Well, you seem like good kids. Here you go."

He handed us a blue glow stick, the key to inside. "But I didn't let you in!" he reminded us.

We scrambled past the rest of security and landed, breathless, in a beautiful room with dozens of people wearing the kinds of gowns and jewels you only see on television.

"Who's that man to my left? I swear I've seen him before!" Katie whispered into my ear. "Isn't that the Lovitz guy? Lyle Lovitz? Or is it Jon?"

Is it too unfashionable for everyone to wear a name tag nowadays?

We headed across the crowded room. At least 10 people proudly clasped statuettes close to their hearts. I lunged forward, trying to get a good look at something and bumped shoulders with somebody familiar. It was Ben Affleck, the guy from "Good Will Hunting."

Finally someone I recognized! I smiled like he was an old friend and patted him on the back. Katie chatted with Bjork, a favorite singer of hers, and then we were whisked away by the ever-moving crowd.

Benicio Del Toro, the guy from "Traffic," stood near the bar. We said hello and congrats. Around the room we were greeted by nothing but smiles.

Eventually we grew bold and asked a winner if we could borrow his statuette for a sec. He obliged and even snapped a picture of us with the golden man. With that, our film was gone. So were most of the stars. It was time for the limo to turn back into a Bronco, my suit to return to its rightful owners, and Katie's Versace gown to once again become her prom dress.

We learned a lot about L.A. in those few hours. We had always thought, in our distinctly Northern Californian way, that Los Angeles is only for the phonies, that telling the truth here isn't half as respectable to the locals as a good lie or a string of connections. We had criticized this city for being mean and cold and full of ego.

I can't say that this night changed our attitude entirely, but it certainly took us in that direction. We got into the same places as all those schmoozers and stars just by being ourselves, proving that there is still some room in this town for a little honesty, compassion and serendipity.

We followed the stars, still mostly nameless to us, out the front door of Morton's to the place where everyone was waiting for their limos. But instead of getting into one of those long black chariots, we looked at each other, grasped hands, and crossed the line, leaving Hollywood behind.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001


Wednesday February 14, 2001

A Day in the Life


An honor just to be nominated? For perhaps one day in Hollywood--the day the Academy Award nominations are announced--that's no lie. But the nominees are a mere smattering of the people whose lives, fortunes and fates are touched by the Oscars. From now until March 25, Hollywood is not just The Industry: It's The Oscar Industry. Come on in.


Midnight, PST: Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein touches down at Kennedy International Airport from Monday night's London premiere of "Chocolat" to make it home to Manhattan in time for his annual Oscar nomination ritual: "My two kids wake me at 8:30 [EST]--I keep them out of school on nominations morning. We all lie on the bed and watch Katie Couric. And then when we get a best picture nomination, the kids jump up and down on the bed." "Chocolat" is Miramax Films' ninth consecutive best picture nomination.


2:57 a.m. The academy gears up for a 3 a.m. rehearsal.


5:38 a.m.: Actress Kathy Bates and Robert Rehme begin reading the names of the nominees for the 73rd Academy Awards.


5 a.m.: "My daughter gets on the bus at 8 o'clock to go to school," said best actress nominee Joan Allen, who lives in New York. "This morning, my husband took her to the bus while I showered with our pet parrot [Midnight]. I felt it would be great: He'll come home and he can blow-dry the bird and I will be able to see the nominations. But the bus was late and he had to take our daughter on the subway to school. So, I'm running around with a blow-dryer in my hand trying to dry the parrot off so she won't get pneumonia" when Allen's name is read.


5:45 a.m.: Inside the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the academy building in Beverly Hills, Oscar campaign consultant Tony Angellotti sits at the rear of the auditorium looking absolutely stunned after the announcement, and--rare for a publicist--speechless. He declines to comment other than that he is "surprised and delighted." As well he should be: He advised Miramax on its strategy for "Chocolat" (five nominations, including best picture), Universal on "Erin Brockovich" (five including best picture) and "Billy Elliot" (three major nominations). Meanwhile, publicist Michael Lawson delivers the good news to his boss at MPRM Public Relations, company co-founder Mark Pogachevsky, at the Berlin Film Festival, that the announcement includes 19 nominations among the eight movies the company worked on.


5:45 a.m. to 6 a.m.: Best actress nominee Juliette Binoche is interviewed from London on CBS' "Early Show," as had been prearranged; she gets the news from the show that "Chocolat" had been nominated for best picture. 5:48 a.m.: Best supporting actor Willem Dafoe, who is shooting "Spiderman" in Culver City, is interviewed on NBC's "Today" show. He had been lined up since Thursday. Ellen Burstyn is interviewed on CNN at 5:47 a.m. Producer Danny DeVito is interviewed at 5:50 a.m. during the East Coast edition of "Good Morning America" about "Erin Brockovich."


