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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Restaurants Of The Future: Eat Like a Geek

The food photography you usually see in high-street food outlets wouldn't win many awards; it generally consists of yellowing images of burgers or takeaway chow mein encased in a greasy laminate. But I'm in the unusual position of gazing at a gorgeous image of a Thai beef salad that's being projected onto my plate from a gizmo mounted above my table at Inamo, a restaurant on London's Wardour Street. It closes the sale to this particular diner, so I order it direct from the kitchen using an iPhone-like touch panel which is also projected down onto the table. While I wait, I can enhance my mood of calm control by choosing a projected tablecloth of an idyllic rural scene; Inamo's waiters remain a discreet, uninterrupting presence, while passers-by press their noses to the window, intrigued by the activity inside. I click for a beer; it's brought to my table in less than 30 seconds. And for a magical moment, it feels like a futuristic dining utopia.

Inamo opened in the summer of 2008 in a difficult economic climate which would eventually drive many restaurants out of business. But by contrast, Inamo has performed surprisingly well: it now serves more than 200 customers per day; another restaurant opening is due later this year, and 900 reviewers on the restaurant website give it a healthy average mark of 7.6 out of 10. A restaurant is nothing without good food, of course – and Inamo doesn't fail on that score thanks to signature dishes like yuzu mussels and cinnamon chicken – but it's the patented technology that's making gadget fans' mouths water. And the unlikely brainchild of two rookie restaurateurs is starting to hit paydirt, with other restaurants now set to license the technology that's kept Inamo buzzing throughout the recession.

Noel Hunwick, Inamo's managing director, recalls the moment where he and business partner Danny Potter, a fellow Oxford graduate (one classicist, one physicist) came up with the concept. "Five years ago we were at a venue for a friend's birthday party, and the service was pretty poor. And we thought how great it would be to get what we wanted by tapping the tabletop. We spent a year working on the idea with an industrial designer, and eventually had a software architect build a test unit in his bedroom for us to play with." Aside from Potter having spent three months chopping vegetables in the kitchen of the Ritz in Paris, the pair had no previous restaurant experience, but they nevertheless chose a high-profile – some might say high-risk – location for their launch after buying up an old trattoria, Luigi's, in the heart of London's West End. Fortunately their gamble paid off; an idea that could have been seen as a gimmick ended up being a hit with London's diners.

"I think it's only a gimmick if it distracts from the food," says Hunwick, "or if it doesn't work." The technology has certainly proved reliable; complaints from diners that "my table has crashed" are non-existent, and the paper menus kept in reserve for emergencies have never been needed. But why have the British dining public – who you might imagine as being resistant to change – embraced it? "Obviously the rise of computers and smartphones mean that we're much more used to the idea of pointing and clicking," says Hunwick. "But it was still a challenge to make the system completely intuitive. If people needed a manual to help them use it, we knew we'd failed." It's certainly proved a hit with children – and not just because of the games built into the system; a YouTube video entitled Max Explains Inamo, in which the five-year-old son of an Inamo customer whizzes through the ordering process, has proved to be a priceless piece of accidental PR for the restaurant. Tongue-tied couples on first dates also love it, notes Hunwick. "There's always something to talk about," he grins.

But there are simple, functional reasons why it works, according to Marina O'Loughlin, the notoriously incognito restaurant critic for the London newspaper Metro. "Direct electronic communication between the diner and the kitchen means less human error," she says. "There's nothing that fills me with more anxiety than someone taking my order without even writing it down." Speed of service is also enhanced: a restaurant around the corner from Inamo, Bob Bob Ricard, has incorporated a "champagne buzzer" to alert waiters that you need your glass of fizz refilled, but Inamo's touch-table system means there's never a reason to wave wildly in the hope of attracting attention. It's a godsend for restaurants when fast turnarounds are a priority, while the diners appreciate not having to endure the often tortuous process of actually leaving a restaurant; at Inamo, your bill and a chip-and-pin machine are a click away.

However, not everyone is enamoured by this potential point-and-click revolution. Wide adoption would undoubtedly mean job losses within the industry, although Hunwick counters that the removal of many of the mundane aspects of the dining experience means that existing staff are more available and attentive. But Amber Dalton, restaurant editor at Waitrose Kitchen magazine, sees Inamo's technology as only suitable for keenly-priced restaurants with swift turnaround, and can't see it being deployed in the high-end sector. "I like the idea of a system that allows you to attract the attention of waiters easily," she says, "but once you start paying more money you expect more human interaction, waiters and sommeliers with expertise. And speed isn't really an issue, because you don't want to rush the experience, so in those contexts techie does seem a bit tacky." O'Loughlin has observed that awkward collision at first hand: "There's an upscale restaurant called Switch in Las Vegas where the technology lets the decor change every hour – and even in novelty-obsessed Vegas, it does seem people would rather eat surrounded by Picassos than machinery."

But many restaurants do feel compelled to incorporate technological innovation. These days you'll find chef-cams in a number of restaurants, displaying action from the kitchen to diners who may have exacting food preparation standards – although, again, Dalton isn't a fan: "Personally, I find it quite unpleasant seeing my food prepared; rather than watching chefs sweating into my soup, I prefer to imagine it arriving on the plate by magic, or at least by a team of squeaky-clean individuals who don't have dandruff or dirty fingernails." On a more functional level, the last month has seen both and restaurant chain Wagamama proudly launching iPhone apps, and while these are for booking and takeaway respectively, the smartphone may have a role to play within the restaurant itself. An American-made app, DineBlast Mobile, is being touted as the future of self-service for those restaurants that adopt the system; aside from the service benefits, they claim a boost to sales through impulse buying. Hunwick has seen this at Inamo: "There's definitely evidence that diners spend more using these kind of facilities – firstly because it's fun to order, and secondly because there's no barrier to getting what you want, when you want it."

Table-mounted touchscreens are also also becoming more widespread. The system used in a hi-tech Hollywood restaurant, uWink, is being licensed in the USA, while Israeli company Conceptic has a British partner,, after successfully installing its "e-menu" screens in a number of restaurants in Tel Aviv. "The reaction has been really positive," says Touch's founder, Ron Golan. "As long as the screens are implemented in a way that isn't kitschy or gimmicky, and they're tailored specifically to the venue, it's great for both customers and businesses." Few restaurants, however, will go as far as Baggers, a restaurant in Nuremberg; it has dispensed with waiting staff altogether, with orders taken via touchscreen and food sent to the tables down a mini rollercoaster from the kitchen upstairs. "I'm not sure that using gravity as a waiter provides a very personal dining experience," laughs Hunwick.

How could restaurant technology develop? O'Loughlin looks forward to the day when regular attendance gives you preferential treatment, allowing you to jump reservation queues automatically. "Or a way in which your preferences could be remembered," she says, "the technological version of 'Your usual, madam?'" Our notorious fear of the wine list is already being tackled by computer power, with Mayfair restaurant The Greenhouse allowing you to negotiate their extensive selection using an interactive list. Hunwick himself is predictably coy when it comes to Inamo's own plans, lest competitors steal a march on them, but his team have devised ways of using the system to order personalised pizzas, and they're also looking into direct hookups between the touch panel and local minicab firms so you can pay and be instantly whisked away.

"There are many things we could incorporate for people to look at and play with while their dining companions visit the bathroom," says Hunwick – but they've stopped short of enabling full internet access. "For obvious reasons, really," he laughs. "There are some images you just don't want displayed on your table while you're eating."


What Your Web Browser Says About You

Soon after Google released its Chrome web browser in 2008, the company's marketing team took a video camera to the streets of Manhattan to ask passers-by what they thought a browser actually was. Despite living in one of the world's most wired cities, most of the interviewees who appeared in the subsequent viral video had no idea. More recently, Mozilla, creators of the Firefox browser, surveyed citizens of six European countries on the subject. A third of them thought a browser was the same thing as a search engine. In fact, your browser is the software on which you view and surf the internet, which makes it one of the most important programmes on your computer. And if you didn't know that, then you probably also didn't know that you had a choice of browsers besides Microsoft's market-leading Internet Explorer – among them Chrome and Firefox.

"A browser is like the suspension in your car," explains John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla. "The suspension mediates the relationship between you and the road; it can pass on the bumps quite stiffly or it can soften them. A browser alters the internet's performance in the same way." Lilly was recently in Europe helping to raise awareness of his and other browsers, just as Microsoft began to offer European Windows users a "browser ballot box": when they connect to the internet, up to 200 million PC users in selected countries, including the UK, may now find a pop-up on their screen, offering them a selection of free, alternative browsers to try instead of their computer's native Internet Explorer.

