Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Go Ricki

Irish Independent haven't managed to post my Ricki Lake cover story from last Saturday's Weekend mag, so I'll add the online link when they sort that out. In the meantime, here's the interview...

IF Ricki Lake’s life at 40 was to be encapsulated by one of the famous catchphrases from her cult chat show it would be, ‘She’s all that’.
She’s a mother to two boys, “madly in love” with her English boyfriend, a prominent campaigner for childbirth education and still a force to be reckoned with in TV. Her documentary expose on the childcare system in the States, The Business of Being Born, has stirred debate and controversy in medical, federal and media circles. It’s for this reason the Irish Home Birth Association have invited her to be their keynote speaker at their annual conference here next weekend.
Not forgetting her roots in guilty pleasure TV, she’s also the new host of VH1 reality show Charm School, taking over from Sharon Osbourne. Girlfriend’s got it going on.
“I’ve got much more I want to do,” she says firmly down the phone from her home in LA. “I’m about to turn 41 but it’s strange because I don’t feel 41. I have amazing children who are going to do amazing things in their lives, I love where I am living in sunny California, I get to make art that’s getting people to think and I’m madly in love right now.”
Delighted for you, Ricki. In truth, the woman has earned her stripes. It is hard to reconcile her relatively young age with the fact that she has been a staple in popular culture for over two decades. She was only 20 when she played the “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad in the original John Waters Hairspray movie alongside music icons Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry.
Waters evidently adored Lake, giving her roles in other movies like Cecil B Demented, Serial Mom and Cry Baby where she played Pepper Walker, sister to Johnny Depp’s title character. Ironically, pregnant teen Pepper with her great line in street banter – “The first thing a Cry-Baby girl learns: our bazooms are our weapons!” – was a torch-bearer for the kind of folks who would later populate Lake’s talk show.
Lake was only 24 years old when Ricki Lake, the chat show, first aired in 1993. Of all the ’90s ‘trash TV’ talk shows, Ricki Lake became one of the most memorable, partly because each episode was hooked on a catchy title like ‘Lose That Zero and Get Yourself A Hero’. It attracted a wide audience, being neither as sensationalist as Jerry Springer nor as po-faced as Sally Jesse Raphael.
Unlike some of her contemporaries whose shows were axed because of dwindling audiences, Lake threw in the towel five years ago of her own volition.
“I wanted to leave New York,” she says. “I did it for 11 years and I wanted to do stuff that was more socially relevant.” Perhaps it is because she moved on of her own accord that Lake doesn’t seek to reimagine the show as some sort of cultural monolith.
She does think though that she learned something from it, even if some of her guests didn’t appear to. “I got that vantage point of looking at people and their relationships with each other that made me a bit of an amateur psychologist,” she says. It wasn’t Jerry Springer, she laughs, and she is proud of some of the issues it tackled. “Some of the shows we did on teen pregnancy or drug abuse, those were rewarding. But now I have made a political documentary that’s changing the system. I know what’s important to me, and I want the work I do to be what I love.”
Charm School 3 doesn’t really fit into that category. The show takes some fairly lairy female contestants from two other reality programmes – Rock of Love Bus and Real Chance of Love – and tries to put some manners on them in a Ladette to Lady type academy. Ricki is the school’s headmistress, a sisterly figure to the girls.
Lake is refreshingly candid about the Charm School job. She, like everyone else, has bills to pay. “It was a challenging job for me, it was not my favourite. When they hire you to be yourself, you have to go along with these protocols and you make sacrifices and choices that you wouldn’t make otherwise. I got so used to doing what I want making my own films that it was strange when you don’t have that control.” She won’t be doing another series.
Her heart is in the job that pays her nothing at all: her advocacy of a woman’s right to information about the childbirth facilities available. She was executive producer of The Business of Being Born, the documentary that looks at the benefits of midwife-led births versus the more dominant doctor-led and drugs-assisted model in hospitals. America, like Ireland, has a very low rate of home births at one per cent or under.
Lake is so passionate about getting people to consider their options that she financed the documentary. It has not even covered its own costs yet, says Lake, but she doesn’t worry. “In every way,” she says with conviction, “I feel this is my life’s work, to educate people about their choices and that there are benefits and risks to all ways of giving birth.”
Critics have accused the documentary of being biased in favour of home birth advocates, although Lake insists that she is not “anti-hospital” at all, but “pro sending women the message that they can trust their bodies and that the model of care that midwives can provide is not being utilised to the fullest”.
Her palpable passion for the subject stems from a very personal place. She became “obsessed” with birth after bringing her first son, Milo, now 12, into the world. She had planned to give birth in a birthing centre but was given medical intervention and moved to the adjoining hospital because her labour was long. Ultimately Milo was born healthy and she found it to be the most “incredible miracle” but she felt that she had been made subject to the hospital’s timetable.
“They had protocols, if you didn’t progress to their liking you had to follow their rules. Looking back I thought, ‘I didn’t need that drug’, I felt it made me paranoid. When I was pregnant for the second time I went searching for more information and when I got that I was determined to have a home birth.”
A home birth she had – and viewers of The Business of Being Born know all about it. When the doc started to play at festivals and on TV, much attention focused on footage of a naked Ricki having a water birth in her bath-tub.
Just as she begins to tell me about why she okayed use of the home video of son Owen’s birth, she has to go answer her ringing doorbell. She comes back all apologies. “Sorry about that. It was my water delivery.” The sentence hangs in the air for a split second before she realises what she has said and laughs. And then, straight back to business.
“My birth video was meant to be my own home movie, you know, get the video out, ‘Let’s watch Owen when he was being born!’ twenty years from now. If I had thought then that other people would see it I would have worn a shirt! I would have had a dimmer on my lights and Enya playing in the background and candles all around!” she deadpans.
But when she and director Abby Epstein, whose son’s birth is another of those documented in the film, decided to team up, she said she felt it was necessary to connect as closely as possible with viewers. To put her experience where both her money and her mouth already were.
Even though it was first released two years ago, the film is frequently repeated on the American network Showtime. When we speak, Ricki is raging that NBC’s ‘Today’ news programme has used a clip of the documentary in what she calls an “irresponsible” segment called ‘The Perils of Midwifery’, without calling her for a comment.
I ask her how much of her life is now taken up with this labour of love of hers. “A lot,” she says. “Most of it.”
But she doesn’t sound unhappy or stressed out. She’s planning to coincide the trip to the Irish Home Birth Association conference with a mini-break with Milo - “Owen got a Beatles tour in England last year, so it’s Milo’s turn” - and her boyfriend, playwright-musician Ryan J.W. Smith. Mr Smith will be the perfect tour guide in Dublin: the English native spent four years studying here in Trinity College. They will spend a few days here, also visiting with her nanny’s sister who lives in Gorey, Co Wexford and a few in London.
“His plays were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,” she says proudly, “He’s known for writing in Shakespearean verse and he won Pick of the Fringe twice. He’s brainy; we’re talking about serious intelligence here,” she says. Lake was divorced from the boys’ father, artist Rob Sussman, in 2003 after 10 years of marriage and they are all now in a good place. I find her unexpectedly open about being “madly in love”, and it makes her really likeable.
If this is 40, bring it on. Ricki Lake is loving life, loving work, loved up – and looking hot. Her weight issues over the years have been well documented but people who only recall her in voluminous ’90s skirt suits will be surprised to see the sleek, fit creature she is now. “I feel like it’s old news,” she sighs. “I’ve maintained my weight for years and I work out, hence playing tennis.” She’s in her whites, ready to go out and play a few sets when we finish our conversation. “I think at this stage it’s more about taking care of yourself anyway, keeping your heart healthy.”
However, her next project is another documentary she is passionate about. “It is a take on childhood obesity, which has a really great potential to be a pandemic in the States where kids are getting fatter and fatter and we now have this horrific situation where our children’s life expectancy will be shorter than their parents’ for the first time.”
This is something she feels passionate about “as a mom” and she won’t stop until she gets the message across.
Go Ricki.
• Ricki Lake is keynote speaker at the Home Birth Association of Ireland’s annual conference, entitled Joy of Birth, which is being held at the Hilton Hotel, Charlemont Place, Dublin 2 next Saturday, October 3, from 10am to 5pm. Ricki will also attend a screening of her documentary, The Business of Being Born, at UCI Coolock, on Thursday, October 1 at 7.30pm. For more information, call 087 7533303 and check www.homebirth.ie

