It's still the dog days of summer–the kind of swollen season when a calculated catfight between a low-wattage Tyra echo and a camera-whore whose "job" constitutes being an uppity bitch for scale can actually dominate headlines–and as you can tell by the slow, incontinent trickle on Newswire this week, most of showbiz has settled into a sort of fatted, sluggish torpor. That or they're all too busy quietly masking their resentment of fans to focus on creating anything worth commenting on; either way, it's bad news for us buzzards whose job it is to pluck the viscous goo from the eyeballs of pop culture. But of course, here at Friday Buzzkills we know to turn that sun-baked corpse over on its distended belly to find the juiciest suppurating sores…
- Of course, summer is also a time for shedding unwanted pounds: Look at Paramount Pictures, which slimmed down just in time for swimsuit season by hunkering over the Tinseltown toilet and purging itself of more than 60 staffers from its arthouse arm Paramount Vantage. Execs Rob Moore and John Lesher lowered the ax in a memo filled with predictable corporate-speak–cheerily characterizing the mass layoff as an opportunity to "streamline the organization" by being "strategic and disciplined" and "taking into account the dynamic nature of the challenging marketplace"–and capping it off with a typically classy plug for its upcoming "slate of diverse films." We're sure those who were let go are comforted by the knowledge that losing their jobs helped make G.I. Joe possible.
- We know you're parched by the July heat and therefore hardly able to waste precious fluids mustering crocodile tears for a bunch of exiled movie executives, but it is worth noting that the all-but-shuttering of Paramount Vantage is yet another step in the ongoing death march towards eventual extinction for "independent" cinema. Like the dot-com burst, the '90s fad of creating studio offshoots to promote edgier projects (a.k.a. low-performing Oscar-bait) has all but dried up as of late, and just to drive that home, this week also saw Netflix's late-term abortion of Red Envelope Entertainment, a distribution arm that barely lasted two years but still managed to help more than 100 risky films like No End In Sight see release. But who wants to see stuff like that anyway? Elitists, that's who!
- With the shuttering of studios whose sole intention it is to help artists find investors without resorting to compromising their vision, these are seemingly dark days for independent filmmakers (all twelve of them). But then again, there are some other avenues–like taking on a corporate sponsor perhaps? After all, the lines separating art and commerce have never been slimmer: Take, for example, the fact that Absolut Vodka just landed its very own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Of course, the Chamber Of Commerce is taking great pains to stress that it's not a real star, but rather a "Friend Of The Walk Of Fame plaque." But considering it's right there on Hollywood Boulevard, rubbing brass shoulders with Jackie Chan, Matthew Broderick, and Antonio Banderas (too bad they couldn't land a spot near Judy Garland; we're sure she would have appreciated always having a bottle within reach), such semantic quibbles are all but meaningless. After all, we're not naïve; week after week we've chronicled the slow, painful death of the notion of "celebrity." Putting "fame" up for sale to the highest bidder just takes out the middleman of having to blow an elected official, make out with Lindsay Lohan, or befriend anyone on The Hills.
- Even more worrisome is seeing that creeping, chilling vacuity invading not just the folks in front of the cameras but the formerly erudite, crotchety "experts" whose job it was to call bullshit when they saw it: Take, for example, this week's heartbreaking announcement from Roger Ebert, whose battle with cancer has forced him to retire from At The Movies. Rather than fill his aisle seat with another esteemed print critic (who would then be browbeaten by unfair Ebert comparisons until he resigned), Disney ABC took the show in a wholly new, nepo-tastic direction, hiring TCM host Ben Mankiewicz (son of journalist Frank and grandson of screenwriter Herman) and Ben Lyons (son of hack critic Jeffrey) in a baffling attempt to "appeal to a younger demographic"–who, let's face it, are far more likely to get their film reviews from a guy like this than anyone who might have seen a movie made before 1990. But hey, who says they were hired for their critical acumen? Lyons is notorious for having inherited his father's quote-whore tendencies–he memorably called I Am Legend "one of the greatest movies ever made," don'tchaknow–so this sounds about right. After all, why risk upsetting sponsors and potential business partners with negativity? In fact, let's just replace "Thumbs Up" and "Thumbs Down" with "Awesome" and "Awesomest" and be done with it. I smell pull-quotes!
- But of course, Ben & Ben (catchy!) were screwed from the get-go, considering every remake pales in comparison to the original–or everything, that is, except the sure-to-be-mindblowing Bob Dylan cover that My Chemical Romance is reportedly cooking up for Zack Snyder's Watchmen. The film, which had our full support up until this very moment, will reportedly utilize a "Forrest Gump-like soundtrack of period-evocative music"–but of course, using "Fortunate Son" for the 10,000th time is hardly synergistic enough to land you on the front page of iTunes. Thus, Snyder "found a way around that limitation" by getting MCR to "perform, like, a cover of 'Desolation Row' or something like that." Which is great, because we've always thought that song could stand to be louder and suckier.
- Were this Mother Russia, of course, we wouldn't even be having this conversation: Gerard Way would already be on his Gerard Way to the gulag, mentally composing some atrocious concept album based on Crime And Punishment (or something like that). That's because the Duma has recently begun holding hearings over proposed legislation to outlaw emo culture entirely. Buried in its admittedly histrionic talk targeting emo as contributing to Russia's "spiritual and ethical crisis," the bill also spells out once and for all what constitutes an emo fan: People who are "from 12 to 16 years old and wear black and pink clothing. They have black hair with long bangs that 'cover half the face,' black fingernails, black belts peppered with studs and pins, and ear and eyebrow piercings." Well, thank God that's finally settled! On a more relevant note, have we seriously learned nothing from punk, grunge, et al.? Decrying a faddish subculture only gives it credence and makes it stronger–it's the Obi Wan Kenobi effect: strike it down and it will only get all up in your business. Clearly the best way to kill a musical genre you don't like is to out-and-out embrace it: Give those outsider emo bands a chance to go mainstream, and then watch their former "edge" dissipate under the dulling grind of increased expectations until even their former diehards are embarrassed. All it takes is one dalliance with rock-star pretension to ruin a band's cred forever–like, say, turning in a lame cover of a Bob Dylan song. Hey, maybe Zack Snyder is onto something!
