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December 08, 1999 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-12-08

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10- The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, December 8, 1999
Three bld Mikes battle over acclaimed 'Insider

Los Angeles Tunes
A year ago, when Michael Mann's
film was still in the works, called just
"The Untitled Tobacco Project," the
folks at "60 Minutes" were the ones wor-
ried about their legacy.
Mike Wallace, in particular, feared the
reputation he built over three decades as
"60 Minutes" marquee correspondent
would go up in smoke, so to speak, if he
was portrayed as a passive figurehead
more interested in getting a hotel room
with a Jacuzzi than an interview with a
Hezbollah terrorist ... and who caved in
when CBS higher-ups killed an inter-
view with a tobacco whistle-blower.
Fast-forward to last month's opening
of Mann's movie, for Disney's Buena
Vista Pictures.
It now had a title, "The Insider." It also
had fabulous reviews: Critics gushed
over the tale of a behind-the-scenes "60
Minutes" producer who prods a former
cigarette executive to tell all about Big
Tobacco, only to have the segment
squelched by Big TV
The film got that proverbial "Oscar
buzz," as well, with talk of nominations
for best picture, along with Al Pacino for

his crusading producer and for Russell
Crowe as the flawed whistle-blower -
even for Christopher Plummer as the
wavering Wallace.
"The Insider" seemed poised to follow
the path to success taken by other serious
films in recent years, which allows for a
slow build fueled by good publicity,
heavy promotion, word of mouth and,
finally, awards.
So why are the filmmakers now the
ones worried about their legacy?
It's due, in part, to continuing chal-
lenges to the accuracy of "The Insider,"
complaints from such diverse sources as
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.,
and The Wall Street Journal that their
roles in the real events were grossly dis-
torted. The aging icons at "60 Minutes"
have not let up, either - Wallace, espe-
cially, has refused to shrug it off as "just
a movie."
Mann has had to defend the dramatic
license taken by him and screenwriter
Eric Roth, of "Forrest Gump" fame: No,
they were not making a documentary.
Yes, they embellished to make their
heroes more heroic and to pump up the
suspense and - they hoped - put butts
in those multiplex seats.

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Therein lies the main reason for the
flip-flop in who's fretting now. Despite
the reviews, the Oscar buzz and the con-
troversy, which might figure to help box
office, "The Insider" -- costing $68 mil-
lion to make, and millions more to mar-
ket - has grossed just $22 million. Even
constant stoking by pop culture mainstay
Rosie O'Donnell - who promoted the
film on three of her shows in a single
week, interviewing Pacino, Plummer and
the real-life whistle-blower, Jeffrey
Wigand - could not get the fires burn-
After four weeks in more than 1,600
theaters, Disney now expects the run to
scale back, while awaiting February's
announcement of Oscar nominations.
Is it simply too long, at 2 hours and 38
minutes? Too complex? Or in an era of
date movies and ghost stories and blow
'em-ups, is it mainly insiders who care
about the insiders in the news biz?
At "60 Minutes," meanwhile, Wallace
has watched the box office, too - with a
The mood has been somewhat lighter
there since the grosses started coming in,
along with a call from Disney, from a cer-
tain Michael. Not Mann -- Michael
Eisner, the CEO.
The message is a bit murky, for Eisner
won't discuss it and the man who got the
call - Don Hewitt, "60 Minutes" execu-
tive producer -refuses to go into detail.
Hewitt has his own opinion of "The
Insider," naturally - he wishes Paul
Newman or Robert Redford had por-
trayed him. But "if I were the movie mak-
ers," he said, "I'd be a lot more concerned
with what Michael Eisner thinks."
With that coy quip in the air, Wallace
advises Mann to keep his healthy attitude
about Oscars not being important.
"The best picture of the year? Please,
give me a break," the longtime symbol of
"60 Minutes" said.
"The Insider" starts with a blindfolded
Pacino, as "60 Minutes" producer Lowell
Bergman, arranging Wallace's interview
in Beirut, Lebanon, with Sheik Fadlallah,
the Hezbollah leader suspected of being
behind the bombing that killed 241
Marines. While Bergman was a central
player in the assignment, another journal-
ist, Jim Hougan, actually set up that inter-
view - without a blindfold.
The film ends with Pacino quitting
CBS after scoring another huge scoop -
the arrest of the Unabomber, Ted
Kaczynski. That, in reality, was the coup
of CBS Washington correspondent Jim
Mann argues for artistic license, saying
he could have used five real incidents to
show how Wigand felt menaced by his
former employer. Instead, he and Roth
invented a scene in which a burly man

