Brett Ratner, Jackie Stewart, and Roman Polanski: On Speed (Part II)

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A conversation with Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart and Hollywood mogul Brett Ratner, and a noticeably absent Roman Polanski.

Watch Part I here.

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise famous dead men: Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Piers Courage, Francois Severt. These are just a few of the dozen Formula 1 racers who died in the eight years that Grand Prix legend, Jackie Stewart was dubbed the Flying Scot for his remarkable run at the top of the world’s fastest, most dangerous sport. “We were killing between four and eight drivers a year,” Stewart has said of the era in which he was king. “If you raced for five full seasons, there was a two-in-three chance that you were going to die.

Motor racing is still the fastest sport, but it’s no longer the most dangerous—the NFL and the World Boxing Federation can fight over that dubious distinction. No one has died in a Formula 1 Championship since Ayrton Seena in 1994, and much of the change was lead by Stewart, who witnessed so many friends die on Europe’s treacherous courses that he dedicated his life to making the sport safer.

Stewart, who won 27 Grand Prix titles in eight years, stood out as a loquacious dandy sporting a black Corduroy cap and long sideburns. “The longer they got, the faster I got,” he wisecracks. A working class kid from near Glasgow, he once described himself as “completely uneducated by traditional standards,” and had such severe dyslexia he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Yet by the time he was 30, Stewart was as famous at home as The Beatles and Twiggy. It was that mix of celebrity, sex, and danger that drew another global superstar, Roman Polanski, to shadow Stewart as he prepared to race the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971. The resulting documentary, Weekend of a Champion, was never released at the time, and might have been left moldering in a cupboard if it wasn’t for a phone call from Polanski’s old lab in London.

“They contacted me asking what I wanted to do with the negatives of the film, whether they should destroy it,” Polanski recalled during a recent interview. “So I looked at the film and I liked it, after 40 years almost. I decided to give it a new life.”

After showing the film to Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and mutual fan of the sport, the idea of giving a proper release to Polanksi’s time capsule took shape. To do that, Polanski and Stewart returned to the same hotel room, at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco where much of the original documentary was filmed in (the first time around Stewart is in his underwear; the second time—wisely—in a suit). The result is a great snapshot of two men—friends—at two moments in their lives: at pinnacle of their young success, and then older, more reflective, with the added hindsight of 40 years.

Like Polanksi and Stewart, Brett Ratner has a powerful biography of his own. As a child he shared a room with his great-grandmother—a Holocaust survivor—in a four-bedroom house in Miami. The other rooms were divided between his mother, his grandparents, and his uncle. He didn’t get to meet his father until his 16th birthday. “One day, I got the courage to ask him why he never visited me as a child,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He explained that he made the difficult decision to stay away because he was embarrassed since he had been disowned by his family, had abused drugs for many years and knew he couldn’t provide for me or my mom. Holding a job was impossible for him.” A few years later, Ratner ran into his father on the street, homeless but fiercely independent. “He would occasionally call to check in, but it pained him to ask for help, so he stayed away,” he recalled. “My father died a few years later, alone, without me or any family member by his side.”

Now a newly-minted Hollywood mogul on the back of a $450 million deal with Warner Brothers, Ratner sat down with Stewart to talk about Polanski, Monaco, and the common denominator between motor racing and film making: adrenalin and passion.

Brett Ratner, Jackie Stewart, and Roman Polanski: On Speed (Part I)

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A conversation with Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart and Hollywood mogul Brett Ratner, and a noticeably absent Roman Polanski.

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise famous dead men: Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Piers Courage, Francois Severt. These are just a few of the dozen Formula 1 racers who died in the eight years that Grand Prix legend, Jackie Stewart was dubbed the Flying Scot for his remarkable run at the top of the world’s fastest, most dangerous sport. “We were killing between four and eight drivers a year,” Stewart has said of the era in which he was king. “If you raced for five full seasons, there was a two-in-three chance that you were going to die.

Motor racing is still the fastest sport, but it’s no longer the most dangerous—the NFL and the World Boxing Federation can fight over that dubious distinction. No one has died in a Formula 1 Championship since Ayrton Seena in 1994, and much of the change was lead by Stewart, who witnessed so many friends die on Europe’s treacherous courses that he dedicated his life to making the sport safer.

