Thursday  April 30, 2009

Tomcarsonweb3

After Neorealism: Rossellini's 'Il Generale Della Rovere'

Rossellini_1_2

Isabella's parents react to their first fan letter from 19-year-old Jean-Luc Godard.

True, there was that messy Ingrid Bergman business around 1950. Their sensational liaison (she was publicly pregnant) and eventual marriage scandalized a more shockable U.S.A. back in Louella Parsons's chinwagging prime. But otherwise, Italian director Roberto Rossellini will always be remembered best for Open City, Paisan and Germany Year Zero.

Along with Vittorio De Sica's more intimate Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thieves, Rossellini's aggressive out-of-the-ruins docudramas turned postwar Italian cinema into an international force to be reckoned with. They also bequeathed a new term to cine-speak: neorealism. Too bad it proved to be almost useless in categorizing anyone else's movies—or Rossellini's and De Sica's later ones, for that matter.

With its nonprofessional actors and stark if expedient use of documentary settings, neorealism was never an all-purpose filmmaking principle. That's only what its latter-day inheritors, most honorably Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, elevate their version to. In its original, short-lived incarnation, neorealism was a topical response to uniquely stressful circumstances: Italy's devastated economy and complicated political and moral legacy in World War II's aftermath.

In Open City's case, it was famously sooner than that. Rossellini had started filming his melodramatic account of resistance to the German occupation of Rome even before the goosesteppers decamped, making for a raw immediacy unlike anything moviegoers had seen. Not outside newsreels, anyhow.

Rossellini_2

Anna Magnani in Open City.

Once the urgency waned and normal life made a comeback, both directors moved on. Always the smoother and more palatable of the two, De Sica reaped the lion's share of box-office popularity and—in his lifetime—higher acclaim. But Rossellini was the tortoise to his hare. Ranging from painful personal stories disguised as reportage to straight documentaries to austerely brilliant dramatizations of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment for Italian television, his idiosyncratic later career is the one that looms large today.

The driving force in all his work is a rare spirit of inquiry. Whatever his subject, he's determined to clarify human experience by analyzing the forces in play. That's the paradoxical reason his films with Bergman—above all, the remarkable Viaggio in Italia, costarring George Sanders as her cold fish of a husband and the prototype for Jean-Luc Godard's more celebrated movies starring and about his wife, Anna Karina—are uncommonly wrenching. Rossellini's attempts to depersonalize and objectify his own stormy marriage only make what's on the screen more intimate.

Rossellini_3

George Sanders with Bergman in Viaggio In Italia.

The same rigor keeps 1959's Il Generale Della Rovere—his only latter-day commercial success, recently and blessedly given the full-on Criterion Collection treatment on DVD—from being either the mawkish comedy or the banal tribute to the human spirit a lesser director would have made. Rossellini's only return to the wartime setting of his early classics, the movie is also his only major collaboration with De Sica—who's in front of the camera, not behind it, in his other capacity as an actor.

A romantic star before turning director, De Sica kept his hand in (and when worse came to worst, his bank account healthy) by performing in other men's films throughout his career. The most notable example is his role as the elegant diplomat who becomes the heroine's lover in Max Ophuls's unsurpassable The Earrings of Madame De. In Generale Della Rovere, however, he's playing somebody shabbier: Emanuele Bardone, a Genoa grifter and gambler.

Rossellini_4

Hannes Messemer and De Sica in Il Generale Della Rovere.

Bardone puts his chumminess with the German intruders to good use by acting as a fixer for Italian families with sons or husbands in detention. The only problem is that he's all talk; unable to actually deliver on his promises, he keeps their money and food packages for himself. When this florid bunco artist is finally caught, a shrewd SS colonel named Muller (Hannes Messemer) recruits him to impersonate a Resistance general the Germans have just shot. Planted among genuine political prisoners, he'll be an information conduit.

What Muller can't foresee is that being surrounded by men who take him for a hero will inspire Bardone to play the role in earnest. He's the movie's one-man mimicry of Italy's progress from eager collaboration to cynical corruption and then belated resistance, and yet Rossellini refuses to glorify his redemption too much. His Sydney Cartonish final sacrifice is just a price he's willing to pay for the gratification of being looked up to for a change, keeping the movie's dissection of the Italian national character—or human nature, depending on your point of view—ever so faintly sardonic even at its noblest. In one standout sequence, an Allied bombing raid makes the panicked prisoners start screaming to be let out of their cells, and the false Generale Della Revere shames them with a valiant speech about not showing cowardice in front of their jailers. Yet calming the others was only an equally terrified Bardone's pretext for being let out of his own cell, and there's a wonderful glimpse of his sheepish expression when he realizes he's trapped himself into living up to his own stern example.

Rossellini_5

"Il Generale" in prison. A crisis of conscience, they call it.

The central relationship between Bardone and Muller is a fascinating diagram of the peculiarly intimate psychological tussle between occupiers and occupied, pitting the German colonel's seasoned skills against the balkiness and unreliability of his bogus "General." Known to American moviegoers only for his later role as the camp commandant in 1963's The Great Escape, Messemer is a mordant marvel as a crisply self-possessed career policeman with a job whose expanded horizons interest him and no particular investment in his current employers' politics. An old hand at manipulating most varieties of human frailty, he's stymied only by the self-dramatizing appeal of irrational courage.

Incredibly enough, the movie is based on fact, although we learn from the background materials in the Criterion edition's accompanying booklet that the behavior in prison of Bardone's real-life original—one Giovanni Bertoni—is a matter of dispute. But Rossellini's brilliantly organized treatment never stops walking the fine line between anecdote and allegory, trusting his viewers to stick with apparent digressions until they're in a position to grasp the artless-looking storyline's retrospectively lucid pattern of meaning. For instance, you may be mildly puzzled by how much the director dawdles over Bardone's early attempts to pass off a fake sapphire as the real thing. But in hindsight, the con man's about-face when he takes it back from his one willing buyer—an ex-girlfriend introduced with deadpan wit, since only when a bevy of other beauties join her and Bardone in her posh digs for lunch do we catch on we're in a brothel—prefigures all of his later behavior. The whorehouse prefigures the prison, too, but Rossellini's artistry is all in letting us figure that out for ourselves.

As welcome as Il Generale Della Rovere is, too much of Rossellini's filmography is still only available if you either don't mind indifferent quality or own a multiregion DVD player. (Not having checked them out myself, I can't vouch for the foreign DVDs being any less shoddy, either.) The big exceptions are Criterion's recent repackagings of the historical docudramas he made for TV in the Sixties and Seventies, including not only the splendid The Age of The Medici—all the proof you'll ever need that the Corleones were political and financial simpletons with stinko fashion sense, in case that sounds interesting—and The Taking of Power By Louis XIV, which skips the usual royal human interest for the sake of the single greatest study of ice-cold, genius-level political guile ever put on film. But if ice-cold isn't your thing, pray to whatever gods you hold dear for a decent domestic DVD edition of Viaggio in Italia. I used to pray to Godard myself, but he never listened.

Ghosts of Stoners Past

Thursday  April 30, 2009

340x

Actor Breckin Meyer (our favorite Robot Chicken) takes his funny-man act to theatres. Too bad it's in a McConaughey movie.

Somehow it’s been almost fifteen years since Breckin Meyer appeared as stoner Travis Birkenstock in Clueless, creating an archetype for ’90s slackerdom, a sort of watered-down Spicoli for Gen Y. Since then he’s played all manner of goofballs and fuckups in college movies like Road Trip and Go, and more recently some very good men, like Jesus, on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken—our favorite pop-culture-destroying cartoon for grown-ups. (We will not mention Meyer’s stint in the big-screen Garfield except to say that we hope it paid well.) In Meyer’s latest film, the Jennifer Garner–Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (think A Christmas Carol with boobs), he plays Bob Cratchit to McConaughey’s horny Scrooge. Here, Meyer, 34, talks about the McConaughey workout, playing Lindsay Lohan, and why his Christ is better than Mel Gibson’s.—sarah goldstein

So, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past—not a guy movie. Do Seth Green or any of your other friends give you grief when you do a romantic comedy?
Nah, I don’t believe any of us have given each other shit for, uh, working. Although they did give me shit for the talking-cat movie.

Is it true that Matthew McConaughey did push-ups between every take?
I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Are you a fan of romantic comedies?
You know, my wife [Deborah Kaplan] has written many romantic comedies, so I’ll say yes, because it’s paid for half the house I’m living in.

Have you appeared in her movies?
I’ve done cameos. The best way to save our marriage is for us not to work together too much.

Ah, yes. Ghosts is about ex-girlfriends. You have a good story about an ex?
Um, well, if you ever catch your present girlfriend at a sex shop with her two ex-boyfriends and they’re examining dildos, she’s not the right one for you.