shadows him at a driving range.
"Was there a man at the golf course?
No," Mann said. "But (that was) pretty
much the way it felt to be there. That's
what you do in drama."
Yet a disclaimer at the end of the film
- that scenes were fictionalized - was
not much solace to the tobacco company.
Nor did B&W appreciate the suggestion
it left a bullet in the man's mailbox. It
posted a rebuttal on the Internet --
"Warning: Viewing This Movie Will Be
Hazardous to Your Health" - including
an FBI affidavit concluding that Wigand
likely placed the bullet there himself to
convince "60 Minutes" he was in danger.
The company has conducted polls out-
side theaters to gauge the damage to its
reputation, concerned as are other tobac-
co companies - about the impact on
potential jurors in upcoming liability.
The Wall Street Journal, which won a
Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on tobac-
co, similarly took offense when "The
Insider" depicted it as relying on hand-
outs from Bergman - and delaying a
story at his urging. Even the Journal's
thumbs-up review ("Not since 'All the
President's Men' has a movie explored
public issues and the workings of the
press in such vivid detail") noted in a
headline, "It Misrepresents Our Role."
That's been the refrain, also, from "60
Minutes." Hewitt's main complaint is that
audiences might believe he could have
used his clout as the boss of "60
Minutes" to get the Wigand interview
aired, as scheduled. He insists there was
no dissuading CBS brass, who thought

the risk of losing a lawsuit was too great.
"The only way I could have put that story
on the air," he said, "was to hire a bunch
of gorillas and take the transmitter at gun-
Wallace said that while he, too, went
along with the corporate decision, the
script distorted how quickly he changed
his mind.
The showcasing of Oscar-worthy per-
formances was, from the start, a key part
of the "tortoise" strategy to market a film
whose natural audience has to be
"nudged out of their chairs" in the words
of Paul Dergarabedian, president of
Exhibitor Relations, the box-office track-
ing group.
"Who watches '60 Minutes?' They are
not the biggest moviegoers in the world,"
he notes. "They don't have to run out the
first weekend."
Thus the early November release:
Disney Studios Chairman Joe Roth want-
ed to give "The Insider" a few weeks to
nudge that audience before the holidays,
when Hollywood offers up its big-budget
crowd-pleasers - such as Disney's own
"Toy Story 2" - and when many Oscar
hopefuls come out, like "The Green
Mile" with Tom Hanks and "Hurricane"
with Denzel Washington.
Now, after the painfully slow opening,
Roth asks himself, "Why didn't you just
go in two theaters at Christmas and
bank everything on the awards?"
Disney executives wonder whether
this fall simply was a hard time for
serious films, however good, "where
people want the absolute assurance
they're going to be entertained," Roth

