Piercing the ubiquitous layer of smog
enshrouding Titan, these images
from the Cassini visual and infrared
mapping spectrometer reveals an
exotic surface covered with a variety
of materials in the southern
hemisphere. (NASA / JPL /
University of Arizona)
Exo-Exploration of Our Solar System
Saturn July 4, 2004 (eXoNews) - Our special Saturn mission coverage continues with some of the highlights of the last few days. The joint NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens spacecraft entered Saturnian orbit on June 30, 2004 and continues to relay stunning data to Earth scientists.
For more details of the mission and the planet Saturn, see our eXoNews Saturn Arrives Special Issue and visit one of the official sites below.
We have also included some fascinating pictures that came in from Mars at the end of June. Check our eXoNews Rover Update page for the latest Mars news.
Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day, America!
Saturn Mission home page - http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
For high-resolution of NASA multimedia images shown here and many more - http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/artwork/index.cfm
Videos and simulations - http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/videos/index.cfm
European Space Agency TV coverage - http://television.esa.int/default.cfm
Latest Saturn Mission press releases and images - http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/press-releases.cfm
Using near-infrared colors -- some
three times deeper in the red visible
to the human eye - these images
reveal the surface with unusual
clarity. The color image shows a
false-color combination of three
images. Yellow areas correspond to
the hydrocarbon-rich regions, while
the green areas are the icier regions.
Here, the methane cloud appears
white, as it is bright in all three
colors. (NASA / JPL / University of
New Views of Titan - Saturn's Largest Moon
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Press Release
July 3, 2004 - The Cassini spacecraft has revealed surface details of Saturn's moon Titan and imaged a huge cloud of gas surrounding the planet-sized moon.
Cassini gathered data before and during a distant flyby of the orange moon yesterday. Titan's dense atmosphere is opaque at most wavelengths, but the spacecraft captured some surface details, including a possible crater, through wavelengths in which the atmosphere is clear.
"Although the initial images appear bland and hard to interpret, we're happy to report that, with a combination of instruments, we have indeed seen Titan's surface with unprecedented clarity. We also look forward to future, much closer flybys and use of radar for much greater levels of surface detail," said Dr. Dennis Matson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for the international Cassini-Huygens mission.
Cassini's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer pierced the smog that enshrouds Titan. This instrument, capable of mapping mineral and chemical features of the moon, reveals an exotic surface bearing a variety of materials in the south and a circular feature that may be a crater in the north. Near-infrared colors, some three times redder than the human eye can see, reveal the surface with unusual clarity.
"At some wavelengths, we see dark regions of relatively pure water ice and brighter regions with a much higher amount of non-ice materials, such as simple hydrocarbons. This is different from what we expected. It's preliminary, but it may change the way we interpret light and dark areas on Titan," said JPL's Dr. Kevin Baines, Cassini science-team member. "A methane cloud is visible near the south pole. It's made of unusually large particles compared to the typical haze particles surrounding the moon, suggesting a dynamically active atmosphere there."
This is the first time scientists are able to map the mineralogy of Titan. Using hundreds of wavelengths, many of which have never been used in Titan imaging before, they are creating a global map showing distributions of hydrocarbon-rich regions and areas of icy material.
Cassini's camera also sees through the haze in some wavelengths. "We're seeing a totally alien surface," said Dr. Elizabeth Turtle of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "There are linear features, circular features, curvilinear features. These suggest geologic activity on Titan, but we really don't know how to interpret them yet. We've got some exciting work cut out for us."
Since entering orbit, Cassini has also provided the first view of a vast swarm of hydrogen molecules surrounding Titan well beyond the top of Titan's atmosphere. Cassini's magnetospheric imaging instrument, first of its kind on any interplanetary mission, provided images of the huge cloud sweeping along with Titan in orbit around Saturn. The cloud is so big that Saturn and its rings would fit within it.
This blowup of a region of Titan was taken at a distance of 339,000
kilometers (210,600 miles) and shows brightness variations on the
surface of Titan and a bright field of clouds near the south pole. The
field of clouds is 450 kilometers (280 miles) across and is the about
the size of Arizona. Features as small as 10 kilometers (6 miles) can
be discerned. (NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute)
"The top of Titan's atmosphere is being bombarded by highly energetic particles in Saturn's radiation belts, and that is knocking away this neutral gas," said Dr. Stamatios Krimigis of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., principal investigator for the magnetospheric imager.