- And speaking of ill-advised remakes, dudes who wear makeup, and dispiriting cash-ins on the current, baffling musical trend, this week brought news of two projects that make us want to sing out loud: Of course, in our culture, "singing" is a euphemism for the series of painful shrieks and moans that come from flaying our genitals at the thought of the MTV-masterminded update of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. According to Variety, the telepic will use the original screenplay but will likely add new music and–in keeping with the network's myopic strategy to appeal to as narrow a demographic as possible–undoubtedly feature as many tweenage icons as they can fit onto one stage, all but ensuring that we'll be seeing Russell Brand in pantyhose and the "Time Warp" rejiggered with Timbaland beats. Thankfully, there's probably no chance of that happening to the already-in-pre-production sequel to Hairspray that a cowed-by-cash John Waters has been convinced to write, but the idea of yet another chapter in the "Baltimore saga of the Turnblad family" has us dispirited nonetheless–not only for guaranteeing that we definitely haven't seen the last of John Travolta in drag, but for proving that this current, abhorrent trend of "forcing non-singing actors into overblown musicals" shows no sign of slowing. Your mom is stoked.
- But all of that is so much easily brushed dirt from your collective shoulders compared to the news that George Lucas–O.G. of the "Let's squeeze every last drop of creativity from an original idea, and then bottle those drops, put Jar-Jar's head on it, and sell it to kids" school of filmmaking–has plans to wring another few million out of the last remaining Star Wars fans on the planet by re-releasing the original movies in 3-D format. Yes, finally you can see the Star Wars saga as it was always meant to be seen: as a hollowed-out receptacle for your disillusioned tears. But don't worry: Although the new films may be three-dimensional, the acting will still be totally flat. (That joke brought to you by the Best Week Ever Zing! generator.)
- And while we're on the subject of picking over the bones of our legends, this week saw the comparably spacey saga of James Brown come to its umpteenth ignoble end in a Christie's auction, a maudlin tribute to the Godfather of Soul that the New York Times couldn't help comparing to a "tag sale." Reaching deep for celebrities to write about, the NYT came up with the "mildly stellar presence of Paul Shaffer" and noted the "brief" appearance of Nikki Hilton–who probably left after realizing that Brown's famous studded "Sex" belt wasn't on the lot–while contrasting the shambles of Brown's legacy to that of Elvis', noting that "there will be no Graceland to contain the clothes and furs and costumes and gold records and awards and record collection and personal photos and handwritten love notes and jail records dispersed at the sale." Instead, Brown's life was sold off piece by morbid piece and scattered to the wind–and all at a much lower price than originally estimated. In the end, one of the highest-selling items was Brown's medical bracelet inscribed with his allergies (and won by Shaffer for the price of $32,500)–an item that the NYT (sarcastically?) called the "equivalent of a splinter from the true cross." And thus ends our hopefully final disheartening update on the late James Brown–until, of course, the day his perpetually strapped-for-cash kids exhume his corpse and send it on a state fair tour.
- In her heyday she was known as "GI Jo," a "honey-voiced" singer whose sentimental favorites like "I'll Walk Alone," "I'll Be Seeing You," and "I Don't Want To Walk Without You" soundtracked many a soldier's longing gaze at the Vargas pin-up in their footlocker while fighting Tojo in World War II. Jo Stafford, who died this week at the age of 90, sold more than 25 million records, had nearly a dozen top-ten hits, and briefly had her own TV show in 1955 during a prolific career that saw her produce more than 800 songs ranging from pop ballads to country to a comedy album (recorded under the name Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, a fake lounge act she dreamed up with husband Paul Weston) that netted her a Grammy in 1960.
- Known as the Little Giant, saxophonist Johnny Griffin was a staple in the jazz circuit, having played and recorded with other giants like Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, and Thelonious Monk. Griffin, who died today at the age of 80 before he could take the stage in a scheduled performance in Paris, also recorded with John Coltrane on his signature album, 1957's A Blowin' Session, which captured his frenetic playing and earned him the reputation (in some circles) as the fastest saxophone player in the world.
- Normally these obituaries are populated with folks who lived long and fruitful lives, and thus the "buzzkill" aspect is somewhat abated, but every now and then it's our sad duty to report a genuine tragedy: At the age of 29, DJ K-Swift–real name Khia Edgerton–was just getting started, having worked her way up in the Baltimore scene and developed a realm of influence that extended well beyond her city's limits, helping to bring the "Bmore Club" sound to a national audience through her tenure as an ambassador for the music she loved so much. Her show "Off The Hook Radio" was one of the highest-rated in the city, her mix CDs often outsold even mainstream artists like Jay-Z in local stores, and her live DJ sets brought in fans by the thousands. Sadly, Edgerton died this week after a swimming pool accident at her home, never getting the chance to become a mainstream celebrity or take the European tour she had planned for later this year.
- And finally, if you're still reeling from the death of Estelle Getty, take comfort in the fact that her life and legacy are now in the hands of the people who understand her best: Weeping YouTube eulogists (YouTube-logists?) out to mend their broken hearts by attempting to achieve Chris Crocker-levels of stardom.
Have a super weekend!