Ricki Lake’s talk show years coincided with an explosion of similar eponymously-named programmes, but all had their roots in The Phil Donahue Show, which first began to push the envelope with controversial issues in the 1970s. It wasn’t long before other programmes began to ape his winning formula…
SALLY JESSE RAPHAEL (1983-2002): The bespectacled Sally J.R. (real surname Lowenthal) translated early success as a popular talk radio host into a TV show for NBC. She hated the ‘trash TV’ tag maintaining that she tried to help real people with real problems. The show was eventually axed because of falling viewing figures. The now 74-year-old Sally has retained a podcast talk show on the internet.
GERALDO (1987-1998): Geraldo Rivera was a journalist and former lawyer who broke the story that Elvis Presley died of a drugs cocktail rather than a heart attack in 1977. He had his nose broken when his talk show guests brawled onscreen in 1988. Geraldo was cancelled a decade later but Rivera remains a controversial news journalist, covering the war in Iraq, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW (1991 - present ): Springer, the former mayor of Cincinatti, continues to host one of the most raucous of the tabloid talk shows, which always ends on the ironically caring catchphrase of “Take care of yourself, and each other.” It started out as a political talk show but quickly morphed into a ratings-grabbing cocktail of chair-throwing, fisticuffs and topless female guests.
THE JENNY JONES SHOW (1991-2003): Born Janina Stranski, Jones’s show ran into trouble with a 1995 episode featuring gay Scott Amedure, who announced his crush on his straight best friend Jonathan Schmitz. Schmitz killed Amedure three days later and Jones had to testify at a case taken against the show by Amedure’s family. The show was axed for poor ratings and Jones is now a philanthropist.
MAURY (1991 – present): The 70-year-old Maury Povich is still going strong with a show that is most famous for its ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ segment in which men get the results of paternity tests on TV. A promo for the next episode of Maury features a man caught cheating on tape, a paternity test and an adulterous wife.
THE MONTEL WILLIAMS SHOW (1991-2008): The most high-profile African-American chat show host after Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams went against the grain of most tabloid TV talk shows by moving his away from more controversial subjects as its run progressed. Latter-day shows features inspirational stories, family reunions and a much derided psychic slot. It was cancelled last year.


I was caught on the hop by the Irish-owned Frogbus (low-cost bus transfers) during a travel adventure to Les Pyrenees-Orientales last week in the south of France, when they recorded my impressions of the place. Collioure, Ceret and food, glorious food. Travel article to follow in the Irish Independent shortly.

Tell you what - you have an apple

Book review from last Saturday's Indo

THE ADULTERESS Noelle Harrison (Macmillan, €17.15)
Saturday September 26 2009

Cavan is not often mistaken for a hotbed of illicit desire but in Noelle Harrison's The Adulteress it is the backdrop for infidelities and primitive passions that span three generations.

The trail of adultery also leads the narrative across the Irish Sea to Blitz-ridden London and to Milan.

For all this, and Harrison's own description of the book as an "erotic ghost story", those expecting a steamy bonkbuster will be disappointed. The ghost in question, June Fanning, is less seductive than comforting, filling the rural Cavan cottage of Nicholas Healy with the smell of freshly-baked apple pie and his ear with marital advice.

Nicholas has left behind an adulterous wife in Dublin, and is sinking into a mire of anger and loneliness in his self-imposed exile. His modern-day tale of betrayal and longing is intertwined with the history of June, an Englishwoman who came to live in his cottage in 1941 as her Irish husband decides to join the British war effort.

Harrison (who is English but has lived here for years) has a nice eye for emotive detail: June's sense of abandonment is perfectly captured by a pair of her departed husband's socks "screwed up into two little black balls on the floor".

At times though, the descriptive passages thwart the momentum of the book. And the incessant references to apples as a metaphor for lust and temptation can be wearying.

Harrison gives the reader something more subtle to chew on in her thoughtful take on the vagaries of the human heart. Adultery is not painted in black and white: this is no 'somebody done someone wrong' song. It might seem easier at first to empathise with June's gentle classics scholar father over her brittle temptress mother but the plot slowly peels away these impressions to reveal a more complex truth.

A cynic might see the peppering of the text with the legends of the ancient classics as an attempt to elevate the book above the niche of romantic fiction. In fact, the story of Julia Caesar, banished to an island for her politically-charged infidelity, has resonance in Harrison's depiction of adultery as a crime with victims on all sides. - Susan Daly


From the Irish Independent's Review section, Saturday September 19 2009

Why we're all signing up to be poked,
By Susan Daly

Now that the social-networking website Facebook is about to achieve one million users in Ireland, it means that one in four of us are chronicling our lives, loves and sandwich fillings in the internet village.

Colm Long, Facebook's head of online operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, made the announcement this week alongside news that Facebook has now sailed past the 300-million user mark globally and its finances are finally in the black.

"We would love to do something to mark reaching one million Irish users and we expect that to happen in the next few weeks," said Long. One wonders what a party of Facebook users would look like: hundreds of people hunched over their laptops sending a 'friend' request to the profile of the cute girl sitting right beside them?

That, of course, is a ridiculous scenario. Facebook now attracts a much wider demographic of users than the geeky college students it was limited to five years ago. A current advertisement running on radio for sliced bread has aul' Mr Brennan horrified at the thought of young wans 'poking' each other on Facebook. (There is a setting on the site where you can send a virtual 'poke' to a friend to say hello.)

Mr Brennan's horror is disingenuous. The 35-plus age group is one of the fastest growing on the site these days. This relates to my personal experience: in the past few months, I have been befriended by three aunts, one uncle and my boyfriend's parents. I have now seen enough pictures of their holiday frolics to want to poke my eyes out.

One thing is for certain: Facebook has revolutionised social communication. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It has tapped into the very basic human need for company and interaction. Perhaps the most popular feature of Facebook is its 'News Feed', where the activities and status updates of all a user's friends are streamed in a live feed on the user's home page. They can take in, at a glance, what is happening in their social circle at that very moment in time.

Microblogging sites like Twitter have picked up on the popularity of this kind of instant community message board. Social scientists even have a term for this constant online contact, "ambient awareness". For the most part, the information an individual picks up from this incessant online chatter might seem banal. But Irish Twitter and Facebook pages were the first port of call for many of the eyewitnesses to this week's crash between a Luas tram and a Dublin bus. Within minutes of it happening, photographs of the scene were being shared on Twitter along with advice to avoid O'Connell Street.

The microblogging element of Facebook and the sites that followed its lead can lead to networking possibilities that were hitherto inconceivable for most people.

To give an example, I sent out a message on my Facebook and Twitter profiles two weeks ago asking for recommendations on the purchase of a Netbook. Several IT experts posted replies and within an hour, I had made an informed purchase. I, in return, have given media advice, job leads and movie and book recommendations to online contacts. It's like outsourcing your life to a group of consultants.

Yet we muddled along pretty happily without Facebook for pretty much all of human history. Its critics complain that it has created a demand where there previously was none. The decision to 'opt out' of the site becomes a difficult one when you realise that you will no longer be able to keep an eye on what information or photographs are being posted of you on contacts' profiles. It is almost necessary to remain on the site strictly to monitor your online reputation.

Social psychologists have spoken up about the actual value of 'friends' on Facebook, some of whom a user might not see for years. The time spent connecting with these ephemeral contacts online eats into time spent on face-to-face socialising.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar deduced 10 years ago that the human brain only has room for 150 personal connections.

As Facebook users find themselves making friends with old schoolmates, innumerable work colleagues and other people who would otherwise naturally fade out of their lives, the 'Dunbar number' would suggest that this activity risks diluting the quality of their relationships.

The time it takes to keep all these connections intact can lead to addictive behavioural habits.

Many employers have blocked Facebook from their internet server because they fear it diminishes workers' productivity. In April of this year, a study from Ohio State University made a link between lower grades and students who are heavy Facebook users.

With technology becoming more and more of a participatory activity, it may be that fewer of us in the future will feel able to opt out for fear of being left out of the loop. And where is the fun in that?

A whole lot of Rosie

This amazing womans Rosie Swale-Pope, sat down on the side of the N11 to Dublin at 7am on Sunday morning to give me this interview. To find out more about her, go to her website, www.rosiearoundtheworld.co.uk

As published in the Independent last week...

By Susan Daly

Tuesday September 22 2009

Round-the-world runner Rosie Swale-Pope has been chased by wolves and a gunman and has run on a fractured hip -- but says the Wicklow mountains have been one of her toughest challenges yet.

"I haven't been running for a month so it was a little hard," she says cheerfully. The 62-year-old grandmother is currently pounding her way to Antrim from Wexford in a novel bid to raise awareness of prostate cancer.

Her 236-mile run along the east coast of Ireland should be a stroll in the park compared to the five-year odyssey she completed this time last year. Rosie was 56 when her second husband Clive Pope died of prostate cancer in 2002.

"Neither of us knew anything about it," says Rosie, "If my husband had got a check-up and learned about his cancer earlier he would be here today."

Rosie, originally from Co Limerick, took up marathon-running at the age of 48. A few months after Clive passed away, she decided to run around the world, beginning and ending her trek at their home in Wales. Her aim was to raise awareness of prostate cancer but along the way she also generated about £250,000 in funds for orphaned children in Russia.

Rosie set out on October 2, 2003, pulling all her supplies, sleeping bag and tent in a cart behind her. "The idea was born out of my sorrow and grief and I suppose I didn't know if I was running away or towards something," she says.

