Saturday, February 12, 2005

Dallas has problems with the arts section in this morning's New York Times and is there a conflict of interest in Ojito reporting?

Dallas e-mails to note the arts sections in this morning's New York Times which has a few problems.

Dallas: I don't know that anyone proofed the copy before it ran. I'm reading backwards through the arts section and found three errors that should have been caught. I've e-mailed the corrections department and will wait to see if any corrections are printed. In a briefing on Sinead O'Connor they refer to her in the last sentence as "Mr. O'Connor." They also twice make the claim that Andy Garcia was in Godfather II and even that he was Oscar nominated. He was born in 1956, Godfather II came out in 1974. The then 18-year-old Garcia was not in it. He was in Godfather III, and nominated for a best supporting actor, but since at the start of the piece and on the page it continues, they say Godfather II, I don't think this is a typo. I really didn't see the point of the long story, by Mirta Ojito, which is Garcia has made a film about Cuba that is anti-Castro and he can't find a distributor. Know anything about this?

Garcia's problems probably do have to do with subject matter (more on that in a bit) but they also have to do with Garcia himself. I don't know Garcia but I'll never forget the howling that greeted his love story with Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Remember those scenes?

Probably not, because they didn't make the final cut. The entire subplot was cut (if I'm remembering correctly, Elaine May had written those scenes) because the acting was judged weak and ineffectual. Garcia was supposed to be the next big thing after Internal Affairs, that was decades ago. Godfather III had it's problems (and Garcia's performance wasn't one of them -- he was one of the best things about the movie) but it didn't result in Garcia becoming a leading man. His guest appearence on Will & Grace was thought to be indicative of how limited his range is and his leading man days were over long ago. (Though Hollywood loves a second act, so he could surprise everyone if he could dig deep -- or be pushed into digging the way Francis Ford Coppola did with him on Godfather III.)

But as the lines have set in and the tendency for middle aged weight gains in the mid-section have become noticeable, Garcia's going to need to dig deep or continue fourth and fifth banana roles in movies.

Ojito claims he's "known for roles in films like like 'Ocean's Eleven' and 'The Godfather Part II'
. . ." Ocean's Eleven is a character role (in which he does the usual mannerisms) and if he's "known" for a film he didn't even appear in that just speaks to the "success" factor of his career. He's a working actor (no easy task -- and a success in and of itself) but the idea that he can carry a film is one studio executives long ago abandoned.

Possibly this Cuba film could be a success if they could play into a "right wingers, we must see this film!" kind of mood (the one Mel Gibson tapped into recently).

I agree that it's puzzling to see such a long write up on an actor who's career is so non-memorable that the reporter raving over him can't even get his filmography correct (Godfather II is considered a success -- critically and commerically; Godfather III -- which Garcia appeared in -- is considered a failure at the box office and a critical disappointment).

A reporter was let go by the Times (believe he was a freelancer, but I've forgotten the details, sorry) supposedly because he had been active in the gay rights movement (believe it had to do with AIDS, again, I may not be remembering correctly). He was thought to have a conflict of interest. (If I remember correctly, the Times questioned any comments that he was fired since he wasn't exclusive the paper and also implied that it was a business decision that had nothing to do with any past activities.)

So what about Ojito?

This is a a long love fest with Garcia where she provides so much sympathetic coverage to his portrayal of Cuba, a country he left "when he was 5. . . . [and] has never returned to the country of his birth. Like many other Cubans he refuses to go back until Fidel Castro has stepped down."

Didn't red flares go up for anyone at the Times over this piece?

Ojito might like to believe she can speak for "many other Cubans" but the simple fact is she invites charges of conflict of interest with this story. Ojito left Cuba in 1980 (she was part of the
Mariel boatlift). That's a possible conflict of interest that's not disclosed in the anti-Cuba, anti-Castro article and the Times needs to worry about that. Scott Shane writing about the "'01 Memos" today rightly notes in his article that Richard Clarke now works for the Times as a security columnist. Where is the note that Ojito fled the country? That she may not be just another disinterested reporters for the Times, but someone who may have a vested interest in how this story plays out?