"In effect, Titan is gradually losing material from the top of its atmosphere, and that material is being dragged around Saturn."
The study of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is one of the major goals of the Cassini-Huygens mission. Titan may preserve in deep-freeze many chemical compounds that preceded life on Earth.
Friday's flyby at a closest distance of 339,000 kilometers (210,600 miles) provided Cassini's best look at Titan so far, but over the next four years, the orbiter will execute 45 Titan flybys as close as approximately 950 kilometers (590 miles). This will permit high-resolution mapping of the moon's surface with an imaging radar instrument, which can see through the opaque haze of Titan's upper atmosphere.
In January 2005, the Huygens probe that is now attached to Cassini will descend through Titan's atmosphere to the surface.
During the ring plane crossing, the radio and plasma wave science instrument on Cassini measured little puffs of plasma produced by dust impacts. While crossing the plane of Saturn's rings, the instrument detected up to 680 dust hits per second.
"The particles are comparable in size to particles in cigarette smoke," said Dr. Don Gurnett of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, principal investigator for the instrument. "When we crossed the ring plane, we had roughly 100,000 total dust hits to the spacecraft in less than five minutes. We converted these into audible sounds that resemble hail hitting a tin roof."
The spacecraft reported no unusual activity due to the hits and performed flawlessly, successfully going into orbit around Saturn on June 30.
The engine burn for entering orbit went so well that mission managers have decided to forgo an orbital-adjustment maneuver scheduled for today.
NASA Photo Release
July 2, 2004 - Like the mysterious dark markings on Mars that once haunted astronomer Percival Lowell, shadowy features and mysterious markings appear to stain the surface of puzzling Titan.
Sixteen Cassini narrow angle camera images were used to produce the surface map shown here. The images vary in scale from 88 to 35 kilometers (52 to 21 miles) per pixel. The map has a scale of 15 kilometers (9 miles) per pixel and covers Titan's surface from latitudes of about 80 degrees south to 35 degrees north. In this map, surface features as small as about 100 kilometers (60 miles) across are clearly resolved. This is an improvement of nearly a factor of three over ground-based observations of Titan, though still too poor to understand the surface in detail.
From analysis of maps such as this, it is easy to discern the characteristics of a moon's surface. The equatorial region (30 degrees south to 30 degrees north latitude) is crossed by dark markings, although they are less prominent over the bright region named "Xanadu," located near longitude 90 degrees. The map indicates that the dark markings often have relatively straight boundaries with preferred orientations - suggestive of internal, probably complex, tectonic processes. Some of the brighter, round markings might be recent impact craters, including a bright feature with rays apparently extending from it near longitude 130 degrees on the leading hemisphere of Titan.
These mapped images were taken through the methane "window" at 938 nanometers with a polarizing filter. This combination was designed specifically to reduce the obscuration by atmospheric haze. Cassini took the images between June 2 and June 22, 2004, at distances ranging from 14.8 million kilometers (9.2 million miles) to 5.9 million kilometers (3.7 million miles) from Titan.
Cassini will make 45 close passes by Titan over the next four years. On July 2, 2004, Cassini will make a more-distant pass over Titan's South Pole, returning images that are 17 times higher in resolution than the best images comprising this map.
For a larger image - http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/jpegMod/PIA06086_modest.jpg
Why Wonder Woman?
Hollywood July 4, 2004 (eXoNews) - Oh, OK. I get it. Spiderman 2 is a big hit so it's time to jump on the superhero bandwagon.
I got an email yesterday from Warners pushing Batman the Movie, starring Adam West, on DVD. It was made in 1966 and they're selling it for $7.95. Maybe they should be giving it away?
Don't get me wrong, I love Adam West as the batguy. In fact, I watched all 1000 episodes when TVLand revived it at my dinnertime a couple of years ago.
I hope Mr. West is getting residuals.
So it's not a big surprise that Warners also released a DVD set of the first season of Wonder Woman last month and that John Sellers interviewed Lynda Carter for TV Guide online recently.
For those of you who wonder what woman that was, Miss Carter ran around in a gold bra and tight stars with a gold lasso in the 1970s playing at the famous comic book heroine. For those of you who wonder what woman comic book heroine that was, skip this article and go read about everybody's current favorite cartoon, Michael Moore.
Personally, [whispering] the only version of Wonder Woman I ever liked as a kid was the Mad Magazine parody (Woman Wonder in Mad #10 - April 1954, and I'm not that old - honest! It was collected in a Mad paperback later.)