Her epic journey took her through Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, America, Greenland and Iceland, through extremes of heat and cold. She was hit by a truck, nearly starved to death in the Alaskan wasteland, broke ribs in Iceland and her hip in Canada, chased by a naked man bearing a gun and another who almost chopped her ear off with an axe as he tried to hug her.

When she finally returned to her home town of Tenby in Wales, she hobbled over the finishing line on crutches suffering from stress fractures. She laughs at the fact that this latest Irish trip was almost scuppered when she ripped a toenail off by accident while vacuuming at home.

But, she says brightly, the physical is the easiest part of the human experience to control. "I very strongly believe that the toughest mountains are in the mind. The most wonderful thing in the world is to see a child smile or fall in love, the worst is to see someone sick or in trouble. Life is an adventure to be appreciated."

It is a tenet she has lived her own extraordinary life by. She first attracted attention sailing around the world with her first husband Colin Swale and daughter Eve. She gave birth to their son James on board.

In 1983, she sailed solo across the Atlantic on a 17ft-plywood boat. She has trekked 3,000 miles through Chile on horseback and ran in the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert -- twice.

She takes her trip to Ireland no less seriously than any of those mind-boggling feats. "I had wanted to include it on my round-the-world run but I couldn't so this is a promise kept to myself. I am so proud to be here." Her brothers Nicolas and Gerald still live in her native Askeaton, Co Limerick, as does a woman she refers to as "my mother, although she's not really my mother", family friend Marianne Griffin.

"Ireland is responsible for all the good things in my life," Rosie says fondly. "My grandmother would send me off on my bicycle or a donkey and tell me not to come back until I had something to write about."

The road has taught her many things, but mainly it has shown her that the "magic" of life is in the kindness of strangers. In her Irish run so far, those have included a garda called John who insisted on escorting her over a dangerously narrow piece of road in Wicklow and a hotel owner who insisted she stay the night with them when he spotted her bedding down in her cart outside.

She paused in Dublin yesterday to call in to Tom Dunne in his Newstalk radio show, to acknowledge the support and encouragement he gave her to bring her run to Ireland. No doubt she will find many more admirers on the road to Belfast and the Giant's Causeway, where she hopes to end this trip on her 63rd birthday, October 2.

It isn't surprising that people are touched by Rosie. Her effusive joie de vivre and her modesty at her amazing achievements are highly attractive. It is clear that her choices have led to great personal sacrifice -- she likens her five-year trip to going to war, but her "wonderful" family is terribly proud of her. Her grandson is particularly enamoured of his unusual granny: "He loves wolves, and he's keen on camping!"

As for retiring from the road, Rosie has no intention of it. She is inspired by the heartening letters she received from people who have read her book, Just a Little Run Around the World. Her website, www.rosiearoundtheworld.co.uk, reprints a letter from a urologist who had a patient come to him to have his prostate checked after reading her story. The patient turned out to have early stage cancer, easily treatable.

"If I had stayed at home knitting and gardening, I would not have got the message out," she says.

As for easing up, she just doesn't believe in it. "It's easing off that kills you," she says. "Every day in life should be treated as an act of survival."

Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes by Rosie Swale-Pope is published by HarperCollins and available in bookstores now

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Come on up here, Frank!


I'm a celebrity, keep me out of here!
Rapper Kanye West is only the latest in a long line of stage invaders, says Susan Daly, and he probably won't be the last.

Wednesday September 16 2009

Security is understandably tight wherever you have a gathering of celebrities in one room. Ostensibly, those crowd barriers and bulldog bouncers are to keep the public at bay. In reality, some celebrities need protecting only from themselves.

Rapper Kanye West bolstered his reputation as a volatile awards ceremony guest on Sunday night when he grabbed the mic from Best Female Video winner Taylor Swift as she began her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York. He proceeded to rant that Beyonce, who had the grace to look horrified as she sat cringing in the audience, had "one of the best videos of all time".

His graceless interruption monopolised coverage of the VMAs, but he wasn't the only celeb to crash the stage on the night. Fellow rapper Lil' Mama hopped up uninvited at the end of Jay-Z's duet with Alicia Keyes, throwing shapes beside the two superstars.

Celebrities expect stage invasions from hyper-stimulated fans. Indeed, like Keith Richards who calmly pole-axed a trespasser with his guitar at a Rolling Stones concert in the States in 1981, they are prepared for them.

When the attack comes from inside, they are caught off-guard. Mr West is a serial offender, although this may have been the first time he protested on behalf of another artist. In 2004, he threw a hissy fit at the American Music awards when country singer Gretchen Wilson beat him to the Best Newcomer gong.

The MTV VMAs have twice previously been the target of his ire. In 2006 in Copenhagen, he crashed the stage during Justice Vs Simian's victory speech for Best Video. His 'Touch The Sky' video deserved the award, he said, on the basis that it starred Pamela Anderson and cost $1m to make.

A year later in Vegas, he became "upset" when he was asked to perform in a side venue rather than the main stage. He then lost in all five categories in which he was nominated. "I lost to the f*cking Black Eyed Peas last year, man. I'm never f*cking coming back to MTV," he ranted on camera backstage. Taylor Swift must be wishing he had stuck to his word.

His outbursts confirm what we all suspect about stars at awards ceremonies: that behind the smiles and gritted teeth the losing nominees are secretly eaten up by bitterness.

Occasionally the poker face slips. Samuel L Jackson was caught on camera mouthing an expletive when he lost out on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Pulp Fiction at the 1995 Oscars. Elton John graciously took time on stage at the 2004 Q awards to have a pop at Madonna. "Madonna. Best F*cking Live Act? F*ck off! Since when has lip-synching been live?" he growled as the audience guffawed.

Rage Against The Machine's bassist Tim Commerford took it badly when the band lost out to Limp Bizkit at the 2000 VMAs. He was arrested after climbing a set piece at the show in Radio City Music Hall. Rock'n'roll anarchy might explain why many of these celebs-go-wild incidents take place at music award shows. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker expressed his fury at Michael Jackson's Messianic posturing onstage at the 1996 Brits by mooning the Gloved One's performance of Earth Song. Two years later, Chumbawamba guitarist Danbert Nobacon dumped a bucket of iced water on Labour politician John Prescott's head.

But there is frequently the whiff of publicity stunt sulphur about celebs behaving badly. (Cue Eminem's mock outrage when Sacha Baron Cohen creation Borat straddled his head at the MTV movie awards in June.)

Then there are the celebs who probably intended no harm but -- well -- it just kicked off. Lindsay Lohan seemed to simply get caught up in the moment when she clambered on stage at a Lily Allen concert in April, dancing awkwardly by her friend before shuffling stage left.

Movie star Jackie Chan had a karaoke moment in 2006 when he jumped onstage with Taiwanese singer Jonathan Lee in Hong Kong. Chan later said that he had "always wanted to be a singer".

Most unfortunate is the celeb who believes that they have actually won an award -- when they haven't. Film director Frank Capra suffered one of the most mortifying moments of his life when he thought he had won an Oscar at the 1934 Academy Awards. He started running up to the stage when the show's host Will Rogers announced, "Come on up and get it, Frank!" Sadly, Rogers was referring to Frank Lloyd.

DJ Brandon Block was similarly flustered at the 2000 Brit Awards when he landed on stage as Thora Birch and Ronnie Wood were presenting an award for Best Soundtrack to the film Notting Hill. A friend had mistakenly told Block he had won. Wood threw a drink over him to get him to leave the stage.

No doubt celebs will continue to make a show of themselves as long as there are big egos and free drinks on tap. It is just a case of learning how to deal with them.

So far no-one has matched David Niven for his swift dispatch of a naked man who streaked the stage as he presented an award at the 1973 Oscars. Niven coolly ad-libbed: "Isn't it fascinating to think the only laugh that man will probably ever get in his life was when he stripped down to his shortcomings." Ouch.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lady of the manners

From today's Irish Independent...

Why people want to be more like Hepburn... less like Hilton
We are forming an orderly queue to have etiquette schools put some manners on us, says Susan Daly

Tuesday September 15 2009

As anyone who has gone on a blind date will tell you, first impressions really do count.

That simple truth is not just valid in the world of romance. Etiquette schools are reporting an upsurge of enquiries from jobseekers who want to put their best face forward in interviews.

These days, with increasing numbers of newly unemployed people applying for fewer jobs, it is survival of the most presentable. Bad manners, impoliteness and shoddy personal grooming are all guaranteed to put you on the wrong side of an interviewer.

And no, the etiquette schools say, it is not about teaching people how to walk with a pile of books on their head. It's about giving them basic life skills that many of us have forgotten.

"They just want to get that little extra edge," says John Kelly, director of The Finishing Academy in Co Kildare. "Irish people realise that they are now in competition.

"We go into schools with our courses and they are very popular. It is not archaic; it's just basic civility."

