"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 March 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hit & Run CXXIV


[best things about San Francisco this week:]

Only slightly less predictable

than Titanic's Oscar sweep was

James Cameron's moment of thanks

for the 1,500 people who drowned

on the real ship. Like all

heart-rending acceptance

speeches, though, this one was

posited on the wrong assumption

that the atrocity is over. The

day before the Oscars, 18 boat

people from the Dominican

Republic showed their support

for the treacly masterpiece by

drowning in rough seas. Later

that day, a rafter and a kayaker

went to the bottom of Oregon's

Illinois River, and Monday saw

the boating deaths of four possible

Titanic fans on Arizona's Lake

Mead. Meanwhile, the Yangtze is

expected to encourage boffo

Chinese box office by flooding

all spring. Whether or not

Cameron, a notorious control

freak, demanded these displays

of loyalty as part of his

campaign to get his points back,

he couldn't have gotten a better

show than the one put on by four

Cuban baseball players and their

coach, whose on-again, off-again

sea shanty had the Coast Guard

and Brothers to the rescue on

tenterhooks all week. Initially

believed to have been lost after

10 days adrift, the 5 were

reported washed up in the

Dominican Republic, according to

their Miami-based patron, the

Machiavellian Joe Cubas. When

the Dominican story turned out

to be false, search efforts were

called off - until the El Duque

wannabes were discovered in the

Bahamas, and it turned out they

had been at sea for only one

day. Such an underwhelming

display of fortitude, and the

pampering and attention the

players are getting for it,

would seem ideal preparation for

major league careers, but

considering how much Digital

Domain would charge for this

kind of show, James Cameron may

have ideas of his own. Talk to

Joe Cubas. He's a friend of



[warm weather]

Lucky John Travolta! How

fortunate he must feel, to live

in an era when the issue of

acting ability has been simply

swept from the table like a

crumb of useless food dribbled

from the clumsy maw of Harvey

Weinstein. It was Quentin

Tarantino, of course, who

revived Travolta's career by

casting him in an overtly camp

version of 1970s blaxploitation

flicks, thus eliminating

thespian agility from the

numerous sticky blotches on

Travolta's record. (He's being

bad ironically, went the

argument at the time. A nod is

as good as a wink to a blind

critic, no?) Still, it took John

Woo's Face/Off to formalize the

relationship between being

talent-free and being a star by

making it explicit: since he

can't act, why not emphasize it

by having him do an impression

of Nicholas Cage - another actor

who can't act - and thus force

the audience to play along with

the idea that acting (badly)

like a bad actor equals good

acting? Which brings us (you did

know we were getting around to

this, right?) to Primary

Colors, a movie in which

Travolta gets to play (badly)

the part of a philandering

idiot-savant who's playing

(badly) the part of an honest

political candidate. Like

Travolta, Jack Stanton is

blessed to live in an era when

true believability has been

removed from the list of

requirements for success, and he

thus rises quickly to the office

of president. The whole thing

would be depressing, one

imagines, were we all not living

so happily ever after.


[rockstar and his sense of humor, and it making me laugh at the worst times

Studio execs may have skipped

their Tuesday squash matches or

pilates sessions, but as soon as

their heads stopped pounding,

the ulcers started up again. If

only the Pepcid kept in the desk

drawer had a cinematic

equivalent that could soothe the

roiling public (and that didn't

cost US$300 million per dose).

The latest hope is that the

answer can be found in

underground shorts. Little

films, preferably pirated and

passed around, are making big

waves thanks to the success of

South Park. Witness the buzz on

an underground flick called Troops. The 10-minute send-up of

Cops and Star Wars by aspiring

filmmaker Kevin Rubio provokes a

little ha-ha, but then so did

The Spirit of Christmas, the

bootleg video that first

introduced us to Kenny and his

demises. In both cases, the real

thrill - much more so than the

film itself - is the

circumstance that brought it to

you. When the come-on is, "I got

this great tape from a friend.

It's the biggidy bomb," you're

willing to forgive a lot more

than when it's "Tonight at 10,

with the voice of George

Clooney." Squirt TV and Forever Vaudeville

(aka Oddville) certainly didn't

gain anything by moving to MTV

from public access. And that's

because being on the fringe,

wherever it may be at the time,

means having the freedom to be a

little "off" (including -color,

-taste, and -your rocker).

Mainstream media are supposed to

know better, and we expect them

to play by different rules. The

advisory that opens Troops

reads, "Due to the humorous

nature of this program, viewer

discretion is advised." Seeing

that on a grainy tape sets a

pleasingly weird tone. That

introduction to an SNL skit

would fall as flat as the Jim

Bruer routine to follow. It's

the Law of Intriguing Context,

and it's something the industry

won't accept. They're hoping to

throw some money at Kevin Rubio

so he can prove that bigger

really is better. But perhaps

distribution on third-generation

VHS is best.


[packing the passport]

Bill Clinton has always been

unique among American presidents

in that he can stand in the

presence of black people without

breaking into a cold sweat. So

it's only natural he should try

to get away from his

below-the-beltway troubles with

a trip through Africa. And

equally natural that the

traveling press corps finds it

hard to get interested in any

dark continent story that

doesn't feature machetes. The

Trader Horns at Time are trying

to figure out whether this is a

"Safari or Media Circus," and in

one of those news stories that

write themselves, it turns out

that the President can't escape

from his sex scandals! During a

photo op with Uganda's President

Yoweri Museveni, reporters

peppered Clinton with Fornigate

questions while completely

ignoring the Ugandan. (They may

be hip to the fact that, about

16 hours into the

gut-wrenchingly dull Primary

Colors, Governor "Stanton"

diddles a sister.) To the quiet

amazement of the press, the

headhunting savages somehow

managed to avoid taking revenge

for this insult to their chief

(though a Ghanaian official

scored a nice dozens hit by

calling them all "paparazzi").

Meanwhile, Clinton, whose

Initiative on Race continues to drag

on, came closer than any

president yet to acknowledging

that maybe the slavery thing

wasn't such a hot idea. Letting

the White House press corps drag

its lazy, ignorant length

through Africa with him probably

wasn't such a hot idea either.

But America's reporters may yet

learn something about the world,

or just about basic civility,

from hosts who are still getting

up to speed on this democracy

business. They're quite crafty

people, those Africans. Musical


courtesy of the Sucksters