No News Is Still No News
Although no one, either celebrated or unknown, actually set foot on it, the blood-red carpet of the Castro Theater radiated that special show-biz luminance last week at the premiere of The Godfather's 25th anniversary screening. As Coppola follows the lead of George Lucas and creates the possibility of a trend -- Bay Area film directors plumbing their archives for lucrative re-releases -- one wonders what piece of local celluloid will be regurgitated next. Quinn Martin's original pilot episode of The Streets of San Francisco, with restored footage of Karl Malden in a rooftop knife-fight? The silver anniversary print of Russ Meyer's Mondo Topless?
A middling crowd of curious people with obviously open social schedules stood behind barricades, while cops and entertainment-industry types scurried about, talking on cellulars and consulting clipboards. There were limos, but no celebs. The screening had already begun. Not much going on at all. In other words, there was little if any reason for E! channel entertainment reporter Todd Newton to be standing in front of the marquee making comments to a camera along the lines of: "Unbelievable that we're here at the premiere, and isn't it exciting that we are!"
And yet he did just that, for it was his job.
"We'll be right back for the 25th anniversary of The Godfather," purred the blue-eyed puppet, "in the City by the Bay!"
A voice from the crowd piped up with no small amount of sarcasm: "Is that Stone Phillips?" Several bystanders smiled the timeless, all-knowing smirk that says, "Oh, isn't it great that we all agree L.A.'s so phony." Newton immediately turned to the mob, removed a tin from his pocket, and playing right into their preconceptions, offered, "Altoids?"
In an industry where newspaper publishers hate to admit they're largely financed by personals and phone-sex ads that cater to traveling businessmen sitting in lonely hotel rooms, the Emeryville-based sex rag known as The Spectator (formerly the Berkeley Barb) now feels the backlash of a changing political climate more than most. For 30 years, the publication has provided news, information, and advertising for the West Coast sex scene, and in recent years has defended its right to distribute copies from coin-operated boxes on the street. Every year, it has won the privilege -- until last week, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted an injunction and ruled The Spectator and its ilk can no longer dispense their issues from coin boxes. The ruling affects a third of The Spectator's 30,000 circulation.
"This has damaged irretrievably our publishing philosophy," said Spectator Publisher Kat Sunlove in a press conference last week on the steps of the Federal Building. She added that to counter the court's decision, the paper's staff is now publishing two versions -- the usual issue to be sold in shops over the counter, and a smaller G-rated edition for the coin boxes. Sunlove hoped their regular readers would buy the sanitized version, or if they desired the more explicit stuff, at least "bat their ears and go into a store."
Attorney Douglas Rappaport, representing Sunlove and The Spectator, told reporters, "This is nothing more salacious than anything you'd see in Cosmo or on MTV." Certainly The Spectator covers of young women in lingerie or swimsuits are no more racy than magazines at the supermarket, but as of this writing, Cosmo hadn't started running ads for transsexual escorts who specialize in military clientele.
At issue here is the well-weathered First Amendment, which has been beaten and battered so much since the 1960s, it's hard to say what it stands for anymore. Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. The Wall Street Journal was just successfully sued for libel. Pauly Shore has a network TV show. There is no shortage of reasons for people to be up in arms about the state of American mass communications.
Last week at the Federal Building, though, people seemed less interested in the outrage of sex-newspaper censorship than in making sure they took a free copy of The Spectator home. The earsplitting noise of construction work across the street followed suits, bike messengers, and cops as they strolled into and out of the Federal Building, intent on snagging complimentary issues of the mag provided at the press conference. As the event ended, the gaggle of radio and television reporters dispersed, each clutching several copies of sex papers. Just for research purposes, of course.
Dare to Be Square
At the first-ever International Convention of Prostitutes (ICOP) held recently in Van Nuys, a San Francisco prostitute named Victoria, tuckered out from the panels and discussions, left her hotel to get something to eat at 7-Eleven. Since it was 2:30 a.m. when she did so, Van Nuys police officers stopped her and asked her name. "Dorothy," she replied. They asked her hometown. "Kansas." Why are you here in town? "The D.A.R.E. conference," she answered, which was being held at the same time in the city. Satisfied, the cops let her go.
While traveling through Canada, Vernon Chatman reports, he confirmed the existence of an Alanis Morissette tribute band named Jagged Little Pill, which tours on the college circuit. The band's set must be fairly short: Morissette has released one American album.
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