Pamela Fay has been teaching etiquette to would-be business bigwigs for years, as the director of businessetiquette.ie. She has had a number of one-to-one clients come to her recently looking for help.

"Most of my work is for training new graduates for big companies to go into business. I give them the dos and don'ts -- everything from how to dress appropriately to how to greet people who are arriving for a meeting. Over the last month, I would say four individuals have come to me who have been made redundant. They want to make sure that they have that extra 10pc."

A book called The Cost of Bad Behaviour, by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, outlines how bad manners can really hurt your business. There is frontline rudeness -- the type of bad behaviour that sends customers screaming to the exit. You're not going to make a return trip to a coffee shop where the waitress ignores you while she chats on her mobile phone.

'Good manners are so very, very important," says Pamela Fay. "I do an annual survey on manners in Irish business, and that survey would show you that if people are not treated well, they will move their business. The biggest thing here is people not smiling. It sets the tone for the whole business."

Her 2007 survey across a range of Irish businesses found that 75pc of those interviewed had been embarrassed by a colleague's manners and 53pc believed that we are less mannerly than 10 years ago. Even if you're not looking for a job, etiquette lessons still might have something to teach you.

Record label publicist Jordan Christy has written a book, How To Be A Hepburn In A Hilton World, which she calls a guide to "the art of living with style, class and grace".

Her argument is that knickerless celebs, their lewd sexual misconduct and very public disgraces have unleashed a backlash of disgust. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan et al have much to answer for as negative role models, she says.

Her book features eye-catching chapter titles like 'Keep Your Chin Up and Your Skirt Down'.

The motivation behind ITV's reality show Ladette to Lady or VH1's Charm School is similar to Christy's book. Producers take a crew of rough and ready women and help them brush up on social protocol, appropriate dressing and more 'ladylike' behaviour (ie, no spitting, no fighting, no swearing).

Far from being an archaic throwback, etiquette is more necessary than ever, says Peggy Carty who has run her school of deportment in Galway for the past 48 years.

It was with Peggy that Grainne and Sile Seoige learned to be the loveliest cailins in the land. Anjelica Huston is another former pupil.

"Deportment is actually a French word that encompasses so much more than you would think. It is the word for physical conduct and mental conduct," says Peggy.

"Whether you like it or not, you form an opinion of someone the instant you meet them," she adds. "The second impression comes when you speak and from what you say. Even table etiquette is so important -- I've sat opposite people who are supposedly successful in business and their table manners were appalling."

There will always be a place for the social graces, she says, now more than ever. "I don't think anyone is in a position to say there is an exactly right or a wrong way -- but there is a better way of doing everything."

How To Be A Hilton In A Hepburn World by Jordan Christy is published by Hachette; Peggy Carty's School of Deportment (peggycarty.com) is in Salthill, Galway at 091 582000; Pamela Fay is director of businessetiquette.ie, 01 2606528; John Kelly's Finishing Academy (finishingacademy.ie) in Naas, Co Kildare is at 045 844080.

Tuesday September 15 2009

Christina Kelly (26), from Clane, Co Kildare, attended a course at The Finishing Academy, Naas, that dealt with modern social and business etiquette.

"I had an image of etiquette school as an American woman in a blazer teaching a group of girls to be ladies, but actually it was very relaxed.

"I didn't tell many people I was doing it for the same reason -- that they would think it was strange. But now I can't stop recommending it.

"It was the business aspect that drew me to it. Some things they tell you might seem like common sense but I got some great tips.

"The biggest thing for me was being taught how to deal with emails and phonecalls. I work in accounts in the building industry and you can imagine we get some people on the phone who are annoyed. It's easy if someone is shouting at you to be angry back.

"The lessons taught me to be more aware of my tone. What I try to do now is keep my voice calm and steady and have an understanding tone. I do find that the more sympathetic you are, the more people tend to back off and calm down because they know they are being heard.

"What was really interesting to me was the crossover between business and social etiquette.

"If you are at a business dinner with work colleagues, it's about trying to find that line, knowing when you should or shouldn't talk about business or who should pay the bill.

"On a social level, there is this whole area they call 'millennium etiquette' -- what was polite in olden days is not necessarily polite now.

"Opening doors for people -- it shouldn't be specific to gender anymore.

"If I'm a woman and I reach a door before a man does, it's only right that I hold it open for him.

"I have to say the lessons have given me confidence -- it's not about changing yourself entirely, it's just about being more aware of how you come across to the world."


From yesterday's Evening Herald


On your bikes lads, if you think you're man enough

By Susan Daly

Monday September 14 2009

How cute are the new rental bikes -- and how cute do the menfolk of Dublin look riding on them?

Sunday in the city always has a touch of olde-worlde charm about it, what with the reduced traffic and pedestrians ambling along the pavements looking for a spot of leisurely brunch.

And now we have men on bikes with baskets. Senator David Norris must have thought he had died and gone to Joycean heaven when he woke up yesterday morning.

The whole city -- okay, 1,000 of you -- tried out the new Dublin bike scheme on the sunny day that it was.

I felt a little jealous pumping my way up the quays on my old bone-shaker as a coterie of the new, shiny, silver bicycles sailed past me in the bus lane.

It was like being overtaken by a Fred Astaire musical number.

The sturdy shopping baskets attached to the front of each add to the touch of retro. As the bikes are unisex, this meant that there were a lot of men pedalling around yesterday looking very Pollyannish. Polly-mannish, if you will.

I'm not surprised they already have the bikes in Paris. They are just the thing for cruising along the banks of the Seine; baguette and smelly cheese in basket ready for an impromptu picnic with a comely mademoiselle.

Men's bikes in Dublin up to this point have not been traditionally adorned with baskets. They tend to fall into two categories: the anorexic racers of the sinewy courier, and the tough mountain bikes that the rest of the male population seem to favour.

There seems to be the implication that, hey, I could take this baby off-road for a spin any time it took my fancy. Except I'm cycling in a suit. To my accountancy job in the IFSC.

In that respect, the new bikes must appeal to the tough guys: they look pretty sturdy.

This is useful when you're riding the dirt tracks that constitute Dublin's cycle lanes. They also make a decent stab at being vandal-proof.

It was noticeable that the council didn't put the new bikes out until Sunday morning -- having them appear for the first time on a Saturday night would have been asking for trouble.

But there's no getting away from it -- the bike scheme appears to be forcing cuteness on its male users.

I say go with it, lads. If you can ride one without looking sheepish, it means you are secure in your own masculinity.

Show off your finely turned ankles with a rakish air. Don a bowler hat. Tip it to the ladies as you pass by. (Alternatively, stick on a safety helmet, pedal furiously and hope no one sees you until you can dock the shagging thing at the next station).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reality cheque

Can't find the online link to this article of mine in yesterday's Irish Independent Review section so here it is...

Lights, camera, paycut for Hollywood A-listers

JULIA ROBERTS’S recent comeback movie Duplicity had an outlandish premise. She and on-screen love interest Clive Owen play former spies who plan to retire on a $40 million windfall by pulling off a dangerous piece of corporate espionage.

A more realistic scenario would have simply required Julia to turn up in two movies while Clive stayed at home packing the suitcases. As an A-list actress who pulled in $25m at her peak (for Mona Lisa Smile in 2003), she would have feathered their nest in no time at all.

Six months on from Duplicity’s low-key performance at the box office – it took in $78m worldwide, but cost $60m to make – Roberts’s regular pay cheque of $20m looks pretty hefty to the layman.

The lukewarm reception to her stellar charms was reflected in a high proportion of this year’s star-led movies. Pelham 1 2 3 (Denzel Washington and John Travolta), State of Play (Russell Crowe), Angels and Demons (Tom Hanks ), Funny People (Adam Sandler), Land of the Lost (Will Ferrell) and Imagine That (Eddie Murphy) all underperformed at the box office somewhere along a sliding scale of average to appalling.

The top-grossing films of this summer’s popcorn season? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Up, and Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, starring, ahem, Shia LaBeouf, Ed Asner and Daniel Radcliffe. The new cinematic success is based on big concepts rather than big names.

“This was not a star-driven summer,” admitted Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group.

Peter Guber, the former chairman of Sony Pictures, expressed his shock to the New York Times last month at the apparent inability of A-list actors to guarantee a blockbuster opening weekend.

“The cratering of films with big stars is astounding,” he said. “These supertalented people are failing to aggregate a large audience, and everybody is looking for answers.”

Will Smith is currently the most bankable Hollywood star, according to an exhaustive list compiled by business and finance analysts Forbes. He didn’t open a film this summer but even the so-called ‘critic-proof’ Smith felt a chill wind blowing on his last film Seven Pounds. It only earned $14m at the US box office on its opening weekend last Christmas, compared to the $77m his I Am Legend took on its opening
weekend exactly 12 month previously.

I would look back even further to 2007, when newcomer Seth Rogen wrote and starred in the low-budget Superbad. Its relatively unknown ensemble cast pulled in $31m in the US in its first weekend alone, shooting it straight to No.1 in the box office chart. Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman’s new film The Invasion also opened that week. It took in a measly $6m and languished at No.5.