I whisper this because I once talked to a Hollywood Teamster who worked on the Wonder Woman set and he said Carter was a tough broad just like the character. He said she insisted on and got two private trailers. This was a big deal to the Hollywood Teamster - those guys basically spend their lives driving, so any vehicle is a big deal.
Carter was a babe. The show was lame. Too many car chases, maybe?
But many a girl grew up and became empowered by Miss Carter's portrayal of Wonder Woman. Carter led the way for Scully and Buffy and today's current crop of super women on TV.
Not many gals got to punch out the TV bad guys before Lynda Carter! Some of your favorite actresses are vying right now for the chance to replace Carter in a new big-screen version of Wonder Woman. Buffy and Angel co-star Charisma Carpenter announced publicly that she would slay for the part.
Carpenter is reportedly out of the running because she took off her shirt in Playboy! Holy Tasha Yar, Batman! So much for empowered women.
Lynda Carter is now 52 and not planning a WW comeback of her own. But when TV Guide asked her if she had considered it, she said, "Oh, God! There's not enough incentive in the world. World peace? I mean, I suppose I could get into that kind of shape again, but it would be like what Brad Pitt did for Troy, where he took a year to get buff."
Ambiguous for a super heroine, I'd say. So, maybe Lynda would come back as Charisma's Mom in the new version if Brad Pitt were in it? TV Guide didn't ask. (Mr. Sellers thought it was more important that his readers know if WW could kick The Bionic Woman's butt.)
Me, I didn't see the Carpenter issue of Playboy, but I sure think she'd rock in that Wonder Woman outfit. Is there an online petition for that yet?
The Wonder Woman DVD set is going for more than $7.95, but it could be worth a look. Especially if you gals are getting tired of all those furshlugginer (*) men in tights.
Or, you could just wait for Catwoman.
Wonder Woman DVD - http://www.warnerbros.com
* see The Collected Mad - http://www.collectmad.com
Spidey 2 - The Best Yet!
July 4, 2004 (eXoNews) - I haven't read any of the other reviews for Spider-man 2, but I'm sure you have so there's probably not much to add here. If you liked the first Spidey film (I did), you'll love this one.
There's more action, more romance, more teenage angst, and more people find out that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is Spider-man.
Alfred Molina is more restrained (less ham) than Willem Dafoe was as the Goblin, allowing us to believe that a do-gooder like Dr. Otto Octavius could become Doc Ock.
Rosemary Harris is delightful this time as Aunt May (one of my favorite characters in the comics) and J.K. Simmons is irreplaceable as Peter/Spidey's nemesis editor Jameson.
Familiar faces you may not be able to name show up as well, notably Donna Murphy (Star Trek Insurrection) as Mrs. Octavius and Mageina Tovah (Joan of Arcadia) as Ursula (Peter's apartment house groupie). Daniel Dae Kim (Angel) is barely visible in a couple of the mad scientist scenes. Director Sam Raimi's little brother Ted is there too. And of course Bruce Campbell.
There are Hitchcockian bit part appearances by Stan Lee and John Landis for those who go to see Spidey 2 a zillion times or buy the DVD.
The plotline is best left unspoiled. It meanders a bit cutesy when it comes to the on-off romance between Peter and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) but darkens the obsession that Harry Osborn (James Franco) has for Spidey.
In an interesting twist, we are left with an open-ended future for our hero, his gal and the first two big bads. (I'll say no more!)
The audience applauded Spidey 2 when I saw it, and I did too. Spidey 2 is the best yet.
Spider-man Official - http://www.spider-man-movie.com
Marvel - http://www.marvel.com
10 Spider-man 2 contests - http://www.sonypictures.com/win/index.html
Fox Pays $50M for Spidey
LOS ANGELES June 30, 2004 (Zap2it.com) - In a deal believed to be worth around $50 million, FOX and cable sibling FX have scored the television rights to "Spider-Man 2." The summer blockbuster opened on the big screen in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the deal for "Spider-Man 2" won't kick in until January 2006, after the film has completed its theatrical run, PPV window and exclusive premium cable window on HBO. The 10-year deal caps the cost to FOX even if the movie repeats the success of the first movie.
Under the deal, FOX gets three airings of the movie in the first three years of the deal. After 2010, the film's producers at Sony can sell rights to other networks that want to share the broadcast window with FX.
"Spider-Man" grossed more than $400 million at the US box office and rights for the first movie went to FOX in a 10-year, $60 million deal. The lower price for the sequel licensing fee reflects the downward trend in the television market for feature films.