Stewart, who won 27 Grand Prix titles in eight years, stood out as a loquacious dandy sporting a black Corduroy cap and long sideburns. “The longer they got, the faster I got,” he wisecracks. A working class kid from near Glasgow, he once described himself as “completely uneducated by traditional standards,” and had such severe dyslexia he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Yet by the time he was 30, Stewart was as famous at home as The Beatles and Twiggy. It was that mix of celebrity, sex, and danger that drew another global superstar, Roman Polanski, to shadow Stewart as he prepared to race the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971. The resulting documentary, Weekend of a Champion, was never released at the time, and might have been left moldering in a cupboard if it wasn’t for a phone call from Polanski’s old lab in London.

“They contacted me asking what I wanted to do with the negatives of the film, whether they should destroy it,” Polanski recalled during a recent interview. “So I looked at the film and I liked it, after 40 years almost. I decided to give it a new life.”

After showing the film to Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and mutual fan of the sport, the idea of giving a proper release to Polanksi’s time capsule took shape. To do that, Polanski and Stewart returned to the same hotel room, at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco where much of the original documentary was filmed in (the first time around Stewart is in his underwear; the second time—wisely—in a suit). The result is a great snapshot of two men—friends—at two moments in their lives: at pinnacle of their young success, and then older, more reflective, with the added hindsight of 40 years.

Like Polanksi and Stewart, Brett Ratner has a powerful biography of his own. As a child he shared a room with his great-grandmother—a Holocaust survivor—in a four-bedroom house in Miami. The other rooms were divided between his mother, his grandparents, and his uncle. He didn’t get to meet his father until his 16th birthday. “One day, I got the courage to ask him why he never visited me as a child,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He explained that he made the difficult decision to stay away because he was embarrassed since he had been disowned by his family, had abused drugs for many years and knew he couldn’t provide for me or my mom. Holding a job was impossible for him.” A few years later, Ratner ran into his father on the street, homeless but fiercely independent. “He would occasionally call to check in, but it pained him to ask for help, so he stayed away,” he recalled. “My father died a few years later, alone, without me or any family member by his side.”

Now a newly-minted Hollywood mogul on the back of a $450 million deal with Warner Brothers, Ratner sat down with Stewart to talk about Polanski, Monaco, and the common denominator between motor racing and film making: adrenalin and passion.

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GLAAD to Give Award to Brett Ratner a Year After He Uses Gay Slur

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Last year, auteur normal director of generally bad movies Brett Ratner found himself in hot water after making a comment during a Q&A following his film, Tower Heist, in which he said, "Rehearsing is for fags." Sure, Brett, whatever. People were mad, because when straight white men say "fag," it comes across as a little offensive, even if the context does not imply that rehearsing scenes for movies are for members of a minority group historically discriminated against for their sexual orientation and supposed deviant lifestyles. Ratner, in response to the controversy, backed out of producing last year’s Oscars (as did planned host and Tower Heist star Eddie Murphy). All was righted, apparently, because now GLAAD—The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation—is giving Ratner an award.

You see, just because a dude says that something he doesn’t like and finds ridiculous is for "fags" doesn’t mean that he is homophobic or anything.

The award will be presented at the group’s 24th annual Media Awards next week. In a phone interview Friday, GLAAD president Herndon Graddick said that the award is for Ratner’s work on a series of star-studded public service announcements that will be unveiled during the awards gala set for March 16 in New York City.

"I’ve never worked with someone so willing to put the past behind and move forward to make a difference, whether by our campaign or by hosting a fundraiser in his home to help elect the first lesbian mayor of New York,” said Graddick in reference to Ratner’s support of mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.

“This is an example of a man willing to put his ego aside and roll up his sleeves for LGBT," Graddick added. "I’m proud to have worked with him and I consider him a friend.”

Yes, Brett Ratner directed some commercials about gay people, and that proves that he is totally cool with gays. And maybe that was the last time he has said "fags," at least in public near people who might give a shit. But, I dunno, maybe the organization that, at least according to its name, is vehemently opposed to the practice of using defaming terms such as "fag" might do something a little more positive than chase celebrities with ridiculous honors, especially those who are straight and make stupid comments with lazy jokes that put whole groups of people ill at ease. And maybe we could stop giving awards to straight men who are "willing" to "put their egos aside" and work with gay people and instead realize that doing those two practices shouldn’t be so extraordinary and worthy of recognition. 