Oof.
That’s also something my mom’s always said. I have it stitched on a pillow.

Switching gears: Your show Robot Chicken hit its stride this year—you guys just won a bunch of Annies, the animation awards. You do the voices of Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, to name a few. Do you ever run into anyone whose voice you’ve done?
Yeah. As you can tell with my sweet timbre of a voice, I do most of the girls. I have not run into Lindsay, but on IMDB for a while—I think it’s since been corrected—that voice was credited to [the actress] Michelle Trachtenberg. So I was always expecting to hear that Michelle Trachtenberg was beaten to death at a club by Lohan.

The runaway hit for Robot Chicken—the thing that put Chicken on the map—was the Star Wars sketch, right?
I wrote a sketch called “The Emperor’s Phone Call,” and that suddenly got to be this viral video that got to the desk of George Lucas. And Lucas is very litigious. You don’t fuck with Star Wars, ’cause he’ll sue you. But he liked it! It wasn’t mocking Star Wars; it was really embracing it. The premise was, What if it kept going? What if you had a camera in there when the Emperor found out that the Death Star blew up? Lucas called and said he loved it, and [creators] Seth [Green] and Matt [Senreich] pitched an idea of doing a whole special, and we couldn’t believe he said yes. That brought it to another level as far as our fan base goes. And that brought us up to Lucas’s Skywalker ranch.

Nerd clubhouse! What was that like?
We slept there for like three nights. Lucas had a screening of the show for us, which is funny, because we got to see our low-rent show at the greatest, most high-tech theater on the planet. But yeah, he sat through it and introduced the special. We didn’t even watch the special, because all we were doing was watching him watch our special. And then we raided the vaults of Star Wars and tried on Wookiee outfits.

America's Most Stylish 8-Year-Old Is Back…

Wednesday  April 29, 2009

…with his rules for looking sharp this spring

In elementary school, time is marked by two seasons: summer, and school. And your parents dress you accordingly for each. Not so for Arlo Weiner, America’s most stylish eight-year-old and GQ’s newest (and youngest) correspondent. Arlo has been putting his own wardrobe together—think top hats, bow ties, and crushed velvet blazers—since the age of three. And although he admits to toning down the flash in the warmer months—he’ll even don a T-shirt on occasion—his preference is still for dressing up. “I like being fancy,” he says. Recently back from spring break, Arlo was in the middle of making a card for teacher appreciation day when we called. He kindly put down his marker to share his style tips for spring.—sarah goldstein

*****

Seersucker
Arlo (foreground) with brother Charlie.

1. Suit Up
“A seersucker suit is great in summer. It’s a way to be fancy without being hot. I just got one from Brooks Brothers. You don’t need a special reason to wear it—in spring and summer I’ll wear it on any occasion.”

*****

Blue_shirt

2. Get Back to Basics
“Wear black pants and a blue or white button-down with the top button open. You still look good but it lets the air in. That’s what I’m wearing right now. White is a good choice when it’s hot.”

*****

3. Lose the Shorts
“You can wear shorts if you have to but only if it’s really really broiling hot. I only wear shorts if I’m going on vacation to a hot place like Palm Springs.”

*****

Zebra_hat

4. Protect Your Head
“It’s starting to get hotter out so I needed a cap, but I don’t like wearing baseball caps—they don’t go with anything I wear. My dad found this one for me. I like the shape of it and I have lots of clothes that are black-and-white striped, so it’s a good match. Though I like giraffes more than zebras.”

*****

5. Don’t Fade Away
“Never, ever, ever wear a faded shirt or ripped jeans. It’s sloppy! And it seems like you don’t care.”


What Lies Beneath

Tuesday  April 28, 2009

Vegas: Based on a True Story is a mesmerizing tale of greed gone bad on the city's seedy backstreets. A report from the Tribeca Film Festival

Persian director Amir Naderi returns to the Tribeca Film Festival with a very American tale. “It’s a film about greed,” he says. And how. In Vegas: Based on a True Story, a soldier shows up at the single-wide home where his mother grew up, offering to buy the place from its current owners. The home has sentimental value, he says, which is why he’s offering way more than the property’s worth. The first clue something’s amiss: In this economy, the dude wants to pay in cash. It’s not giving too much away to say that what’s at stake isn’t a broken-down trailer, but rather what may be buried beneath the thing. (Hint: treasure!) The only question is, Who is going to start digging first? Naderi wrote the film two years ago, inspired by a story he heard at a bar on the outskirts of Vegas. He did his research, asked around, heard different versions, but couldn’t verify much. Still, he pressed on with a script, enamored with the themes this story raised. “What mattered,” he says, “is that the family dug up their yard.” It’s an interesting time to be selling a dark film about greed (Naderi hopes to leave the festival with a distribution deal). So, we ask, how did the film’s first U.S. screening go? “No one walked out,” Naderi says.—mickey rapkin

Check back tomorrow for more from the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

How to Sell a Matthew McConaughey Film

Monday  April 27, 2009

Ghostsgirlfriendspastpos

If the poster for The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past looks familiar, well, that’s because it is. (More like the ghosts of posters past! Wha? No? Not funny?)

Here’s how we imagine that marketing meeting went: Hmmm... You think we can get McConaughey in a suit? Yes. Ok... But can we get him to lean?

Warner Bros is smart not to underestimate the lean. A box office report card:

Failuretolaunchposter

Failure to Launch: $88.7 million dollars.

How_to_lose_a_guy_in_ten_days

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: $105.8 million dollars.

Weddingplanner

But The Wedding Planner? No lean? $60 million.

Fools_gold_poster

Fool’s Gold? No lean, plus eye contact? $70 million.

GQ's Crazyball Hall of Fame

Thursday  April 23, 2009

CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THE CRAZIEST PLAYER OF 2009

All-Time Roster

CATCHER

Moe Berg, active 1923-39

Berg

Princeton (magna cum laude), Columbia Law (second in his class), and Sorbonne (linguistics) alum was said to “speak a dozen languages, and couldn’t hit in any of them.” Had subsequent career as OSS spy who chatted up Werner Heisenberg to assess state of German atomic program. (Assignment: If Nazis beating Allies, shoot scientist, swallow cyanide.) Once met with Einstein. Mysterious, neurotic pack-ratter of documents; if anyone else read his daily papers first, insisted on new ones. Nobody knows where he’s buried.

FIRST BASE

Joe Pepitone, active 1962-73

Pepitone

Yankee playboy never reached potential due to erratic focus on game (retired three times), off-field shenanigans, and, perhaps, obsession with own balding. Carried hair-products kit everywhere and wore incredible toupees, including what he called “game piece” (for use beneath cap) and street version that sportswriter once compared to “a shag toilet-seat cover.” Reportedly first player ever to bring hair dryer into clubhouse. In 1975 posed nude for Foxy Lady magazine, revealing impressively hirsute nether region.

Tony Horton, active 1964-70

Horton

Once, after popping out to catcher on tantalizingly slow “eephus” pitch, literally crawled back to dugout. Attempted suicide after being pulled, anxious and disoriented, from another game. So high-strung that doctors told him to cut himself off completely from baseball to save his life.

Steve Garvey, active 1969-87

Picture_3

The Bing Crosby of baseball: “White Christmas” on the outside, “Blue Velvet” on the inside.

SECOND BASE

Johnny Evers, active 1902-29

Evers1

Member of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination immortalized in kitschy F. P. Adams poem. Didn’t actually speak to Tinker for thirty-five years, allegedly because of disagreement over taxi fare. Suffered nervous breakdown in 1911. Later, team had trouble trading him because his temper cost him so much playing time. MVP in 1914 but left baseball following season, saying he was on verge of another breakdown.

Chuck Knoblauch, active 1991-2002

Knoblauchsc

In 1999, Gold Glover and four-time All-Star playing for Yankees at height of dynasty suddenly experienced mental “blauch.” Couldn’t make routine throws to first. Openly contemplated seeing a hypnotist or psychologist. Struck Keith Olbermann’s mother in the face with wild throw. Never got his groove back.

SHORTSTOP

Phil Rizzuto, active 1941-56

Rizzuto

Technically, a wack job not as player but later on as play-by-play man cum unwitting Dadaist poet. In slim volume, O Holy Cow!, his on-air musings are transcribed as blank verse. For instance: “I think my head shrinks a little / In this indoor stadium. / I am… / The mike is getting bigger. / And I have to tighten it.” Once opened broadcast by inadvertently introducing self as partner, Bill White.  

THIRD BASE

Doug Rader, active 1967-77

Rader

Once, fishing without license, hid from game wardens underwater, breathing through reed; three days later reported to spring training from jail, never having changed wet clothes. Used Astros’ locker room as driving range, teeing up and blasting balls off walls while teammates dove for cover. Shat on teammate Jesus Alou’s birthday cake. As manager, one year drove rental car into same tree every day during spring training.