Two of the summer's largest hits, "Shrek 2" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" have yet to secure broadcast homes.
Anthony Stewart Head Joins Monarch
London July 2, 2004 (BBC) - Giles (in Buffy) actor Anthony Stewart Head is to play a millionaire in the popular BBC One drama Monarch of the Glen.
His character, Chester, moves to Glenbogle with his PA. Chester soon tries to woo Isobel Anderson, a local farmer, while his PA takes a shine to Paul.
A spokesperson for the series told the Sun, "Chester is a man of the world, who moves to his Scottish castle to get away from the city. He is very successful and money is no object. He makes a big impression on the locals, especially Isobel."
Monarch of the Glen is fast shaping up to be the home of cult TV stars – former Doctor Who, Tom Baker has already joined the cast as ex-racing driver and eccentric Donald MacDonald and Bad Girls actress Simone Lahbib will play Isobel.
[Monarch of the Glen is shown on PBS channels in the US. Ed.]
Roswell Movie Charity Auction
Hollywood July 1, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - The RoswellMovie.net Web site is again sponsoring a charity auction on eBay of calendars autographed by cast and crew of the canceled teen alien series Roswell.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
The 11-by-17-inch calendars feature fan-written poems and photos of the Roswell stars taken by fans and arranged into layouts.
The calendars are autographed by cast members Emilie DeRavin, Colin Hanks, William Sadler, Jason Behr, Shiri Appleby and Nick Wechsler.
The auction ends July 6. Reruns of Roswell are currently airing on the SCI FI Channel weekdays at 4PM EST.
RoswellMovie.net - http://www.roswellmovie.net
Sci Fi Roswell site - http://www.scifi.com/roswell
Fahrenheit Foes Fight Dirty
By Ian Mohr
NEW YORK July 1, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - The war between Michael Moore and his critics has escalated as a Web site targeting the "Fahrenheit 9/11" director posting a link to an illegal "Fahrenheit" file download. In the process, it also attacked the filmmaker's stance on copyright law.
A June 27 posting on the site http://www.MooreWatch.com invites visitors to download the film. It quotes Moore, though it doesn't cite a source, as encouraging such downloading by saying: "I don't agree with the copyright laws, and I don't have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people.
"As long as they're not doing it to make a profit, you know, as long as they're not trying to make a profit off my labor. I would oppose that."
Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing, which is distributing the film with IFC Films and Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Fellowship Adventure Group, said Wednesday that his company is exploring legal action.
"I think it's deplorable what enemies of 'Fahrenheit 9/11' are doing," he said. "We are currently looking into our legal options. We are not going to tolerate anybody trying to infringe on (this film's release)."
Since May, there have been reports of downloadable versions of Moore's movie on such file-sharing networks as Limewire and eDonkey, concurrent with "Fahrenheit's" premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. But according to BigChampagne, an online media measurement firm, "Fahrenheit" took the file-sharing networks by storm Sunday evening.
"The first copies of 'Fahrenheit' -- quite good-quality in the estimation of people who track these things -- began to leak on Sunday night," BigChampagne founder and CEO Eric Garland said. "It's noteworthy that it took so long to show up in a big way in the file-sharing network, which is probably attributable to the fact that the film was on relatively few screens. The copy in circulation is a CAM version (a camcorder copy captured from an actual theater projection of the film)."
The file posted at MooreWatch.com is in BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing client. For anyone to watch the movie, a series of complex steps is required to access it.
One person who posted on the site complained about the amount of time spent trying to download the file. "After downloading all night, I am at 11%," the Web poster said. "Should it take over a week to download; or is this part of the DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack?"
While that "Fahrenheit" skirmish was taking place on the Internet, the marketing and publicity effort surrounding Moore's anti-Bush documentary has begun to resemble a political campaign. It includes a story of the day fed to the press as well as fast-paced attacks and responses from both critics and backers of the film.
Ortenberg said that while he sees how parallels can be drawn between the film's media strategy and the way a political campaign is run, his efforts are still solely aimed at promoting the film. "We're just marketing the movie the best way we can," he said. "And we're absolutely not going to tolerate (attacks). Hit us and we will hit you back twice as hard."
On Wednesday morning, a news conference organized by the film's distributors was held in front of a theater playing the film on New York's Upper West Side. It featured members of Military Families Speak Out, who endorsed Moore's film and recounted personal tales of loved ones sent to Iraq.
