Descendants is an absolutely stunning short film by the German filmmaker Goro Fujita, an animated fable starring the voice talents of Whoopi Goldberg and Christy Scott Cashman. The film tells the story of the wish to attain the unattainable, and about how something good can evolve from something evil. The two main characters are flowers who grow next to one another on the edge of a clearing. One is elderly and jaded by a mysterious history, the other one is still young, vibrant and curious. The older one is consumed by fear, while the younger ones yearns to look forward with a deep sense of hope. It seems as though their lives are intertwined in a tragic plight with no possibility for change, until one day an unforeseen visitor to the clearing brings something totally unexpected to their lives.
Annie Leibovitz: The Legacy of a Photographer’s Life and Times
Annie Leibovitz’s Life Has Taken a Sad and Dark Turn
Annie Leibovitz was clearly very unhappy about what a lifetime-achievement award said about her, that the best days of her 40-year career were behind her. Accepting the honor from the International Center of Photography last May, the 59-year-old Leibovitz said, “Photography is not something you retire from.” Photographers, she said, “live to a very old age” and “work until the end.” Then her tone turned rueful. “Seriously, though, this really is a big deal,” she said, hoisting her Infinity Award statuette, her voice quavering to the point where it seemed she might cry. “It means so much to me, you know, especially right now. It’s, it’s a very sweet award to get right now. I’m having some tough times right now, so.…“
The 700 friends and colleagues who had come to share the evening with her knew about the “tough times.” She recently had been sued for more than $700,000 in unpaid bills, and in February the New York Times ran a front-page story reporting that in order to secure a loan, Leibovitz had essentially pawned the copyrights to her entire catalogue of photographs. Even those who had known she was in trouble were shocked to learn about the extent of it. Leibovitz was responsible for some of the world’s most iconic magazine covers: a naked John Lennon with Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone, Demi Moore, naked and pregnant, for Vanity Fair. She had moved from celebrity portraiture to fashion photography to edgier, more artistic pictures; some considered her the heir to Richard Avedon or Helmut Newton.
Leibovitz’s life has now taken a decidedly dark turn. Her reference to “tough times” was significantly understated. In the past five years, Susan Sontag and both of Leibovitz’s parents have died. Her debts now total a staggering $24 million, consolidated with one lender with whom she is engaged in a lawsuit and due on Tuesday, September 8th. If she can’t meet that deadline, she may lose her homes and the rights to her lifetime body of photographic work. Friends say that Leibovitz has begun to think of herself less as a celebrity artist leading a charmed life and more as a single mother of three, who is fighting to keep a roof over her head and food on her family’s table. It isn’t surprising, then, that she bristled at the lifetime-achievement award. The fear of no longer working is terrifying to her. She has to work.
Read more about how this has happened to Annie Leibovitz in New York Magazinehere.
Biographic Notes: The Life and Times of Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibowitz was born in Westbury, Connecticut, one of the six children born to Sam, an Air Force lieutenant, and Marilyn Leibovitz, a modern dance instructor. In 1967, Leibovitz enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she developed a love for photography. After living briefly on an Israeli kibbutz, in 1970 Leibovitz returned to the United States and applied for a job with the start-up rock music magazine The Rolling Stone. Impressed with Leibovitz’s portfolio, Editor Jann Wenner offered her a job as a staff photographer. Within two years, the 23-year-old Leibovitz was promoted to Chief Photographer, a position that she held for the next 10 years. Her work with the magazine gave her the opportunity to accompany the Rolling Stones band on their 1975 international tour. While with The Rolling Stone, Leibovitz developed her trademark technique, which involved the use of bold primary colors and surprising poses. Wenner has credited her with making many of The Rolling Stone’s covers collector’s items, most notably an issue that featured a nude John Lennon curled around his fully clothed wife, Yoko Ono. Taken on December 8, 1980, Leibovitz’s photo of the former Beatle was shot just hours before his death.
In 1983, Leibovitz left The Rolling Stone and began working for the entertainment magazine Vanity Fair. With a wider array of subjects, Leibovitz’s photographs for Vanity Fair ranged from presidents to literary icons to teen idols. A number of Vanity Fair’s covers have featured Leibovitz’s stunning and often controversial portraits of celebrities. Demi Moore (very pregnant and very nude), Whoopi Goldberg (half-submerged in a bathtub of milk) and her widely controversial photographs of Miley Cyrus are among the most remembered actresses to grace the cover in recent years. Known for her ability to make her subjects become physically involved in her work, one of Leibovitz’s most famous portraits is of the late artist Keith Haring, who painted himself like one of his canvases for the photo.