Wade Boggs, active 1982-99

Boggs

Ate chicken before every game, took BP at 5:17 p.m., ran sprints at 7:17 p.m., inscribed Hebrew word chai in dirt before every at-bat, followed same route to dugout after every inning, and had four-year extramarital affair with mortgage broker who subsequently blabbed about it in Penthouse and sued him for $12 million.

OUTFIELD

Ty Cobb, active 1905-28

Picture_4

Turned psychotic, it’s believed, after mother shot father in 1905; later institutionalized following in-season nervous breakdown. Carried gun entire career to protect self from teammates, who despised him. Once fought off two muggers—in home city—and pistol-whipped third to death. (Next day, bandaged and bloody, got three hits.) Sharpened spikes to inflict maximal damage on basemen. Numerous episodes of racist rage. Courted and married 14-year-old heiress. After son flunked out of Princeton, flew to campus and beat him with whip. Terminally cancerous in his seventies, instigated brawls regularly.

Rickey Henderson, active 1979-2003

Henderson

Pre-game, would gaze naked into mirror, murmuring “Rickey’s the best.” Once missed three games with frostbite, reportedly because fell asleep on ice pack. After breaking Cobb’s runs-scored record with homer, ambled around bases, then slid into home. In late career, was offered desirable team-bus seat by teammate who said, “You’ve got tenure,” and replied, “Ten? Rickey’s got twenty years in the big leagues.” Seeking work, reportedly left off-season voice-mail message for Padres GM: “This is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

Pete Reiser, active 1940-52

Petereiser

In ten seasons, was carried off field eleven times. Five times knocked unconscious after smashing into walls. Three times sneaked out of hospitals to pinch-hit (respectively getting a home run, a triple, and, on broken ankle in ’47 Series, a walk). After breaking right arm, taught self to throw lefty. Was administered last rites after Ebbets Field wall collision, but recovered.

Joe Charboneau, active 1980-82

Joe_charboneau

As Indians rookie, won notice for twenty-three homers and for ability to open beer bottles with eye socket, drink beer through straw in nose, do own dental work, and fix own broken nose with Jack Daniel’s and pliers.

PITCHERS

Rube Waddell, active 1897-1910

Waddell

Walter Johnson said boozy lefty—Sporting News called him a “sousepaw”—“had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw.” Game’s first great eccentric and first great drawing card. Rube being Rube: He’d run off the pitcher’s mound to chase fire trucks. If taunting fans held up shiny objects or puppies, he’d fall into trance. Lost track of how many women he’d married. Manager hired detective to prevent him from disappearing. Wrestled alligators. Once bitten by lion.

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, active 1969-82

Lee

Possibly the only pro athlete ever to openly advocate legalizing marijuana; claimed he sprinkled it on his organic-buckwheat pancakes to make self “impervious to bus fumes.” A drinker, too; once said foreign object in X-ray of his foot was “an old Dewar’s cap.” After Red Sox traded him, declared, “Who wants to be with a team that will go down in history alongside the ’64 Phillies and the ’67 Arabs?” But gloried in Boston’s 2004 ALCS comeback over “Nazi” Yankees, suggesting Steinbrenner move stadium to Philippines and rename team Manila Folders.

Dock Ellis, active 1968-79

Ellis

Once responded to hecklers who called him “nigger” by joining them in stands, asking, “What happened to all those niggers up here? All those niggers calling me nigger?” When MLB officials griped about Ebony feature on his coif, defiantly took field in curlers. To revive spiritless club, once opened game by hitting three straight batters and doing damnedest to hit fourth. Claimed never to have played without first taking speed. Sometimes got high sniffing new Ping-Pong balls. Threw no-hitter under influence of Purple Haze acid. Drug counselor after baseball.

Satchel Paige, active 1948-65

Paige

The Ali of baseball—its all-time greatest showman. Would gather his outfielders around pitcher’s mound and strike out side. Would ask right- and left-handed batters to stand six inches apart at home plate, then knock cigars out of their mouths. In 1941 reportedly pitched on thirty consecutive days. Said Bob Feller: “I’ve seen Satch walk a man deliberately to get to DiMaggio.” Autobiography contains maxims such as, “Avoid fried foods which angry up the blood.” Estimated he’d won 2,100 games and thrown fifty-five no-hitters, lifetime. At age 59, pitched three scoreless innings against Red Sox.

Mark Fidrych, active 1976-80

Fidrych

Rookie would sprint to mound, groom it with “piano-ist’s hands” (his words), and murmur to ball. In 1977, in rage over career-ending injury, destroyed washer and dryer in Tigers clubhouse, then promptly repaired them. Once said, “I don’t think there’s been a time when I wasn’t confused.”

MANAGER

Billy Martin, active 1969-88

Martin

Legendary drinker, tactician, riler-upper. Briefly sought hit man to whack umpire he hated. Threatened to break knuckles of stadium organist he claimed distracted team. Brawled with: Reggie Jackson, two Yankees traveling secretaries, marshmallow salesman, sportswriter, bouncers at topless bar, etc. Once made a player switch-hit who wasn’t a switch-hitter; once drew lineup for struggling team out of hat. Refused ever again to let Larry Gura pitch after seeing him wearing tennis whites. Hired, fired five times by Yankees. Posed for ’82 Topps card with middle finger extended.

John McGraw, active 1899-1932

Mcgraw

Innovator set games-ejected record that lasted seventy-five years. Fought Wee Willie Keeler nude, D. H. Lawrence-style, on clubhouse floor. Knocked child lemonade vendor’s teeth loose. Got two black eyes tussling with Hopalong Cassidy.

OWNER

Bill Veeck, active 1946-81

Veeck

MLB’s Barnum. Innovations: AL’s first black player, exploding scoreboard, Wrigley ivy, gate prizes (orchids, pigeons, horse, 200-pound block of ice). Visited every bar in Cleveland to apologize to fans after nearly trading popular player. Hired circus clown to coach third. Signed midget; issued him elf slippers and uniform (#1/8); vowed to shoot him with rifle if he swung bat (midget walked on four pitches). Held “Grandstand Manager’s Day,” in which fans voted on strategy using yes and no signs. Wore wooden leg with built-in ashtray. In retirement, became shirtless habitué of Wrigley bleachers.

George Steinbrenner, active 1973-2008

Steinbrenner

Shipping-company scion dwelled in own private nineteenth century. Changed managers twenty-one times, GMs eleven times. Made front-office people stay at desks all night after losses. Harassed managers with brainstorms during games. Suspended for illegal Nixon-campaign contributions. Picked fights with most popular players: Reggie, for slumping; Mattingly, for growing hair long; Jeter, for partying. Own sons quit Yankees jobs because of “verbal abuse”; he later King Leared them in SI (“I’m not sure Hank understands me…[but] Hal I’m very proud of”). During ’81 Series, flaunted injuries after claiming he decked two Dodgers fans in elevator while defending honor of Yankees. Once said, “I will never have a heart attack. I give them.”

The 2009 Team

CATCHER

A. J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox

01

Cheap-shot artist specializes in gratuitous collisions, spiking. In spring training, after ball hit him in groin, was asked by trainer, “How does it feel?” Exclaimed, “Like this!” and kneed trainer in nuts. Has bad-mouthed own teammates to opposing hitters. Is member of tag-team pro-wrestling duo. In Sports Illustrated Players Poll, voted number one player rivals hoped to see get beaned.

FIRST BASE

Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals

02

Nicknamed Da Meat Hook for ongoing flirtation with 300 pounds. Paints fingernails. Was asked to trim huge Afro for good of “team structure.” Celebrates doubles with “voodoo hands.” In 2006 attempted to choke girlfriend in hotel room; forced to perform community service trimming hedges while Tigers, who’d released him, won AL pennant. Of Da Hook’s appetite for sushi, Nats teammate remarked, “You should almost have to pay at the door to watch…the demolition.”

SECOND BASE

Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

03

A Chihuahua who’s convinced he’s a Great Dane. College coach described him as having “body of a sixth grader,” but in first meeting, 5’5”-ish Pedroia flexed biceps and asked, “How do you like these guns?” Before taking batting practice, announces, “Are you ready for the laser show?” After being denied entrance to visitors’ clubhouse during ’07 World Series because security doubted he was ballplayer, sputtered, “You don’t know who I am? Ask [opposing pitcher] Jeff fucking Francis who I am. I’m the guy who hit a bomb and just ended their fucking season.” In 2007 off-season dance contest, stripped off shirt to reveal daddy painted on chest.