Said MFSO member Nancy Lessin: "When the drumbeats for war were deafening, we had a sign (in our window) that said, 'My son is a Marine. Don't send him to war for oil!' We didn't want our loved ones to be sent around the world to be used as cannon fodder. I can't tell you how important Michael Moore's movie is in bringing back the ability to have a dialogue."
The film's distributors plan to make use of similar testimonials in a new national TV campaign that began running Wednesday.
Karen Duffy, former MTV personality and Revlon model and author of the new cookbook "A Slob in the Kitchen," hosted the Wednesday press event. A Lions Gate spokesperson said Duffy will now be an "advocate for Michael Moore" when he is unavailable.
Said Duffy, who has family members in Iraq: "I believe and support ('Fahrenheit'). It made me even more proud to be an American."
Moore's opponents have been just as dogged in sending out almost daily news dispatches critical of the film.
Earlier this week, the conservative group Move America Forward trumpeted the fact that it was hosting a screening of the documentary "America's Heart & Soul," which Miramax Films parent Walt Disney Co. is releasing nationwide Friday.
Although Disney had planned the film's Friday opening months ago -- before "Fahrenheit" scored its own release date -- and while Disney has screened the film for a wide arrange of groups as part of an extensive grass-roots campaign, "Heart" was immediately dragged into the furor over "Fahrenheit."
Move Forward proposed the film as an antidote to "Fahrenheit," and Moore blasted it on his Web site as Disney's attempt to counter his film, a charge Disney denied.
"Heart" director Louis Schwartzberg said he feels that he is caught in the crossfire. "Obviously it's unfortunate to be caught in (the middle)," he said.
"The two films are not in opposition. If anything, we're on the same side. This is not a Pollyanna-ish look at America. They all assume that it's a whitewash of America. I'm not ashamed that I love my country. This is a battle of money and egos, not even politics."
[Question: Is it really a bad thing that people who hate Moore and his film are distributing free copies of it over the Internet? I mean, aren't these dummies just encouraging more people to see it? It would be interesting to poll people who obtain illegal copies of Fahrenheit and see what they think of the film. Ed.]
Fahrenheit Official - http://www.fahrenheit911.com
Heather Graham Scrubs
By Nellie Andreeva
LOS ANGELES July 1, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Heather Graham might be scrubbing up for a TV gig.
The star of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" is in talks to join the cast of NBC's comedy series "Scrubs" next season in a regular role. Graham, who was seen in a guest shot this year on Fox's "Arrested Development," would play a therapist who wreaks havoc among the other staffers on the quirky hospital comedy.
If the deal comes to pass, Graham will already have at least one acquaintance on the "Scrubs" set -- she and "Scrubs" co-star Sarah Chalke are wrapping up production on the indie feature "Cake."
[Twin Peaks fans will also remember Heather as Annie, Agent Dale Cooper's lost love. Ed.]
Stan Laurel Auction Sensation
LONDON July 2, 2004 (AP) - An auction of Stan Laurel memorabilia took in $36,800 from fans of the famous comedian.
"It was something of a sensation," said auctioneer John Anderson of the Anderson & Garland auction house in Newcastle, northern England, of Thursday's auction.
Laurel and his partner, Oliver Hardy, "just seem to command non-dwindling support and indeed seem to speak to a younger generation," he said.
Among the items sold was a silver hip flask Laurel got from his father. It fetched $3,800, the highest price at the sale. "To my dear son Stan, from Dad, August 1932," the inscription said.
Photographs and other items were put on sale by the British-born Laurel's nephew, Huntley Jefferson Woods, who lives in northeastern England.
"I am very pleased at the way it has gone," Woods said. "I never expected that the pieces would go that high."
The pre-sale estimate of the total take was $9,000.
"I always feel a loss to part with things like this, but I am 81, and as I get older the collection becomes more difficult to look after," Woods said. "I was worried what would happen when I pass on, and at least they have been sold to collectors who will care for them."
Among the buyers were Universal film studios and the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, the northern English town where Laurel was born.
Laurel died in 1965. Oliver Hardy died in 1957.
Laurel and Hardy Fan site - http://www.laurelandhardycentral.com
Amanda Tapping Talks SG-1 Season 8
Vancouver July 1, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Amanda Tapping, who pays Maj. Samantha Carter in SCI FI Channel's original series Stargate SG-1, told SCI FI Wire that the upcoming eighth season may complicate her character's personal life.
