Pop Culture
Pop Culture: Articles for the Scripps Howard News Service & "Seen, Heard, Said"

Why the top-365-songs list isn't a stupid idea

Actors sink their teeth into vampire roles

Gregory Corso: My encounter with a Beat legend

Golden Globes: Sleazy and proud of it

In the offing, Clinton continent looms

"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues

 New movie genre: Reclusive authors anonymous

"West Wing," "Ally," et al.: Words, words, words

When TV shows outstay their welcome

Film critics dig their own graves with "Angels" review

Great Robert Altman films you never
heard of

Famous folk, next week in the arts, show business briefs

"Time regained": Proust in the multiplex

Glitterati is dead, long live Popfocus

Carl Barks: The man who put the ducks in Duckburg

"Almost Famous": Lester Bangs rises from the dead

Liz Hurley wins in war of words with Jane mag

Douglas poses with Zeta-Jones, and baby-makes three

Weddings that aren't: Douglas, Zeta-Jones, Madonna, Ritchie

The Emmy War: A half-century of coast-to-coast feuding

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the Iglesias odds

It's raining books by and about Trumps

What's in a mane? Blond woman in the news

Liz Hurley denies dissing ex-beau

Rock Hall of Infamy: Anti-heroes from Elvis to Eminem

Barbra tix bankrupt fans

Laurels for Kathie Lee to rest on

Hillary "In bed" with De Niro, Cruise, Kidman

How "Sopranos," "West Wing" will divvy up awards

This just in: Donald Trump is not a dope

Walter Matthau: A rumpled old dog in the heart of the city

Sampras to take a stroke at wedding bells

Who wants to host "Monday Night Football"?

Queen rewards Tina Brown for demoralizing American readers

How the Korean War cane to TV land 20 years late

Ivanka Trump: From catwalk to commencement line

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

Rags clash over Ted Turner "romance"

With straight face, Trump deems Marla's move "tacky"

"Friends" re-up for another season of top ratings, top money

Madonna in denial, and rightly so

"Suburbia": The continental subdivide

Howard Stern, Sly Stallone in bizarre, apocryphal triangle

Easter video viewing: "Spartacus" to "Harvey"

Billy’s in the news: Bob, Joel in love but not with other

"Charles's Angels" movie: Dispiriting news for old-time fans

Innovative career move for 'NYPD Blue' co-star

Top model: Why I gave oldish rocker husband the heave-ho

Unpleasantville: The awful truth about old-time TV families

Tina Brown held captive in desert by demanding children

Anybody's Oscar: Unusually suspenseful awards show looms

Oscar telecast: Looking for a few good hosts

"Lambs," "Beauty": Oscar's love affair with unacceptable behavior

Brad Pitt, Oscar to be in same room at same time

Letterman bites guest-host bullet: Andrew "Dice" Clay, call your agent

Seinfeld eyes East Hampton manse: Where's the welcome wagon?

"Mod Squad" Immortal dishes couple du jour

Brad Pitt's second thoughts about Oscar

Mike McCurry praises "West Wing": It's not entirely demeaning,,,"

Memo to "Hannibal" producers: Get Najimy while the getting's good

Don't Invite Gwyneth and Oscar to the same party

True or false: Douglas, Zeta-Jones don't even know each other

Ex-Clinton honcho linked to ex-"Cheers" costar

Third party cited in Trump-Knauss breakup

 Gossip queen goes to bat for Talk mag

20th century's No. 1 hit: "Satisfaction" hits the spot

Statement: Spice girl's marital problems insoluble

Charlie Brown, Pogo and me

From Howdy to Charlie Brown, we hate to say goodbye

The Beatle George: While his guitar gently weeps

Jodie Foster's people in mild tiff with CBS

A Peanuts trivia Q&A

Publicist: Boyle still joined at hip

There's video in your future and future in your video

"The future is now": Hit rewind

Whitney Houston presides over confluence of talent

Jim Carrey's flack earns A "D," Cher's A "B-minus"