Why are some reporters removed from certain stories but Ojito is allowed to file stories on Cuba? Dallas is very puzzled by the story.

Dallas: Why is it even the paper? Andy Garcia's not even news but he's the focus of this huge story about a film that's not even due to come out anytime soon. The writer (Ojito) speaks of a film festival in passing. Isn't that the story? And which films did well there? Not the efforts of Garcia to make a film. He's whining that "for almost two decades" he's taken meetings and no one would green light that film and now he can't find anyone to distribute it -- he just knows that it has to do with politics.

If it has to do with politics, it has to do with the fact that, in Hollywood's mind-set, politics do not translate into big box office returns. Garcia's latest film, the one that can't find distribution, according to him suggests that Che Guevara ordered an execution. Such a suggestion will not likely lead to massive favorable interest in the film. "Hollywood" may agree or disagree with the politics personally, but as a general rule, they don't make political films. (When you do see one, usually someone's attempting to curry favor with a "hot" performer or director.)

Garcia's directed a musical documentary (Cachao... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos), which was released in 1993. And back in 1993, there was still hope that Garcia would be "hot" and rack up a string of box office successes. Until the Oceans (10 & 11) come along, he hasn't appeared in a hit with the possible exception of When a Man Loves a Woman. That's only a hit if you allow that a drama can only do mid-size business (fifty million domestically) (which Hollywood does factor in and it is why the film was made on a mid-size budget even with Meg Ryan "hot" off Sleepless in Seattle). Even Godfather III (his biggest money maker prior to the Oceans) tapped out at around sixty-six million domestically. (With a much larger budget than When a Man Loves a Woman and with the built-in interest in the Godfather series, sixty-six million in ticket sales wasn't considered a hit.)

This is not a star, this is not a leading man. Jennifer 8, Hero, Confidence, Desperate Measures, none of them came close to making even twenty million at the box office. Films like Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead or Lakeboat didn't even reach the one million mark in ticket sales. The last film (released) that he was the top billed actor in, The Man from Elysian Fields -- 2002 -- didn't even make two million dollars at the box office.

With one more or less concert documentary under his belt, Hollywood's got little interest in a political film (regardless of the politics) directed by a middle aged actor who never steered a film into blockbuster territory. Is Hollywood going crazy to greenlight Sally Kirkland's choices?

No. And she's been Oscar nominated as well (lead category, not supporting).

With his leading man career long ago ended and his box office weak, Hollywood wasn't interested in The Lost City (even with Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman doing small roles). That they're not interested in this project speaks as much to their desire to make hits (and wanting a track record before they invest in a major motion picture) as it does to the fact that they have historically avoided making political films. (By Hollywood, we're talking about the major studios here.) Is Ojito reporting on anything of interest to readers or is she attempting to drum up support for Garcia and get a film, with a political bent she probably shares (personally, but not openly with the readers of this story), into wide release?

Despite Hollywood and the public's lack of interest in Garcia's film choices, we get three photos with this story and countless inches of text.

No wonder Dallas can't figure out why the article makes today's art section. And the Times needs to worry because people may conclude that it only appears so that Mirta Ojito can work through her own agenda. That would be fine if she were an op-ed writer, but she's supposed to be a reporter and the Times is supposed to avoid appearences of conflict of interest.

The fact that she twice gets the film wrong (Godfather III is not Godfather II) indicates that not only is she focused on something other than films in this story, but her editor has given her a free reign -- possibly because she's won a Pulitizer? (Not individually, as part of a team effort.)

There's no disclosure in this article that Ojito left Cuba in 1980. As an immigrant, she probably has a viewpoint that is worth hearing on Cuba in a public form; as a reporter for the "objective" Times, she would probably be more effective utilizing her perspetive for topics other than the country she once called home -- if the Times wants to avoid charges of conflicts of interest in their coverage.