6 a.m.: Joel and Ethan Coen, in New York, learn they have been nominated for best adapted screenplay for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "It was when we came into the cutting room," said Ethan Coen. "We don't get to the cutting room very early."

"I didn't realize the nominations were today," said Joel Coen. "For some reason I thought it was the end of the month when they came out."

"A few people called up after that," said Ethan Coen. "It's been a very low-key day. The Disney people called us when they woke up. It was about midday."


Steven Soderbergh is filming George Clooney coming down an escalator in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in a scene for his new film, the remake of the Rat Pack caper "Ocean's Eleven," when he heard about his double directing nomination, for both "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic."


6:30 a.m.: At the offices of the industry trade publication Daily Variety, Jersey Films executives Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are the first to call Variety managing editor Timothy Gray to talk about the nominations for "Erin Brockovich." Next to call: Ennio Morricone (nominated for the score for "Malena"), and producer David Brown ("Chocolat"), who calls from London. Variety reporter Jill Feiwell finds six voice-mail messages awaiting her when she arrives at 6 a.m. First person to reach her: Ed Harris. As Harris hangs up, Willem Dafoe is on the line, and then Javier Bardem from Madrid.


7 a.m.: In the spirit of corporate synergy, Sony Pictures Classics sends out Sony digital cameras to all their nominees with a congratulatory note suggesting they bring along the cameras to take photos on Oscar night.


9 a.m.: USA Films' marketing head Steve Flynn and President Russell Schwartz put the finishing touches on the new ad campaign for best picture nominee "Traffic," emphasizing the film's personal drama as the film expands to smaller cities. The new ad includes most of the film's ensemble cast with a centerpiece image focusing on the Michael Douglas and Amy Irving family drama.

Academy employees go home after having been at work since the previous night. (The accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers delivered the final nominations at 9 p.m. Monday evening.)


10:27 a.m.: Designer David Cardona is busy in his Santa Monica studio prepping 40 pieces of his fall collection to show New York buyers next week, when he gets a call from jeweler Alexander. It's a brief call but long enough to build the hopes of the 37-year-old designer who is known for dressing actresses Lara Flynn Boyle and Sela Ward. "A couple of people he knows got nominated," Cardona said. "If we hit it from a jewelry end and the designer end we may end up with access."

Cardona emphasizes that it is the young and the beautiful who get the attention and not the award winners themselves. "It's harsh in the way it sounds," he says, "but we don't set the rules, Hollywood sets the rules. And you either play or get out of the game."


10:30 a.m: Michael Goddard, manager of the Grill, says it'll be business as usual at the power lunch eatery. "We get the heads of every studio and agency every day. . . . I'm sure that if there's a certain agent who handles Russell Crowe, they're doing more work than normal today. Or with the agent who handles Julia Roberts, they'll say to them, 'Hey, congratulations.' But I'm sure they already knew that Julia Roberts was going to be nominated and that she's going to win anyway. I mean, I'm sure she'll win. She was good. She's going to win, right? Anyway, I've gotta go because I've got four lines going here."


11:15 a.m: "I haven't even had a chance to see who got nominated. How can I find out?" says Pam Morton, general manager of Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood, the site of the eighth annual Vanity Fair post-Oscar party. Morton's is planning for this perennially popular event not long after the last one ends and is not affected by nomination day. "Vanity Fair is not tied to any one particular movie, unlike other parties . . . so it's great to whoever got the nominations."

"My top goal of the year is to get an Oscar party," said Julie Lawrence, director of catering at Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel. Although most partyers won't finalize their reservations until next week, restaurateurs say that in addition to the Vanity Fair bash at Morton's Elton John is strongly considering returning to Maple Drive for his annual benefit on Oscar night, according to the manager.


11:35 a.m. Movies are supposed to be collaborative endeavors--even more so when it comes to bragging rights. Sony Pictures Entertainment reps call at 11:35 to stake a claim to 26 nominations, though some are shared with DreamWorks ("Almost Famous") or Universal ("Erin Brockovich," "Meet the Parents"). DreamWorks (which can cite 21) also shares its 12 nominations for "Gladiator" with Universal, and the two nominations for "Cast Away" with Fox. Universal claims the most nominations with 28, additionally sharing a pair with Disney ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?").


Noon: DreamWorks sends its revised advertisement for "Gladiator" to the Los Angeles Times, trumpeting the film's 12 nominations.