Both Firefox and Chrome stand to benefit from the initiative, which began at the end of February, and is part of a settlement agreed between Microsoft and the European Commission following a lengthy anti-trust dispute. Explorer's dominance (it remains the default browser for more than 60 per cent of web users worldwide) came not as a result of its quality, but because it is the default browser on Windows PCs. At the moment, Firefox is the world's second-most-popular browser, with around 25 per cent of the market – approximately 370m users – while Chrome has just over 5 per cent.

Lilly, however, claims he is more interested in raising awareness than in gaining market share for Mozilla. A strange philosophy for a CEO, you might think, but the Mozilla Corporation is part of the Mozilla Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated solely to "[promoting] choice and innovation on the internet". The company's staff of 270 is augmented by an army of volunteer programmers from all over the world, who contribute more than a third of Firefox's features. "Nobody ever expected Firefox to get 10 per cent of the market, let alone 25," says Lilly.

"We just wanted to make sure the internet was created by people, not by companies. Our message is that the choices you make about technology – be it your browser, phone or your favourite social network – all have implications regarding, say, where your data is stored and who knows what about you. It's pretty important to consider the technology that mediates your relationship with your doctor, or with your government."

Lilly, who is 38, joined Mozilla soon after the launch of Firefox in late 2004 (when the company also launched its free email software, Thunderbird). He became CEO four years later. Mozilla had been founded in the aftermath of the first so-called "browser war" of the 1990s, when Microsoft all-but destroyed Netscape Navigator, the original market leader and the first browser to reach a mass audience. Following its defeat, Netscape made public its browser's "Mozilla" source code for other web users, and the Mozilla organisation's founders – themselves former Netscape employees – decided to craft a successor to Navigator. After agreeing a deal (which still stands) to include a default Google search box in the browser, much of their funding came from Google, which sends revenue Mozilla's way in return for web traffic. Firefox was the result.

Microsoft had released its Windows XP operating system in 2001, and by 2006 it was on more than 400 million machines. XP's default browser was the famously clunky Internet Explorer 6 – and its vast, unwarranted popularity, says Lilly, was damaging to the maturation of the internet as a whole, discouraging developers from realising its true potential with their websites. "So many people still use IE6, and lots of companies have it built into their office IT systems," says Lilly. "I can't understand how they do it; it's a really horrible experience! Hopefully Microsoft's next browser will finally be to the same standard as everyone else, because that would stimulate another huge wave of creativity on the web."

The forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 is at least expected to be fast, unlike its predecessors, which uniformly lagged behind the competition in terms of page loading speeds. But users are already deserting Explorer in droves; its global market share has dropped from more than 75 per cent per cent two years ago to just over 60 per cent before the ballot roll-out. And thanks to the ballot, Microsoft is being forced to compete with other browsers on a more level playing field. Since the last week of February it has reportedly lost 1 per cent of UK users, and 2.5 per cent of French users.

Opera, the Norwegian company originally responsible for implementing the anti-trust suit, has benefited most from the ballot, claiming that downloads of its free browser have increased dramatically since the launch of the ballot box. Firefox, says Lilly, has also put on users, but "we already get 100,000 new users organically every day, so an extra 150,000 over a week or two is meaningful but not hugely important". Users who check the ballot box thoroughly will find a second page of seven browsers such as Avant, Flock and Slim, which even many tech-savvy users may not have heard of.

The key to the future of browsers may not be on desktops at all, but on mobile devices. In the next five years, in the view of many experts, more people will be connecting to their internet via their smartphones and tablets than via their desktops or laptops. This will doubtless break Microsoft's stranglehold, but it's not necessarily beneficial to browser diversity: most mobile devices come with default browsers, including a Google-made browser on phones that use the company's Android operating system. Safari is the default browser for iPhone (and for the iPad, which is due for release this week in the US), though Opera last week submitted its "Opera Mini" application to Apple for approval. Could Apple countenance a browser war on its own mobile devices?

Mozilla, meanwhile, is hard at work on a version of Firefox for Android, which, like its desktop version, will vary from Chrome in its vital statistics. Chrome, for instance, strips back the browser furniture to a bare minimum at the edges of the screen; its near invisibility as you surf reflects Google's ambitions to get everyone working continuously in the cloud – storing and interacting with their documents and data entirely online. Firefox, on the other hand, emphasises its users' security, which Lilly believes explains its popularity in privacy-conscious Europe (where it has an almost 40 per cent market share).

So which is better, the mighty Google's Chrome or the more modest Mozilla's Firefox? Most tech-watchers seem to agree they're the two finest browsers on the market. Chrome has been around for just 18 months, and only formally released a version for Macs earlier this year. Firefox's age and experience – Lilly says that Firefox 4 is expected next year – means it has a more extensive suite of extensions and add-ons that allow users to customise their browser to suit their needs. And of course, you may be concerned that Google already has too much of your personal information for comfort without installing the company's software on your computer.

In recent months, Google has gone on a grand marketing drive to promote its browser to the public. Mozilla, says Lilly, prefers a different approach. "For me advertising isn't very effective money spent. I'd rather participate in evangelism initiatives or give money to universities for programmes. That's baked into Mozilla: we're empowering people to change things, not to consume things. Market share is nice, but it's never been our main goal. Our goal is to help normal people figure out how to engage in the creation of the net. Whether you're in Tanzania or Thailand, you should understand that you don't have to wait for technology from Silicon Valley to change the web; you can do it yourself."

Web warriors: The top five portals

Internet Explorer

First included on Windows operating systems in 1995, the ugly Internet Explorer triumphed in the first "browser war" with Netscape Navigator, emerging as the world's most widely used web browser in 1999, a position it has retained ever since. After reaching a peak 95 per cent market share in the early 2000s, it now enjoys a more modest 60 per cent or thereabouts. Internet Explorer 8 – an improvement on clunky past efforts – was released last year.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox was the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Netscape (in fact, it was originally to be named Phoenix), after the non-profit Mozilla Foundation decided to create a new browser as a rival to the potential Microsoft monopoly. Launched in November 2004 with additional funding from Google (which remains the browser's default search engine), it is still the world's second-most-popular browser. The "streamlined" Firefox 4 will be released next year.

Google Chrome

Released in Autumn 2008, Google's browser was explicitly designed for life in the digital cloud. By stripping away the browser furniture to the very edges of the screen, Chrome makes it possible to conceive of a desktop that operates solely online – not least because Google recently launched Chrome OS, its suite of online applications designed to replace desktop software and data storage. In December, Chrome overtook Safari to become the world's third-most-popular browser.


First released by the Norwegian company of the same name in 1996, Opera is the only browser of European origin to appear in the top five browsers of the browser ballot box. It was also Opera's creators that initiated the anti-trust suit against Microsoft which led to the browser ballot. Though it has the smallest market share of the big five browsers on desktops, Opera's mobile version is much more successful and available on most smartphones. At time of writing, the company was yet to hear whether its iPhone app would be approved for release by Apple.


Apple's native web browser is more highly regarded since the launch of Safari 4 last year – though it's still much better in its original Mac version than on Windows. Thanks to the iPhone, for which it remains the default browser (and so far, the only browser worth the name for the device), it has also surged somewhat in popularity. Despite being overtaken by Chrome, its market share continues to increase at the expense of Internet Explorer.


Heather Mills insisted she treated her former nanny "like a daughter".

Giving evidence at an employment tribunal brought by Sara Trumble, the former model said they got on so well she had been asked to be godmother to Ms Trumble's child.

Ms Trumble, 26, is seeking compensation from her former boss on the grounds of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal and claims she suffered changes to her employment terms following her maternity leave.

The former nanny told the hearing in Ashford, Kent, today that Ms Mills made the lives of all her staff a misery but she was the only one prepared to speak out.

But giving evidence, Ms Mills said: "I treated Sara like my daughter as she often complained that her mother was cold and distant to her.

"I spent much of my time consoling her, especially when she said she was having problems with her partner."

Ms Mills said that after her nanny had her baby "she asked me to be godmother to her daughter".

"She said it was because I had taken such good care of her and she could think of no one better. I was delighted."

Ms Mills added that she now has three godchildren.

She said she met Ms Trumble when she was a beauty therapist at a health club in Rye, East Sussex.

"She gave me a great massage when I was seven months pregnant. I said she was great and purposely booked in Sara from then on, especially when she said she was only earning an average of £20 a week.