said, "and not have to think too hard.'
But they're not giving up on "The 1
Insider." "It's hanging in there just well'
enough," said Richard Cook, chairman"
of the Walt Disney Motion Picture
Group, "that we are going to be able t
navigate it into Christmas and hopeful
ly (beyond), if we are fortunate enoughi
to be recognized by many of the criti-
cal groups." Then, "'The Insider' can
re-emerge ... as a 'must-see."'
Roth said he has reassured Mann
that the "East Coast-West Coast snip-
ing" over the film "doesn't mean any-
thing to an Oscar voter. ... You go in the-
theater, the lights go down ... you have'
a personal experience. And (small) box
office didn't keep 'Chariots of Fire'
from getting best picture." It could not
have been overly reassuring to the
filmmakers, though, when they
learned that Disney's Big Boss had
phoned the enemy camp.
Hewitt, who took the "surprise'
call from Eisner, tries not to fan the
flames, saying, "I'm not going to
characterize what he said. I didn't
gloat over it."
Wallace gives a less harmless
account. "Michael Eisner, I'm told,
calls what's-his-name, Michael
Mann, a crazy missionary and wishes
he'd never gotten involved."
Disney's chief corporate
spokesman, John Dreyer, said that's
not true. It was basically a courtesy
call to an old friend, he said. Eisner
wanted to speak to Hewitt, but only
after the film came out - so it would
not look as if he were interfering.

courtesy of Touchstone ?itture
Al Pacino plays "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman to Russell Crowe's Jeffrey Wigand in Michael Mann's "The insider."

___ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ ___ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ I

Former Skid-Row
frontman 'Bach' on
stage with tour

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The Hartford Courant
Be wary of rock shows this month.
Strange, bad things happen in the
rock world on the last month of a
decade. On Dec. 7, 1969, a man was
murdered at the notorious Altamont
Speedway in California, for many,
marking the end the brief hippie era
of good vibes. On Friday, Dec. 3,
1979, I1 were killed in a stampede to
get the best seats at a Who concert in
Cincinnati. (A year later, on Dec. 8,
1980, John Lennon was shot to death
in New York).
And on Dec. 27, 1989, Sebastian
Bach of Skid Row was arrested for
assault after he tossed a bottle at a
fan at a show at the Springfield,
Mass. Civic Center.
Nothing bad so far has been-
reported this month. But the bottle
incident keeps getting replayed in
Bach's head.
"It won't go away," he said from
New Jersey. In a show where Skid
Row was opening for Aerosmith,
Bach was bonked by a bottle, and
full of rage, he threw it back into the
crowd. Unfortunately, it hit the
wrong person. Somebody caught it
all on videotape, which didn't help
his case.
"They just played it again on MTV
last weekend in some sort of retro-
spective," Bach said. "Ten years
later, they're still firing it up.
"I just want to say I'm very, very
sorry for what happened. It was a
stupid thing to do. It was a horrible
And Bach paid dearly for his
momentary act of rage. "There was a
large cash settlement," he said, that
was in the "half-a-million-dollar

of the crime in another pair of shows
with Aerosmith .
Bach said he remembers very well
how worried he was at how the
crowd could react to him.
"I came out for my first tune wear-
ing a steel welding mask. I was real-
ly nervous. They actually had X-ray
metal detector systems for that
show. They don't bring those out too
much. And as I was waiting to go
out on stage, you know how in the
bowels of these arenas there's all
this stuff lying around. I saw this
welding mask there as I was going
on, I said, man, give me that. So fo
the whole first song, I sang with that
on. It got a little hot, though, and I
took it off."
It was cool, though. Nobody
threw anything at him.
Fans are throwing hosannas at the
current lineup of his band. On his
new album, "Bring 'Em Bach
Alive!," he sings a dozen Skid Row
anthems live with a band that
includes the flamboyant Jimmy.
Flemion of the Frogs , who als.
toured with Smashing Pumpkins,.
and Richie Scarlet of Danbury, who
played for years with Ace Frehley's
Flemion is not on the current road
band, but Paul Crook from Anthrax
will be aboard, Bach said. "Anthrax
fans will know that this will give us
the serious heavy edge."
Also, there may be another mem.
ber from Bach's old band. "I am in.
contact with one of the members of
Skid Row, who will be joining me on
stage on selected stops," Bach said.
"So it will be a mini-reunion, two-
fifths of Skid Row."
Despite 40 percent of the band on
stage- the ma~terial will be an even

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