Carter's on-again, off-again beau, Denver police Detective Pete Shanahan, played by David DeLuise, will play a larger role in early episodes.
But Tapping said not to expect Carter's personal life to overshadow her ongoing mission to help save Earth from the Goa'uld.
"I don't want it to become about Carter's personal life getting in the way of what she does, because the thing that makes me so proud of this character and something that we've worked on for eight years is that she's so professional and so smart and so on top of her game and so competent," Tapping said in an interview during a break in filming on the show's Vancouver, B.C., set.
"The dynamics between the four of them is so important, and the loyalty to the team and to the program and to exploration and to science. I mean, I don't want her to become too much the other way. But now I have a life, and I have a boyfriend, and I'm happy. I don't want it to be about that, you know what I mean? That's an interesting part of her that, like I said, opens her up. But I don't want her to become that girl. I've also always said that I don't think that Carter should ever be qualified ... by whether or not [she's] with somebody."
Tapping added that Carter will continue to be an integral part of SG-1, particularly once Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) finds himself going on fewer "away missions."
"It means that Daniel [Michael Shanks] and Carter and Teal'c [Christopher Judge] go off alone a lot," she said. "We actually never go off alone: We always have another SG team with us. But we don't have Rick. So that's a different dynamic.
"It's great fun for Michael and Christopher and [me], because, a) we really enjoy each other, and b) [we] have such fun playing off each other. But it's different. It is very different. What I find, though, [is that,] because Rick's days are limited, when he's here, he's here. And the scenes between the four of us are so great, because we fall into that old pattern. And they're funny scenes, and you see how tight these four people are.
"But it is odd. The first time we go through the gate without him, it's like missing your arm."
Stargate SG-1 returns July 9th with a two-hour season premiere at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Sci Fi.
The two-hour premiere of the SG-1 spin-off Stargate Atlantis airs Friday, July 16 at 9/8C on Sci Fi.
Stargate SG-1 Sci Fi Official - http://www.scifi.com/stargate
Stargate Atlantis Official - http://www.scifi.com/atlantis
Content Is King of the Movies?
By Gregg Kilday
LOS ANGELES July 2, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - "Content is king" may be the favorite mantra of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, but most of Hollywood has forgotten the meaning of the phrase.
Faced with feeding voracious distribution networks that need a constant flow of feature films, network programming and DVD releases, most Hollywood execs regard content as nothing more than product. And most of the product they turn out is virtually content-free. The entertainment equivalent of one-calorie soda. It fills you up, but it hardly satisfies.
Consider the usual summer blockbuster: Typically, its coming is heralded by two to three weeks of breathless media, bolstered by nonstop advertising. Millions of moviegoers rush -- or at least wander into -- the multiplexes during its opening weekend.
But then, after posting a multimillion-dollar opening weekend, the movie all too often just fades away with hardly a mention. Lacking any sort of genuine content, it just evaporates.
By contrast, this year's two noisiest success stories -- Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- prove that movies with content can lord it over the surrounding entertainments that simply offer audiences a way of passing the time.
To a certain extent, the two films may be exceptional cases. Hollywood could try pumping out another Bible story or another political polemic, but without the passionate commitment of a Gibson or a Moore, mere copy-cat efforts would surely belly-flop.
But if Hollywood were willing to entrust more filmmakers -- writers, directors and producers -- with turning out films that truly engaged their creators, then Hollywood might discover audiences eager to be offered something they can argue about.
Movies with genuine content don't have to be all about high-seriousness, either. "Finding Nemo," the top-grossing film of 2003, and "Shrek 2," this year's current front-runner, satisfy audiences because they are full of content, even if it is lighthearted and jokey.
Other movies, like "The Day After Tomorrow," a disaster flick masquerading as an environmental warning, manage to simulate a modicum of content. Hollywood also likes to talk about word-of-mouth as being one key to a film's success -- or failure. But unless you give audiences something to talk about, i.e. content, whether good or bad, it's pretty difficult to sustain word-of-mouth of any kind.
The fact of the matter is that too many of the summer heavyweights are full of cluttered spectacle, but lacking in involving characters, genuine plot surprises and provocative themes. Visit any multiplex, and when the house lights come up and the audience starts filing out, it's rare to hear folks talking about the movie they've just seen. More often than not, after a content-free movie, the conversation almost immediately turns to, "What do we do next?"
