Arthouse filmmaker Alain Resnais, a New Wave icon turned grand old man of French cinema, has died in Paris aged 91, his producer told AFP on Sunday. With a shock of wiry white hair and trademark dark shades, Resnais was a much-loved figure in the French…
“12 Years a Slave” won big at the Independent Spirit Awards Saturday, taking home five trophies including best feature and building up momentum on the eve of the Oscars. The searing historical drama also earned prizes for British director Steve McQueen…
In September, Ellen DeGeneres told the audience of her talkshow about the pros and cons of hosting the Academy Awards: “Pro: a lot of fancy designers will want to approach me and want me to wear a beautiful, expensive gown. Con: ain’t no way in hell I’m wearing a gown.” The audience erupted in cheers.
Such vocal approval is an indication of how far both DeGeneres’s fortunes and US public attitudes towards sexuality and gender have shifted. At the turn of the century, you could have been excused for thinking DeGeneres was down and out.
After spending two decades establishing herself as one of the most popular comedians in the US, in 1997 she gambled everything on coming out as a lesbian, both in real life and in character on the hit sitcom that bore her name – and she seemed to lose. Advertisers deserted her show, her relationship with Anne Heche became tabloid fodder, she sank into depression and her career seemed to stall.
Look at her now. DeGeneres hasn’t just bounced back; she’s a bona fide American superstar, with a juggernaut of a talk show, nearly three billion views on her YouTube channel, and more Twitter followers than Oprah Winfrey, CNN or any member of One Direction. She has done it on her own terms. And she definitely wears suits, not gowns – as she will when she hosts the awards for a second time on Sunday.
DeGeneres has never been one to think small. Born outside New Orleans in 1958, she once said she decided early in life “I wanted to have money, I wanted to be special, I wanted people to like me, I wanted to be famous.” One of the key aspects of her success is that she has achieved this, lost it all and come back stronger without coming across as ambitious or egocentric, let alone nasty or mean. Her amiability and approachability are crucial to her appeal, and perhaps her most politically significant attributes too.
Overcoming adversity is a motif that repeats itself in DeGeneres’ life. When she was a 21-year-old college dropout, she fought with her girlfriend Kat and left their apartment. When Kat found her at a rock concert and begged her to come home, Ellen ignored her. Minutes later, Kat was killed in a car crash. Devastated, DeGeneres almost fell into self-destruction but found herself in her work. She impulsively embarked on what would become her comedy career, writing a routine called A Phone Call to God that she decided – one day – she would perform on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Seven years of dedicated gigging later, in 1986, she did just that – and was the first female comedian he invited over for a chat after her routine.
In 1994 DeGeneres landed her own ABC sitcom, called Ellen. Like Seinfeld, it combined wry observational standup with stories about social awkwardness: bookstore worker Ellen was basically likeable but clumsy and needy, with a tendency to ramble nervously and veer off on tangents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her penchant for deflection and self-effacement, Ellen was hiding something.
Rumours about her sexuality grew and hints were dropped on the show until in 1997 both Ellen the character and DeGeneres the performer came out as gay. Oprah was involved in both cases, as therapist to the former and talkshow host to the latter when DeGeneres appeared on her show. Degeneres also gave an interview to Time magazine, appearing on the cover with the strapline “Yep, I’m Gay”.
“It’s important to remember no one had done anything like that before,” says Matt Kane of Glaad, the US lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy group. “To come out on that scale – Ellen occupied a position in US pop culture that meant she introduced a lot of viewers to the reality of being gay or lesbian in a way they hadn’t confronted.”
The coming out sparked a mini culture war, with many praising the comedian’s courage while others recoiled. The TV evangelist Jerry Falwell branded her “Ellen DeGenerate”.
Initial support from advertisers and the network slipped away, audiences fell, and in May 1998 Ellen was cancelled. Four months later, Will & Grace – the first network sitcom with a lead character who was out from the start – debuted to considerable success. But Ellen was out in the cold. “I didn’t work for three years,” she has said. “I was so angry. I thought: I earned this. I didn’t get this because I was beautiful; I didn’t get this because I had connections in the business. I really worked my way up to a show, a sitcom that was mine that was successful, that was on for five years. I did what was right: I came out, which was good for me and ultimately it was the only thing I could do. And then I got punished for it.” Meanwhile, her public profile took a hammering, not least because for the first time the press had a celebrity lesbian couple to fixate on in DeGeneres and Heche. Their unabashed displays of affection, including at the Clinton White House, were a lightning rod for criticism until they split in 2000.