"I tried to think of ways she could earn more money and said maybe when my baby was born she could babysit to supplement her income."

Ms Mills said she and former husband Sir Paul McCartney took Ms Trumble on as a nanny.

She told the hearing: "She was not a qualified nanny, more of a babysitter/childminder.

"She suggested we could do beauty treatments too.

"Sara's duties were very varied as with all my staff. Everyone just mucks in and helps out when needed.

"At no time when she worked for me did she ever question this."

Ms Mills said she gave Ms Trumble £1,500 after she had some money stolen and also £500 for a deposit on a flat when she wanted to move out of her parents' home.

Ms Mills said she gave Ms Trumble lots of gifts and baby things when she had her daughter, including her breast pump.

She said she was very accommodating when she wanted to work only part-time after having the baby.

She said: "This did not suit my needs particularly but I understood, having a daughter of my own and knowing the dilemmas parents face."

She said Ms Trumble handed in her notice "out of the blue".

"I was surprised and disappointed. Although I wanted her to give me four weeks notice, I agreed to her request that she could have two weeks."

She said of the childminder, who looked after daughter Beatrice when she was in the US: "Lydia had helped out when she was on maternity leave.

"Lydia confirmed she would be happy to come over to help out for a while.

"I called her myself and left a message saying that we were planning a leaving party.

"Lydia was not asked to come to the UK until after she had resigned. She was not replaced by anyone and I still do not have a full-time nanny."

Ms Trumble has told the tribunal panel that Ms Mills forced her to say positive things about her to a film crew and made her work long hours without extra pay.

She also claims her former employer made her feel uncomfortable by moaning to her about ex-husband Sir Paul and was unsympathetic when she went though a difficult pregnancy, forcing her to accompany her on trips abroad.

During cross-examination by Ms Mills's solicitor, Caroline Crampton-Thomas, on the second day of the hearing, Ms Trumble said: "I wasn't the only person who felt that at that time. It's just that nobody else will stand up. I decided to take action and fight this for myself."

Ms Trumble, who was paid £260 a week to look after Beatrice, now six, said she was close to Ms Mills when she began working for her in April 2004 but she became rude and bad-tempered after she split from the former Beatle.

She told the tribunal that all of Ms Mills's staff, which included her housekeeper, her personal trainer Ben Amigoni, a bodyguard and her personal assistant, noticed a change.

She said: "Everyone was saying how difficult working conditions had become at at work. (It was) not a nice place to work."

She added that they were all under pressure to make sure Ms Mills's new nine-bedroom home in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, was ready after it was refurbished in August 2007.

"Things had to be perfect for when Heather came back. Everyone was rushing around stressed."

Ms Mills, who sat at the back of the room wearing thick-rimmed glasses, a grey pinstripe suit jacket, black trousers and a pink shirt, whispered to friends throughout the hearing.

She also kept angrily walking over to speak in her solicitor's ear, at one point prompting her sister Fiona to tell her to sit down.

Ms Trumble, of Westfield, admitted she asked Ms Mills to be godmother to her daughter Lily when she was born in September 2007.

She was also questioned over claims that she received a £10,000 pay-off from Sir Paul after she resigned in September 2008.

She said the money was a gift "for my dedication and hard work with Beatrice" and she declined it "several times" before eventually accepting.

"Paul did not want anybody to know that he gave me this money. I don't want to get Paul involved so it's difficult to talk about this money," she said.

She said Ms Mills made her feel "awkward" by making her lie to Sir Paul about where she was when she met him to collect or drop off Beatrice.

Ms Trumble also described how at these times Ms Mills would send out her new boyfriend, Jamie Walker, to flaunt him to her ex-husband.

Ms Trumble admitted that Ms Mills was often generous towards her, giving her several monetary gifts along with a Daihatsu Copen convertible car, as well as baby clothes and accessories.

She also acknowledged that Ms Mills took her to Slovenia with her other staff and friends to celebrate her 39th birthday and she was invited to join the charity campaigner on a holiday to Sir Richard Branson's private Caribbean island, Necker, although she did not go as she had only just had her baby.

But she disputed that Ms Mills took her on numerous shopping trips for clothes, adding: "She bought me one top, and on another occasion it was a 'buy one, get one free' top she bought me."

Questioned about why she wanted to leave the job, she said: "It's not all about money, I'm not talking about gifts and all that she gave me. It's about how she treated me."

Asked by Ms Crampton-Thomas why she refused to sign a further confidentiality agreement after she resigned, Ms Trumble said she felt she did not need to as she had already signed numerous forms.

She denied she had ever gone to the press and said she did not know who was responsible for an article which appeared about her in the Sunday Mirror.

"I had nothing to do with the press during my employment with the McCartneys," she said.

Brief and to the Point:

Like we said before, "Heather Mills May Be Gone, But She's Not Forgotten"


Heather Mills "Took Advantage of Ex-Nanny"

Heather Mills's former nanny told an employment tribunal today that she forced her staff to say positive things about her to a film crew, made her work long hours without any extra pay, and caused her to feel uncomfortable by moaning to her about ex-husband Sir Paul McCartney.

Sara Trumble, 26, said her former employer became rude and highly strung after she and the ex-Beatle divorced in 2008.

She also claimed the former model was unsympathetic towards her when she went through a difficult pregnancy, forcing her to accompany her on trips abroad.

Ms Trumble, who was paid £260 a week by Mills, said she felt she was a hard-working and loyal worker but in return her former boss took advantage of her.

Opening her case for compensation before an employment tribunal in Ashford, Kent, Ms Trumble said she met Mills when she came in for beauty treatments where she worked at Hilden Health Club in Rye, East Sussex, in the summer of 2003.

She said Mills, who was living with Sir Paul at his Peasmarsh estate at the time, "was really nice and genuine" at first and when she told her she had been offered another job she asked if she would like to come and work for her instead.

She said her role was not specifically set out but she understood she would be looking after her and Sir Paul's six-month-old daughter Beatrice.

Ms Trumble, who lived with her family in nearby Westfield, said that from April 2004 she was employed to look after Beatrice from 10am to 6pm, five days a week.

However she soon found she was often expected to stay well into the evening while she waited for Mills and Sir Paul to return home from their various engagements, but received no extra pay.

Ms Trumble, who kept a diary throughout much of her employment, said her hours changed as Beatrice grew older and began going to nursery and she was then expected to help with housework as well.

Ms Trumble also said that following the couple's separation in May 2006 her job changed further as custody of the little girl was shared between Mills and Sir Paul and he hired his own nanny to look after her when she was with him.

"Heather was very bitter towards Paul," she said.

"I was, I believe, a great source of comfort and support for Heather at this time."

Earlier the tribunal was delayed due to legal argument over whether information from their divorce proceedings should be used as evidence.

Ms Trumble's solicitor Nick Fairweather argued that the High Court judgment made following the divorce was "highly relevant" as "one of the parties has been found to lie under oath".

Sitting at the back of the hearing room, Mills uttered a long "no" as Mr Fairweather said it should be used as it demonstrated her credibility.

"She (Mills) was found by a High Court judge under the forensic scrutiny of the High Court to have lied," he said.

But Caroline Crampton-Thomas, representing Mills, said using the judgment would "unfairly prejudice" her client.

After considering the matter, tribunal judge Steven Vowles said it should not be used on the grounds of its late disclosure and lack of relevance.

Dressed in a navy blue pinstripe blazer and jeans and wearing black stiletto heels, Mills muttered to her friends throughout Ms Trumble's evidence.

The former nanny is seeking compensation from Mills on the grounds of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal and also claims she suffered changes to her employment terms following her maternity leave.



Monday, March 22, 2010

Lady Gaga and Beyoncé - The Best of Both Worlds!

This has got to be "the best of both worlds", after all you do not always have the chance to enjoy Quentin Tarantino and Telma and Louise sharing the same room in somebody else's video!

As far as "Brief and to the Point" is concerned this is what Lady Gaga and Beyoncé bring in this video for the song "Telephone". We get our kicks of such references! Don't you?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ke$ha Puts the Alco in Pop

It's hard to make the case that Ke$ha "glamourises" binge drinking - she looks a bit worse for wear - but she's doing a great job of glorifying it. She's acquired substantial wealth and fame on the back of her assiduous cultivation of an image of unrepentant alcoholism. Whether or not permanent intoxication factually describes her actual day-to-day existence, is beside the point. Ke$ha actively contructs herself as a barely functional alcoholic whose sole interest in life is partying HARD and singing her own low-life praises. The fact that she's managed to turn at least two alco-pop dirges into chart-topping singles is unlikely to escape the notice of her tweenage fans. Why sweat your exam results when professional inebriation beckons? Career drinking's never been so potentially lucrative - or, as the singer would have us believe, so liberating.