I could actually be offended by this sort of thing, but GLAAD has proven time and time again to be totally out of touch, so this latest misstep proves that the organization cares little for ending any actual defamation against the LGBT community. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Eddie Murphy to the Oscars: “I Quit!”

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Just yesterday, Brett Ratner stepped down as co-producer of next spring’s Oscars ceremony following his use of a gay slur at the screening of his new film. Now, his Tower Heist star Eddie Murphy has backed out of his hosting duties, leaving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just three months to find a replacement. 

According to the New York Times, Murphy was hired "to bring an extra-heavy dollop of comedy…to a ceremony that might not have looked much different than the variety show-style ceremonies of years past." The AMPAS has long gotten flack for producing boring and loooooong ceremonies, and they were hoping that Murphy’s edgy brand of comedy would bring in a younger audience (and Murphy himself was hoping to revamp his image).

Murphy hasn’t yet given a reason for his departure, but it’s likely he didn’t want to continue without his pal in the producer’s seat. It’s not super surprising, considering Murphy’s egotistical behavior; he told David Letterman a few weeks ago that he would not be singing or dancing as part of his hosting gig. Do you think he was willing to wear a fat suit? I guess we’ll never know.

Wait, Brett Ratner Doesn’t Rehearse?

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You have surely heard about the controversy surrounding director Brett Ratner, and if not, here’s a quick recap: At a screening of his latest film, Ratner, who is producing the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, told the gathered audience that “rehearsing is for fags,” when asked about his style and routine. Needless to say, people were appalled, and many are calling for him to be fired from his Oscars gig. Despite universal outcry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak told Deadline that Ratner’s apology was enough, and they have no intention of replacing him.

The word “fag” is crude and offensive, and it doesn’t have any place here, in 2011. People have a right to be enraged about Ratner’s flippant use, and it is important for those who are offended to air their grievances. But there is a separate issue that has been overshadowed by Ratner’s lame epithet: The fact that Brett Ratner doesn’t rehearse.

The Oscars aren’t Rush Hour 2, and if there is a mistake, Ratner can’t throw it on the blooper reel that runs during the closing credits. He can’t go back for reshoots if cues are off, and he won’t be able to ask the studio for more money if it’s running long. Even if his statement on rehearsing was an exaggeration to show how cool and off-the-cuff he is (The guy who directed Money Talks is just like Coltrane!), it doesn’t help ease the fears and apprehension that has surrounded Ratner’s Oscars hiring.

From the get-go, people have complained that he had never produced a massive live event like the Oscars before, he was immature, his movies suck, etc… For a while, it all seemed a bit overboard, and he didn’t appear to be given a fair shake. Should the 84th Academy Awards turn into an unrehearsed clusterfuck of mistakes, however, those fears and that apprehension will look pretty prescient.

Brett Ratner Apologizes for Being a Jerk

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Celebrated film auteur Brett Ratner, accomplished director films such as Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3, and the recently released Tower Heist (as well as countless other movies that do not focus on the race relations between mismatched comic-action duos), has come under some scrutiny this week after some homophobic, misogynistic, and vaguely racist remarks.

Ratner appeared on G4’s Attack of the Show last week and was a bit peeved about a passage in Olivia Munn’s memoir. The show’s former host claimed that she "once saw a Hollywood director holding his ‘undersized manhood’ while eating shrimp." Plenty of people assumed she was talking about Ratner (because, ya know, look at him), and Ratner took the opportunity to reveal that she was talking about him–only that she was making it all up. "I used to date Olivia Munn…when she was Lisa," he said. "That was the problem. She wasn’t Asian back then. I banged her a few times…I forgot her, she got pissed off and she made up all these stories about me eating shrimp and masturbating in my trailer."

Apparently on a tour as America’s Classiest Director, Ratner appeared at a Q&A for his new buddy comedy Tower Heist the following evening. When asked what the rehearsal process is like, he replied, "Rehearsal? What’s that? Rehearsal is for fags." He’s since issued an apology, stating, "It was a dumb way of expressing myself. Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body."

Following a bit of media scrutiny, Ratner apologized again during an interview on The Howard Stern Show, a familiar haven for sensitivity. While he didn’t bring up his use of the gay slur, he did state that he and Olivia Munn are friends and that she admitted that he is not the anonymous director mentioned in her memoir. "She’s actually talented," he said. "The problem is I made her look like she’s a whore."

