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24 Jun 1999 :
At the moment in New York City, there are three faces that are impossible to escape; Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and Austin Powers. All three adorn every (and I do mean every) glossy magazine cover, billboard, newspaper feature, all seemingly in rotation.

Lopez, best known (until now) for her steamy performances in movies such as Steven Soderberg's 'Out Of Sight' and Oliver Stone's 'U-Turn', has just released her debut album, 'On the 6', which is riding high in the Top 10, and the first single, 'If You Had My Love' is sitting pretty at Number One in the Billboard Hot 100. Lopez stopped traffic (literally) last week when she made an appearance to sign copies of her album in the Virgin Megastore in downtown Union Square. A native of the Bronx, Lopez made it very clear that she wishes to continue with her acting career while also pursuing her music career.

Ricky Martin has been massively popular for several years among the Latin community with his repetitive, uneventful Salsa rhythms. His new self-titled album (his first in English), has sold phenomenally well, and the single 'Livin La Vida Loca' is receiving more radio play than any other track since Celine DionÝs ŰMy Heart Will Go OnÝ. MartinÝs boyish good looks have been cleverly marketed towards teenage girls who simply cannot get enough of him.

Mike Myers' character Austin Powers, I was surprised to discover, is a huge icon in the US. This amazed me because I was aware of the fact that the original movie was only a mild theatrical hit here. The power of home video is not to be underestimated though; the movie found its audience via this medium, and has apparently been in the Top 20 sell through videos since its release. The returns from the video revenues, surprisingly enough, are on a par with those from its theatrical run. The sequel, entitled 'The Spy Who Shagged Me' opened in theatres last Friday, and believe it or not, it had the third highest three-day opening of ALL TIME, raking in $55 million and knocking the gargantuan Star Wars from the top slot. The Austin Powers marketing and publicity campaign is quite unlike anything I have ever seen: it's scale is just breathtaking. Tie-ins with Virgin Airlines (or Virgin Shaglantic, as they have temporarily renamed themselves), Heineken Beer, toy manufacturers, TV and radio stations and omnipresent advertising have raised the level of anticipation to fever pitch. Amusingly, the first VIP screening of the movie last Monday in a Manhattan theatre had to be cancelled. Bomb scare? Nope. Fire Alarm? Nuh-huh. Believe it or not, the theatre's air conditioning went on the blink, and as New York has been suffering a heat-wave for the past two weeks, the entire star-studded, seated audience were sent home without one second of the movie having been screened.

In the meantime, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace continues to smash box-office records, the most recent being fastest film to reach the $250 million mark, a record previously held by Titanic. Industry-ites are positive that Star Wars cannot match Titanic's final box-office total of over $600 million, a theory I fully subscribe to having seen the movie last week. The Ziegfeld cinema is a huge, refurbished art-deco single screen theatre in Midtown Manhattan which was filled almost to capacity on Sunday night with a relatively excited audience (some of whom brandished plastic light sabers, $5 dollars outside the theatre) who cheered loudly only when the recognisable characters (Yoda, R2-D2, C3PO) appeared on screen. The final audience response was lukewarm, to put it mildly. The movie is a misconceived jumble of ideas, none of which are fully fleshed out, all of which are deeply uninteresting. It's not without it's redeeming features, however. Some of the set pieces are quite breathtaking and Neeson is occasionally impressive as Qui-Gon Jinn. The frenzy surrounding the movie is surprisingly non-existent; sure, it's all over the media (particularly the trades) and the merchandise fills the windows of every second store, but nobody is buying it. Nobody is talking about this movie. They're buying their tickets for it in droves, but New York seems to be 'Star Wars'-ed out.

Last week's Lincoln Centre 'New Irish Cinema' festival included a retrospective of Neil Jordan's work, which was shown alongside such titles as Separation Anxiety and Pete's Meteor, neither of which have yet received an Irish release. Jordan was present at a panel discussion last Sunday rather unimaginatively entitled 'Whither Irish Cinema'. The panel included, among others, filmmaker Nicholas O'Neill (Crushproof); Paul Power, editor of Independent Film and Video magazine; Sheila Pratschke, Director of the Film Institute of Ireland, and Sean Hinds, filmmaker. As someone who is relatively familiar with discussions such as this, I was prepared for the content, but curious as to how a US audience would react and/or participate. As it turned out, almost 50% of the audience was Irish (or seemed to be), so the arguments remained the same. The age old question of 'how does one define an Irish film' was the thrust behind the debate, and while occasionally humorous (particularly on the parts of Jordan and O'Neill), the discussion was simply a rehash of every debate that there has ever been on this subject. The most amusing moment came when an NYU lecturer observed that "we never discuss what constitutes an American movie": I mean, does The Phantom Menace count? to which Nicholas O'Neill replied "I would have thought that it was quintessentially American". Groans and giggles from the audience. That's like me saying "I expect to find leprechauns in every movie about Ireland countered the lecturer". "Where else would you find leprechauns" replied O'Neill to the audiences great amusement. Jordan was in unusually amiable form and was quite vocal on many subjects, most notably Bord Scannan, on which he held a seat for several years. "Nobody on the board goes to see movies," he said to the horror of every other Irish filmmaker in the theatre. The festival has drummed up quite a bit of interest in Irish filmmaking around the city, which can only be a good thing.

Another festival which has just commenced is the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, or The New Festival as they now call themselves. The event has expanded significantly this year, and it's programme is spread over four venues in the space of ten days. Buzz on the festival is quite low-key despite the presence of several major sponsors. Perhaps New Yorkers are simply overwhelmed by the amount of events in any given week in the city.

Woody Allen and Soon Yi Previn have been spotted uptown several times with a stroller (that's a pram to us) containing what the press are assuming is an adopted child. As one paper here stated ýSoon-Yi has not had the appearance of a pregnancy nor has she been out of sight for long enough for people to think that Allen and Previn were the biological parents. Hmmm.

Finally, June 16th is the US release date for one of the most highly anticipated films of the year. Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's swansong starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman has been the subject of many wild rumours, but in recent weeks, one in particular has stuck and many industry insiders are elaborating in great detail on this rumour. It centres around the ratings board in the US and most in the industry expected the film to receive an NC-17 rating because of its apparently explicit sex scenes. An NC-17 (no children under 17) rating is essentially the equivalent of an X rating and many theatres in the US refuse to screen NC-17 movies, and many newspapers refuse to carry ads for such films. This rating would have been the kiss of death (box-office wise) for this movie. Now, Kubrick, alive or dead, has final cut on this movie, and the rumour is that Terry Semel and Bob Daly, Warner Bros. Co-chairmen, upon seeing KubrickÝs final cut of the $65 million movie, panicked because they were certain it would get an NC-17. They then allegedly contacted several big name directors ranging from Spielberg to Pollack (who actually has a part in the movie) to ask them if they would be interested in recutting some of the steamier scenes. WarnerÝs deny this, but when the film recently received an R rating (children under 17 admitted with an adult), the industry went wild on this rumour, accusing Warner's of sabotaging Kubrick's vision and contemptuous behaviour. Pollack also denies that he was ever approached to re-cut some of the movie. Sounds like one of those things that we'll just never know.

Glenn Hogarty

Glenn Hogarty is currently in New York on a Bursary Award Scheme from Screen Training Ireland.



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