The less-than-sparkling returns on star vehicles has Hollywood – and its A-listers – on the edge of their seats. (Which is more than audiences can say for some of their recent films).

Have stars lost their pulling power? And if so, will the studios be calling time on the $20 million-plus pay cheque?

Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Pictures, said in an interview last month: “Stars will always be important, but the industry is definitely seeing a transformation in their ability to open movies.” He was speaking from experience.
Universal had the misfortune to release Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost, which cost $100m to make but which only made $62m in ticket sales.

The studio also distributed Funny People last month. It was written and directed by Judd Apatow, the comic Midas whose previous outings The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up tore up the landscape of movie comedy and replanted it to sprout pure gold. Apatow’s friend and regular on the $20m pay list Adam Sandler starred. It has taken in $52m so far – still under its estimated $75m production budget.

It could be that the A-listers have had devilish bad luck in picking their films this year. But their poor performance can’t be explained by bad scripts alone. The 53 films of Adam Sandler’s career, for example, have scored a dire average critical rating of 11% on rottentomatoes.com, which compiled movie reviews from across the world. Yet he has been a box office winner, his movies raking in $1.6bn since 2001.

If Sandler can’t flog a movie, there must be something poisoning the water.
Some industry insiders point to the rise in new media technologies like Twitter and texting which work as an instant word of mouth.

“You look around the theatre and can see the glow, not on people’s faces from watching the movie, but on their chins — from the BlackBerrys and iPhones,” said ex-Sony chief Guber. “They are immediately telling their friends whether it’s worth their time. And the answer to that, more often than not, seems to be no.”

Paparazzi culture has also stripped the stars of some of their mystique. The A-listers must yearn for the glory days of cinema when the only way for an audience to find out what Bette Davis or Cary Grant were up to was to go see them in their latest film.

Young men feature heavily in today’s cinema-going demographic, and they are big consumers of genre films like horror which rarely waste an A-lister’s talent on a grisly death. The current No1 hitter at the US box office is the latest installment of the Final Destination slasher films – and it is on its second week. The new Sandra Bullock rom-com All About Steve, by comparison, has just opened but has already been pushed into third place.

The rise of Pixar and other animated technologies have led to family-friendly hits like Ice Age, Shrek and Toy Story (all of these have sequels on the way out). They are a new outlet for the voiceover talents of A-listers – Cameron Diaz, Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy in Shrek, Tom Hanks in Toy Story for example.

But while it’s a nice way to knock out a few million while coming to work in jeans and flip-flops, the pay cheques are not as substantial as for an on-screen role.
Studios are starting to realise that star franchises are fading in the face of themed franchises. Harry Potter has made a household name of Daniel Radcliffe but his salary pales in comparison to the $900m the Half-Blood Prince has taken this summer.

It’s considered less risky these days to build a film around an existing fanbase, like the teenybopper readers of Stephanie Meyer’s popular Twilight books or Marvel comic fans.

How is Hollywood reacting? With widescale job losses in the industry, some must surely be eyeing the well padded pay packets of the top-tier actors.

The complex wrangling between studios and stars’ agents is traditionally shrouded in paranoid secrecy. But this year it became a matter of public discussion when Hollywood bible Variety cited two sources from new Denzel Washington film Unstoppable who said that the actor and 20th Century Fox were having difficulties coming to an agreement on the terms of his contract.

Washington, they said, was asked to take $4m off his usual $20m fee and the director Tony Scott asked to reduce his fee from $9m to $6m. Washington formally withdrew from the film earlier this summer, but has since climbed back on board. To say what agreement was finally reached between the two sides, if any, would be speculative but the initial difficulties of getting the show on the road signals how doggedly studios are fighting for every penny in this climate.

Some A-listers who are used to upfront payments for their services are looking for ways to be flexible: Jim Carrey took a sizeable share in the upcoming Yes Man instead of a straight-forward pay cheque.

There is no danger of stars being dumped altogether. Their names are still vital in selling a project to financiers at the outset, if not to an audience at the other end. Industry experts say it is still the case that star-led films are always easier to sell to TV channels and overseas.

There is one inescapable truth behind the star system: they are stars because they have charisma or talent or however you wish to account for that X-factor. They might be forced to take a pay cut, but we can’t do without them entirely.

And all is not lost. Brad Pitt is still pulling them in. Considering the flop that was Quentin Tarantino’s last movie, Grindhouse, and the difficulty of selling his brand of violent film to a mainstream audience, Inglourious Basterds has been doing sterling work at the box office.

The marketing campaign for Inglourious Basterds focused on the presence of Brad Pitt as a tough-talking Nazi hunter even though he features in only half the movie. But the publicists think: Nazis and Pitt - there’s a winning combination. They were right.

While the A-listers might hanker after a bygone era when a star name instantly put bums on theatre seats, they would not want a return to the pay scale imposed then by a rigid studio system.
Star power in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s was nothing in the face of the control of the ‘Big Five’, the major studios of the time, MGM, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros and Fox.
Actors were locked into inflexible contracts, existing on a monthly salary that was a tiny percentage of the money their films made for the studios. Their image and personal lives were carefully protected and careers could fail or rise on the whim of a movie executive.
Bette Davis described her contract with Warner Brothers as “slavery” and took them to court in the late ’30s in a bid to regain control over the parts she could play. She told a journalist: “I knew that, if I continued to appear in any more mediocre pictures, I would have no career left worth fighting for.” Warners’ lawyer referring to her as “a naughty young lady” who just wanted more money. She lost the case but it paved the way for Olivia de Havilland who took a similar case in 1943 and won.
Jimmy Cagney, Hollywood’s favourite gangster, proved he had muscle off-screen too when he challenged Warner Bros (again), establishing the walkout as a means of renegotiating better financial and artistic terms with studios. He established his own production company in 1942, Cagney Productions, and by the time he returned to Warners four years later, they agreed to pay him a whopping $324,000 a year making him their biggest-earning star.
Cary Grant showed the steel behind his gentlemanly image when he, as Humphrey Bogart before him, escaped the studio system in the 1950s by becoming a hugely successful freelance. He was considered a maverick for producing his own films with Grantley Productions, which were then distributed by Universal. By taking the reins, Grant could chose which actors and directors he worked with, as well as take a cut of the profits, a situation easily negotiated by today’s A-listers but uncommon in the 1950s.

THE TOP TEN GROSSING MOVIES OF 2009 SO FAR (and their, er, stars)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - $400,641,549 – Based on a cartoon, this explosions-and-robots extravaganza starred Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - $297,614,366 – Based on the best-selling kids books, another episode of CGI wizardry starring ensemble cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint.
Up - $290,866,563 – Disney-Pixar animation about an elderly man who ties balloons to his house and flies away (!), voiced by Ed Asner.
The Hangover - $272,197,388 – dark comedy about a Vegas stag night, “starring” Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. Does have a cameo from Mike Tyson though.
Star Trek - $257,171,491 – Based on the TV series, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy (yes, Spock)
Monsters Vs. Aliens - $198,351,526 – IMAX 3D sci-fi animation hit featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland and Renee Zellwegger.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - $194,224,066 – Latest in Ice Age animated franchise with Queen Latifah, John Leguizamo and Dennis Leary the only famous voices among many characters.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - $179,875,159 – Based on the Marvel comic character, played here by Hugh Jackman.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - $176,794,393 – Sequel to first successful Museum movie, based on a children’s book, starring Ben Stiller and Amy Adams.
The Proposal - $161,137,964 – Rom-com starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (Mr Scarlett Johanssen)

VALUE-FOR-MONEY LEAD ACTORS… These are the top ten actors who Forbes magazine have worked out give the studios the best bang for their buck (ie, their salary as a percentage of the profits their movies have made) in the 12 months to this July. No female actors made the list.
1. Shia LeBoeuf (Transformers, Indiana Jones). Return on investment: $160 revenue for every dollar of salary
2. James McAvoy (Wanted, Penelope). Return on investment: $114
3. Michael Cera (Superbad, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Year One): $102
4. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise): $93
5. Robert Downey Jnr (Tropic Thunder, Iron Man): $78
6. Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Love in the time of Cholera, No Country for Old Men) $73
7. Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal, Definitely, Maybe, Just Friends): $61
8. Christian Bale (Terminator Salvation, The Dark Knight): $55
9. Aaron Eckhart (No Reservations, Thank You for Not Smoking, The Dark Knight): $45
10. Dennis Quaid (Smart People, The Express, Vantage Point): $43

'She'll be giving birth to a Nike Air Max'

Good luck to Dan Coffey and Emmet Kirwan with Sarah and Steve, the follow-up to the 10-minute comic gem Dan and Becs. From Friday's Irish Independent - http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/tv-radio/move-over-dan-and-becs--theres-a-new-couple-in-town-1884109.html

Move over Dan and Becs - there's a new couple in town
RTE's new relationship drama is TV for the YouTube generation, writes Susan Daly
Friday September 11 2009

Anyone with a video camera and an online computer can star in their own show. YouTube is littered with millions of clips of deluded folks babbling inanely about their lives, loves and opinions.