By then, DeGeneres was re-establishing herself as a major standup. She was praised when she hosted the Emmys soon after 9/11 – asking “what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?” – and secured a new sitcom on CBS. Momentum was gathering. In 2002, the lesbian culture website AfterEllen launched, its name confirming DeGeneres’s coming out as a watershed moment. And in 2003, she stole the film Finding Nemo as scatterbrained Pacific regal blue tang Dory.
In 2003, she launched The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Combining celebrity guests and comedy shtick – dancing with the audience, social-media blooper segments – it was fun and feelgood but in a comfy, pally way that contrasted with Oprah’s messianic vibe. It won several Emmys in its first year and ratings climbed. They haven’t stopped yet.
In 2004, DeGeneres started dating the actor Portia di Rossi, whom she married in 2008 and lives with in apparently blissful, tabloid-unfriendly domesticity.
“She’s a great symbol of how far we’ve come,” says Kane. “From losing nearly all her major sponsors after she came out, she’s now one of America’s most popular talk show hosts. Her screen presence is very welcoming. She can be quick-witted and sharp without being mean-spirited, which has really endeared her to audiences. She connects by doing what she does best: talking about shared experiences.”
Prejudice against any given group is harder to maintain once people get to know a member of it. “Housewives who might have been disapproving when Ellen came out have got to know her,” says Kane. “They see she’s not the frightening activist they might have thought, but someone they want to spend time with on a daily basis.”
DeGeneres’ new mainstream popularity was cemented in 2007 when she hosted the Oscars for the first time. The fact that she was the first openly gay person to do so was perhaps less interesting than the sense that she was tapped because of her upbeat tone, a marked shift from two years of distinctly barbed hosting from Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. Now DeGeneres was the go-to act to keep everyone calm.
“These days it seems that everyone loves DeGeneres,” W magazine noted. “Her distinctive hip populism cuts across divergent demographics while alienating no one … She just seems so nice and so normal.” It might have taken a decade, but DeGeneres had reclaimed her position as a kind of national best buddy. But she has kept getting bigger. Her talk show goes from strength to strength, clocking up ever-growing ratings, 33 Emmys to date and A-list guests (Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep in recent weeks). Last month, the New York Times called her the new Oprah”, noting her extraordinary advertising pull and growing range of branded products and media ventures, and suggesting her show has “helped fuel a full-fledged cultural movement, in which bullying is not OK”.
Certainly, DeGeneres is using her industry clout to push things forward. Through her company, A Very Good Production, she is currently producing sitcom One Big Happy, about a gay woman and a straight man (Elisha Cuthbert and Nick Zano), lifelong friends who have a baby just as he meets the love of his life. DeGeneres will even graduate from comic relief to leading fish in Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo, scheduled for release in 2016.
And of course she has been invited to host the Oscars again – notably in the wake of another couple of fractious years courtesy of the bizarre Hathaway-Franco double act of 2012 and Seth MacFarlane’s bad-taste bonanza in 2013. “When she was first announced as an Oscar host, some people saw it as a risk,” says Kane. “Now it seems like a natural fit or even a safer choice.”
DeGeneres was once asked about the moment when Johnny Carson invited her over to chat after her debut appearance on The Tonight Show. “It catapulted my career,” she acknowledged, but “that’s not why I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it because … I wanted people to get me.” A bumpy three-decade ride later, it’s safe to say that America gets Ellen DeGeneres, and it likes her.
Born 26 January 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana
Career In 1986 she became the first female comedian to be invited for an on-screen chat with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. From 1994-1998 she appeared in the sitcom Ellen. After that was cancelled, she experienced a hiatus before returning with her talk show.
Low point After coming out as a lesbian in Ellen and in real life in 1997, advertisers pulled out of the show and it was cancelled after one more season.
High point Her appearance as host of the Emmys soon after 9/11.
What she says “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”
What they say about her “She combines her cosy charm with a coldly brilliant cynic’s eye.” – Leo Benedictus, the Guardian
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
By Mike Davidson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The most glamorous of all runways, the 500-foot-long Oscars red carpet, might be a fashion disaster on Sunday.
A rare heavy rain storm on Friday in Southern California has soaked parts of the red carpet laid down on Hollywood Boulevard, where movie stars and Tinseltown powerbrokers will make their grand entrance to the Academy Awards, film’s highest honors.
Dozens of workers spent the morning securing the red carpet from the pelting rain and overflowing street gutters 48 hours before hundreds of attendees will parade designer gowns, extravagant jewels and tailored tuxedos.