SHORTSTOP

Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland Athletics

04

His every at-bat is a desperate cry for Dr. Oliver Sacks—a frenzy of Tourettic toe tapping, helmet touching, sign-of-crossing, glove yanking. (Observer swears Nomar never actually touches gloves, just pantomimes touching them.) “I’m just doing it to get everything tight,” he’s said. “I like everything tight.” En route to field, insists on stepping on each dugout step with both feet. Departing field mid-inning, removes glove to touch self fixed number of times. Has said, “If I do everything the same every day, I can’t blame a bad day…on the fact that I didn’t do the routine.”

THIRD BASE

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

05

Wants desperately to be Jeter—effortlessly glamorous, clutch, in zone—but is precise opposite instead. As Yankee, has become a notorious postseason choker (ninety-four at-bats, .245 average, four home runs). Before every game, performance coach leads him in repeating mantra: “I hit solid with an accelerated bat head.” Greatest, richest player of his generation having midlife crisis at 32. Alleged affair with Madonna. Calculating yet graceless about image: recently seen at lunch with brunet, dabbing own mouth with (come on, now!) $100 bill.

OUTFIELD

Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

06

A mythical creature: half Gehrig, half towering nincompoop. In Cleveland, absconded with teammates’ bats and clothes, distributed unwanted nude hugs, carried half-dozen driver’s licenses. In Boston, blew off pennant race, alleging sickness (only to be seen drinking with rival player), injury (said knee was hurting, then allegedly forgot which knee), death of relative (when Manny missed White House reception, POTUS himself said, “I guess his grandmother died again”). Observed in outfield wearing MP3 player. Once vacated position to urinate behind left-field wall and missed first pitch of next inning. Defensive highlights: high-fiving fan, midplay, after leaping catch at wall; inexplicably diving to cut off fellow outfielder’s relay (result: inside-the-park HR).

Elijah Dukes, Washington Nationals

07

Indisputably, most terrifying player in MLB. Sent photo of handgun to then wife’s cell phone in 2007 and left this voice-mail message: “Hey, dawg. It’s on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain’t even bullshittin’. Your kids too, dawg. It don’t even matter to me who is in the car with you. Nigga, all I know is, nigga, when I see your motherfuckin’ ass riding, dawg, it’s on. As a matter of fact, I’m coming to your motherfuckin’ house.” When asked for comment, told reporters, “I’ve got a video game to finish.” Traded in 2007 to Nats, who hired ex-cop to supervise him full-time.

Gary Sheffield, New York Mets

08

Reminiscent of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory: 99 percent of what he says makes hardly any sense, but you damn well better listen to that last 1 percent. First baseball suspension was in frickin’ Little League. Has been stalked, shot during attempted carjacking, slapped with restraining, implicated in BALCO scandal. Married gospel singer who appeared in R. Kelly sex tape. Has quarreled with Barry Bonds and sued Scott Boras (lost, unfortunately). Told GQ that if hadn’t made it as ballplayer, would have become accountant.

PITCHERS

Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners

09

Describes self as “Dominican by birth, athlete by profession, poet by vocation.” First major leaguer ever to publish serial-killer novel (The Avenger of Blood, currently number 1,240,318 on Amazon). Devotee of paranormal; told GQ that ghostly “claw” tried to prevent him from writing book. Skin-crawlingly cheesy aphorist: “Ideas are like rabbits: Mingle them and in a week you have a bunch of them.” Lifetime record, 89-104: “People say that if I concentrated more on baseball, I would be a superstar.”

Scott Olsen, Washington Nationals

10

Teammates openly call Parliament-smoking lefty “selfish.” At least three have attacked him, among them Olsen’s best friend. Made headlines after 3:40 a.m. police pursuit in July ’07 in which he led cops to own home, sat down in plastic chair in front yard, started kicking, and was tased. After thuggish head shot was widely distributed, tried to persuade heavily inked teammate to tattoo it on own ass.

Carl Pavano, Cleveland Indians

Cgbkowvt

World’s highest-paid hypochondriac spent 90 percent of four-year, $40 million Yankee deal either rehabbing or on DL. Reportedly, showed face in clubhouse only to get massages, candy bars, and paychecks. Best injuries: broken ribs (totaled Porsche but didn’t tell team for eleven days), “bruised buttocks” (had MRI of left ass cheek), “hip cramp,” “heavy legs.” Joe Torre: “The players hated him.” When offered new contract for just below $10 million/year, fellow pitcher Mike Mussina declared, “I can’t be paid less than Pavano”; GM caved. In clubhouse Jeter once inquired, “Hey, Pav. You ever going to play? Ever?’”

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox

Papelbon_ws

Dimness, cockiness, and 100-mph fastball evince comparisons to Charlie Sheen character in Major League. Says Curt Schilling: “He’s not exactly a charter member of Mensa.” Has been observed shooting craps in foul territory at Fenway. Refers to David Ortiz as “Big Papi, a.k.a. the Large Father.” Interviewing teammate for FSN TV broadcast, repeatedly seen adjusting…himself. After winning 2007 AL pennant, danced Irish jig in underwear in Fenway infield. Asked by Letterman about post-championship activities, replied, “Other than not sleeping? Partying.” At one time possessed baseball that made final out of 2007 World Series, but has said dog ate it.

Julian Tavarez, Washington Nationals

Julian

Has (respectively) “body-slammed,” “bumped,” and “inadvertently knocked over” umpires on three separate occasions. Suspended four times for brawling, including twice in spring training: In ’98 launched flying karate kick; in ’06 landed solid right cross. (Commented, “What do you mean, ‘regret?’…I’m not mad at myself. I love myself, bro.”) Had near breakdown after surrendering go-ahead HR in ’04 NLCS: threw ball behind head of next batter, wild pitch to next, hit third; after leaving field, punched out dugout phone, breaking two fingers. Says childhood nickname was Yo-Yo because of his emotional turbulence. Calls Manny “my best friend”; was observed in 2007 in Boston dugout quietly submitting to lengthy head-petting by him.

MANAGER

Ozzie Guillen

Ozzieguillenchoke2

Once boasted, “I like trouble.” After outfielder Magglio Ordóñez accused Guillen of making him play hurt, responded, “He’s my enemy.… He’s another Venezuelan motherfucker.… What the fuck did he ever do for me?” Reduced rookie pitcher who refused to bean batter to tears, then shipped him back to minors. Called critical sportswriter “a piece of shit… fucking fag,” then later added, “I apologize to the gay community, but to [the writer]? No chance.… He’s still garbage, going to die as garbage.”

OWNER

Hank Steinbrenner

Steinbrennerhank1_feature

As Yankee exec in ’80s, known for smoking on field, not picking up paychecks, and trying to replace closer who went on to set saves record. Clashed with and distanced self from father—once changed name on mailbox to “Stein”—only to transform self into “Boy George” upon becoming team’s co-owner. Said wouldn’t re-sign A-Rod if he opted out of contract (“If you don’t understand the magnitude of being a Yankee… No chance”), then did; shut down prospective Johan Santana trade, declaring, “The deadline is the deadline,” but six weeks later said, “We’re still discussing it.” Agent: “The guy’s a blowhard. But unlike his father, he’s an ineffectual blowhard.”

nate penn is a gq correspondent.

GQ Hits Record Store Day

Wednesday  April 22, 2009

Cimg0040

While everyone else is prematurely writing their obits, record stores around the country are banding together to fight. “We’re all pretty stubborn,” says Chris Vanderloo, a manager at Other Music, an East Village institution now in its thirteenth year of business. One way they’re keeping the dream alive? Record Store Day. On Saturday, more than 1,000 stores worldwide, including Other Music, offered in-store performances and promotions for the second annual event. “We weren’t expecting a whole lot,” laughs Vanderloo. “Who’s ever heard of Record Store Day?”

For starters, everyone in the single-file line that wrapped around 3rd Street from 11AM until the store’s closing. They kicked off the festivities with a Sony listening party of Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life (out on April 28) and spun it three times to placate the rabid fans who had fought their way in all morning. The rest of the afternoon, turntables played a different DJ set every hour—from artists like Grizzly Bear and The Raveonettes—while aggressive shoppers waited their turn for 10% off the store’s entire collection. Those unafraid to throw an elbow snagged limited-edition vinyl—from artists like Sonic Youth and Pavement—that labels pressed and sold exclusively for the holiday. As stragglers sifted through the remains of the shelves, indie-folk favorite Bill Callahan performed a low-key, acoustic set to a crowd of dedicated fans that capped off one hell of a day.

Sure, records have had better days. But they’ve also had worse. And if these fans have any say in it, they’ll have many more.—andrew richdale

Cimg0044

Tuesday  April 21, 2009

Tomcarsonweb3

Naked City

American_swing_pic_2

Picture a 21-year-old nebbish who'd just swapped Princeton's shiny shrinkwrap for the world's least ominous-looking leather jacket, and you'll have some idea of the sociological astuteness of the Bunker's future hermit when I moved to New York in 1977. During the era later immortalized, sort of, in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, punk rock was all I cared about. No wonder my first impression of the city was as blinkered as a junkie's in a Wal-Mart.