Kathy Stoya, owner of Mixed Bag, a gift basket business, braces herself for the next couple of days. "I'm anticipating getting bombarded. Ninety-five percent of my business is film and television industry. But sometimes they don't send baskets the day of the nominations because they don't know where the people are. Everyone is traveling around, so it happens a couple of days after."


1 p.m.: Richard David, co-owner of Marks Garden, a flower store in Sherman Oaks that will provide arrangements for both the Governors Ball and Elton John's Oscar night party, has seen his Oscar business start already, and takes particular note of the close proximity between nomination day and the king of all flower holidays, Valentine's Day. "Today is crazy. They always seem to fall close together. We have several hundred orders going through. We were even getting requests the day before from the studios saying, 'We're pretty sure we're going to have some nominations,' so they could be ready to call first thing the next day. But there'll be even more tomorrow, after the announcements appear in the trades."


1:23 p.m.: Stylist George Bloodwell keeps a list of the Oscar nominees close at hand all morning as he fields calls and drop-ins from publicists and designers to his airy Beverly Hills office. Of course, he says he'd love to get Julia Roberts or Kate Hudson, but for now he's too busy coordinating Joaquin Phoenix's attire. Already, Bloodwell has landed an actress from the cast of "Traffic," but he won't name names. In the meantime, Vivica Fox needs a dress for the Grammys and Bloodwell has to worry about half a dozen other award shows between now and Oscar night. Just this morning he'd spoken (fluent Italian) with the folks at Valentino, Versace and Armani, got exclusive watchmakers Audemars Piguet flying in from Switzerland and hot new clothing designer Roberto Cavalli scheduled in from Italy. "I've talked to them all," Bloodwell says, "this is no Mickey Mouse thing. This is the Oscars!"


2:14 p.m.: Even though it is illegal to place bets in Las Vegas on Oscar winners, the Stardust casino announces, for the fun of it, that "Gladiator" is the 9-5 favorite to be named best picture, followed by "Traffic" (3-1), "Erin Brockovich" (4-1), "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (6-1) and "Chocolat" (8-1).

Stardust bookmaker Joe Lupo says odds are 2-1 that Crowe will win best actor, over Geoffrey Rush (5-2) and Tom Hanks (7-2), and that Roberts is an even-odds bet to win best actress, followed by Allen (7-2) and Binoche (4-1).

Best director: "Gladiator's" Ridley Scott (2-1). "Traffic's" Benicio Del Toro is even-odds to take supporting actor, and Hudson is the 2-1 favorite to win supporting actress.


2:26 p.m.: The shared race and sports book at Bally's and Paris-Las Vegas announces its Oscar odds, and disagrees in part with Stardust's picks. Bookmaker John Avello goes with "Gladiator" (2-1) over "Traffic" (3-1), "Erin Brockovich" (4-1), "Chocolat" (6-1) and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (8-1).

Avello agrees with his colleague that Crowe is a 2-1 favorite for actor, but goes with Hanks next (3-1), over Rush (4-1). Avello also gives Roberts an even chance for actress, over Allen (2-1) and Burstyn (5-1).

For director: Scott (2-1). Jeff Bridges is a 2-1 favorite for supporting actor, and Judi Dench a 2-1 bet to take supporting actress.

Why publish Oscar odds? "I'm an oddsmaker at heart," said Avello. "I'll put a number up on just about anything."


2:30 p.m.: "You can tell the Republicans are back in town, because the two biggest films are about warriors," says Bruce Vilanch, who has written for the Oscar show for 13 years. "That was my first observation after I said, 'Welcome to Steven Soderbergh Land.' "

"It's my bar mitzvah this year," says Vilanch. "I can't think of a better present than to have Bob Dylan sing at my bar mitzvah. Bob Dylan at the Academy Awards. The times have changed.

"Until you know what the academy has made of the movie year, you don't know what the jokes are going to be. "We'll have a lot of jokes about crouching tigers and gladiators. Debbie Allen, she's warming up those tigers, they're crouching right now at a rehearsal studio.

Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Enjoying the Ride


Tuesday February 6, 2001

Enjoying the Ride
* A college freshman says teens who forgo the fast track to pursue their passions will be happier in high school and in life.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As competition for acceptance to prestige universities has reached an all-time high, the very idea of what students should get from high school has become distorted.

Students feel forced to pad their resumes to a ridiculous extent--join every club, play every sport, be in every high-level class--basically look good at everything on paper without concentrating on any particular passion. Doing community service and taking a full load of honors and Advanced Placement classes have value, but doing them merely to get into college is perverse.