Geraldo: bye-bye, doghouse

Michael Douglas does nothing much, reporters go wild

Ricky Martin on Menudo: Look back in anger

How to outsmart Halloween crowds at the video store

Tom Cruise puts himself in harm's way, only not really

1800-1900: Steaming towards revolution

1700-1800: Liberty, equality and bloodshed

1600-1700: The earth moves; North America is settled

Trump mulls travel plans, from altar to White House

"Faces of Impressionism" Time machine made of canvas, paint

Major quakes aren't personal unless they happen to you

Brad Pitt gracious about character assassination

Director insists Harrison Ford is not a brainless hulk

Costner, Willis, Douglas. Branagh, Sting_ in that order

Streisand: Color her ready to plug her new album

Julia and Benjamin's rings devoid of significance, flack says

Literary mud wrestling, featuring Geri and The Spice Girls

Urgent news: Ford to replace Gibson on "GMA" eventually

She married a monster from outer space

Never mind Godzilla VS. Mothra, Here's Trump VS. Cronkite

Spurned by Pitt, Redford pays court to Damon

Celebrity coyness is bustin' out all over

"Detroit Rock City": Kiss of death

Talk is cheap? Not with Tina Brown at the helm

The Beats: Remembered, Lionized and Unread

Real estate beat, starring Woody Allen and Donald Trump

Mood Music, or how we learned to stop worrying

Sex in the cinema: From "Last Tango" to "Eyes Wide Shut"

Two easy steps to looking exactly like Ricky Martin

Close encounters of the Muppet kind

Upcoming Brad Pitt movie not garbage, insiders say

Kathie Lee's eyewear excites Islanders' ire

Back to the future, continued

"Wild Wild West": Buck Rogers in the 19th century

Sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein: Fun, Fun, Fun

An expert's verdict:" Austin Powers" is pretty neat

Click here for pointless celebrity gossip

P. Dempsey Tabler of the jungle: The many faces of Tarzan

Kirk Douglas' Ex tells all about Errol Flynn fling

New twist in TV programming: Ax profitable shows

Private jet fees spell the end for another celebrity union

Killer serials: "Flash," "Buck" and a boy named George Lucas

Top nonfiction books: A message from two old men

Celebrity Dream dreams: Monica, Donald, Barbara, Georgette

Two divas, publicist form bizarre show-biz triangle

Johnny Cash tribute: Ring of fire, ring of friends

Streisand employee really upset about rumors

Grande Dame Eyes MGM Grand Gig

Secretive celebs? Not by a long shot

NBC honcho bristles at notion that Brokaw is not a saint

Barbara Walters not keen on daily dose of Monica

"Seen, Heard, Said"

David Letterman, Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Elton John

Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles, Maj, Ronald Ferguson, Fergie, Miranda Richardson, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Axl Rose, Stephanie Seymour

July 6, 1999


By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service

No matter how much you love "Casablanca" (1942), you have to laugh.

Here's the big lovemaking scene coming up; Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are in a tense confrontation that finally melts into passion. The shot dissolves to a watchtower light coursing through the night sky, a clear signal that the two stars are enjoying an intimate physical encounter.

But when the camera comes back to the room they're in, what we see is Bogart still in his fancy dinner jacket! His tie is still tied! His collar isn't even unbuttoned! He is smoking a cigarette, but then Bogart is always smoking a cigarette. Off-camera, Bergman is yakking about something meant to move the plot along.

Today we're getting ready to catch the thoroughly unclothed Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in flagrante delicto in Stanley Kubrick's last movie, "Eyes Wide Shut."

The "Casablanca" passage is a "sex scene" as such scenes were shot during that long period, roughly from the early '30s to the late '60s, when Hollywood bluenoses had strict control over how far filmmakers could go in portraying acts of love between consenting adults. Married couples could not be shown in bed together, even if they were merely eating crackers, and any man and woman who were shown necking had to have at least one foot on the floor at all times. It was like the longest, most heavily chaperoned junior-high-school dance in history.

Finally around 1970, in the wake of court decisions and cultural sea-changes that relieved filmmakers of many constraints, American audiences could sigh with relief at finally being allowed to hear four-letter words and to see bloody violence and bare-naked sex at their neighborhood theater- a triumph for the First Amendment. Among other things, it meant filmmakers could now try their hand at using unabashed sex as a vehicle for drama. Results since then have been mixed.