In 1991, Leibovitz’s collection of over 200 color and black-and-white photographs was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Later that year, a book was published to accompany the show, entitled Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990. In 1996, Leibovitz was chosen to be the official photographer for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. A compilation of her black-and-white portraits of American athletes, including Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, was published in the book Olympic Portraits (1991). Widely considered one of America’s best portrait photographers, Leibovitz also published the book Women (1999), which was accompanied by an essay that was written by her lover, the acclaimed novelist Susan Sontag. With its title subject matter, Leibovitz presented an array of female images from Supreme Court Justices to Las Vegas showgirls, to coal miners and farmers. Currently, many of her original prints are housed in various galleries throughout the United States.
What may be the most controversial aspect of Leibovitz’s book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005, is the series of intimate pictures from her relationship with Susan Sontag, and particularly the painful images of the writer when she was seriously ill with cancer. The two first met in the late ’80s, when Leibovitz photographed her for a book jacket. They never lived together, although they each had an apartment within view of the other’s. But their many trips to Paris, Venice, Capri, the Nile, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, are recorded here. Sontag, the author of the award-winning book of criticism “On Photography,” wasn’t easy on Leibovitz. As Leibovitz described it, “She thought I was good—and that I could be better. And I wanted to be a better photographer. She sort of raised the bar and made me feel I needed to take control.” Because of Sontag, Leibowitz went to Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, where she shot such powerful pictures as the one of a child’s bike lying in a road smeared with blood. But Sontag also loved pop culture. When Tina Brown, then Editor of Vanity Fair, seemed to hesitate about printing the pregnant Demi Moore pictures, Sontag called her up to say how great they were. “Susan was so entrenched in life, I couldn’t keep up with her,” said Leibovitz. “She was just bigger than everything.”
Sitting in her Greenwich Village office, wearing jeans and sneakers, Leibovitz explained how Sontag’s death in December 2004, followed only weeks later by the death of Leibovitz’s father, propelled her to make this book. “It totally came out of a moment,” she said. “I had already done some looking at photographs of Susan—that was very hard—for a little memorial book. I had never taken the time to see what I had, really.” She would weep and pin the pictures up on the long walls of an old barn at her country place in upstate New York. “And then, I got very excited, trying to look from 1990 to 2005, as if Susan was standing behind me.” Leibovitz teared up and reached for a box of tissues.
She struggled over whether to publish the few photos from Sontag’s last weeks of life. “They are very tough pictures,” she said. “People have said it’s important to publish them because so much is masked from us about what the end really is.” Leibovitz started to choke up again. “I think Susan would really be proud of those pictures—but she’s dead. Now if she were alive, she would not want them published. It’s really a difference. It’s really strange.” Later, collecting her thoughts, she said, “I’ve been through everything mentally and emotionally, and I’m very comfortable with them. This book is me.”
Most powerful may be the image of Sontag in death, a photograph that evokes a 19th-century memento mori. In counterpoint are the pictures of Leibovitz’s own children. She gave birth as a single mother to her daughter Sarah just after 9/11. Then, a few months after Sontag and Leibovitz’s father died, her twin girls were born, via a surrogate mother. She named one Susan and the other Samuelle, after her dad. “I saw my life with Susan, my life with my family, I saw the birth of my children,” she recalled about looking at all the pictures together. “I was mesmerized by the personal stuff. I just loved it.”
Leibovitz’s book also provides a comprehensive view of the public side of a photographer of legendary ambition and tenacity. Her well-known subjects have described her as a perfectionist who will do almost anything to get the picture she wants. “She has this kind of burning focus,” says Roseanne Cash, who’s been photographed by Leibovitz several time, one time on a beach in Maine in December when it was 3 degrees below zero. “She arrives at a shoot with all these people,” says Mikhail Baryshnikov. “It’s very intense—absolutely intense!” If time allowed, Leibovitz would spend two or three days around a portrait subject first, just getting ideas. Despite the meticulous planning, the perfect image can come out of the blue. For example, Leibovitz’s picture of Jack Nicholson. Whenever she was busy setting up a shot inside his Mulholland Drive house, he’d disappear out back to drive golf balls, and that became the photograph. And believe it or not, she didn’t intend to shoot Bill Gates at his computer, but that’s where she found him when he wandered away from her lights.