Even though I got to see my beloved Ramones in action at CBGB's at least once before their rep outgrew their birth venue, pretty much everything above 14th Street, let alone past the East River, might as well have been Zanzibar. Little would I have guessed that my best chance of seeing Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy's outer-borough relatives and neighbors in action—speaking metaphorically, understand, and meaning no disrespect—was at Plato's Retreat.

Founded, all too predictably, by a nice Jewish boy from Long Island, Manhattan's-and-therefore-the-world's most notorious commercial swingers' club was the kind of echt-Seventies phenomenon that may yet get that much misunderstood decade recognized for what it was. Namely, one of the most weirdly democratic interludes in our history, because everybody got to play.

American_swing_pic_1
Just another PTA meeting that got out of hand: Plato's, circa 1978.

Except to countercultural snobs, the Seventies—or anyhow, "The Seventies," which only got rolling circa 1975—weren't really when the Sixties bacchanal ended. They were only when the sex-and-drugs revolution went suburban—or "bridge-and-tunnel," a Manhattanite jape that lost a lot of its currency once gentrification drove many a cool cat to Park Slope or Hoboken. If punk was notoriously anti-hedonist, go figure. We were the only avant-garde in sight, and we had to feel superior to something. To the wonder or horror of bohemians who'd long thought of drugs and guilt-free licentiousness as proud badges of nonconformity—not to mention poor Jimmy Carter, stuck bemusedly presiding over this wingding—the Seventies were when Levittown and Scarsdale got their freak on. From that perspective, what went on inside Plato's is less significant than the entrance fee: a budget-friendly, Mom-and-Pop-friendly, what-about-the-babysitter-friendly $25. Per couple.

Understanding as much is the key virtue of American Swing, an unexpectedly beguiling doc from filmmaker Mathew Kaufman and journalist Jon Hart about the rise and fall of Plato's and its only begetter, onetime kosher-meat wholesaler Larry Levenson. Newly out on DVD, the movie is far more touching than prurient, despite the multitude of (hairy, jiggly, none too comely) naked bodies orgying away in the dim archival footage of the club at its peak. As unhygienic as the goings-on look, the image that sums up the place's odd gestalt isn't visual. It's one alum's recollection of hearing women in the orgy room discuss who was going to carpool to Hebrew school in the morning.

In other words, although the place's notoriety attracted a sprinkling of cognoscenti—screenwriter Buck Henry, for one, who fortunately only appears with his clothes on, and a then underground Abbie Hoffman, fondly recalled by Village Voice scenester Howard Smith for his inability to score—Plato's was never hip. A cross between "a poor man's Playboy Mansion," as one interviewee calls it, and "the McDonald's of sex," to quote another, Plato's was your high-school dentist's revenge for every time you'd wondered how boring his life must be as you said "Aah."

American_swing_pic_3
Plato's founder Larry Levenson and his prom queen, Mary, in their prime.

Levenson himself was one more of those delusional sham Gatsbys that America churns out like so much flotsam and jetsam. "Larry was boring," reflects Screw publisher and American Swing MVP Al Goldstein, himself no sentimentalist about sex after a stogie-chomping lifetime of peddling it. "Larry started to believe all the bullshit." Someone else remembers him giving tours of the club with "the enthusiasm of a Kiwanis executive showing off his hometown." To the incredulity of his staff, Levenson was even proud of Plato's terrible buffet.

If there was a victim in all this, it was probably his longtime partner, Mary, who in their vintage TV interviews as a couple has the suppressed hysteria of a politician's wife who's decided to stand by her man as a glazed-looking Larry (he was boring) drones on to the concerned likes of Phil Donahue and David Susskind about the wonders of entrepreneurial promiscuity. After a stint in prison once the club ran afoul of the IRS, Levenson gamely tried to go back into business at the old stand, proclaiming himself the "King of Swing" and sporting the Tudor headgear and moth-eaten velvet cloak to prove it. But the AIDS crisis shut Plato's doors for good in 1985. Obese, still chipper, but with a helplessly wistful look in his eyes in the last photographs we see, Levenson was driving a cab by the time he died of a heart attack in 2002.

American_swing_pic_4
Everyone remembers the night Dr. Henry Kissinger introduced his fiancee to Margaret Trudeau at Plato's. Nah, not really, but we can dream.

As for the onetime participants in Plato's frolics who reminisce on camera, maybe the most telling comment comes from Nina, a portly female regular whose bod would never have made Playboy: "Nobody ever made fun of you." While it's always possible the filmmakers are gilding the lily, you can't help but be struck by the fact that nobody—not the gal who went there from her day job as a social worker; not Nina, who used to be the cashier selling tickets to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and may well have sold me mine the one time friends shanghaied me to see the damn thing; not even the dapper African American dude who got photographed sitting poolside in nothing but a bowler hat and black tube socks back in the day—expresses any regrets. I wouldn't have set foot in the dump if you'd put a gun to my head, but in an odd way I bet most Ramones fans will know just how they feel 30-plus years later.

Strawberry Pizza, from Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu (Napa, CA)

Tuesday  April 21, 2009

0509gqga0301

A yoga-studio-slash-vegetarian-restaurant named for an African tribal philosophy—sounds like a joke, right? Jeremy Fox is not kidding. With a two-acre garden supplying his kitchen, he’s serving not only some of the best vegetarian-friendly cuisine in the country but also—as critic upon critic has lately gushed—some of the finest food in the world. Singular pizzas, such as this savory strawberry-sauced one, are among his signatures. Pizzas are the perfect vehicle for showcasing everything you grow. “If you have a big garden, and you know how to make pizza,” he says, “the possibilities are endless.”

Makes 4 individual-size pizzas
2 medium white onions, minced
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed
1 pints strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Pizza dough (available in supermarkets, or use Fox’s home-cook-friendly recipe below)
1/2 cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella
1 pound Burrata cheese
Basil leaves
Saba (concentrated grape syrup), if available

Sweat the onions gently with the olive oil, pine nuts, and kosher salt in a nonreactive lidded pot. When the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes and strawberries and simmer until the mixture thickens, about 2 hours.
Pour in the balsamic vinegar and cook an additional 30 minutes. Remove the sauce from stove and cool in a colander to allow excess oil to run o­. Adjust seasoning with additional
salt and black pepper to taste. To build pizzas: Tear the dough into four pieces and pull each piece into shape. Spread the sauce evenly across the pizzas, then sprinkle each crust with 2 tablespoons of the mozzarella. Arrange a few small pieces of the Burrata on each pizza, then bake in a 500-degree oven on a pizza stone or baking sheet until the crust is golden and the cheese has melted. Slice pizzas, then top with the basil leaves, a drizzle of saba, and a big chunk of Burrata in the center.

Strawberry Pizza Dough
(Makes enough dough for four individual-size pizza crusts.)

3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups water, heated to 110 degrees F
1.5 teaspoons dry active yeast
1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl and leave at warm room temperature for 10 minutes, until the mixture is frothy. Whisk the water/yeast mixture with the oil, salt, sugar, and half the flour until smooth, then add remaining flour and knead for 5 minutes or until all the flour is well incorporated. Let the dough rise, covered with a moist cloth for 15 minutes or until its size doubles. Punch dough down, place in an airtight container twice its size, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to bake pizzas, cut dough into 4 even chunks and roll into balls on a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to stretch the dough into pizza shapes about ¼ inch thick.

For a complete, beginner-friendly guide to growing your own food, pick up the May issue of GQ.

Jason Giambi Goes Home

Monday  April 20, 2009

Gettyimages_85204417

In April 2005, just weeks after he’d become the first professional baseball player ever to acknowledge using performance-enhancing drugs, GQ published a deeply reported and intimate profile of Jason Giambi. He was a New York Yankee then, the bewildered subject of the biggest controversy ever to hit his sport. This past January, the Yankees declined the $22 million option on his contract, cutting him loose after seven years. Two days later, Giambi signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics, where he’d spent the first seven years of his career and had won an MVP award.

The guy once known as baseball’s most exuberant partier is 38 now, but he’s still affable, off-the-cuff, and immensely likable (which is perhaps the underrecognized key to his survival). Two days before the opening of the 2009 season, he met with Nate Penn, the author of the original profile, at Barry Bonds’s former home field, AT&T Park in San Francisco. In a wide-ranging conversation, he candidly reflected on his years in the Bronx, on Joe Torre’s book and Alex Rodriguez’s press conference, and on the scandal that changed him forever.

