<p>The Fray</p>

The Fray

Exile on Main Street: Music at Sundance Day 2, with The Fray

Plus: The Sex Pistols' Steve Jones, Brendon Benson and more

The day started with an interview with Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones about his radio show, “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” which has resurfaced on the internet at www.iamrogue.com after five years on the now-defunct Indie 103.1-FM in Los Angeles. He’d come to Sundance to broadcast his show live Saturday and Sunday although he confessed he hated the cold and, therefore, hated being here since it has not stopped snowing for four days. Although he kept me waiting for 45 minutes while he ate his breakfast, once we started our chat, he couldn’t have been more gracious, forthcoming or funny. Read the interview here.

Later, I returned to ASCAP’s Music Café on Main Street, which is ground zero for music at Sundance. Yes, there are acts playing all over town: both Joan Jett and John Legend are playing tonight at events, but the Café is a must stop. Today’s first two acts, Sonos and Colin Devlin were the first two performers yesterday—ASCAP gives each artist two slots, usually on consecutive days, in order to maximize getting in front of directors and music supervisors. Plus, while the artists are making connections at ASCAP, many of them use the Music Cafe appearance as a starting-off point while at Sundance to play private events and to network throughout the festival.

I chatted with Devlin who is headed back to Ireland next week where he’s up for best Irish male at the Meteor Music awards, the Emerald Isle’s equivalent of the Grammys. I recommend his new solo album, “Diplomacy of One,” and especially the gorgeous song, “The Heart Won’t Be Denied.”

Next I interviewed Brendan Benson, who has become one of my new faves. I was familiar with his work as part of the Raconteurs, but not as familiar with his solo material. The kick-off song, “A Whole Lot Better,” to his fourth solo album, “My Old Familiar Friend,” is a perfect slice of power pop. I’ll post the interview sometime this week. We talked about everything from how he expects the impending birth of his first child to affect his songwriting to if we can expect a new Raconteurs album.

Benson and his crack band are touring in February. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Next  I interviewed Isaac Slade, lead singer for the Fray. Look for that interview on Sunday including a scoop about the band’s next album. Since we were at Sundance, I asked both Benson and Slade what was the last movie they’d seen. Oddly enough, they both answered “The Invention of Lying.” Slade was excited to be playing ASCAP’s Music Café because for as much success as the Fray has had with song placements in television, he said the band would love to work with a director on a project from the ground up and hoped Sundance was the place to help get those conversations going.

By the time the Fray hit the stage, ASCAP’s Music Café was packed. The minute the band started its first song, people held their iPhones up in the air in a mass move to be the first to post the performance on YouTube. Opening with “Happiness,” the Fray moved through a tight set before an adoring crowd, many of whom were singing along to every word. Aware that there were many folks out on the sidewalk who couldn’t get into the club, at one point, Slade shouted hello to those standing in the freezing weather and turned a speaker toward the window so they could get a better listen. As they launched into “You Found Me,” the woman beside me declared it the “best song ever.” In concert, the band’s music comes across as much more muscular than on record and with much more heft, especially when Slade pounds the piano as on “Fair Fight.” By the time the Fray played “How to Save a Life,” they turned the chorus over to the crowd, who sang it perfectly. After eight songs, the Fray finished its set, although it was clear that the audience would have lapped up more music.

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<p>Susan Boyle</p>

Susan Boyle

Credit: AP Photo

Thanks to Oprah, Susan Boyle poised to vault back to No. 1

Vampire Weekend falls, Spoon stirs up a No. 4 debut

Never discount the power of Oprah. Susan Boyle’s Jan. 19 appearance should be enough to drive “I Dreamed a Dream” back into the top spot on the album chart next week with sales of around 85,000. (It will also be interesting to see what kind of bounce Adam Lambert’s “For Your Entertainment” gets as he appeared on “Oprah” on Jan. 19 as well).

Last week’s No. 1, “Contra” from Vampire Weekend likely slips to No. 3, while Spoon’s “Transference” may remarkably debut at No. 4. Lady Gaga’s “the Fame” just keeps on selling, as Hits Daily Double predicts it will move back up to No. 2. The only other debuts in the top 10 will be the “2010 Grammy Nominees” compilation, which looks to sell around 40,000 copies, and Motion City Soundtrack’s “My Dinosaur Life,” which will just make the cut at No. 10.

Don’t look for Boyle to have another six-week run at the top: she’ll likely have to settle for just one week as Lady Antebellum’s “Run to You,” out Jan. 26, will undoubtedly debut at No. 1. In fact, the group’s 2008 debut is still selling strongly enough to be in the top 15 next week.
 