Ke$ha argues that she's furthering the cause of women's rights by appropriating an aggressive drunkenness that was once the preserve of frat boys and the disenfranchised."I could drink a pirate under the table", she told The Observer's Elizabeth Day. "People are shocked by it, but if I were Guns n' Roses or Van Halen, no one would be surprised." Actually, they probably would be. As we all know, tough guys can hold their liquor. Crapulence is about the only vice self-styled rock gods won't commit to video. Splicing footage of Axl Rose puking in the gutter is the paparazzi's job. But Ke$ha is miles ahead of TMZ. She's not only publicising her anti-social tendencies, she's monetising them. More disturbing though than her technique of self-promotion is the way its success lays bare alcohol poisoning's newfound cultural cachet. This is an unprecedented and altogether unwelcome development.

Of course male singers have been carrying a torch for "Sister Moonshine" since time immemorial and it's hardly undone Western Civilisation as we know it. But in the annals of popular music, drinking until you pass out in a stranger's bath tub has traditionally been regarded as a regrettable event - along with its attendant consequences of losing one's woman and waking up baffled and cashless in Reno. Over-enthusiastic celebration has been lamented as often as it's been lauded in song but prior to Ke$ha's Party At A Rich Dude's House, projectile vomiting had yet to be a Top 40 cause for celebration. While the Beastie Boys famously exhorted us to fight for our right to party, Ke$ha's agitating for catatonic squatter's rights over California's bathrooms.

The problem with Ke$ha is not merely that she's lowering the tone or setting a bad example. Her Bogan Babe swagger and zealous pursuit of self-inflicted brain damage would be easier to dismiss if not for the inflated sense of personal power Ke$ha projects. She seems completely oblivious to the heightened risk of physical assault that her purported behaviour courts. Her depiction of a good time is one that's likely to end up a very bad time for women who find themselves in a similar situation. She's either grossly naive or she doesn't, in fact, get out much at all. A young woman who drinks herself comatose in a strange environment is, to say the least, in a vulnerable position. Much as we may wish it were otherwise, we can't simply depend on good luck and bravado to see us through. Ke$ha may think that unwelcome male attention can be dispatched as easily as "kick(ing) em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger", but even if that were a plausible tactic, she'd have to be kung-fu equipped and cold sober to effect it.

For all her alleged upending of gender roles, Ke$ha's outsize posturing is unconvincing. She doesn't come across as an empowered, self-possessed woman. More like the opposite. With her tomboy's disdain for female vulnerability and her cartoonish re-working of old-school cock rock: "Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat / Just show me where your dick's at", she gives the impression of a woman in thrall to machismo. One can't help but think that she'd really rather be a bloke. If penis envy had an anthem, surely it would be the over-compensating jail-bitch baiting of Blah, Blah, Blah.

Ke$ha's "lout and proud" emulation of the worst aspects of masculinity is totally retrograde. Far from giving men a "taste of their own medicine", as she boasted to the Observer, her equal opportunity misanthropy only serves to absolve and, ultimately, legitimise bad boy behaviour. Her version of libertine female emancipation is not only naively nihilistic, it doesn't do men any favours either. There's no freedom in chaotic, drunken aggression, it just makes everyone more fearful.

To those who compare Ke$ha's "ironic slapstick" to Mae West; or argue that she's just a clever postmodern joke on ladette culture LA style; there is only one reply. Would they find her so harmless if she were exalting the pleasures of Marlboro Lights to her girlish audience instead of Jack Daniels?


Friday, March 19, 2010

Sex Sells: Runaways - The Girl Band that Changed Pop Forever

In early October 1976, The Runaways, an all-girl five-piece from Los Angeles, played a sell-out show at London's Roundhouse, their debut date in the UK. At the centre of The Runaways' stage act was the appearance of singer Cherie Currie, dressed in a corset, panties, and fish-net stockings – "my way of being a rebel and out there in my underwear" is how she described it later. Such "rebellion", however, only emphasised her 16-year-old "jailbait" appeal, one exploited with no great subtlety by Kim Fowley, the group's manager.

The NME review by Tony Parsons no doubt precisely echoed Fowley's intention: "Runaways brought the house down with some hot, hard, bitching rock and roll, the fact that they are young and extremely horny teenage females was a bonus" – words which might have earned him some censure in today's changed social climate. Yet almost three-and-a-half decades on, The Runaways are fêted as the template for the tidal wave of female musicians who have come to dominate the charts, in a world in which overtly expressed sexuality and confident feminism can apparently co-exist. Rather than to the austere art and humourless presence of Patti Smith, such phenomena as The Spice Girls can trace some of their careers to that of The Runaways, the first female rock act to truly make any kind of global impact.

Less than five months before The Runaways played at the Roundhouse, Patti Smith had herself sold out the venue. But, as I had discovered in June 1976 in Los Angeles, when I had been writing a cover story for the NME, none of The Runaways, whose oldest member was only 17, would have considered her a rival. "Watching Patti Smith is like morbid curiosity," pronounced Cherie Currie. "It's like the way people look at a dead dog lying in the middle of the road with its guts spilling out."

I had been staying at the Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard. On a very hot afternoon all five Runaways had trooped up to my ninth-floor room. Cherie, clothed in tight satin, had walked into the room and given me a thoroughly unnerving petulant and punky once-over before dropping down on the bed to lie there on her belly running her fingers through her hair. But she was the only group member to display such attitude. The rest were cheery, friendly California girls, with sparkling white teeth, all looking as though they showered three times a day.

As on stage, it was co-group founder Joan Jett who was in charge, quickly dropping her heavy-lidded pose for perky enthusiasm and a knowing humour. They seemed very natural and easy-going, older than their years, and rather intelligent. It surprised me to learn that they were still at high school‚ apart from Lita Ford, the eldest, who had graduated the previous week.

But Cherie Currie's comment about Patti Smith seemed almost like a model for the kind of rent-a-quotes that punk artists would be handing out like instant slogans over the coming months. Except that the object of her attack was already honoured as the high priestess of punk. (The other Runaways nodded in agreement, by the way, Lita Ford adding "She looks as if she's coming down off of four quaaludes.") But wasn't such irreverence the essence of the movement? Appositely, Cherie's words could as easily have come from one of the New York Dolls, perhaps from Johnny Thunders.

"The Runaways paved the way for punk," said Evelyn McDonnell, a respected American writer currently working on a thesis about the group. "They were a bridge between the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols. Their tours of England and Japan and their infamous summer tour with the Ramones of the US paved the way for the musical explosion that was to follow. But they didn't survive to get their due."

In the mid-1970s, Los Angeles was the world centre of the music business, which was hinged around Laurel Canyon-style soft rock. By contrast Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a world of platform shoes and eye-shadow, which ran on Sunset Strip from 1972 to 1975, had a playlist made up of British glamrock. The music of David Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro and The Sweet would sail out of its doorway, playing to patrons whose average age was between 12 and 15 (apart, that is, from members of Led Zeppelin, habitués when in town). Some of those girls included the future members of The Runaways; it is not insignificant that "Cherry Bomb", the best-known Runaways' song, borrowed much of its structure from "Blockbuster" by The Sweet.

Kim Fowley, a friend of Bingenheimer, had had a career as a record producer working on the fringes of the music business; his successes were often with novelty records, including "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles, a US No 1, "Nut Rocker" by B Bumble and the Stingers, and Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!". While in the UK he had produced early versions of Slade and Soft Machine as well as co-writing the B-side of "I Love My Dog", the first hit by Cat Stevens. In the early 1970s he had co-produced, with John Cale, the first LP by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.

In 1975 rhythm guitarist Joan Jett (born Larkin), who was then 15 years old and whose idols were Suzi Quatro and Keith Richards; and drummer Sandy West, influenced by Queen's Roger Taylor, separately approached Fowley at Rodney's about forming an all-girl group. He put them in touch with one another. At first working with bass-player Micki Steele, this early form of The Runaways started to play the southern California party circuit. Their progress was temporarily stymied when Steele left; she later became a member of The Bangles. But Jett and West met up with further Rodney's alumni: lead guitarist Lita Ford, a fan of Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck, and singer Cherie Currie, who was the daughter of Hollywood actress Marie Harmon and once such a Bowie clone that she would wear an Aladdin Sane facial zigzag to Rodney's. The line-up was completed by the arrival of bass-player Jackie Fox, who took her style from Kiss's Gene Simmons.