RTE2, which has been touting itself as the youth-oriented channel for some time now, managed to tap into the new media obsession three years ago when it gave the green light to a pilot show called Dan and Becs.

It developed into two series of 10-minute episodes which intercut the video diaries of on-off south Dublin couple Dan and Becs, played by Dave Coffey and Holly White. While it looked like it was recorded in someone's bedroom (it was), it was cleverly scripted by Coffey and acted with tongue firmly in cheek.

The then 24-year-old Coffey had written episodes in his spare time as he worked as a film and TV editor, and it was picked up by Accomplice Television (producers of Pure Mule and Bachelors Walk).

The show, which poked gentle fun at its affluent Southside characters, became a sleeper hit, attracting a very decent 37pc of its target 15-to 24-year-old audience at its peak. That translates into 197,000 viewers, which was pretty excellent for a late-night slot that shifted around either side of the 11pm mark.

Now Coffey has returned with another series of bite-sized television in the shape of Sarah and Steve. The format is similar: 10 x 10-minute episodes charting the relationship and lives of the titular couple. There are two major differences this time. Sarah and Steve is set in Tallaght, completely new territory for Killiney native Coffey. And he and White have made way for actors Charlene Gleeson and Emmet Kirwan, who both grew up on the same estate in Tallaght.

Coffey says he would have been wary of trying to accurately portray a young couple from Tallaght on his own. This time, he shared the writing with Kirwan, who based many of the incidents in Sarah and Steve on his own experiences.

"The whole point with Dan and Becs was that it was written from the inside out," says Coffey. "I wrote about what I knew. It had always been my intention to get a writer in for Sarah and Steve, and I would come in as the director."

He had Kirwan in mind for the role of Steve after seeing him in a play called Monged. When they worked together on another project, by happy coincidence Coffey found the talented actor could also write.

"He said he was working on a sitcom of his own, and it really clicked with me then. We came up with characters and what might happen to them over the series."

Dan and Becs, mockumentary though it was, had more than a grain of truth in its portrayal of 'Dort-speak' Dublin. Sarah and Steve is even more truthful, says Kirwan, less sarcastic and a touch darker.

"Dan and Becs were a bit self-obsessed, a bit ditzy," says Kirwan, "I didn't want to write characters like that for Tallaght. I didn't want to slag anyone but I wanted to show that Tallaght can be a dark place, and dark things can happen and from that you get a darker shade of comedy."

It's safe to say that Coffey would have had accusations of inauthenticity levelled at him had he tried to do the same. "It's funny," says Kirwan, "A lot of middle-class people tend to get offended on behalf of working-class people."

Sarah and Steve doesn't labour under such a softly-softly approach. One clip shows Steve (Kirwan) impersonating a junkie who tries to get him to give him a free bottle of David Beckham aftershave. Another had Sarah (Gleeson) advising how she will give an enemy such a kick that she'll be "giving birth to a Nike Air Max".

Kirwan hopes that people will have the same reaction to it as he did to Dan and Becs. "I thought it was great, really well observed, which was good because a lot of stuff that goes on RTE is not really on the money."

Kirwan's test audience, his family and friends in Tallaght, have loved the episodes he has shown them. Ask if any other writer has got working-class Dublin right since Roddy Doyle, and he cites playwrights Mark O'Rowe and Ken Harmon, among others.

"I think what happens when people talk about writers in working-class Dublin, people tend to be aware of Roddy Doyle. But you don't hear middle-class writers all being compared to Sebastian Barry," he laughs.

His co-star Charlene Gleeson, like Kirwan, already has a number of TV, film and theatre acting credits to her name. Her performance as Angeline Ball's daughter Jolene in RTE's Trouble in Paradise was widely praised. She too is from Tallaght, from the same estate as Kirwan.

"Emmet was the right person at the right time," says Coffey. "It was the same with Charlene. When we were casting the role, we had a few names in mind, and Emmet said that although he had never worked with Charlene, he had heard her reputation was really good. Then he worked with her in a short film when we were writing the pilots for Sarah and Steve and he came back and said, 'That's it, I can vouch for her, she's brilliant'."

Gleeson and Kirwan have more acting experience under their belts than Coffey and White had when they shot Dan and Becs, so you could argue that a 10-minute show shouldn't make a huge difference to their already rising stars.

Coffey says that Dan and Becs changed his life. He gave up his job as an editor when RTE said they liked the pilot he had written. "It was a bit of a gamble; there was no guarantee that it would be made it into a full series. But it effectively started a whole career that I never thought was for me."

Holly White, who writes a fashion column for the Irish Independent's Weekend magazine, also benefitted from the exposure Dan and Becs gave her. "I would say that it opened a few doors for Holly," says Coffey, who is still in regular contact with her. "It definitely helped her get into a course in RADA in London for a summer, just having a show behind her on national television."

Emmet Kirwan is not resting on his laurels. He has written a new play, Half-Three Heroes, for the Dublin Youth Theatre, which opens in the Project Arts Centre next month.

"Ireland is very small and it could be that hardly anyone will see Sarah and Steve," he says philosophically, "10 minutes a week is a short time".

Saying that, he has already had people come up to him at the Electric Picnic to congratulate him on the show. They had spotted the preview clips of Sarah and Steve posted on -- you've guessed it -- YouTube by the production company. How appropriate. Sarah and Steve is on RTE2 on Monday night at 10.50pm

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was pure mule (the bad one)

When I was asked to give the culchie take on Pure Mule in Tuesday's Evening Herald, I mostly focused on the original series. I thought the two-parter on Sunday and Monday night last on RTE was not very good at all. Too kitchen-sink drama, it dragged and moaned its way to a pretty obvious conclusion.
But I did love the six-parter that aired a few years ago, and so did most country folk I know. Watching the All-Ireland hurling final in a Co Limerick pub on Sunday, I heard the following from the lads at the bar when a promo for Pure Mule: The Last Weekend came on during half-time: "Jaysus, is that back? That's a great show. I'd better be back home for that after the News."
There you go. So highly regarded by countrymen, they'll put a premature end to a feed of pints on All-Ireland Sunday to watch it.

Here's the verdict...

Pure Mule:
Viewers either like ir or loathed it. Is this latest example of an Urban/Rural divide? Yes, says Susan Daly
Tuesday September 08 2009

IT says a lot that the phrase that gives its name to the RTE drama Pure Mule can describe either of two very different scenarios.

Down in the country, 'pure mule' can mean something outstandingly good, as in: "O'Donoghue's bar was hopping and then we got the lock-in and I scored with the young McCarthy one -- sure, the night was pure mule!"

Or it can mean you had a woeful time, as in: "I had a bad pint and got into a scrap with the big fella of the Heffernans, then I was sick on my shirt and had to walk home in the sodding rain -- it was pure mule."

It all depends on the intonation.

Whether or not you like Pure Mule -- the programme -- similarly depends on how you take it up. I have noticed that my friends who are not of rural origin don't take it well at all.

They are concerned that it condescends culchies like myself, with its portrayal of small-town isolation and frustration exploding in a grim-faced orgy of Drink! Girls! Feck! Die miserable, but get lashed out of it on the way there.

I take the show as it is meant by its creators (culchies themselves): a largely truthful depiction of a significant portion of young rural Ireland, highlighted somewhat for dramatic effect.

While I have issues with Pure Mule: The Last Weekend, the two-part sequel to the 2005 series which concluded last night, they are mainly to do with pacing and the excessive use of 'Jaysiz' as an adjective. Scobie doesn't want to sell his 'jaysiz' car, he's off to 'jaysiz' Australia and he'll be down the 'jaysiz' pub if anyone's looking for him. For Jaysiz' sake.

By focusing on the dysfunctional relationship of Jen and Scobie -- two of the more excessive characters in the original series -- it was in danger of veering into kitchen-sink drama.

But the depiction of rural Ireland remains honest in its bones.

The reckless hedonism fuelled by easy cash as depicted in the booming climate of the original series has given way, as in real life, to boarded-up business ventures and half-finished estates.

Even the most cursory blindfolded drive through the country will show you that much.

Characters like Scobie are everywhere; the big-mouthed gunslinger in a one-horse town who wakes up one day to find he is, at once, too old and too immature to do anything else with his life. We all know people who become caricatures of themselves.

I never understood the shock that abounded from city cousins when Pure Mule showcased young country folk engaged in formidable language, drug use, violence, sex and a haze of booze.

Not all of us in the country lived like that, but some did.

It is condescending to presume that recreational drug habits, senseless brutality and alcohol abuse is confined to urban areas. How many rural district judges over the Celtic Tiger years despaired at the Saturday-night list of offences overcrowding their court sittings?