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<p>Steve Jones during his &quot;Jonsey's Jukebox&quot; show</p>

Steve Jones during his "Jonsey's Jukebox" show

Sundance exclusive interview with the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones

Radio host reveals his worst interview, his guilty pleasure and why he doesn't read

Steve Jones hates the cold, which makes it all the more unbearable that the guitarist for the legendary Sex Pistols is here at Sundance since it has been snowing for four days straight. He and his manager’s assistant drove the 12 hours from Los Angeles to Park City, Utah on Friday through fairly treacherous conditions.

He’s here to broadcast “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” his popular radio show from celebrity central here today and tomorrow (Jan. 24). He’s interviewing actors like Wilmer Valderrama and Jason Ritter and environmentalist Sebastian Copeland, most of whom have come to Sundance to, like Jones, flog their current project.

“Jonesy’s Jukebox” debuted six years ago on L.A. radio station Indie 103.1 and quickly gained traction as a must-listen to radio show as Jones played the music he loved and interviewed people from all areas of entertainment. When Indie 103.1 went off the air in early 2009 so did “Jonesy’s Jukebox” until movie producer Ryan Kavanaugh began broadcasting it on his www.iamrogue.com website. The plan is to reintroduce “Jukebox” onto a terrestrial outlet soon.

In the meantime, Hitfix talked to Jones about, of course, the Sex Pistols, his biggest fear, his worst interviews and his surprising musical guilty pleasure.

Q: Why did you drive here?
A: I’m not a fan of flying and I’m not a fan of airports, all the craziness of airports. It was great until we got about 20 miles from here. It was almost a disaster….Don’t tell anyone, but we had to rent a Hummer (laughs).

Q: In addition to the music, the highlight of “Jonesy’s Jukebox” are your interviews with people from all different facets. How did you learn to interview people?
A: I have no idea. Sometimes, I feel like I put my foot in my mouth. Like, my biggest fear of interviewing people is when they first come on is messing up their name or forgetting their name. I try not to have it written down somewhere because I think it’s kind of insulting, although it’s not really, it’s kind of the norm.

Q: One of the best interviews I heard was you and Peter Noone from the Herman’s Hermits. I would not have thought you two would hit it off.
A: He’s actually a bit of a tear-away. He’s a bit of rebel I guess. He was surprisingly cool, you know, because there’s a few that I’ve interviewed… Eric Burdon [of the Animals], he was a dud, man. What a dud. What a dud. He just didn’t get it. ..I don’t know if he was having a bad day or what, but it was one of them ones that it don’t matter what you said, you couldn’t get him to talk about anything. That’s the worst. Jerry Lee Lewis was tough too.

Q: But I would imagine you’re such a huge fan of his.
A: Of course, he’s one of the original rebel rock and rollers, you know. But I made the mistake of putting my foot in about: “So what was it like when you went to England with your cousin/married thing. (Editor’s note: Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year old cousin in 1957) “I don’t want to talk about that.” (Jones imitates Lewis) Ok, Fair enough, but he was gone. It was so thick. People said it was great, but not from my perspective, but it was the worst. Oh my God.

Q: What’s your favorite musical period?
A: I love ‘50s music, all that stuff from the ‘50s. The ‘70s was such a… there was so much that happened in the ‘70s. It went through the whole gamut, disco, punk, anthem rock, the whole lot. So I guess if I had to choose one or the other, the older I get, the more I go towards the ‘50s, softer, like croony, the Lettermen, stuff like that.

Q: Have you read Peter Guralnick’s book about Elvis Presley that covers him in the ‘50s before he goes into the army?
A: I never read. I’ve never read one book…I just can’t do it. Something’s wrong with me. I have what they call now is ADD, like I’ll read and all of a sudden I’ll be thinking about shopping or.. I’m not there. I drift off. I get crazy, so I don’t even bother.

Q:. What do you get out of playing guitar now that you didn’t get when you were playing with the Sex Pistols?
A: Well, I guess I didn’t really know what I was doing back then, just young and naïve and thought you had to be a certain way, image wise, in all that. It’s just like anything else; when you get older you see the big picture. Things ain’t as serious… you don’t hold everything so tight like when you’re young. When you’re old, you’re just like “whatever, it’s just life, it’s just the way it is.” You either do something you want to do or you don’t, you don’t just go along with it anymore. I don’t just go along with it anymore.

Q: Would you want to do something like Them Crooked Vultures? After the Pistols, you did Chequered Past and Neurotic Outsiders with artists from other groups.
A: I’d like to do a cover song album with just me and a guitar and maybe a couple of bits and bobs.I think just for something to do, I think a labor of love. A bunch of cover songs.