In early 1976 The Runaways signed to Mercury Records, and The Runaways album was released in America in late spring of that year. Fowley ensured that the album's liner notes listed the girls' ages – four were 16, Lita Ford (who had been born in Streatham in south London) the only 17-year-old. And the inner sleeve was also graced by an extract from a long article about the group that had run in Who Put The Bomp, a legendary California fanzine: "The white middle-class suburbs were bound to have their outbreak of teen troublemakers. That's The Runaways. Their roots are TV, hanging around and going to Hollywood on weekends because it's the only thing to do after five days of school and partying. They make you hear the frustration of teenage life, and even more, the utter bone-crunching boredom of nothing to do and nowhere to do it. The Runaways aren't just 'an all-girl band' or an exercise in women's lib. They're a rock'n'roll band. They're rock'n'roll. They're for real." The author was Lisa Faucher, also 16.

"The fact that they were put together, rather than emerging organically as a group of friends, and so quickly had success at such a young age, meant they had an unstable structure that got put under an immense amount of pressure," said McDonnell. "They were not built up to earthquake codes. I think Kim Fowley was in over his head with handling a bunch of adolescent women. He overplayed their jailbait image and underplayed their talent."

Although The Runaways toured America with the Ramones in the summer of 1976, there was little similarity between the sounds of the two groups. The release of the Ramones' first album in April 1976 had had an immediate effect on the emergent UK punk acts: apart from the Sex Pistols, almost every act began to play at twice their original speed. The Runaways' first album was recorded already, however, and the LP's songs had a pace that was quintessential hard rock, a reference back to glam rock rather than to the future.

"I was pleased to see them emerge," remembered Viv Albertine, who almost immediately after the Roundhouse show had found herself as guitarist in The Slits. "But they didn't come very much as a new thing. It was like an old man's fantasy. But when The Slits were happening we spent a night with them in a houseboat in Chelsea that they were staying in. They were just such cool girls, Joan Jett especially: there was no rivalry, and I was very pleased for her that she got her own thing together and it was so successful. Sandy was a lovely girl‚ the first girl I ever met who I could fancy, she was so centred without being boring."

Japan took to The Runaways to such an extent that, astonishingly, they were the fourth most popular overseas act in the country, behind Abba, Kiss and Led Zeppelin. During a Japanese tour in the summer of 1977, promoting their Queens of Noise album, Jackie Fox quit, Joan Jett taking on her bass-playing duties for the remaining dates until Vicki Blue took over. When Cherie Currie walked out at the end of the shows, Jett took on the lead vocalist mantle. The next year The Runaways split with both Kim Fowley and Mercury Records, and then themselves split up, playing their final date on New Year's Eve 1978.

Later there were allegations of misconduct, sexual and otherwise, on the part of the management and record company; a financial settlement was eventually reached. "They were just wiping the floor with us, taking our money, keeping us stoned, and fucking us," said Lita Ford. In Edgeplay, a 2004 documentary made by Vicki Blue, who had succeeded Jackie Fox, Cherie Currie described how she kept information about Kim Fowley from her parents: "I didn't tell them everything he had done; my father would have absolutely taken out a gun and blown his brains out. I still hope one day someone does."

Spending time in London in 1979, Joan Jett teamed up with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, working on assorted demos, one of which was a version of "I Love Rock'n'Roll", a 1975 hit by Arrows. Re-recorded in 1982 by her new group, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the song was No 1 in the United States for seven weeks in a row, and is Billboard's No 28 all-time song. Many more hits followed, as well as a creditable acting career. Lita Ford also enjoyed considerable success – her 1984 single "Fire In My Heart" was an international Top 10 tune, while its follow-up, "Gotta Let Go", was a number-one record in the US. At the end of the decade, with Sharon Osbourne as her manager, she had a run of hits, including "Close My Eyes Forever", a duet with Ozzy Osbourne, an international Top 10 record. Meanwhile, Cherie Currie became a chainsaw artist, and Jackie Fox a music and film entertainment lawyer. Sadly, in 2006, Sandy West died of lung cancer.

There was, of course, a further significance to that Runaways' Roundhouse event, beyond the surprise that this new act, with one album just released, had shifted every available ticket for the concert. That show marked the first emergence of a new social grouping. On the periphery of the audience was an assortment of people, all of whom clearly knew each other. Almost all of them were semi-androgynous, black leather jacketed and black haired, and hardly out of their teens. Included were most of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned; Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Paladin and Judy Nylon of Snatch, as well as Viv Albertine; and Gene October, Billy Idol, and Tony James, all still members of Chelsea.

"That Runaways Roundhouse gig was really important," observed writer Jon Savage. "It brought together all the punky people in London for the very first time, the first big gathering of punk... The Runaways themselves were almost incidental."

Not a wild one: does the new movie about The Runaways play too safe?

The Runaways was one of the most eagerly anticipated films at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Determined to produce a party that would rock as hard as the band once did, the film-makers in their wisdom organised a Runaways concert to follow the world premiere, in which Joan Jett and Cherie Currie were joined on stage by the actors depicting them – Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.

Sadly, the anticipation that the four would play together, or that Currie and Jett would perform on stage together for the first time since Currie left the band in 1978, were dashed when Jett, wearing a sleeveless spandex jumpsuit, was left to sing the band's hit "Cherry Bomb" alone.

But in the film it's Currie, played by Fanning, rather than Stewart's Jett who takes centre stage. The opening shot of menstrual blood on a southern California pavement introduces the 15-year-old Currie, who would be chosen from a concert crowd by the manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon portrays him as a gregarious sexual manipulator) to be the requisite blonde who fronts a band of girl rockers.

The opening salvo of the veteran music-video director Floria Sigismondi's feature-film debut suggests an unconventional, in-your-face biopic in the style of Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy, but instead she serves up a conventionally framed formula of "girls from the wrong side of the tracks find each other, form band, discover sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and then break up on the cusp of superstardom".

That the story starts and ends with the involvement of Currie is partly down to the fact that the endeavour is loosely based on Currie's slim book about the period, Neon Angel, although Currie has claimed that the rape which caused her, aged 14, to cut her hair to look like David Bowie's glamrock style has been omitted from the picture.

Also lacking is any insight into the troubled family life of Jett, which is possibly due to her heavy involvement in the production. Drummer Sandy West died of cancer in 2006 and is given a warm portrayal, lead guitarist Lita Ford is faded into the background, while bassist Jackie Fox, now an entertainment lawyer, is in a dispute with Jett over the use of the band's name, and goes unmentioned.

In the end this is less the story of The Runaways than the Currie, Jet and Fowley triangle show, although some would argue that that's about right.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Heather Mills - Gone But Not Forgotten...

So, this is what we read: "Heather Mills’ false leg was checked for explosives at London’s Heathrow airport after she set off the security alarm".

Let us be Brief and to the Point:

That was done on purpose! The security alarm at London’s Heathrow airport did not set off without the privilege of a little human touch to publically humiliate Heather Mills! We are not her defenders at all. All we can say is that she had it coming and she did not seem to be aware of how far revenge can go...Heather Mills may be gone but she's not forgotten!   

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Showbiz Marriages: Why They Fail - Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet

Is it any wonder that Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet couldn’t keep it together? Given the pressure they’re under, not really...

The news that the film director Sam Mendes and his actress wife Kate Winslet are to separate after seven years of marriage will be received with genuine sadness by a profession known for its sense of schadenfreude.

In a business in which the maxim “It’s not enough that you succeed, your friends also have to fail” normally applies, Mendes and Winslet are regarded as good guys. He is renowned as a champion of British actors and acting and as a personable type, while she, despite being blessed with rare talent, is not above sending herself up (as her memorable appearance in the television comedy Extras showed).

There is no suggestion of a third party being involved. But you can bet your last Malteser that the demands of showbusiness will have played their part in the break-up.

The fundamental problem, despite what drama coaches may insist, is that acting is all about being irresistible to your peers and the paying public. If you can also manage to be funny, sassy, witty and mysterious you will further enhance your chances of success.

If a leading film star agrees to accept any role that means appearing in an unfavourable light, he or she is praised for an act of profound altruism, as if such roles were not covered by the job spec. Popularity is everything.