Let's be clear: I'm no fan of most RTE 'yoof' dramas, with the exception of Love Is The Drug which was similar in theme to Pure Mule.

I have never seen anything worse than The Big Bow Wow, ever -- and as that was supposed to depict my life now as an urban-based professional, I should know.

I also know where I came from so believe me when I say that slipping 'yokes' in the pub and bush-drinking in deserted houses is not melodramatic make-believe.

Funnily enough, the week in which Pure Mule returned also featured two more sanctified beacons of rural life: the All- Ireland hurling final and the Tidy Towns awards.

My county was in the final and my native village won the overall Tidy Town award -- and I was proud of both.

But if we accept that rural Ireland is about tradition and community spirit, then we should also accept that it has its dark side too. Anything less is truly patronising.

Na cailini


First Colin, then Cillian ... and now it's the cailíní
The cinema-loving public would just love an Irish girl to emerge from Hollywood. Susan Daly takes a look at the leading contenders

By Susan Daly

Monday September 07 2009

Ireland has no problem pumping out the Hollywood heart-throbs. Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Daniel Day-Lewis (yes, we've decided he's Irish) are still producing high-profile work in the States.

The next generation of male A-listers already have their feet under the Tinseltown table: Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers are all box-list names to a varying degree. And they are budging up to make room for Kerry's finest Michael Fassbender, currently seen stealing of one of the finest scenes in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

But the cinema-loving Irish public are desperate for a female Hollywood A-lister to call their own. We still hark back to the glory days of Alison Doody as the love interest in Indiana Jones, or Brenda Fricker's Oscar-winning turn in My Left Foot. Every time a household name in Ireland shows a flicker of interest in an acting career -- most recently, Caroline Morahan and Rosanna Davison -- the bookies start offering odds on the chances of them winning an Oscar by 2015.

If we were only to look in less obvious quarters, we would see there are a number of fine young Irish actresses emerging from the shadow of the Colins and the Cillians. Ireland has a proud theatrical tradition in which brilliant actors like Ger Ryan, Dearbhla Molloy, Derbhla Crotty, Fiona O'Shaughnessy, Aisling O'Sullivan, Eileen Walsh and Ali White continue to move audiences.

It is always a matter of speculation to wonder if Ireland, with its relatively small population, will produce another star as well-known as Maureen O'Hara. For a while it seemed like actresses like Ruth Negga (Breakfast On Pluto), Flora Montgomery (When Brendan Met Trudy) and Eva Birthistle (Ae Fond Kiss) were on the brink of international fame. But the dream doesn't seem to have quite materialised for them.

However, there are a number of other young female actors whose early CVs are already bearing Hollywood credits. The attitude appears to have changed too, with the realisation that Irish actresses don't just have to be big fish in a small pond.

Sarah Bolger, the 18-year-old Dublin star of The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors and In America embodies this 'can-do' confidence.

She told me in an interview earlier this year: "I feel like the last couple of years it has been Colin, Cillian and Jonathan. The last Irish woman I can think of is Brenda Fricker. Irish women have to get up there and say: Move over, gentlemen!"

Nicely said, Ms Bolger.



AGE: 15

KEY CV: Atonement, Death Defying Acts, The Lovely Bones, The Way Back

WHY SHE'S HOT: The youngest of our Hollywood-bound bunch is incidentally the most successful so far. Carlow girl Saoirse was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in Atonement opposite Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in 2007. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has reportedly delayed the release of The Lovely Bones -- in which she has the starring role as a murdered girl -- until later this year so that it will be eligible for next year's Academy Awards.

Could Ireland be looking forward to getting its youngest Oscar-winner ever? There is a distinct possibility.

And she already has another major Hollywood film in the bag, Soviet gulag drama The Way Back, co-starring Colin Farrell and Ed Harris, and due out next year.


AGE: 26

KEY CV: Angela's Ashes, Ned Kelly, Intermission, Rome, The Last Station

WHY SHE'S HOT: Tipperary girl Kerry already has two outstanding visual scenes on her CV that audiences will immediately remember -- she's the beautiful café waitress who Colin Farrell headbutts at the start of Intermission, and she famously stripped for her role in the HBO/BBC series Rome.

But she has thankfully not been pigeonholed -- she could be on the brink of real recognition for her role as Masha in The Last Station, based on the life of novelist Leo Tolstoy, due to be released early next year. She acts in an impeccable line-up of stars: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy.

The lead role she had in a pilot TV show in the US called Anatomy of Hope could also be significant -- while it wasn't picked up, it does mean that she has registered on the radar of its very influential creator, one JJ Abrams (he of Alias, Lost, Mission Impossible III and Star Trek fame).


AGE: 18

KEY CV: In America, Stormbreaker, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors

WHY SHE'S HOT: Named a Shooting Star in Berlin this year (an accolade previously garnered by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig), Bolger has just finished her Leaving Cert and is going full steam ahead in following her dreams to Hollywood.

Her consistently high-profile work since the age of 10 is a sign of a great career to come: she stole every scene as young Christy in Jim Sheridan's Oscar-nominated In America, became a tween idol in The Spiderwick Chronicles and the exposure to TV audiences here and Stateside as Princess Mary in The Tudors for the past three seasons have cemented her profile.

Next up is her starring role as Polish girl Kashka in World War II drama Iron Cross, to be released next year, opposite the late Roy 'Jaws' Scheider in his final film role.


AGE: 23

KEY CV: Moon, Raw, upcoming Leap Year

WHY SHE'S HOT: A raving beauty, McElligott certainly has the looks to take her to A-list roles. Even better, she evidently has the hunger for it. She took a chance by not reprising her popular role on RTé drama Raw, heading instead to South Africa to film a new NBC series called The Philanthropist.

Sadly, her part in the show was written out at the last minute but the cancellation meant she was then free to take a pivotal role in Leap Year, the Hollywood movie filmed in Ireland this year with Oscar nominee Amy Adams and Matthew Goode.

In fact, she may have just got her big break -- her role as an astronaut's wife in Moon, the well-received debut by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, saw her cast alongside Kevin Spacey and Sam Rockwell.


AGE: 23

KEY CV: Dorothy, Day of the Triffids

WHY SHE'S HOT: Belfast-born Jenn grew up watching Jason Priestley on Beverly Hills 90210 -- now she's acting opposite him in a star-studded two-part TV version of the classic post-apocalyptic tale, The Day of The Triffids (Joely Richardson, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Dougray Scott also appear in it).

Jenn's big break came in the lead role of Irish horror movie, Dorothy. Her debut feature film performance, as a teenager suffering from multiple split personalities, was likened by Screen International magazine to the breakout role of Ed Norton in Primal Fear.


AGE: 18

KEY CV: Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince (and two more Harry Potter films in the pipeline!)

WHY SHE'S HOT: Two words: Harry Potter. The film franchise has made global stars of its three main stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emily Watson and Rupert Grint. But auxiliary performers have also been using the films to springboard their future careers -- Robert Pattison, the hugely popular star of the Twilight teen vampire film, graduated from a Harry Potter film. By the time filming wraps on the final installment of HP, Evanna from Co Louth will have played one of the most noteworthy supporting characters, Luna Lovegood, in four films.

She attends the Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland in her summers -- the girl might just have the extraordinary talent to build on her magic early success.


AGE: 29

KEY CV: Felicia's Journey, Disco Pigs, The Ghost Squad, Uncle Adolf, Harper's Island

WHY SHE'S HOT: Elaine has been knocking on the door of A-list fame for some time now, having been hailed as one to watch 10 years ago in her starring role as a pregnant teen opposite Bob Hoskins in Felicia's Journey, and two years later in Disco Pigs opposite the now-stellar Cillian Murphy.

In fact, it is the small screen that looks likely to bring Elaine fame. Four years ago, she began landing big TV roles -- Hitler's niece in Uncle Adolf and as Det Amy Harris in Channel 4's The Ghost Squad.

Currently she's showcasing an impeccable American accent in the lead role of Abby Mills in the outrageously plotted Harper's Island TV series for CBS.

Monday, September 7, 2009

That's Paul, folks

May I recommend that fans of the late, great Paul Newman throw their eye over the wonderful photographs at this site? http://www.leofuchsarchives.com/paul-newman/

There is an exhibition running in London currently of the photographs taken by Leo Fuchs, who had unprecedented access to Newman behind the scenes of his movie Exodus in 1960. I wrote an essay about the peculiar intimacy of the portraits in this and another current exhibition of Brigitte Bardot pictures (also in London - dang!)for the Irish Independent's Review section last Saturday. Take a look:

THEY DON’T TAKE THEM LIKE THEY USED TO: Photographic exhibitions of two movie icons show that for a brief moment in the history of celebrity the camera could be candid, but also kind.

IN the shrinking bubble of glamour surrounding Hollywood stars the red carpet is a last refuge of idolatry. They come dressed in full armour: megawatt smile firmly fixed on their flawlessly made-up face, body moulded by designer labels.