It may be her perfectionism that makes Leibovitz question her own work. “I’m not a great studio portraitist,” she says in the book’s introduction. That accolade she reserves for such photographers as Richard Avedon. “His work is a great reminder about trying to be simple and strong,” she says. Avedon knew how to talk to his subjects and “get them animated, or thinking about anything but having their picture taken.”
Leibovitz, on the other hand, likes to look rather than converse. “I’m still learning how to make the portrait more alive,” she says. Early in her career, when she started working for Rolling Stone back when it was based in San Francisco, she might spend days or weeks on the road with a band, taking pictures behind the scenes; but the more formal shots for the magazine’s cover were different. “It wasn’t like life as it was happening—my portraits started to feel like after the decisive moment,” she says, laughing. “I made myself feel a little better by saying it’s the studied moment.” As her magazine work has become more elaborate, Leibovitz seems to long for the feeling of reportage. “It would be nice once in a while to do some Life Magazine real-world imagery instead of making it up all the time,” she says. She cited a favorite shoot with Anderson Cooper in New Orleans after Katrina. “I do work for one of the largest magazine conglomerates in the world [Condé Nast, the publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue], and they have an agenda for me,” she notes. “I’m trying to work within that and still try to do good work.” In the end, what matters to her most is not any individual picture. “I’ve always thought the strength of my work has been in the body of the work.”
As most people probably know by now, Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony featured many montages, one of which was described as a “montage of Oscar hosts” when it was introduced by George Clooney. The retrospective montage of past hosts included a moment of almost every host in the show’s history. But there was one host who was not included in that montage, the 4-time host and Academy Awards winner Whoopi Goldberg.
On Monday’s airing of the ABC television program The View, the subject was discussed ad nauseam by the “chatting-heads”, and Whoopi’s feelings of disappointment about the omission were abundantly and painfully clear. The other co-hosts spoke of Whoopi’s many historical milestones related to the ceremony: she was the first female Oscar host, the first Oscar winner to host, and only the second African-American woman to ever win an Oscar. Up until now, most writers about that particular program have described it simply in terms of how displeased the co-hosts were with the slight.
However, there is a different, possibly more plausible perspective on what actually took place Monday on The View. Consider that not only does Whoopi have to suffer the daily indignity of being reduced to just another “chatting-head” on The View, but also that her co-hosts insisted upon going on and on, in front of millions of American people, rubbing in the fact that the Oscar winning actress and Oscar hosting actress had not been shown in one of the montages on Sunday night. Dumb and dumberer Elisabeth Hasselbeck babbled on and on about how it must feel so terrible to be so slighted. Placing a cherry atop the poison pudding, the ever-duplicitous Barbara Walters unwittingly asserted that nothing Whoopi had ever done at the Oscars was really a Great Moment.
Whoopi just sat there, looking unbelievably miserable, trying to collect the remaining shards of her dignity that were being scattered around the set. When the others just wouldn’t stop, Whoopi quietly got up and gave each of them “the kiss of death” just to shut their mouths, briefly weeping when she got behind Barbara Walters.
Update: On Tuesday, the producer of the Oscar awards show apologized to Whoopi for leaving her out. The View should be interesting to watch tomorrow.
It hasn’t a year for “models” on “Dancing with the Stars.” Plus, Albert Reed turned his Quickstep routine into a bizarre “skipping and prancing” shtick. So, the show dropped Reed on Tuesday night. The model’s dancing downfall seemed to come as a shock to both the judges and the audience.
Randy Pausch didn’t want his last lecture to be about dying. But he is, sadly, dying of pancreatic cancer. He knows it’s a painful way to go. When he gave his final lecture last month, he wanted to demonstrate that his focus remains, as always, on living, or on living in the process of dying.
A Photograph and remarkably unforgettable videos are included.