But movies that hit a nerve almost always leave audiences talking. I can remember as a kid hearing my parents and their friends talking about the ending of "Psycho" as if they were sharing a conspiratorial secret. A decade later, audiences applauding everything from "Easy Rider" to "The Graduate," from "The Godfather" to "Chinatown" felt as if they had discovered a whole new way of viewing America.
"Passion" and "Fahrenheit," though their core audiences may come from the opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum, speak the same language. They're about something. They've got moviegoers talking again, because they're not simply product, but movies that wear their content like a crown.
Brando Is Dead
By BOB THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES July 2, 2004 (AP) - Marlon Brando, who revolutionized American acting with his Method performances in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" and went on to create the iconic character of Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather," has died. He was 80.
Brando died Thursday at an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital, attorney David J. Seeley said Friday. The cause of death was being withheld, Seeley said, noting the actor "was a very private man."
Brando, whose unpredictable behavior made him equally fascinating off the screen, was acclaimed the greatest actor of his generation, a two-time Academy Award winner who influenced some of the best actors of the generation that followed, among them Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson.
"He influenced more young actors of my generation than any actor," longtime friend and "Godfather" co-star James Caan said Friday through his publicist. "Anyone who denies this never understood what it was all about."
Brando was the unforgettable embodiment of the brutish Stanley Kowalski of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the mixed up Terry Malloy of "On the Waterfront" (which won him his first Oscar) and the wily Corleone of "The Godfather."
But his private life may best be defined by a line from "The Wild One," in which Brando, playing a motorcycle gang leader, is asked what he's rebelling against.
"Whaddya got?" was his reply. His image was a studio's nightmare.
Millions of words were written about his weight, his many romances and three marriages, his tireless — and, for some, tiresome — support of the American Indian and other causes, his battles with film producers and directors, his refuge on a Tahitian isle.
His most famous act of rebellion was his refusal in 1973 to accept the best actor Oscar for "The Godfather." Instead, he sent a woman who called herself Sasheen Littlefeather to read a diatribe about Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans.
It was roundly booed.
Brando's private life turned tragic years later with his son's conviction for killing the boyfriend of his half sister, Cheyenne Brando, in 1990. Five years later, Cheyenne committed suicide, still depressed over the killing.
Still, the ceaseless spotlight never made him conform.
"I am myself," he once declared, "and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it."
Nothing could diminish his reputation as an actor of startling power and invention.
Starting with Kowalski in the stage version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and a startling series of screen portrayals, Brando changed the nature of American acting.
He was schooled at the Actors Studio in New York, learning Method acting in which the performers closely identify with the role of the character they portray. He created a naturalism that was sometimes derided for its mumbling, grungy attitudes. But audiences were electrified, and a new generation of actors adopted his style.
Marlon Brando Jr. came from the American heartland, born in Omaha, Neb., on April 3, 1924. He was a distant, conservative man of French, English and Irish stock; the original family name was Brandeau.
His mother, the former Dorothy Pennebaker, was small, willowy, compassionate and filled with creative energy. Her ambitions often were unrealized, and she underwent periods of problem drinking. She had given birth to two daughters, Frances and Jocelyn, before Marlon was born.
He grew up a pudgy, mischievous boy who was called Bud to distinguish him from his father. Jocelyn was charged with getting Bud to kindergarten, a difficult task. She solved it by leading him on a leash.
Young Marlon became exposed to the theater through his mother, a leader and occasional actress in the Omaha Community Playhouse. When a leading man dropped out of a play, she pleaded with a young neighbor just home from college to take the role. Henry Fonda reluctantly agreed. Mrs. Brando also encouraged another young Omaha native, Dorothy McGuire.
The lives of Dorothy Brando and her children were upset when the father was transferred to Evanston, Ill., when Bud was 6. The family later moved to Santa Ana, Calif., and finally to Libertyville, Ill.
Bud was constantly being reprimanded for misbehavior at school, infuriating his father. The boy also displayed a talent for playacting, both in elaborate pranks and in plays and recitations. He proved a skilled pantomimist, especially in his depiction of the death of John Dillinger.
His exasperated father sent the boy to military school in an effort to instill discipline. He was expelled. Unable to join the war because of 4-F status, Brando at 19 moved to New York and stayed with his sister Frances, an art student.
Jocelyn Brando studied acting with Stella Adler, and Marlon decided to join her. It changed his life. After a week with the young man, Adler declared: "Within a year, Marlon Brando will be the best young actor in the American theater."