Especially if it means not doing the things you love.

Some people--especially parents--have an attitude that treats every phase of life as preparation for the next one. High school is treated as a way to get into a good college, college as transition into graduate school, graduate school as a gateway into the work force, and jobs, well, are gotten and kept in order to make money. "Just close your eyes and bear it until retirement," people seem to think. You can't stop and enjoy life until you're 65? Give me a break.

This rat-race deserves the rotten reputation it has earned.

I've been in the trenches--I graduated from high school last year and am a college freshman now--and I'm here to say there is another way: Follow your heart and get into the college right for you.

High school is not merely a gateway into college. It is an experience in itself, perhaps even more important than college in terms of self-development.

There are certain reasonable steps that students can and should take in order to keep their college options open, like taking a relatively high level of academics, getting good grades, studying a bit for tests such as the SAT.

But if you do everything merely for tomorrow, then there's nothing to keep you happy today. There's a line you just shouldn't cross.

If you love to write poetry, for example, but you're spending so much time doing math and science that you no longer have any time for writing, then you've crossed that line. If you just hate English, but you love science, and you're studying and studying for that AP English course and don't have any time to devote to science, then you've crossed that line.

If you have extracurricular activities that mean a lot to you, and you feel like you have to give them up because people say you should be spending time doing other things because they "help you get into college," think again. Don't give up your passions. And parents, don't let your kids give up what they love for some pursuit of future prestige. It doesn't pay off.

When I first entered Berkeley High, a large public high school a few blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, I had this deep desire to achieve at some high level and go to Harvard or one of the Ivies. Who knows where that urge came from, certainly not from my parents, but it was there in full force.

I have always loved to write--poetry, fiction, anything really. From a young age writing has been my primary genre of creative expression. In registering for ninth grade, I enrolled in every high-level class available--but all of those classes were in math and science. There were no freshman honors classes in the humanities. As a result, I worked really hard and did well in these classes, but I wasn't able to keep up with writing, wasn't able to maintain this passion.

Halfway through my freshman year, my parents noticed what was happening, and questioned what I was doing. In talking to them, it became apparent to me that I was giving up a part of myself, and it just wasn't worth the payoff. So the following semester I went into the normal math and science classes and cleared more time for myself.

For the rest of my time at Berkeley High, I followed my heart, so to speak. I poured myself into activities that spoke to me. I edited multiple publications on campus, I published poetry, I spent hundreds of hours doing things that meant the world to me. All the while, some people told me that I was making a mistake, that if I wanted to get into a good college I should do what all the other college-bound kids were doing: putting their noses to the grindstone, trying to do everything at once, be in every AP and honors course in every possible academic area, join every club. But I didn't listen, and I'm glad I didn't.

I took care of business, I had a good grade-point average and a decent SAT score when I applied to colleges. But more importantly, I was happy and I had a good sense of who I am. There is something in high school, in education, that goes beyond grades, there is a joy to learning that is often forgotten. (A good teacher and friend once advised me: "Don't let school get in the way of your education.")

I ended up getting accepted into most of the colleges I applied to--including some very selective ones. I'm saying this not to brag, but to emphasize my point: that maintaining your passions and following your dreams helps your future, doesn't hurt it. I used the same thinking in choosing a college.

Everyone assumed I would go to Stanford or UC Berkeley because of their prestige. But after visiting the various colleges that accepted me, I decided that those two really weren't the schools for me. I chose the much less-known Occidental College in Los Angeles, because it speaks more to who I am, and has, in my opinion, comparably high-level academics.

Professors at Occidental seem accessible and friendly, and the student body is focused on community, on collaboration, as opposed to the highly competitive environment at some of the better-known schools. As I told someone recently who questioned my decision: Prestige isn't going to make me happy when I wake up every morning.

High school was one of the best experiences in my life, and I'll always remember it warmly. I don't hear this kind of comment too often and that makes me sad. Despite the problems plaguing American education, high school can be wonderful in many ways. If students take care of business, but also follow what they love, then they will flourish. And if they do this, then college will take care of itself.

I recently read a quote in Newsweek from a college counselor. She was talking about getting into prestigious universities, about how to be a patch on the "quilt" of admitted students. "With no outstanding passion, you don't fit into the quilt. I don't care what you do, get out and do it. If you collect butterflies, get out there and collect them." I couldn't agree more.

And if students don't get into the college they want to, at least they will have had four good years of real education, growing personally, following their dreams.

There will be a college that fits each one, that wants each one. Even if it's difficult to see at the moment, I look back now, just months later, and see how true that is.