Politicians always like to receive a warm welcome when they appear on daytime TV talk shows, but the welcome that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got today on ABC’s “The View” was more than warm, it was downright steamy. Even before Pelosi walked on stage to take her seat at the table, the show’s moderator, Whoopi Goldberg, and its co-hosts, with former news anchor Barbara Walters leading the charge, started flirting with the speaker’s husband, Paul, who was seated in the front row.
“You wanna take a look at Nancy Pelosi’s handsome husband?” Walters asked the audience. Yes, came the answer in the form of whooping and hollering. The poor fellow was actually blushing. Then the show’s hosts asked him how long he and Madame Speaker have been married.
Whoopi got the pleasure of introducing Speaker Pelosi, whom she noted is the first woman speaker of the House who, somewhere along the way, managed to raise five children. But Walters was still stuck on Mr. Pelosi, unfortunately for Mr. Pelosi. And this is where a little blushing turned to a Code Red alert, four-alarm fire.
Trying to shout over Whoopi and her other gabbing co-hosts and excited audience members, Barbara turned to Nancy Pelosi and said that she has heard Whoopi say before that she’d “do Paul Newman.” “And I think she’d like to do your husband as well,” Walters deadpanned in that quintessential accent that has made her the subject of late-night lampooning over the decades.
Of course, Whoopi being Whoopi, she couldn’t let that one go, which is where the speaker begins blushing. Yes, Whoopi implicitly acknowledged, she’d like to do Mr. Pelosi, but she might take his wife while she’s at it. “I would do her as well. But we should wait on that because you’re still in office, I don’t want to cause a problem.“
As you might expect, Speaker Pelosi remained silent underneath her signature permanent smile, and her press office later remained predictably mum on the specter of Whoopi-on-Speaker action.
And The Oscar Goes To: Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson!!
JENNIFER HUDSON IN THE SPOTLIGHT WITH DREAMGIRLS
JENNIFER HUDSON AND JAMIE FOXX: DREAMGIRLS
Jennifer Hudson: Am I Am Telling You That I’m Not Going
“Every star under the sun is here. It don’t get no bigger than this,” said Oscar Winner Jennifer Hudson.
From the Newswires:
“Former “American Idol” contestant Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar for best supporting actress on Sunday for her performance as the spurned lead singer of a female trio in “Dreamgirls.” Hudson’s showstopping singing and sympathetic character had made her the odds-on favorite to win the award. It was the 25-year-old’s first movie role, for which she also picked up Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild wins earlier this year.
“I didn’t think I was going to win. But wow,” Hudson said. She paid tribute to her grandmother “because she was a singer and she had the passion for it but she never had the chance and that was the thing that pushed me forward to continue.”
Just three years ago, she was singing on cruise ships, and her dreams of stardom appeared shattered when she finished seventh on the U.S. television talent show “American Idol” in 2004.
Later, however, she landed the role of Effie White, the hefty, headstrong singer in “Dreamgirls.” The movie tells the story of a group of a black female singers loosely based on the rise of pop stars Diana Ross and The Supremes. Hudson’s rendition of the emotional “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in “Dreamgirls” drew standing ovations from some theater audiences.
From: Reuters, 2/25/2007
JENNIFER HUDSON’S OSCAR ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Jennifer Hudson received her long-predicted Academy Award for her performance in Dreamgirls and delivered a tearful speech to a captivated audience:
“I have to take this moment in. I cannot believe this. Look what God can do! If my grandmother…I didn’t think I was going to win, but wow, if my grandmother was here to see me now. She was my biggest inspiration for everything, because she was a singer and she had the passion for it, but she never had the chance. And that was the thing that pushed me forward to continue.“
“But I’m so grateful to have my mother here celebrating with me. My boyfriend, my sisters and my brothers back home and I’ve got two of them here. Thank you all for being here and supporting me. I would so like to thank Bill Condon, our director. Oh my god, unbelievable cast. I’d like to thank the Academy, definitely have to thank God I guess again. I can’t believe this. Wow, I don’t know what to say, but I thank you all for helping me keep the faith. Even when I didn’t believe and God bless you all. Jennifer Holliday, too!”