W.C. Fields once said, “Show me a great actor and I’ll show you a lousy husband. Show me a great actress and you’ve seen the Devil.” The point is that a continual need for validation can skew even the most laconic of temperaments — and that, in showbusiness, self-absorption is not merely common but necessary. And those involved are continually being slung together with others as insecure as them, spending intense weeks preparing projects that will eventually be thrown to the critics.

Once you are involved, only your new best pals can properly share in your triumphs and disasters. Your partner back home is simply not part of the big adventure.

Then there is the sheer physical proximity that the work entails. At 10am on Monday you are introduced to a member of the opposite sex on whom you have never clapped eyes before. By 10.15 you may be climbing all over them, smothering them with kisses and swearing undying love. In no other business is taking such liberties so casually accepted.

Another occupational hazard is the strain on domestic routines — all that time away from home, days spent drifting around unfamiliar town centres waiting for the evening show or, for film actors, hanging about on location. No wonder so many thespians take comfort in each other’s arms, if only to pass the time.

In the modern era it is much harder to hide dalliances. In the old days, what happened on the road stayed on the road. Or, as the actress and party girl Tallulah Bankhead put it, “Darlin’, it happens on tour, it ain’t adultery.”

Not so now. The mobile phone has changed all that — no more claiming that your car broke down, you mislaid the keys to your digs or you were brushing up your lines in the corner of a bar. There have been chilling tales of actors forgetting to turn off their phones after late-night calls home, only for their subsequent nocturnal activities to be relayed live to the horrified spouse. The marriage of one film director, who had just returned home from a six-week shoot in Canada, evaporated in the ten minutes it took him to pop out to the local Londis for milk, after his wife unthinkingly intercepted a text on his mobile. The moral of that tale is simple: never have identical phones.

Thankfully, most affairs don’t survive much past the wrap party or the final performance. That person who seemed so fascinating at the first-night party or in the studio can seem much less so once the job is done and you are both unemployed, staring at each other over a tepid cappuccino in Starbucks.

Of course, some long-term partners learn, in the face of all temptation, to keep their lives in perspective. One showbiz couple I know have a rule that, whenever one of them returns from a job away, they spend their first evening back together having a meal in a good restaurant. This simple ritual on neutral ground helps the recently absent party to regain a sense of equilibrium after the make-believe existence of weeks of filming. They are, I’m happy to say, both working and still happily married.

But however faithful you manage to be, the business still finds sneaky ways to get in where it hurts. A common source of marital strife is when one partner finds his or her career taking off while the other is languishing in pub theatre or, worse still, behind the desk in a minicab office. If there is one thing actors fear, it is being asked if they are working when they are not — and when this happens while their partner is busy attending glitzy first nights or film premieres, fear can turn to phobia.

Even if you are both successful, like Mendes and Winslet, the pressure will still be on. With camera phones making a potential paparazzo of every Joe Soap, the slightest transgression or wardrobe mistake can be laid bare for the world’s delectation.

Paul Newman may have said of his 50-year marriage to the actress Joanne Woodward “why fool around with a hamburger when you can have steak at home?” but, with so many celebrity magazines clamouring for scandal, the most innocent peck on the cheek can be construed as a trip to McDonald’s.

Not that everyone manages to keep temptation at bay, even in showbiz circles far removed from the Hollywood red carpet. At one post-performance discussion of Hamlet, the story goes, an ageing academic asked the play’s director whether, in his opinion, the Prince of Denmark ever actually consummated his relationship with Ophelia. The director thought for a moment. “Yes,” he replied eventually. “If memory serves, it was during the second week at the Grand Theatre Wolverhampton.”


Death Becomes Michael Jackson in $250m Deal

Death, it seems, is still the best career move for an ailing pop star. During the final years of his life, Michael Jackson was crippled by debt and close to bankruptcy, even defaulting on a $25 million mortgage he had taken out on his 2,700-acre (1,090-hectare) home, Neverland Ranch. But now, just nine months after his fatal overdose Jackson is again the most valuable musical brand on the planet, with his estate having finalised a record-breaking deal with Sony Corporation worth up to $250 million (£165 million).

Under the agreement, dozens of Jackson songs not heard before will go on release for the first time, with an entirely new album expected in time for Christmas. Reissues of classic Jackson albums, and remixes and DVDs of the singer’s videos, are likely to follow.

Unlike recent blockbuster music deals — such as Live Nation’s $120 million touring-to-albums pact with Madonna — the Sony-Jackson partnership will not include merchandising, or the rights to the late singer’s likeness. Instead, Sony will supply the Jackson family with a series of advances, which will be paid off by royalties from album sales and revenues from licensing material for video games, films and other theatrical performances. The latter could include a widely rumoured, Jackson-themed show by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, which would almost certainly have an accompanying soundtrack album.

The Sony deal was possible only thanks to an agreement struck by Jackson in the early 1980s that gave him ownership of all his recordings. Sony previously had the right to distribute those songs until 2015; the new arrangement is reported to extend that deal by two years, while also covering new material.

The Jackson family still have debts to pay off, however, largely because of the late singer’s notoriously out-of- control spending habits: he once blew $1 million on a single shopping spree in Las Vegas. By the end of this year the estate is expected to pay back $125 million of the musician’s loans, including $35 million owed to AEG, the concert promoter that was in the late stages of planning a series of Jackson comeback shows at the O2 arena in London when he died.

Sony’s deal with the Jackson estate, encompassing about ten albums over the next seven years, would not have been possible without the singer’s enduring appeal: after his death on June 25, Jackson became the biggest selling artist in the US, with an estimated 31 million albums sold worldwide. It is thought that by the first anniversary of his death, posthumous revenue from Jackson’s album sales, tickets to his concert film This Is It and related merchandising will have reached $250 million.

Gone, but still riding high

The blues singer Eva Cassidy had never signed a proper record deal and died in 1996 but, after receiving airtime on Radio 2, about nine million of her albums have been sold

Nick Drake died in 1974. After Volkswagen used one of his songs in an advertisement, he sold more albums the following month than in the previous 30 years

Forty years after his death, Jimi Hendrix has a new album in the British album chart

Johnny Cash reached No 9 in the charts last month with Ain’t No Grave. He died in 2003 aged 71.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Announce New Album “Mojo,” Big Summer Tour

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will release their new album Mojo, their first LP together in eight years, this spring before embarking on a huge summer tour starting May 6th in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tickets go on sale to the public starting March 8th. As an extra bonus, anyone who purchases tickets online for Petty and the Heartbreakers’ summer trek will receive a free digital of Mojo on the album’s release date, and two Mojo tracks — “First Flash Of Freedom” and “Good Enough” — will arrive at the time of purchase. The simmering “Good Enough” is streaming now over at Petty’s official site.

Petty has assembled an all-star roster of artists to accompany the Heartbreakers on tour as opening acts. My Morning Jacket, Joe Cocker, ZZ Top, Drive-By Truckers and Crosby, Stills and Nash will all join Petty on the road at various points throughout the tour. Check out all the tour details below, and for more on Mojo, grab our new issue next week, which features our huge Spring Album Preview.



Monday, March 8, 2010

Bigelow Scores Historic First for Female Film-Makers

In the end, like a well-made film, it all went according to the script: a David versus Goliath battle saw the little guy triumph, Kathryn Bigelow scored a historic first for female film-makers, and The Hurt Locker walked away with six awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, at the 82nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Ms Bigelow’s thriller about a US Army bomb disposal squad in post-invasion Baghdad cemented its claim to be perhaps the first truly great film to come out of the Iraq war, losing out to the $300m science-fiction blockbuster Avatar in just one of the seven categories where they were paired against each other.

“There's no other way to describe it, it's the moment of a lifetime,” she said, after receiving the first of the two awards. “I’d like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world. May they come home safe.”

The victory represents an affirmation of artistic endeavour over commercial might: The Hurt Locker was an independent movie made for just $15 million, which generated $20 million at the box office; its big studio rival boasts a budget 20 times that size, and ticket sales of $2.5 billion, making it by some distance the most lucrative film ever produced.

It was also in keeping with expectations, which had Hurt Locker as a marginal favourite to take the night’s two big prizes. Indeed most of the major awards ended-up where expected: odds-on favourites took every acting gong, with victories for Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz and No’Nique.

In the absence of an upset to steal headlines, historians will remember 2010 as a red-letter Oscars for women in film. Ms Bigelow becomes the first ever female winner of the Best Director Oscar, an achievement which seems all the more of an achievement when you consider that James Cameron, the director of Avatar, happens to be her ex-husband.
“I hope I’m the first of many [female best directors],” she said backstage,. “I love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I long for the day when a [female] modifier can be a moot point.”