Workers cleared pools of water that had collected atop the tent built to shield stars from the rain while others hustled to plug any leaks and a team wielding squeegees pushed standing water out of the protective plastic over the red carpet.
“It has been a challenge, a lot of water in a short amount of time,” said Joe Lewis, the associate producer of arrivals for Hollywood’s biggest night. “There is no perfect science to (a) rain plan. It is going to rain, there is going to be water, we have got to protect as best we can.”
The rain began in Los Angeles on Thursday evening and according to the National Weather Service is not expected to let up until Sunday morning, hours before Hollywood’s movie stars begin their walk across the red carpet at 3 p.m. PST (2300 GMT).
“I think the carpet is probably wet underneath us, which is going to be a problem in a couple days,” said Doug Neal, the stage manager of the Oscars red carpet show. “But we are well protected. They have put this up a few days ago so I think we will be alright.”
While the rain is a welcome sight for many in California, which is mired in its third year of a debilitating drought, high winds and debris caused road closures, power outages and about 1,000 homes in the Los Angeles area were ordered to be evacuated due to possible mudslides.
Organizers as a precaution had already wrapped the large gilded Oscar statues that flank the red carpet like columns to shield them from possible water damage.
“Well we have put in all the gutters, we have protected all the carpet, we’ve got all the scenery protected, we have got all the stages built,” Lewis said.
“We know how tough it is, but when they get out of the car on Sunday afternoon, this is their first impression of the Academy Awards and, by God, we want it to be a good one,” he added.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)
[Image: Rain has hampered work on the Oscar red carpet. Los Angeles was hit with one of its worst storms in years on Friday (Feb. 28). Crews covered the red carpet area with a massive tent and protected the carpet itself with plastic. Via Routers.]
U.S. actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died after taking a cocktail of drugs that included heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, the New York medical examiner’s office said Friday.
The Oscar-winning star — widely hailed as the finest character actor of his generation — was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on February 2 with a needle still stuck in his arm. He was 46.
The coroner’s office said the death appeared accidental, and that Hoffman had suffered “acute mixed drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine.”
Benzodiazepine, also known as “benzo” or BZD, is a sedative used to treat anxiety or insomnia, but also often improperly used in combination with alcohol and narcotics.
More than 50 sachets of the illegal opiate heroin were foun in Hoffman’s apartment at the time of his death, and he was known to have had problems with addiction in his past.
Hoffman won the Oscar for best actor in 2006 for his title role in “Capote” and was one of Hollywood’s most respected performers, in both art-house movies and blockbusters.
Three people have been arrested and charged as part of the investigation into Hoffman’s death.
The actor, who struggled with fame and addiction, admitted to falling off the wagon in 2012, after two decades of sobriety, starting with prescription pills and escalating to heroin use.
He was a father of three young children.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Pierre Omidyar, who founded both eBay and investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald’s newest online venture, helped the U.S. government provide funding to groups involved in the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Pando Daily reported on Friday.
According to Pando’s Mark Ames, financial records show that the Omidyar Network reportedly gave $200,000 to the “Center UA” campaign and another $335,000 to “New Citizen,” a group with ties to “Center UA.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $270,000 to “Center UA,” more than half of its operating budget.
The Omidyar Network is part of the Omidyar Group, which owns First Look Media and The Intercept, which Greenwald launched this year. The group is also scheduled to launch another newsmagazine, helmed by former Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi, later this year.
Ames also noted that another Intercept hire, Marcy Wheeler, was already investigating the possibility that the Ukrainian uprising had been fueled by outside investments, writing on Twitter, “There’s quite a bit of evidence of coup-ness. Q is how many levels deep interference from both sides is.”
He also that Wheeler may be surprised to find that her own boss is involved.
“Of the many problems that poses, none is more serious than the fact that Omidyar now has the only two people with exclusive access to the complete Snowden NSA cache, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras,” Ames went on to write. “Somehow, the same billionaire who co-financed the ‘coup’ in Ukraine with USAID, also has exclusive access to the NSA secrets—and very few in the independent media dare voice a skeptical word about it.”
For its part, “Center UA” is part of a group of anti-Yanukovych campaigns owned by Oleh Rybachuk, a top figure in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” instigated by accusations that the election had been rigged in favor of Yanukovych against his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko was later confirmed as the winner and named president before being replaced by Yanukovych six years later, after the country’s Central Election Commission and international officials concluded the original election had been fair after all.