AND BACKSTAGE INTERVIEWS
“American Idol” loser-turned-Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson has perfected the art of surviving backstage interviews. Responding to reporters’ questions after receiving her Oscar, Jennifer stated that she was honored just to have been nominated for her supporting role as Effie in “Dreamgirls.” While she felt disappointed that her co-star Eddie Murphy didn’t win, she stated that, “We’re all winners, just for being nominated.” An air of confidence permeated her backstage talk. She shut down reporters who asked about rumored on-set catfighting, and she was comfortable enough to discuss her new house in Chicago. “I’ll put my Oscar next to my Golden Globe, my SAG Award and my BAFTA Award,” she joked. But she’s not gotten too big to forget her roots back home. Hudson expressed thanks for “Idol” and said she plans to continue singing in her church choir in Chicago. “It’s my reality. It keeps me grounded,” she said. Hudson believes that she has her grandmother’s voice. Her grandmother never performed professionally, instead choosing to lead more than 100 solo performances in the church choir. “It’s my duty and goal to do this for her,” Hudson said. “It’s my goal for the world to hear her voice.” And the world is hearing it now.
JENNIFER HUDSON: A REAL-LIFE CINDERELLA STORY
Four years ago, Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson finished seventh among 70,000 hopefuls in the third season of “American Idol.” Unceremoniously dumped from the program at a point when many thought that she was highly favored to win, many were convinced that her dismissal from the show was because some people didn’t think that she was attractive enough.
Who would have expected what has happened to her this year. Hudson suddenly began receiving excited Oscar support from film critics and devoted motion picture audience members from all over the country for her film debut in “Dreamgirls.” And tonight, she was awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls. Hudson, who is only 25, sparkles in a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy. She has an unusual mastery of urban gospel in her voice, a clarity and sense of “truth” that she brings to the character of Effie White in the movie that is based upon the story of the Supremes. Ironically, the original Tony Award-winning version of the stage musical was based in Chicago, although the film version is set in Detroit.
Hudson’s riveting five-octave performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is her big moment in the film. Some have said that it is the big moment of the film, period. It belongs to her like the stars belong to the sky. Effie stands tall with dignity after being cast aside by her manager/boyfriend (Foxx) in an unforgettable scene that was filmed over four days on a Los Angeles soundstage. Hudson’s thrilling performance of that song prompted excited talk early on about her being a frontrunner in the competition to receive an Academy Awards Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress performance, especially since Academy members always love a musical.
The rags-to-riches parallels between “American Idol” and “Dreamgirls” are clear. Even Elton John thought Hudson was robbed of the grand “American Idol” prize, saying she was the “best of the lot.” After Hudson got the boot, “American Idol” host Simon Cowell snarled at her, “You get one shot, and the runner-ups; you ain’t never gonna be seen again.” In a recent interview, Jennifer stated, “I’ve had a similar journey as Effie.” “Me being a part of ‘Idol,’ her being part of the group. I was kicked off the talent show. She was the founder and lead singer of the group [The Dreamettes] and kicked off to the background. We both go through our journeys, trying to hold on to our dream and achieve our goal. We have hardships but we prevail at the end.”
Jennifer’s father, Samuel Simpson, died some time ago, but her mother Darnell Hudson still lives in Chicago’s Southside Englewood neighborhood. Hudson’s older brother Jason is a mechanic, and her older sister Julia is a school bus driver. Every time she sings, Hudson thinks of her late grandmother Julia Kate Hudson, who sang at The Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church at 4526 S. Greenwood Street on Chicago’s Southside, where Hudson got her start. Her grandmother died in 1998. “To build my emotions, I thought of her,” Hudson said. “Like, ‘What if she could see me now?’ She used to sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’ I have a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing that on my iPod. I’d listen to it before a song. There was one point they had to stop the cameras, because it was too emotional.”
“I never had any voice training,” she continued. “I started in the soprano section of the choir.” Her first solo was “Must Jesus Bare The Cross Alone.” Hudson later sang at Dunbar Vocational High School, which in the past produced music greats like Lou Rawls and Cleotha and Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers. How will Hudson stay grounded through her rapid ascent? “It could have been anybody,” she said. “Millions didn’t make it, but I was one that did. I’m grateful. And I realize Chicago is my home and my reality. I come home and I have to stand in line like everybody else. I love the moment of Hollywood, but you need that reality to smack you in the face.” Yes, she still sounds very much like a Chicagoan.
Jennifer Hudson: I Will Always Love You (54th Annual Grammys)