Asked about Mr Cameron, she added: “He’s an extraordinary filmmaker. But all the nominees are phenomenal, powerful, talented filmmakers; how humbling for me to be in that company.”

Aside from the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, The Hurt Locker won for Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Its writer Mark Boal, a former journalist who came up with the idea for the tale while embedded with US troops, won for Best Original Screenplay.

The night’s other leading lady was Sandra Bullock, who was named Best Actress for her performance as a Southern housewife who adopts a homeless youth and helps him become an American Football star, in The Blind Side.

Ms Bullock’s long career has seen her produce many commercial hits, but far fewer critical ones. And her victory came just 24 hours after she was also named the “worst actress” of the year at the 2010 Razzie awards, making her the first ever performer to win gongs at both events in the same year.

“Did I really win this, or did I just wear y’all down?” she asked after picking up the Oscar. Backstage she added that the trophies will “sit side by side,” on display at her home “as they should.” “In the entertainment business, you take the good with the not so good. It’s the great equalizer. You know, nothing ever lets me get too full of myself. So they’ll sit side by side in a nice little shelf somewhere, the Razzie maybe on a different shelf, lower.”

A note of politics was injected into proceedings by the comedian Mo’Nique, who was named Best Suppporting Actress for her turn as the abusive mother of a black schoolgirl in Precious, which also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

After winning the award, Mo’Nique, whose real name is Monique Imes-Jackson, dedicated it to Hattie McDaniel, the first black Oscar winner who in 1940 was forced to sit in a segregated seating area at the Academy Awards.

“The reason why I have on this royal blue dress is because it's the colour that Hattie McDaniel wore in 1940 when she accepted her Oscar,” she said.

“The reason why I have this gardenia in my hair, it is the flower that Hattie McDaniel wore when she accepted her Oscar. So, for you, Ms. Hattie McDaniel, I feel you all over me, and it's about time that the world feels you all over them.”

The reference to Ms McDaniel, the daughter of slaves who played Mammy in Gone With the Wind raised eyebrows among viewers with a knowledge of Oscar history.

The Academy has always controversially refused, for reasons that remain unclear, to replace the pioneering actress’s Oscar trophy, which was left to Howard University but lost during a civil rights protest during the 1960s.

That, however, was about as edgy as things got, at an event that was a touch short on genuine surprise. The night's two other big acting winners had both already taken home the bacon in pretty much every previous awards event this year.

Jeff Bridges was named Best Actor honoured for his portrayal of alcoholic country music star Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor previously-unknown his native country, won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantino’s Holocaust fantasy Inglorious Basterds.
Elsewhere, the Pixar film UP won Best Animation, as was widely expected, and Best Original Score. The three wins that were managed by Avatar, which like The Hurt Locker had been nominated for nine awards, came in technical categories.

After years of struggling with historically-declining TV radings, the Oscar show’s organisers experimented with an old-school style of show presented by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.

For the first time since 1988, presenters of awards said “and the winner is?” rather than “and the Oscar goes to?” But while the opening song and dance routine and initial salvo of jokes hit the mark, the 3 ½ hour ceremony lost some momentum towards the end, a development not helped by the absence of any serious upsets.

In one notable departure from recent years, it was also a notably poor year for British hopes. The Wallace and Gromit animator, Nick Park, lost out in the Best Animated Short category, the first time he has not won an Oscar for which he’s been shortlisted.

Carey Mulligan, the star of An Education was overlooked, along with the BBC film’s screenwriter, Nick Hornby. So too were Armando Iannucci and his co-writers of In the Loop and Colin Firfth, who was up for Best Actor.

The only British winners were Ray Beckett, for Sound Mixing, and Sandy Powell, the costume designer for Young Victoria, who has now been nominated for a total of seven Oscars, and won a hat-trick of them. “I’ve already got two of these, so I’m feeling greedy,” she joked, on being presented with the trophy.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Academy Awards 2010 - The Entire Winners List

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
“The Hurt Locker” wins for best picture, its sixth Oscar of the night.

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “The Hurt Locker,” becomes the first woman to win an Oscar for best director. Only three women were nominated previously: Lina Wertmüller, “Seven Beauties,” 1976; Jane Campion, “The Piano,” 1993; Sofia Coppola, “Lost In Translation,” 2003.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock wins her first Oscar, for best actress in “The Blind Side,” beating out the other co-favorite, Meryl Streep. Ms. Bullock now has achieved a Hollywood first: she become the first actor to win an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges
As expected, Jeff Bridges wins for his performance in “Crazy Heart.”

Best Foreign Language Film: The Secret in Their Eyes
A surprise winner for best foreign language film, as “The Secret in Their Eyes,” from Argentina, beats out “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet.”

Best Film Editing: The Hurt Locker
Tyler Perry, joking that this evening will be the only time he’ll hear his name at the Oscars, hands the Oscar for best film editing to Bob Murawski and Chris Innis for “The Hurt Locker.”

Best Documentary Feature: The Cove
“The Cove” wins the Oscar for best documentary feature.

Best Visual Effects: Avatar
Shocking absolutely no one, “Avatar” takes the Oscar for visual effects. Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones accept the award.

Best Original Score: Michael Giacchino
After a very long dance performance, the Oscar for best original score goes to Michael Giacchino for “Up.” It’s his first Academy Award.

Best Cinematography: Avatar
“Avatar” picks up some ground against the “The Hurt Locker” by winning the Oscar for best cinematography. It’s Mauro Fiore’s first Academy Award.

Best Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker
Paul N.J. Ottoson (his second Academy Award Sunday night) and Ray Beckett take the Oscar for best sound mixing for “The Hurt Locker.”

Best Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker
After an explanation of the categories sound editing and mixing by Morgan Freeman, the Oscar for sound editing goes to Paul N.J. Ottoson for “The Hurt Locker.”

Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Tom Ford and Sarah Jessica Parker, well-known fashionistas, hand the Oscar for best costume design to Sandy Powell for “The Young Victoria.” It’s her third Oscar.

Best Art Direction: Avatar
“Avatar” picks up its first Oscar of the evening, for art direction. The winners are Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg (art direction) and Kim Sinclair (set direction).

Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique
In an expected development, Mo’Nique wins the Oscar for best supporting actress, for her role in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push” by Sapphire.”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Precious
A very emotional Geoffrey Fletcher, the screenwriter of “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” wins his first Oscar, for best adapted screenplay.

Best Makeup: Star Trek
Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow win the Oscar for best makeup for their work on “Star Trek.”

Best Live Action Short: The New Tenants
Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson win the Oscar for best live action short for “The New Tenants,” which stars Vincent D’Onofrio.

Best Documentary Short: Music by Prudence
“Music by Prudence” wins the Oscar for best documentary, short subject.

Best Animated Short Film: Logorama
Wallace and Gromit lose out to Nicolas Schmerkin for “Logorama.”

Best Original Screenplay: Mark Boal for “The Hurt Locker”
“The Hurt Locker” gets its first Oscar of the evening, with Mark Boal, journalist turned screenwriter, winning for best original screenplay.

Best Original Song: The Weary Kind (Theme from ‘Crazy Heart’)

Best Animated Feature: Up
Pixar continues its dominance of the Oscar’s animated feature category with the victory by “Up” in a very strong year.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
As expected, Christoph Waltz, the silkily villainous Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” won the Oscar for best supporting actor.



Yoko Ono: Back to Where She Once Belonged (Yoko's Family Story in Japan)

Yoko Ono is forever associated with the Beatles, yet her aristocratic family life in imperial Japan, long before she met John Lennon, was equally intriguing. For the first time, she opens up the Ono family album.

She may not look it, but Yoko Ono, a woman who has survived three decades of tragedy, debunking and myth, is now 77 years old. For many of those years, she has been blamed, perhaps unfairly, for the break-up of the world’s best-loved musical partnership: she was the woman who came between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, insisting on being in the studio as the band disintegrated. She also cradled Lennon just a few seconds after the fatal shots from a revolver rang out on a cold New York night in December 1980.

As she has grown older she has become — perhaps inevitably — more reflective about her past. She has mellowed and in recent years visits to Japan have become more frequent. She returned with Lennon several times in the 1970s at a point in his life when he had all but disappeared from public view.

Yoko is back in Japan for a three-week trip and, for the first time, has agreed to a journalist accompanying her to write about this side of her multi-faceted life. This is also the first time she has agreed to open up in depth about her childhood, her awkward, distant upbringing in a quasi-aristocratic family in Tokyo, and Lennon’s relationship with her parents. Only now is she truly comfortable returning to Japan.