Why did you decide to re-sign with Oakland?
It became apparent that the Yankees weren’t gonna pick up my option. I was out on the market, and there was Tampa and there was Oakland. Tampa had looked good for a little while, but I talked to [A's General Manager] Billy Beane and asked him what direction they were gonna go. They were young. He’d gone out and gotten Matt Holliday, and he had this whole plan: wanted to talk to Nomar, wanted to get Cabrera. That’s really what made me lean towards here. When I walked in, I felt like a rookie again, because other than Eric Chavez, I hadn’t played with anybody else. I’d been gone for seven years.

During your first stint with the A’s, you were noted for wearing a T-shirt in the clubhouse that read, “Party Like a Rock Star, Hammer Like a Porn Star, Rake Like an All-Star.” At 38, can you still pull off that shirt?
It’s gonna have to say dot-dot-dot in between. I need a couple days after each one of them. If I go out and party like a rock star, I don’t make it back to the game quite the same the next day.

You were a hairy beast in Oakland, but the Yankees, whose team policy prohibits facial hair below the lip, made you shave. How does it feel to be able to grow facial hair again?
Awesome. When I first went to New York, I don’t think my upper lip and chin had seen sun in like fifteen years. Guys have been asking me to bring back the ’stache. I’m gonna have to wait and see how the season starts out.

During your first season in New York, there was a lot of talk about you “pressing,” trying too hard because the right field wall was so close. Does being back in Oakland, in a more spacious ballpark, mean you’ll change your approach at the plate?
I hope so. Before I went to New York, I typically hit the ball from left-center to right-center because of the dimensions in Oakland. When I went to New York, my first month I was hitting a lot of balls the other way, but they were a can of shit. I mean, hitting the ball 400 feet the other way is a long way, especially when it’s freezing cold and you can’t feel your face, and then you’re getting booed and you’re like, “Well, shit, that right-field wall is only like 290 feet. Let’s try to start flipping a few that way.” So I hope to hit for a higher average this year rather than be one-dimensional, the way I was in New York.

The fact that you’re returning to Oakland reinforces the belief of many fans and sportswriters that you wish you’d never left this team, which you’ve compared to a frat, for the Yankees, which Gary Sheffield has called “the Corporation.”
No! I had the time of my life in New York. It was a dream of mine to play for the Yankees, and to play those seven years there was an honor. New York makes you really find out who you are as a person and an athlete. There are so many dynamics there—the media, the fans, the expectation level.

Do you feel a sense of relief at not having to deal with the New York media any more?
To be honest with you, it’s kind of addictive. You look at it and you say, “Oh, wow, it would be nice to go back home,” but now and then you wish it was a little more tilt mode.

Your numbers were excellent during your seven years in New York, even if your batting average wasn’t what it had been. The Yankees will be lucky if they get the same kind of production out of your successor at first base, Mark Teixeira. Is it your sense that people recognize how good your years in New York were?
I think yeah and no. I mean, I came up with some really big hits in New York. Of course, other things overshadowed that, there’s no doubt. I think people in New York got to see me grow as a human being. I reached fans in a different way than anybody else, and I think they identify with me. The fans know I came up with big hits. But I don’t know if they would ever recognize how well I played, because there were just so many other things that went on.

What would you say was your best moment as Yankee?
Well, definitely the coolest moment was hitting the grand slam against the Twins in the rain a month into my first season in New York. I wanted to do so well at the beginning. When you first go to New York and you struggle, everybody gets all fired up. But you just try too hard. You want to go in there and impress everybody, especially when you’re a free agent. Yankee fans remember the guy that used to come in and kill the Yankees. So they want you to do that every day. They’re like, “Why isn’t this guy hitting a fucking home run every day? Every time he plays the Yankees, he hits a home run!”

And your worst moment?
Ah, my worst moment. [long pause; sighs] What would it be? There were a ton of moments that I felt I grew from, whether it was getting up with the steroids or having to pull myself out of games, things like that. I don’t really know if there’s really a worst. That’s kind of how I think of things.

How do you feel that your public acknowledgment of steroid use helped you grow?
I mean, to step up and be able to go through the things that I had to. I was kind of the first guy, and I always tease people that sometimes the first doesn’t end up being the best. [laughs] Now you look and go, “Wow, he did it the right way.” But then it sucked. It really did. It sucked. Going through that every day? But it made me a lot stronger and, I guess, believe in myself a lot more than I could have ever hoped or wished for.

One thing a lot of people I spoke with told me is that you’re very sensitive to what people think of you. Did that experience make you less concerned with how people view you?
Yes and no. Yes in that it made me believe more in myself. But I still care about people the same—even more. Because now I get a sense of what it’s like to be down and out, too. You find out a lot about yourself as a person, but you also find out how you’ve treated other people, how they perceived you, and how they treat you back. Everybody always will tell you, “Oh, you’re a great guy,” but when the chips are down, you really find out, I guess, how good a guy you really were. You say, “Well, if I was really a good person and I’ve treated people right, they’re gonna be there.” I got a chance to see that. It was incredible. It was really kind of like a defining moment in my life, to be honest with you.

A-Rod famously wants badly to be liked, too. Why do you think it messes with his head on the field when it doesn’t seem to mess with yours?
You gotta learn how to compartmentalize what goes on, on and off the field. There’s also a big difference, I think, when you’re the best player in the game. There’s a different responsibility than getting to be the fun-loving Frank the Tank that I am. When you’re the best player in the game, they want you to be this person—like, the uniform fits perfectly, you say the right thing, you do the right thing. But when you’re Superman you gotta be not good at something, or else you’d be a robot. I guess that’s his little kryptonite, you know?

Did he call you to ask for advice about how to deal with publicly admitting that he used steroids?
He didn’t call me, but I think Al is gonna learn a lot about himself and come out of this great. I know it made me a lot better. Hopefully he’ll bounce out of this.

As you said, a lot of fans and reporters today look at you with admiration, even if they didn’t at the time. And evidently they see A-Rod as having done the opposite. In what way do you think he could have handled it better?
Such a tough question. The way I did it was best for me. In my opinion, he did the right thing. He did the hardest part, which is coming forward and saying he did it.

In their clubhouse exposé, The Yankee Years, Joe Torre and Tom Verducci report that you approached Torre at one point and told him, regarding A-Rod, “Skip, it’s time to stop coddling him.” What made you say that?
I don’t think anybody had ever been real with him. When you’re a superstar, everybody tells you what you want to hear. I know, in my life, sometimes it’s just nice for somebody to be honest with you, like, “Okay, you fuckin’ stink right now. Now what are we gonna do?” I know what it was like when I struggled that one year, and maybe that was my wake-up call. They said they were gonna send me to the minors. Somebody was fucking real with me and said, “Listen, you’re fucking struggling, you suck right now, let’s get it going!” And then I took off. So that’s why I said that.

In the same book, Andy Pettitte is quoted as saying that after the team lost the 2003 World Series, he stopped expecting to win every season. At the outset of every year you played with the Yankees, did you think you were going to a win a ring?
I did. I walked into that clubhouse every single year thinking we would, because they would go out and they’d sign a big free agent. You’d think, Well, that’s gonna get us over the top. But unfortunately you learn in this game that nothing guarantees you anything special.

Verducci and Torre also report that a trainer used to apply hot liniment to Roger Clemens’s testicles. Did you ever witness that?
I’ve seen some of it drip onto his balls. He lubes. I’ve never seen a guy wear more hot shit on the planet. The guy’s basically in a jock and a pair of socks and like head to toe in hot shit. That’s no bullshit.

Have you tried it yourself?
No, I would fucking cry. The stuff that he used to put on his body—even his hot tanks were like molten lava. He would get in the hot tank before the games, and it was like a cauldron. One time I put my foot in there, my skin almost fell off my foot, it was so hot.

People I spoke with for the GQ profile suggested that you tend to attach yourself to older men with strong personalities—your father; your agent, Arn Tellem; Mark McGwire; Barry Bonds; your trainer, Bob Alejo—and they speculated that this might be because you’re uncertain sometimes about whether you can stand on your own two feet. There’s that remark that Brian Cashman made about you when you and the Yankees were squabbling about clubhouse access for your trainer: “He doesn’t need someone to make him Jason Giambi.” And Torre told Verducci, “Obviously he needed somebody to push him, his father or somebody.” When, if ever, was it true that you needed somebody to help you be Jason Giambi?
[laughs] I think it’s fucking ridiculous. I’ll admit that I’m a very atypical person. I like my routine, and I like what I do every single day. I’m not a big fan of change. But at the same time, that’s what made me successful. Bob throwing me BP, that was something that was always a constant. I still was a great player when Bob left, so I find it kind of hilarious that people think that.