Q: Would put it out yourself?
A: Yeah. Just cheap and cheerful on a little CD. A bit of artwork. Bang. Whatever.

Q: Give me your top four songs.
A: I hate being put on the spot. I can’t think right now…There would probably definitely be a Cliff Richard song on there.

Q: The Sex Pistols did five reunion shows for your 30th anniversary in 2007 and then did some festivals in 2008.
A: We did 30 shows in ’08 in the summer. All of Europe, Japan, Russia, yeah, 30 shows.

Q: Any thoughts of doing that again for the 35th anniversary?
A: Well, I do need a new roof so maybe that’s coming soon.

Q: So it’s all for the money?
A: Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s all I’m doing it for and I think we all are if we’re really honest, you know. I think it doesn’t matter what we’re doing it for considered what we contributed to music, you know what I mean. If we’re doing it for money, so be it. We changed music in a form with the punk thing and we should be entitled to do what we want to do. We never made any dollar in the day, you know. Art Garfunkel took all the money.

Q: I don’t know that story.
A: Well, he looks like [former Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren (laughs). I always call him Malcolm McLaren.

Q: Have you ever met him?
A: Who? Art Garfunkel? No, but I love his voice man. He was the best thing about the Rock and Roll Hall of Sausages….It’s an angelic voice. They were great, they stole the show.

Q: Okay, now that you’re brought it up. Four years after the Sex Pistols skipped your induction ceremony for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, calling the museum a “piss stain.” Any regrets?
A: No, we did exactly the right thing. Without a doubt. Even more now. It’s concrete that that was the right move.

Q: The Sex Pistols were so seminal and now what you’re doing is instead of playing the music, you’re introducing people to seminal acts through your radio show.
A: I love it, man. I remember when I first started doing it. People were like what is this guy doing? He was in a punk band, it should be all about punk, but that’s the last thing...I don’t want to interview punk people or play punk music. I’m doing things that I like and the whole ‘50s thing is, like I said, I was a big fan of. I think it’s great that a guy from the Sex Pistols can jam with Cliff Richards. Like I said before, I don’t care about that image thing. It don’t mean nothing. And things are more mish-mashed now anyways, but at the time people were giving me a lot of stick for playing a Journey song. Because that was like Journey and Boston, that was like one of my guilty pleasures.

Q: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. You either like it or you don’t.
A: Exactly, but there was a period when I was in the Sex Pistols that I would go home and listen to Boston. I would get lynched if anyone knew it at the time.

Q: You’ve been in L.A. 27 years, but to hear you talk you’d think you just came off Carnaby Street. You still talk full-on British slang with a heavy accent. Is that your thing?
A: I guess so, my voice has never changed. Some people who come over here in two months, they start sounding half and half. I don’t know why. It’s not like I don’t want an American accent and I’m trying not to. I just don’t.

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<p>John Forte</p>

John Forte

Exile on Main Street: Music at Sundance Day One

Music from John Forte, Brendan Benson, Sonos and Colin Devlin

While Sundance is about movies—it is the Sundance Film Festival, after all—there has always been a strong musical component. Music flows everywhere you go, whether it’s the mariachi band playing on Main Street or a duo busking on the corner.

Ground zero for the musical experience is ASCAP’s Music Café. For eight afternoons, Jan. 22-29, the performing rights society brings in artists it represents to play at a small gallery on Main Street. The idea is that directors and music supervisors will see these acts and consider them for future projects. If you’re an artist who skis or snowboards, it’s about as sweet a gig as there is.

It’s been snowing at Sundance since the Hitfix crew arrived on Wednesday and today inside the Music Café, there was a wonderful solace from the storm. Today’s performances started with Sonos, a co-ed a capella sextet who reinvents pop songs like Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in fun and inventive ways. Their music would be perfect for lighthearted rom-coms. I missed the start of their set, but they, like most of the acts on ASCAP’s docket, are playing twice so I hope to catch their set, which they promise will be different, tomorrow.

Next up was Colin Devlin, who used to be part of the Irish band the Devlins, but has now moved to the U.S. and is concentrating on a solo career. Armed with just an acoustic guitar (which he sometimes traded for an electric), he charmed the audience with his literate lyrics and pleasing melodies. Quite a few of Devlin’s songs have been used in film and TV, including “Six Feet Under,” “Closer, “Batman Forever,” and “Six Feet Under.” “My songwriting is hugely inspired by movies,” he told the audience. “Some of my songs have been used in movies, usually when the girls are about to throw themselves off the balcony.”