The journeys back with Lennon were sporadic, and sometimes difficult. When Lennon came here with Yoko for the first time in 1971 — just a year after the break-up of the Beatles — he was surprised to find that his monumental fame cut no ice with his in-laws. The couple had known each other for four years, but Lennon had only the smallest inkling of Yoko’s social status and made no effort to ingratiate himself.

“He just went to my parents’ place unshaven, and wearing an army-surplus coat,” she says. “Just the most hip outfit, very rock’n’roll! I mean, rock’n’roll can be a performance in a theatre, a beautiful, gorgeous thing. But he was just looking like a bum. This kind of ‘here I am’ attitude.

“My family was not enamoured. If some families had a son or a daughter involved with the Beatles, maybe they would say, ‘We’d like to meet that guy, we’d like to be invited to a Beatles concert.’ There was none of that, of course.”

Yoko explains that she came from exalted, upper-class stock to whom the Beatles were irrelevant. Both her socialite, feminist mother and banker father were scions of families with high-level imperial, political, industrial and financial connections.

The family’s money had been made several generations earlier by her great-grandfather Zenjiro Yasuda: this would intrigue Lennon when they returned to Japan in the 1970s. During one of their visits, he picked up a Japanese news magazine that contained a feature on prominent Japanese figures who had shaped the country into a modern industrial and economic powerhouse.

“It was about all these people who influenced and affected Japan in history,” Yoko remembers. Lennon knew nothing of Yasuda, but as Yoko told him more, he paused to reflect.

Yasuda had refused the offer of a baronetcy from the then emperor; generations separated the two men, but only a few years before his visit to Japan, Lennon had handed back his MBE in protest against the British role in the Biafran war and support of America in Vietnam. Yoko says that he looked at a portrait of Yasuda and said: “That guy is me in my past life.”

“He just said that out of the blue,” Yoko recalls. “And I said, ‘Don’t wish for that. Because he was assassinated.’ ” She found out years later that her great-grandfather shared a birthday with her late husband.

As we drive outside Tokyo to the John Lennon Museum, which houses around 130 items of memorabilia from Yoko’s personal collection, I am surprised by her humour and vivacity. For a woman closer to 80 than 70, she is spry and active in a fitted, plunging jacket, and dressed from head to toe in black.

Elsewhere in the city there are reminders of her previous incarnation as a young Japanese aristocrat. Yoko, small and neat in her Bulgari sunglasses and jauntily angled hat, perches on the balcony of the Hibiya Hall, the people’s concert auditorium built more than 80 years ago by Yasuda — a self-made billionaire whose largesse to the citizens of Tokyo is commemorated in a large bronze relief high on the wall.

Located in a prestigious site near the Imperial Palace, Hibiya Hall is one of a handful of buildings in the Japanese capital that survived the city’s firebombing by the US airforce in the final months of the second world war.

Yoko, a teenager at the time, was not spared the deprivations experienced by the rest of the population. She talks of being evacuated to the countryside, and foraging for mulberries. At the time, her father was interned by the Americans in French Indochina. “It was a concentration camp. But not really a bad one,” she says. “He might have had a different opinion.” The family, housed in a bomb shelter for a time during the war, often went hungry — they traded her mother’s much-loved silk dress for a week’s worth of rice. “It’s not that I was begging for food,” Yoko says firmly and proudly. “Begging is not the kind of thing I do.

“When the B52s passed over our garden, after we came out of the shelter, we saw this huge piece of metal that dropped from the plane. It said ‘Piss on you!’ And Mamma looked it up in the dictionary and of course there was nothing there. And then our uncle, who went to Princeton, he was visiting and my mother said, ‘So what is “Piss on you?” “And he said, ‘I can’t discuss that in front of a lady!’ ” Yoko laughs. “Isn’t that amazing?”

Even though she was young at the time, she can still recall the horrific bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “They said something terrible happened, very bad things that [the Americans] used, and so we had to capitulate and we had to end the war. I remember the Emperor for the first time spoke on the radio. We had never heard him speak — of course not, he was God.”

Like many members of her family, Yoko attended a school in Tokyo that was reserved for the Japanese ruling classes. It was a life of isolation and privilege. In her childhood home, Kudan House, up to 20 servants would wait on her, but she had no friends. “It didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to play with people.” She shared this sense of estrangement with Lennon, who also endured a lonely childhood in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton, where he lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George.

Her great-grandfather Yasuda, the creator of her family's wealth, was the son of a samurai. In 1858, when he was 20, he moved to Tokyo to become a servant. An entrepreneur by nature, at the age of 28, he opened a money-changing house and went on to found the Yasuda Bank. It began as a bank for ordinary people with a branch in every village, and grew into a hugely lucrative and influential business conglomerate.

Yasuda was killed in 1921 by a sword-wielding socialist named Heigo Asahi.

“Afterwards Asahi killed himself and left a letter to the world, saying that he’s assassinated this capitalist. But some people believe that he had asked my great-grandfather for money and he was refused. And others believe that he was just a very enthusiastic socialist.”

Later that week Yoko takes me to Kudan House, where we are given a tour by the wife of the Filipino ambassador: the building is now their official residence.

“I feel really sentimental about this,” says Yoko as we stand in the kitchen. She has brought with her a book of photographs of John Lennon at Kudan House in 1977. That summer he organised an Ono/Yasuda family reunion here. Lennon’s own childhood was blighted by his mother’s absence, and his whole life turned upside down by her death in a car accident when he was 17. He was “very keen” that their infant son Sean “should understand where his mother grew up”. Yoko was less keen. “I said, ‘Why would I want to see these people just because they’re blood relatives?’ Why would I want to see these boring people? They’re the kind of people I left to make my own life.”

We take the bullet train to Karuizawa, an Alpine-like mountain community founded as a summer resort by a Canadian missionary of Scots descent, Alexander Croft Shaw (1846-1902), and full of second homes owned by Tokyo’s wealthy elite. We visit the 116-year-old Manpei Hotel, where Lennon and Ono stayed during summer visits. The Ono family home was nearby but it lacked room service, which mattered much to Lennon. He was partial to the Royal Milk Tea (the gift shop sells packets of it marked “For John”).

Another haunt of the Lennons — well off Yoko’s family radar — was the unassuming Rizanbo cafe, tucked away in the woods on the town’s outskirts, in the shadow of volcanic Mount Asama. On the walls are holiday photographs taken in the successive summers of 1977, ’78 and ’79 of Lennon, Yoko and Sean, and a self-portrait of Lennon drinking tea. “John and I were so happy riding around on bicycles,” she recalls. “Sean loved it too. It was just a beautiful time.”

Here in the woods, far away from the long shadow of the Beatles, they could enjoy being a family. “It was a moment when we were really trying to take child-rearing seriously.”

Pinned to the wall of the Rizanbo is a thank-you letter to the owner from Yoko, dated July 29, 2006. “Seeing these photographs from 30 years ago choked me up,” it reads in Japanese. “It is so nice to see how relaxed John was… You never really saw John so relaxed with other people around. It really made me feel nostalgic.”

At 77, Yoko seems to be tying up loose ends in her life. She now gets on well with her first child, Kyoko, from whom she was once estranged. Kyoko is Yoko’s daughter by her second husband, the American jazz musician Tony Cox (she was previously married to the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi), who disappeared with Kyoko in 1971 when she was eight and raised her in a religious cult. For years, Yoko didn’t even know her daughter was alive. But she admits she had been a poor mother who twice deserted her young family before Cox went into hiding with Kyoko. First she abandoned them in Tokyo for a new life in New York. “I just had to rescue myself — and then they followed me. When I was alone, New York life was sort of okay. But when they came, it was just hell.” She left them again for London, “and they followed me again”, Yoko says. “I was just a silly person,” she concedes. “The thing is, in London, I started to warm towards Kyoko. She was so sweet.”

They finally made contact again in the 1990s.

This year — the 30th anniversary of his death — Lennon would have turned 70. Yoko has guarded her husband’s legacy and meets her lawyer every Tuesday to discuss the latest developments concerning his estate. Not for the money, though. She doesn’t need it.

“This is a very interesting thing,” she says.

“My great-grandfather Zenjiro created a huge financial power. And the reason was, in those days bankers were the people who were seriously changing the world.” But her father, who was a frustrated concert pianist, had a different view. “He said, ‘No, they’re not the ones — it’s going to be music that’s going to change the world.’ And he was right.”