In The Yankee Years, Torre says, “Jason…didn’t always work hard enough. In spring training I would remind him, ‘To be a regular player you’ve got to take your regular complement of ground balls.’ And then I’d have to remind him two or three times during the year.” You’re known as a gregarious, good-natured guy who likes to party, a superstar who’s accessible and off-the-cuff. Is your work ethic everything it could be?
I get my work in, I get it done, and there’s another routine I’ve felt was good for me. If I took a hundred more ground balls, was that gonna make me better? I knew I was gonna get more tired; that’s about the only thing I figured out. It’s like taking a thousand swings. When is the point of no return, when actually it starts to be harmful?

David Wells has said that the Torre/Verducci book violates the clubhouse code of confidentiality. Do you agree?
I think it’s tough. I wouldn’t do it. But at the same time, it’s hard to pick which one is Verducci and which one is Torre, you know what I’m saying? They wrote it together. I think it would be very unfair to put a judgment on it until I definitely knew who said what. I have better things to worry about,

What about direct quotes from Torre, like the one I read you about how you could’ve worked more on your defense?
That shit doesn’t bother me.

The Yankees’ hatchet man, Randy Levine, tried to void your contract on the grounds that you’d confessed to using steroids, but he couldn’t. Then he tried to void your contract because you’d refused an assignment to the minors. How did it make you feel to know that there were people in your own organization actively working against you?
It definitely makes your job tougher, there’s no doubt about that. They leaked it to the media, and the media bum-rushed me with it, and that’s where I was a little fucking pissed. Rather than calling me in there and talking to me about it. But I went in there and sat down with Joe Torre and Brian Cashman, and I told them just, “No fuckin’ chance.” I knew I could hit, and I knew I was going in the right direction. I had a lot of confidence in myself, and I knew that I was gonna come out of it.

Why did you never say to the media, “Do you really think I’m the only guy who did steroids?”
Because that’s not me. I took full responsibility for what I did. It never even entered my mind that I was gonna say, “Well, it’s really not that bad.” I just always felt like, Hey, this is what I did. I apologized for it, and I was gonna leave it at that.

Why should the fans believe that you’ve been clean ever since you made your acknowledgment back in ’05?
I am. I mean, that’s all I can say. I’m taking all the tests. But that’s a tough question to really get into. All you can do is show everybody and do the right thing.

In the BALCO grand-jury testimony that was leaked, you specifically acknowledged having used steroids after 2001, the year after your MVP. How can we know that you didn’t use them before—
I can’t talk about, because of the thing—I can’t talk about anything past—for the grand jury testimony. Sorry about that.

Do A-Rod and Clemens and Barry Bonds all belong in the Hall of Fame?
Phenomenal players. I think what they accomplished on the field is incredible.

But do they belong in the Hall?
Yeah. I mean, as far as talking about dominating in an era—they were incredible.

What, if anything, do you feel you still have to prove?
I don’t know if “prove” is… I mean, I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs. I’ve been through everything in this game. I’ve been in the gutter, and I’ve pulled myself up; had Mustache Day at Yankee Stadium. So I don’t know if there’s anything to prove, other than just to play the game. Because I love it.—nate penn

Zac Efron, Take Heed—Six Methods for Escaping Teen Stardom

Friday  April 17, 2009

THE COREY HAIM

Coreyhaim

Breakout: Lost Boys, age 15
Go from “sweet-faced” to meth-mouthed. Do reality show with costar-for-life Corey Feldman. Botch “comeback” by snorting unidentified substances while mike still hot.

THE KIRK CAMERON

112508_kcameron_growingpains_240x32

Breakout: Growing Pains, age 14
Find Jesus. Alienate costars with Jesus love. Star in unsubtly anti-Semitic end-time film Left Behind. Require real-wife stand-in for costars for on-screen kissing.

THE KURT RUSSELL

Picture_9_150104

Breakout: It Happened at the World’s Fair, age 12
Spent early twenties playing minor league baseball. Shed good-guy image as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York (best-named badass ever). Show chops; earn Oscar nod opposite Meryl Streep in Silkwood. Spend balance of career as Goldie Hawn’s man candy.

THE RON HOWARD

123046__american_graffiti_l

Breakouts: The Andy Griffith Show, age 6; American Graffiti, age 19
Agree to act in B-list car-chase movie in exchange for chance to direct. Earn acclaim for behind-camera debut. Use riches to cofound one of most successful production companies in Hollywood. Direct slew of prestige, Oscar-caliber pictures. Achieve cool narrating Arrested Development.

THE LEONARDO DiCAPRIO

Leonardodicapriogrowingpainsgrowing

Breakout: Growing Pains, age 16
Get Oscar nod for (almost) going full retard in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Fall into heartthrob relapse after Titanic. Resume credibility by becoming recurring player for Scorsese. Found production company to fund movies you/Scorsese care about. Adopt uncontroversial cause.

THE JOHNNY DEPP

Depp21jumpstreet400a050307

Breakout: 21 Jump Street, age 23
Land lead in offbeat Edward Scissorhands (first of seven collaborations with Tim Burton). Date Winona Ryder. Upgrade to Kate Moss. Brandish bad-boy rep by checking into hotels as “Mr. Donkey Penis”; trash a room. Manage to keep sex-symbol status while becoming respected actor. Use undeniable charm to somehow not sell out while selling out for Disney franchise; garner Oscar love for said franchise. Do anything you want.—sarah goldstein

Is That a Tricorder in Your Pants?

Wednesday  April 15, 2009

How 'Lost' co-creator J. J. Abrams is sexing up 'Star Trek'

Jjabrams_1

It’s the Perfect Nerd Storm: Lost co-creator and geek deity J. J. Abrams, taking the Star Trek franchise back to its roots with a new film about a couple of young-punk Starfleet recruits (who happen to be named Kirk and Spock). But at first Abrams didn’t think he was the right man for the job. “There would be moments,” he says, “when I’d look around and see all these bald dudes with tattooed faces and pointy ears on the set and think, Shot wrong, this could look like the Ice Capades.”alex pappademas

You’ve said that when you were a kid, you always preferred Star Wars to Star Trek. Why?
Star Wars was about a character everyone could relate to—the average kid, who started out as a farm boy, suddenly called to adventure. And it was this massive, exciting, fast-paced, thrilling spectacle where he ended up meeting people who changed his life forever, and became this hero. I never really felt like I was Kirk; I never really connected with Spock. So for me, it was a no-brainer.

Yet here you are.
I was involved as a producer first. I finally read the script, and it had emotion and it had action, it had comedy—all the things I love about movies.
I gave the script to my wife, and she said, “You should direct this movie.” I just knew I’d be jealous of whoever was directing the film.

So you did the Dick Cheney search-committee thing and chose yourself.
I tend not to use Dick Cheney as a point of reference, but I suppose you can.

You hadn’t seen anything past the first few movies, though?
I think I’d seen the first four. I’ve since seen others. But at the time, I’d sort of lost track of Star Trek. It was a shock to me that this would be Star Trek 11

I looked up the box-office numbers, and I was surprised to see that all the Star Trek movies actually made money. The eighth one was the second-biggest one ever. The franchise isn’t broken in a financial sense. But I can’t think of the last time the release of one of these films seemed like an event. Do you think that’s why the studio felt the need for a fresh take on Star Trek? Were they concerned that it was no longer relatable for people who aren’t already steeped in the mythology? 
Well, at a certain point—and this is something that Lost, for example, has gone through—you realize, “This is our fan base. These are the people who watch the show. These are the people who show up for the movies.” And at a certain point a decision was made not to reach outside of that core group. And that’s terrific, because it ended up playing to a completely focused, dedicated club. But that sort of magnified what I was talking about before—the movies felt like they were for a specific group that I wasn’t part of. We wanted to do a movie for fans of movies. For people, not just Trekkie people. That’s not to say we weren’t incredibly diligent about servicing the fans who in many ways are the reason this series has gotten so many lives. But it was very important that we not make Star Trek 11, because that’s a movie that I don’t think would be for you or me, necessarily.

The movie is a straight prequel—it ties into the continuity of the shows and the other eleven films. Was there ever a discussion of just doing the Batman Begins treatment and starting the story over, so that you wouldn’t be hampered by fifty years of baggage, plotwise?
I think we stumbled on a story that’s a better version of that. We’re telling a story that uses the backstory, the history of the world that Gene Roddenberry created, but doesn’t suffer from that thing a lot of prequels suffer from, where you think, “As exciting as this is, I’ve seen the other movies—I know they live. You can’t get me—I’ve seen Alec Guinness play that guy!” That’s a default problem with any film that’s a true prequel. So this movie is a strange hybrid. We’re not completely restarting everything. Leonard Nimoy’s in this movie, and he’s playing Spock. It connects. And at the same time, it’s its own thing, and it’s alive and vital. But this movie’s intended for people who’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek, so even though it’s not a complete restart, the work we had to do is in many ways the same. You have to make sure you’re giving people a way in, and that requires telling a story that assumes nothing. But if you love Star Trek, there are so many references and allusions in the film that’ll be rewarding, because you’ll finally get to see scenes that have been discussed but never seen before. You’ll finally understand how certain things happened in Kirk’s backstory, or Spock’s. I love that there’s two ways you can experience this film: If you happen to be a fan, it’s fantastic, and if you’ve never seen it before, all the better.