Ratner is slated to co-produce next year’s Oscars, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences director Tom Sherak announced that the director will keep his job. "Ratner’s priority for the next few months should be to put on a good show, and stop embarrassing the Academy," Sherak told Deadline. "I get the feeling Ratner now understands this but if he keeps shooting himself in the foot, it will be up to the AMPAS board to lay down the law."

Would You Pay Sixty Bucks to See ‘Tower Heist’?

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Brett Ratner’s new movie, Tower Heist, is a buddy comedy about a mismatched pair (Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy) trying to rob a Bernie Madoff-like character. It’s rated PG-13 and doesn’t contain any scenes of hardcore sexual deviancy, bestiality, religious defamation, or shocking violence. So why is Cinemark, the country’s third-largest theater chain, threatening to boycott it in their cinemas? Reuters reports that Universal, the company producing Tower Heist, is using the film to test out a new strategy by offering it to cable subscribers for $59.99 three weeks after its release.

This video on demand (or “VOD,” as the kids call it) test is the first of its kind, and will only be available in Atlanta and Portland, Oregon. Still, Cinemark think it sets a dangerous precedent, and they’re putting their foot down. Cinemark issued a statement saying they have “urged Universal Pictures to reconsider its market test of this product,” and that if they go through with it, they will “decline to exhibit this film in its theatres.”

The film would be available On Demand in homes over the Thanksgiving weekend. It’s hard to imagine how many people would elect to spend sixty dollars on a Brett Ratner movie rather than, say, food for their family. If anyone in Portland or Atlanta does shell out the dough for Tower Heist, please don’t tell us how it ends; we’re going to wait for it to come to TBS.

Morning Links: Rosanne Barr to Run for President, Nicki Minaj Joins the Cast of ‘Ice Age’

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● Amy Winehouse’s parents are turning their daughter’s $4 million North London home into the headquarters for a rehabilitation foundation. [NME] ● Roseanne Barr announced her intention to run for president on last night’s The Tonight Show. “I’m really good at speeches,” she says. Sounds like a shoe-in! [NYM] ● The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is, for some reason, letting Rush Hour director Brett Ratner produce this year’s Oscar show. [ArtsBeat/NYT]

● The always-colorful Nicki Minaj has joined the cast of Ice Age: Continental Drift alongside Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifa, and her boy Drake. [Variety] ● Partners in innovation Kanye West and Lady Gaga have invested in the wildly popular and questionably legal Turntable.fm. ‘Awesome.’ [BusinessInsider] ● Michael Kors and his boyfriend of nearly two decades, Lance LePere, were spotted at the city clerk’s office in Manhattan applying for a marriage license. Let their wedding come as a message of hope to graduating college seniors everywhere: the happy couple met years ago when LePere took an internship at Kors’ studio. [PageSix]

Things James Franco Can’t Do with an iPad 2

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The Daily is an iPad-based news publication you may have heard of. A couple weeks ago they did a funny bit on superhuman James Franco, with a related follow-up. The trouble with these bits was that they were too literal; plus, despite the invention of penicillin, I’m confident I could engineer a scenario where Franco would, in fact, contract of and die from syphilis. Note that I wouldn’t wish that upon James Franco! He seems like a fun sort. Even so, there are still many things he simply could not achieve if given an iPad 2, the tablet product update due to be announced next week by Apple.

1. Saw off his arm. Despite a rumored change in the new version’s form factor, the sleek ergonomic contours of the iPad 2 will still make it far too dull to amputate one’s own limbs.

2. Attach multiple sheets of paper together. This core functionality is limited to Apple’s Stapler and is not expected to disseminate to other product lines until at least 2012.

3. Make out with his brother Dave Franco. It’s not weird to find that hot, unless you’re a homophobe! Why are you so prejudiced and evil? Actually it’s a tricky point because incest is still wrong, even otherwise wholesome gay incest, so you really are an offensive person for wanting to see that. Besides, the iPad 2 would just get in the way.

4. Enjoy a full-resolution “retina display” as on the newer iPhones. Sorry James! Looks unlikely for this model. Don’t take it too hard.

5. Explain why the first person he followed when recently joining Twitter was Brett Ratner. There is no joke here.