Neophyte director Bernardo Bertolucci got things off to a rip-roaring start with "Last Tango in Paris" (1972), in which Marlon Brando - in the last fleeting flush of his attractive prime, immediately before he turned into a second Orson Welles – and an actress named Maria Schneider climb all over each other in an unfurnished Paris apartment.

Although the great critic Pauline Kael incurred the ridicule of her peers by comparing the film to Igor Stravinsky's shocking ballet music for "The Rite of Spring" in terms of its revolutionary nature, the consensus of film history has shown her to be absolutely right. The movie, about a grief-stricken American who expresses his rage and loneliness during encounters with a French student who is impassively floating into a marriage with her boring boyfriend, holds up as a wrenchingly believable character study filled with passion, tragedy and humor.

Since then, though, it's been one long case of cinematic postcoital letdown.

"Body Heat" (1981) took a young and highly desirable Kathleen Turner, hooked her up with a boyish William Hurt, threw in a lot of late-noir "Double Indemnity" type double-crosses, laid on a mess of suggestive photography and rising steam and stood back to let audiences bask in the spectacle of Turner and Hurt behaving very naughtily with one another.

All very well and good, but “Last Tango" it wasn't. Essentially an exercise in "what if?" noir revisionism (what if Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck had been allowed to take each other's clothes off?), the movie was that not-so-rare combination - an essentially cold film that manages by main force to be titillating.

And then there was "9-1/2 Weeks" (1986), with Mickey Rourke as an enigmatic pretty boy who turns Kim Basinger into his semi willing accomplice in semi-kinky activities.

The problem with the movie, based on a far more explicit novel, was that the filmmakers lacked the courage of their convictions. The result was, and is, laughable. Blanching at the prospect of showing truly out-there sex, the movie settles for mind games and blindfolds - you almost expect Rourke to suggest a heavy round of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Matters were a bit more promising with "Sea of Love," a 1989 movie that is today unaccountably little mentioned. Not only was it the first actually good screen performance Al Pacino had managed to turn in since before the scrofulous "Scarface," he had as his fetching co-star Ellen Barkin at the very apex of her appeal.

True, it was just another gussied-up policier, with Pacino as an alcoholic detective on the track of a killer and Barkin as a quasi-deviant femme fatale who crosses his path and may even be the culprit. But the suspense is pretty good and the sexual element is absorbing.

However, it became clear that the idea of using semi-explicit sex to sell story and character points had reached a dead end with the release of "Basic Instinct" (1991), with Michael Douglas as a confused, libidinous police officer and Sharon Stone as a bisexual suspected of murder.

Everything you could say about "Body Heat" applies here. The filmmakers become so desperate that they present Stone's visible lack of undergarments during a police interrogation scene as something "provocative."

If it's Nicole Kidman you're talking about, though, you can get rid of the idea that she only became a sex goddess with her recent London and New York stage appearances in "The Blue Room" and now with the release of "Eyes Wide Shut." Because In "Malice" (1993), another nasty little thriller that everyone's forgotten about, she was as lubricious as movie women get.

In a plot that makes "Body Heat" look straightforward and plausible, Kidman plays the wife of a mild-mannered professor (Bill Pullman); she is victimized by an arrogant doctor (Alec Baldwin), who deprives her of her reproductive capacities and whom she proceeds to sue for millions of dollars. Later, it turns out that little Nicole has been playing both sides of every fence in sight, and gets to do some hot and heavy on-camera work with one of the actors, whom we will not name for fear of giving away the plot. (OK, it’s Baldwin.)

The sexual element is a little more organic than anything you saw in "Body Heat" or "Basic Instinct," but the movie as a whole can't stand up to examination for the excellent reason that it makes almost no sense at all.

We leave out Kidman's performance as a TV vixen who seduces Joaquin Phoenix into committing a murder in "To Die For," because it's a dark comedy and therefore falls outside our purview.

How "Eyes Wide Shut" will fit into this cinematic history remains to be seen. The fact that it was made by a filmmaker who seldom previously had an erotic artistic impulse is something to keep in mind. It's entirely possible that the spectacle of Hollywood's most famous married Scientologists pleasuring each other under the direction of the man who conceived and shot the infamous rape scene in "Clockwork Orange" will leave viewers with their eyes shut tight.

Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News Service.

back to top