The first scene of the trailer takes place in Iowa. There’s no clue that it’s even sci-fi until we see the hover bike. It seems like you’re trying to ground this story in a reality people can relate to.
I think the thing about Star Wars that’s undeniable is that it’s “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” and Star Trek is us. The idea that it’s connected to us, and our future, is an important component. “To boldly go where no man has gone before”—it’s kind of a funny little cliché. But the idea of a diverse group of humans and other species working together bravely, going places that are unknown and actually terrifying, not to destroy or own them but to explore, is…

Impressive, yeah. That early-’60s, pre-Kennedy-assassination, progressive vision of the future is in the DNA of Star Trek going back to the original. The idea that someday a black woman and a Russian and an Asian guy and a Vulcan would be on the bridge of a starship together, on the same mission, was utopian thinking on Gene Roddenberry’s part.
And it came at a time when there was incredible fear and massive suspicion and uncertainty about the future. Now everyone’s saying, “Oh, look, this movie is about hope, it’s about change, it’s the perfect Obama film.” We started this thing more than two years ago. It’s just a coincidence that this movie’s coming out at a time when people could use an optimistic view of what our tomorrow might look like.

You know the die-hard fans will be pissed if you—an outsider!—mess up the Star Trek mythology.
Roberto Orci, one of the screenwriters, was the voice of the fan base throughout the production. He’s a devout Star Trek lunatic who knows every crazy arcane detail. His love is off the charts.

Does he speak Klingon?
Honestly, I bet that guy could marry you in Klingon.

Thursday  April 09, 2009

Tomcarsonweb3

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

506418_dv_l_f

Even though they stayed box-office catnip until the failure of Camelot back in 1967, movie musicals started to die as soon as blunderbuss adaptations of self-important Broadway hits became the only saleable definition of the form. That's one reason you'll never hear a nice word from me for the multi-Oscared Ben Hur of screen musicals, West Side Story—much less the ultimate in do-re-mi cash cows, The Sound of Music. The fact that too many boomers think that's what live-action musicals are may do a lot to explain why nobody younger wants to see them come back. 

The other, sprightlier breed of movie musical drew on Tin Pan Alley at large, not Broadway as such, and its creators weren't out to do anything earth-shaking. Their modest (cough) job was confecting blissful excuses for beguiling tunes, comic patter, dance numbers and romance. The Platonic ideal here is the Astaire-Rogers movies, which make "blissful" an understatement. They're pure gossamer, but who in his right mind would swap the least of Fred and Ginger for the boisterous most—"Shall We Dance" being the acid test of helpless affection for fans who know better—of Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in The King and I? In the Fifties, Hollywood did.

If the sprightly version survived at all until the JFK era's non-ital Camelot, that's largely because of three men: Stanley Donen, Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly. Two were directors and one was a performer whose talent—not genius, but it'll do in a pinch—blended bombast and sweetness to unique effect. Thanks to Kelly's energy, even the streak of fatuity that makes you suspect he'd have given his eyeteeth to have thought up West Side Story is part of his all-American charm. His self-love is engaging because he's so eager to prove to the world that it isn't unearned.

American_in_paris_2

Mr. Kelly very much hopes you'll accept his gift of a rose.

Along with the rightly beloved Singin' in The Rain and the oft-underrated It's Always Fair Weather, both of which were collaborations with Donen, the Minnelli-directed An American in Paris—newly available in eye-popping Blu-ray—is among Kelly's peaks. He's Jerry Mulligan, an aspiring painter who's taken in hand by a hot-to-trot heiress named Milo (Nina Foch) the same day he meets the balky gal of his Left Bank dreams (Leslie Caron). Lending support are shovel-faced, gravel-voiced Oscar Levant—the original Oscar the Grouch—as Jerry's piano-playing best pal and Georges Guetary as a French music-hall smoothie who's also tied up with Caron.

You probably don't need me to tell you the path of true love has seldom faced obstacles as flimsy as the ones in Alan Jay Lerner's script. The movie's only real subject is Kelly's beatific grin every time he gets to hoof and vocalize his way through another George and Ira Gershwin tune, along with Minnelli's pleasure in using vibrant color and movement to turn people into bouquets come to life. But if that doesn't sound particularly profound to you, you and the Bunker have some serious disagreements about which movies we'd like to watch on our deathbeds.

Not only are the songs pretty stellar—no surprise, given the catalog the filmmakers had Ira's permission to choose from—but the occasions that get contrived to introduce them have a kind of breeziness that's a lost art in itself. The only dull number is Guetary's big nightclub showcase, partly because both he and Minnelli are trying too hard and partly because "Stairway to Paradise" isn't top-drawer Gershwin. But Guetary's sidewalk-strolling duet with Kelly on the irresistible-in-any-context "S'Wonderful," which they don't know they're singing about the same woman, is a nonchalant gem. Best of all is the setting for "I Got Rhythm," which has Kelly cajoling some Parisian street tots to chant "I got" in English before his dance routines nudge them to guess which American icons—a G.I., Charlie Chaplin, Hopalong Cassidy—he's impersonating. (What may take some explaining to modern audiences is that there was a time when Europeans thought we were wonderful—batty, but wonderful. Easy come, easy go.)

Since Minnelli was Liza's father and this dubious evidence of heterosexual activity on his part may just prove the adage that a change is as good as a holiday, Kelly's slightly over-compensatory masculinity does get tweaked here and there.  At one point, Levant taunts the hero about his relationship with Foch: "When you get married, will you keep your maiden name?" Still, it says a lot about the whole thing's blithe priorities that Foch doesn't even participate in An American's musical numbers, let alone get the signature "What About Me" song—you know, the one exposing the vulnerability under her bitchiness, or some such—that would have been mandatory in a book-driven musical.

American_in_paris_3

Kelly with Leslie Caron. And no, she's not smiling because she's just decided to steal his watch.

To my eyes, though, this neglected actress has a lot more going for her than Leslie Caron, whose Vache qui pleure popularity in the Fifties has always struck me as damn near inexplicable. Aside from being an authentic French person, which is about as relevant here as Grey Poupon on a hot dog, she doesn't bring much to the party; even her dancing amounts to a set of semaphore gestures indicating peeved familiarity with the concept of dance. But with the leggy exception of Cyd Charisse, who could have been born mute at negligible harm to her career, Kelly seldom risked female partners who were his equals at razzmatazz.

His own dancing, of course, doesn't have Astaire's depth. If you don't mind me getting fancy, Fred's dancing represents a philosophy; Gene's just incarnates an attitude. Yet Kelly's the one who makes us want to go out and do likewise, because he's great at pretending he's just fooling around. That he isn't goes without saying, since even his favorite trick to signal goofy euphoria—doing intricate steps with a hat comically pulled down over his eyes—is a form of showing off. Expert at devising moves that accentuate his athletic vigor just before he surprises us instead with his fluidity, he gets more choreographic mileage out of his shoulders than most dancers do from their legs.

Kelly's artistic status anxiety comes out in his conviction that nothing adds class to a frivolous musical like stopping it dead in its tracks for a big, anguished ballet. Astaire never made this kind of overreaching mistake; he knew that all he had to do to elevate musicals into an art form was show up. Yet even though it does go on, the fabled 17-minute dance fantasia scored to the Gershwin orchestral suite that provides An American's title transcends its own kitsch. It's no great shakes as a ballet, but if you've ever wondered why Martin Scorsese reveres Minnelli, the controlled visual dementia and feverish color palette of the Place de L'Opera sequence is all the answer you'll need—an anticipation of not only Scorsese's gaudy violence, but the magnificently melodramatic carnival climax of Minnelli's own Some Came Running.

American_in_paris_4

That's right—the policemen's uniforms are red, too. What's the matter, haven't you ever been to Paris?

One fight Kelly lost was to shoot on location, but let's be glad MGM turned thumbs down. The movie's back-lot and soundstage Paree keeps pointless realism from ever spoiling things, and that's another lost art I can't help but mourn. Musicals need veracity the way soap bubbles need padlocks, which may be the reason today's moviegoers will only sit still for them in animated versions. No matter how pleased The Sound of Music was with itself for its "real" Austrian backdrops, I've always been grateful to the Academy prankster who had the malicious idea of introducing the sound-effects Oscar one year by juxtaposing the grandiose opening vista of Maria von Trapp on her Alpine hill with the whine of a fighter plane and the sound of machine guns.