Only there, and in carefully orchestrated studio photoshoots, do they retain control over their image. The rest of the time they seem to be fighting a losing battle against the paparazzi, for whom no angle is too unflattering, no activity too plebian to be snapped.

Pleasingly, photographic exhibitions of movie icons Paul Newman and Brigitte Bardot, which are currently running in London, show there was once a golden middle-ground of celebrity photo reportage.

The previously unpublished shots of Newman, who died last year, were taken during the filming of Exodus in 1960 and are imbued with a relaxed intimacy. The photographer Leo Fuchs was given free rein (CORR) on set, and Newman extended that welcome to allow him to snap away as he rested between takes in Israel with his wife
Joanne Woodward and also at their home in Paris.

The title of the Bardot exhibition, Brigitte Bardot and the Original Paparazzi, would suggest that the mood of those photographs should be less convivial. In fact, shot around the late 1950s and early 1960s, they share some common ground with the Newman pictures. Bardot seems comfortably aware of the camera, coyly tilting her eyes away to suggest her innocence of being photographed but angling her body towards the lens nonetheless.

The composure of both stars in the apparently candid shots subtly endorses their iconic status. They are doing ordinary things – walking the dog, smoking a cigarette - but they look extraordinary doing them.

Newman in particular is better served by the photos Fuchs took of him reclining elegantly at his poolside than he would have been by a stiff studio portrait. He exudes absolute cool executing a perfect handstand on the diving board. While any other man might look foolish playing table tennis in tiny bathing trunks, his wry grin and honed torso invite admiration.

“We tend to be nostalgic about our past and these photos were taken at a particular time when the myth of the celebrity – and that of the paparazzi – were both growing,” says Alexandre Fuchs, son of Leo. “People wanted to have a relationship with these celebrities, but at that time there weren’t many photos that drew people into their lives.”

The pictures also convey a huge sense of trust between star and photographer. They capture tender moments between Newman and wife; Newman making a playful grab for her at the picnic table, she leaning into him as they stretch out in deckchairs like a pair of contented cats.

Alexandre Fuchs, who found his father’s remarkable pictures of Newman hidden away in storage around ten years ago, was not surprised that Leo had been earned the type of personal access to a Hollywood star that is almost unheard of today. “My father had a gregarious personality and he made friends easily,” he says. “That was his particular skill. He almost always had a close relationship with the people he photographed.”

Being allowed to cultivate that relationship was an advantage of that very specific time. Responding to the public desire to relate on a more personal level to their idols, Hollywood agents were willing to let talented photographers spend long periods with their celebrity clients (all pictures subject to approval before publication of course). The pictures were a relief from the old Hollywood studio shots in which stars were carefully lit and heavily made up to highlight the superiority of their beauty and character.

Fuchs was not alone. William Claxton, who died last year, became well known for his intimate shots of enormous stars like Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. He bonded with Steve McQueen over a shared love of cars and motorbikes and their close friendship yielded extensive portraits for Life magazine despite McQueen’s notorious distrust of the media.

And there is no more eloquent record of Marilyn Monroe’s final melancholic months than the moving shots taken of her by Magnum agency photographers who had been given exclusive access to the set of her final film, The Misfits (1961).

At the same time, music photojournalism was on the rise with Rolling Stone magazine in particular affording its photographers the space and resources to spend weeks on the road with the hottest bands in order to gain their trust. Many of the portraits Robert Freeman composed of The Beatles in his stint as their official photographer from 1963 to 1966 formed the covers of their albums. More insightful are the hundreds of personal photos he took of the Fab Four at their sessions at Abbey Road recording studios, in their hotels and dressing rooms.

The early years of The Rolling Stones were captured by Gered Mankowitz who took thoughtful offstage shots of Jagger and pals playing cards over bottles of Coca Cola, or sitting pensively in a limo bringing them to New York city for their 1965 US tour.

It’s this element of truth – of catching celebrities in their less self-conscious moments – that is missing from the carefully packaged publicity shots of today.

There are still magazines practising the art of the photoessay – Vanity Fair, Life, Paris Match and so on – but they are battling increasingly rigid demands from stars’ agents who in turn are struggling to protect what’s left of their clients’ image after they have been snapped outside the gym without make-up for the third time in a week.

What is interesting about the Newman and Bardot pictures is how they capture a very brief moment just before celebrity lost its mystique. The shot of Newman walking his dogs down a deserted Parisian street is treated like an artistic composition, Newman’s lone figure a reflection on the isolation of stardom. You can imagine a paparazzo today waiting to zoom in on a snap of the dogs leaving a steaming mess on the pavement.

Bardot’s shots are even more poignant, chronicling as they do the fine line between courting paparazzi and being victimised by them. While these shots are flattering, showing Bardot surrounded by admirers or focusing on her immense physical attributes, they open the floodgates to a time when Bardot herself will be hounded by snappers as she leaves hospital after a suicide attempt.

Ironically, some of the most beautiful ‘candid’ shots of Bardot, hair in a dark bob, on the set of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 masterpiece Le Mepris were taken by Tazio Secchiaroli. He was the photographer who had inspired the infamous Paparazzo character in Frederico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita three years earlier, a Vespa-riding celebrity hunter who prowled the streets of Rome looking for stars whose snaps he could sell to newspapers and gossip sheets.

Bardot addressed her own fate in Vie Privee (1962) when she played Jill, an actress besieged by media and fan intrusion. Ten years later, before the age of 40, Bardot would retreat from films altogether and the paparazzi would continue their inexorable rise as the dominant chroniclers of celebrity.

Despite the inital outcry after the death of Diana in a high-speed car chase with photographers and injunctions taken out by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Sienna Miller against paparazzi encamped on their doorstep, aggressive ‘snatched’ shots continue to fill newsstand shelves of celebrity magazines. Feast your eyes on Cool Hand Paul – you’ll never see the like again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Killer litter

From today's Evening Herald

By Susan Daly

Wednesday September 02 2009

Litter can kill. I'm not talking about short-sighted badgers choking to death on discarded sweet wrappers (although, apparently, that can happen -- and it makes this Wind In The Willows' fan very sad indeed).

I refer to my farcical cycling accident last week, when a strip of plastic from a tray of tomatoes unwound itself as I wobbled home with a basketful of groceries.

Oblivious to everything but the bus bearing down on the cycle lane behind me, I didn't notice as the packaging streamed out behind the bike and got tangled in the spokes of my back wheel.

The tomatoes went flying and I very nearly went the way of ketchup myself.

That's why I'm not one bit surprised that supermarkets were on the litter blacklist this week.

Irish Businesses Against Litter said that the car parks, entrances and surrounding pavements of a quarter of Irish supermarkets were "seriously littered".

It's not like they're chip shops where people hang out late at night, too drunk to find a bin for their burger box.

But they produce way too much packaging -- as my near-puree experience proves.

So much packaging, in fact, that it's easy to lose some of it just lifting the shopping into the boot of the car.

Sometimes it's just hard to keep track of all the mini bags and clingfilm and cardboard slip covers and 'three-for-one' plastic sashes that come with a load of groceries.

There's always that rogue bit of wrapping that makes friends with a gust of wind as you perform the delicate transfer of bags from trolley to car.

Off you go, chasing it around the parking area with all the grace of Charlie Chaplin on horse tranquillisers.

Do we really need our cucumbers and broccoli to be shrink-wrapped?

Will we die of food poisoning if avocados are not swaddled in clingfilm on a polythene tray?

Why are my favourite biscuits individually wrapped, as well as packaged in an outer plastic pocket?

It's an insult to tough-skinned bananas to have them neatly bunched into sterile bags.

Maybe it's an EU health and safety directive. Or -- maybe -- it's because supermarkets think we equate heavily packaged goods with quality.

Is it possible that the big chains are just responding to our squeamishness about finding a bit of dirt still clinging to our spuds?

They might well think that we will pay more for our food if it is airbrushed and Botoxed and packaged to the point of looking artificial.

I think we might be getting over that. Look at farmers' markets, where browsers pay top euro for the quaint pleasure of being able to sniff their peaches and squeeze their squashes.

Whatever the reason, the way to get rid of excess packaging is to make it worth our while to care.

Don't forget that our favourite national boasts -- now that we've stopped monopolising the Eurovision -- is the success of the smoking ban and the plastic bag levy.

Within three months of the introduction of the levy, Ireland had cut its use of plastic bags by a whopping 90pc. I imagine we'd all be packing our wicker baskets straight from the loose carrot box if we thought we'd pay less at the checkout for unwrapped items.

There are certain things that must be packaged of course -- you can hardly be expected to bring your own Tupperware boxes to carry home the kids' baked beans or tip a dozen eggs into your handbag. But there is no excuse for shrink-wrapping a cabbage.

Last April, Tesco started a trial in two of its English stores which allows shoppers to strip away excess packaging from their groceries before they leave the store so they don't have to get rid of it at home. They are trying to identify what packaging customers actually want. I wonder if they mind if I tried it at my branch ...