It took longer. He appeared in such plays as "I Remember Mama," "A Flag is Born" (a Jewish pageant with Paul Muni) and "Truckline Cafe." The latter was directed by Elia Kazan, who would remember him for "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1947.
The Tennessee Williams play made Brando famous, and his first signs of discomfort emerged. The press made much of his motorcycle, leather jackets and T-shirts, his bongo drum playing. He hated the clamor of fans and suffered through interviews.
The image of Stanley seemed to have fallen on Brando, and he once protested to an interviewer: "Kowalski was always right, and never afraid. He never wondered, he never doubted. His ego was very secure. And he had the kind of brutal aggressiveness that I hate. I'm afraid of it. I detest the character."
Brando suffered through the tedium of his two-year contract with "Streetcar," and he never appeared in another play. For his first film he declined several big studio offers and joined independent Stanley Kramer for "The Men" in 1950. To research the story of paraplegic war veterans, he spent a month in a Veterans Administration hospital.
His impact on screen acting was demonstrated by Academy nominations as best actor in four successive years: as Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951); as the Mexican revolutionary in "Viva Zapata!" (1952); as Marc Anthony in "Julius Caesar" (1953); and as Terry Malloy in "On the Waterfront" (1954).
Although he remained in Hollywood, he refused to be part of it.
"Hollywood is ruled by fear and love of money," he told a reporter. "But it can't rule me because I'm not afraid of anything and I don't love money."
His films after "Waterfront" failed to challenge his unique talent. Most were commercial enterprises: "Desiree," "Guys and Dolls," "The Teahouse of the August Moon," "Sayonara," "The Young Lions." He tried directing himself in a Western, "One-eyed Jacks," going wildly over budget.
A remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" in 1962, with Brando as Fletcher Christian, seemed to bolster his reputation as a difficult star. He was blamed for a change in directors and a runaway budget though he disclaimed responsibility for either.
The "Bounty" experience affected Brando's life in a profound way: He fell in love with Tahiti and its people. Tahitian beauty Tarita who appeared in the film became his third wife and mother of two of his children. He bought an island, Tetiaroa, which he intended to make part environmental laboratory and part resort.
Although he remained a leading star, Brando's career waned in the '60s with a series of failures. He was impressive, however, in several movies, among them the comedy "Bedtime Story" and the John Huston drama "Reflections in a Golden Eye."
His box office power seemed finished until Francis Ford Coppola chose him to play Mafia leader Corleone in "The Godfather" in 1972. The film was an overwhelming critical and commercial success and Brando's jowly, raspy-voiced Don became one of the screen's most unforgettable characters.
"I don't think the film is about the Mafia at all," Brando told Newsweek. "I think it is about the corporate mind. In a way, the Mafia is the best example of capitalists we have."
The actor followed with "Last Tango in Paris." One of his greatest performances was overshadowed by an uproar over the erotic nature of the Bernardo Bertolucci film.
In his memoir, "Songs My Mother Taught Me," Brando wrote of being emotionally drained by "Last Tango," an improvised film that included several autobiographical speeches.
Most of his later films were undistinguished. One hundred pounds heavier, he hired himself out at huge salaries for such commercial enterprises as "Superman" and "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery."
He was more effective as the insane army officer in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" and parodying his "Godfather" role in the hit comedy "The Freshman."
His crusades for civil rights, the American Indian and other causes kept him in the public eye throughout his career. So did his romances and marriages. He married actress Anna Kashfi in 1957, believing her to be East Indian. She was revealed to be Irish, and they separated a year later.
In 1960 he married a Mexican actress, Movita, who had appeared in the first "Mutiny on the Bounty." They were divorced after he met Tarita. All three wives were pregnant when he married them. He had nine children.
In May 1990, Brando's first son, Christian, shot and killed Dag Drollet, 26, the Tahitian lover of Christian's half sister Cheyenne, at the family's hilltop home above Beverly Hills. Christian, 31, claimed the shooting was accidental.
After a heavily publicized trial, Christian was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. He was sentenced to 10 years.
Before the sentencing, Marlon Brando delivered an hour of rambling testimony in which he said he and his ex-wife had failed Christian. He commented softly to members of the Drollet family: "I'm sorry. ... If I could trade places with Dag, I would. I'm prepared for the consequences."
Afterward, Drollet's father said he thought Marlon Brando was acting and his son was "getting away with murder." The tragedy was compounded in 1995, when Cheyenne committed suicide. She was 25.
Details about Brando's funeral weren't disclosed. Seeley said arrangements would be private.