Pando reported that the Omidyar Network had not yet commented on its involvement in Ukraine.
UPDATE: Greenwald has addressed the Pando story, saying that the Omidyar Network’s funding in Ukraine won’t affect his journalist independence:
I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me – any more than I cared about the political views of the family that owns and funds Salon (about which I know literally nothing, despite having worked there for almost 6 years), or any more than I cared about the political views of those who control the Guardian Trust.
There’s a very simple reason for that: they have no effect whatsoever on my journalism or the journalism of The Intercept. That’s because we are guaranteed full editorial freedom and journalistic independence.
During his podcast Monday, comedian Joe Rogan demolished anti-marijuana arguments made by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter.
He played a clip of Coulter during an appearance on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live,” where she claimed the sole purpose of using marijuana was to get high – unlike alcohol.
“Yeah, I drink whiskey for the taste,” said Rogan, questioning Coulter’s mental stability. “Imagine if they came up with alcohol-free whiskey and sold it in those big Arnold Palmer lemonade cans.”
Rogan agreed when Morgan suggested that “everybody drinks alcohol to get slightly higher than they start drinking” – but Coulter did not.
“People enjoy wine, they drink wine for purposes – they buy $800 bottles of wine, perhaps you have a warm feeling [but] you can tell if somebody’s been smoking pot,” she said. “Their eyes are red, they giggle at everything, and by the way they’re incapable of carrying on the normal functions of life.”
Rogan dismissed her last claim as ridiculous.
“I do jujitsu while high, I do comedy while I’m high, I’m doing this podcast high, I do almost every radio show I ever do high,” he said. “The normal functions of life? Like what? I go to the movies high all the time, go to dinner high all the time. Like, what is she talking about?”
His producer, Brian Redban, suggested that Coulter may be dating a man who smokes pot, and Rogan started riffing.
“She’s dating a guy who’s willing to tolerate her, so just imagine what a f*cking idiot he’s going to be,” Rogan said. “‘Oh, he couldn’t function.’ Well, Jesus Christ, it was probably paralytic just being around your f*cking sh*tbag personality. Imagine that, imagine that woman – that’s your girlfriend.”
Rogan suggested that Internet trolls had largely rendered Coulter obsolete, and he urged her to change up her act to remain relevant.
“Stop being a silly bitch, like, you know, have a nuanced point of view,” he said. “Can you do that? Can you not just be a right-wing f*cking chatterbox?”
Watch the video clip posted online by PowerfulJRE:
Rebekah Brooks, who edited Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids, told her trial Thursday that she had sanctioned payments to public officials for stories with an “overwhelming public interest”.
Brooks told the phone-hacking trial that she had permitted such payments on a “handful” of occasions between 1998 and 2009, when she edited global media baron Murdoch’s daily The Sun and its weekly sister title News of the World.
At England’s Old Bailey central criminal court in London, Brooks was asked by her defence lawyer if she ever sanctioned payments to public officials, as she gave testimony.
The 45-year-old answered: “Yes.”
Questioned on how many times, she replied: “A handful of occasions — half a dozen.”
“There had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” she explained.
“Public interest — I and everyone else always finds this a very difficult subject to address because it’s very subjective depending on what newspaper or media organisation you’re in. Each newspaper has its own interpretation.
“If there wasn’t a public interest defence then it was not done because it was considered to be illegal.”
Brooks denies charges of conspiring in voicemail hacking, conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and two counts of trying to cover up evidence in order to pervert the course of justice.
Regarding claims of payments by a Sun journalist to a Ministry of Defence press officer, Brooks was asked if she knew who the reporter’s source was.
“No, I didn’t know,” she replied.
Questioned if she knew the source was a public official, Brooks replied: “No.
“He never told me any of his confidential sources. I mean, most journalists kept their contacts and sources pretty close to their chest: it’s a standard thing in the industry.”
She said officials working for former prime minister Tony Blair and his then finance minister Gordon Brown would often leak information during the pair’s long-running “feud” at the heart of government.
“We found both camps willing to tell particular journalists information, all of whom would be considered public officials,” she said.
Brooks also told how she had regular contact with “senior level” police officers, military chiefs and figures from the MI5 and MI6 security services.
She accepted having made mistakes as an editor, saying how in the “flash of speed you can miss something perfectly obviously wrong”.
Six others on trial at England’s Old Bailey central criminal court in London also deny all the charges against them.
The case, which began in October and is expected to last into May, continues Friday.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]