"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 17 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 05.17.01


Hit & Run XXXIV
It took us a week to appreciate Ken Auletta's chief insight regarding MicroKinsley: it's the pants! Kinsley is ready to risk his L.L. Bean chinos on Slate. Auletta's unnatural fixation on Kinsley's casual wear belies his assertion that "[t]he relevant question about Kinsley... is not sartorial; it is whether the electronic magazine he is conceiving will be real." Indeed, a source close to Kinsley told Suck that "Slate" was actually selected because it was one of Kinsley's favorite colors for slacks in the Land's End and Orvis catalogs.
Five years ago today in Suck.

Finally, a sustainable Internet business model: Build a community, encourage public participation, develop a valuable resource, then lock it up and start charging. Cackling "Ha, ha! Suckers!" is optional but encouraged.

Consider Gracenote, which began life as CDDB, a free database of artist names and song titles. CDDB-enabled software (like the enormously popular Winamp) could connect to the database, send the CD's ID code and receive the disc's meta-data in response, saving you the arduous trouble of reading the liner notes. It was inevitable that anything so useful would be commercialized, and so a new license was born, one that charged anyone who wanted to write code that queried the database. It's the blow-job strategy — suck them in, make them feel good, then threaten to bite down if they don't pay.

Meanwhile, Roxio makes CD-burning software, and used to query CDDB to help its users more conveniently make, ahem, archival copies of their music. But when they decided to switch to a free-as-in-speech alternative, FreeDB.org, Gracenote sued, alleging patent infringement. That caused a geek ruckus, and though even this has tended to bog down in a swamp of counterarguments, the upshot is that the busy beavers who entered all the CDDB information in the first place not only see all their work turning a profit without them but fear a legal precedent could be set disallowing open source recreations of copyrighted commercial protocols.

And meanwhile, Gracenote forges on — eighteen hundred companies now pay for access to the formerly free, publicly created database. Freeware may be headed for the tarpits, but freework is apparently the key to building a sustainable web business.

Movie irritant Kenneth Branagh, currently playing a Nazi on HBO, has committed some grave sins against entertainment over the years, but he did one important good deed. His exhaustive 1996 version of Hamlet represents the last time Charlton Heston got the respect he deserves. Although the part of the Player King was a small walk-on, the fabled "Who, ah woe, had seen the mobled queen" speech provided a crucial few minutes of unadulterated, full-frontal Heston that reduced even indifferent viewers to a state of James Lipton-like quivering.

That might not sound like much, but consider the kind of monkey act Heston has to go through in Warren Beatty's vanity project Town and Country, currently stinking up a theater near you. In this film, Ben Hur is reduced to playing a self-parody out of limousine liberal fantasy — a rifle-toting lunatic who disrupts sensible society with his gun crazy antics. This is a minor update, as it were, of Heston's Saturday Night Live appearance many years ago, in which he played a homicidal stock boy (and in the process got more laughs than all the Not Ready For Prime Timers put together). And increasingly, it's the only kind of part he gets. "You must never take yourself as seriously as people are prepared to take you," El Cid told Turner Classic Movies. "Most of my roles have been formidable authority figures, ones with a formidable visage.That's why I host Saturday Night Live or go on Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. You don't want people to think you're this formidable, remote figure."

That good sportsmanship never seems to spare Heston the gratuitous vituperation of lesser stars, however, and the dynamic is sadly easy to understand. Warren Beatty, after repeatedly telling us, right to our faces, that he'd try to do better, can't even turn out a competent romantic shitcom, while Heston, to show that he's broad-minded enough to get along with Hollywood's left-leaning kids (even jowly, brittle-boned eternal boy Beatty), puts up with a shitload of humiliation. The good humor is as sad as it is unnecessary. From Touch of Evil, where he played a proto-Vicente Fox character with fake tan makeup, to Omega Man, in which he wore a fruity crushed-velvet Sgt. Pepper jacket and bent the taboos of the time by engaging the late, great Rosalind Cash in a celluloid-melting interracial makeout scene, Heston hasn't just been more hip than his critics give him credit for; he's been more hip than the critics themselves. His defenders may occasionally try and make this point, but in the shrill shouting match that passes for Hollywood politics, why should Heston even have to make a pretense of being reasonable? Look at the paltry rewards the pipsqueaks give the giant for his efforts: In Tim Burton's bound-to-suck remake of Planet of the Apes, Heston, after repeated public insults, has been thrown a cameo role as an ape. Undoubtedly it will be the only watchable thing in the picture.

Tireless USO superstar Johnny Grant, the "honorary mayor of Hollywood," is back from another trip to the Balkans, and his report on which movie stars are most in demand among overseas military personnel offers a window on military culture to rival even our own Ambrose Beers's straight-from-the-motor-pool combat reporting. Mixed in with frequent requests for the Bob Hopes and Betty Grables of our age — Sandra, Arnold, Denzel, Meg, J. Lo, Drew, and so on — the 51-year veteran Grant reports that US troops' most-frequently-requested hall of fame includes one name on no civilian's A-list — comely JAG co-star Catherine Bell. The news is not entirely surprising, given Bell's mind-clouding ways with her fans. ("Some find it hard to believe that I, a man, consider her a role model," writes the keeper of one fan site, "but I can think of few people who embody exactly what I want to be.") In fact, we consider Grant's report a long-awaited vindication. Suck has already demonstrated how JAG keeps this frazzled nation together. Now it turns out the straight-laced Navy drama may be equally crucial to the fragile unity of Macedonia. Ominously, however, Grant was only able to scrounge up That Seventies Show grownups Kurtwood Smith and Tanya Roberts for his latest Balkans tour.

Scrounge from the B-list in today's Plastic discussion

courtesy of the Sucksters

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