And with good reason. Devlin mines the depths of love lost and found, but mainly lost, such as on “What Good is Love?” Songs like the gorgeous “The Heart Won’t Be Denied” or the uplifting “There’s a Light,” would be perfect for shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.” While most songs were ballads, “Outside” which was played during Natalie Portman’s strip scene in “Closer,” was sinewy and hypnotic.

At one point, Devlin asked how many directors were in the audience and only three people raised their hands. That may not have been the result he was looking for.

John Forte followed Devlin. The name might not be familiar but his work is. Forte produced and wrote songs for the Fugees. His career came to an abrupt end in 2000 when he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine after accepting a briefcase filled with more than $1 million in liquid cocaine at Newark Airport. Forte did not go into detail today, merely saying he served time on a “first time, non-violent drug offense.” He served eight years before he was pardoned by President Bush in late 2008 after years of lobbying for his freedom by Carly Simon. (We interviewed Forte, who is working on his memoirs, and will post that Q&A shortly).

While in prison, Forte taught himself to play acoustic guitar and now the former rapper performs a hybrid of singing and spoken word. This was utilized to great effect on his cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” during which he interjected spoken verse, much of it about his incarceration. He served up compelling images, such as how he was “resurrected on my 33rd” birthday, his age when he was released from prison.

Forte’s singing voice is gruff but expressive. There’s a palpable joy he feels while performing that spread to the audience who embraced his charismatic performance. Forte told me that he would love to have his music placed in film and TV. He’s already off to a good start in that he scored the Sundance bumpers that play at the beginning of ever screening here.

Next we saw Brendan Benson, who’s best known as a member of the Raconteurs. However, Benson with his band, brought the rock out and turned the Music Café into a sweltering sweatbox so jammed that it was impossible to move. His band plays power pop so tight and juicy that it sounds like Cheap Trick crossed with T Rex,especially on such delightfully buoyant songs as “A Whole Lot Better.” We had to leave his gig early to get to a screening, but we'll catch his entire set on Saturday.

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<p>&quot;Restrepo&quot;</p>

"Restrepo"

Sundance sets the bar high with riveting 'Restrepo'

Whimsical 'Boy' can't sustain its promising start

On the first full day of film screenings, the Sundance Film Festival set the bar almost impossibly high with “Restrepo,” a documentary about the Afghanistan War. For 15 months, directors Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm”) and Tim Hetherington embedded themselves with an army platoon serving in the Korengal Valley, known as the deadliest place on earth, as they battle the Taliban and Al Queda from an outpost named after their fallen comrade, Juan Restrepo.

“Restrepo,” co-produced with National Geographic, is that rare documentary that doesn’t take a side. Asking why we are in Afghanistan or whether the war is winnable has no place in “Restrepo” because such philosophical questions have nothing to do with the day-to-day dealings of the soldiers we spend 90 minutes with. The movie doesn’t aim to change your position on the war one way or the other, but it is impossible to not be changed after seeing “Restrepo.” The film follows the soldiers from one week before deployment to months later as they are interviewed in Italy after leaving the hell hole that is Outpost Restrepo. It is told almost totally experientially from the soldiers’ point of view with no narration.

The soldiers are up against seemingly insurmountable odds as they fight an often unrecognizable enemy with no unified frontlines in a terrain impossibly rugged with ambushes possible at every turn. In fact, soldiers in the Korengal Valley took fire every day for two months straight. The relentless assaults are only broken up by the monotony and boredom of war when a battle is not being waged.

The platoon is there primarily to provide security as the locals build a road through the valley that will, ostensibly, make their lives much easier and aid commerce. While the directors follow the soldiers’ tour of duty in chronological order, from the start, the footage in the Korengal Valley is interspersed with the interviews in Italy. The soldiers, most of whom are still so young as to have their faces dappled with acne, are shells, each one haunted in a different way from the experience. Some can’t sleep, no matter how much medication is prescribed. Others say they have no idea how to process what they’ve seen. Toward the end of their tour, after a sister company suffers a horrendous assault, their young captain, who seems well meaning but in so far over his head, tries to turn them into killing machines. By then, the men are exhausted and beaten down and all that matters is inflicting as much pain on their enemy as has been inflicted on them.

To the man, their worst memories are of Rock Avalanche, an assault where they are going into completely unchartered territory as they try to push back the insurgents. During the exercise, they know they will be attacked and when the attack finally comes, it is brutal, leaving their most accomplished soldier dead and a beloved staff sergeant wounded. The directors capture it all in real time as we see the soldiers react to someone they love dearly die. Remarkably, only one of the soldiers becomes hysterical upon realizing his friend has died, in part, because he feels he put the dead soldier in harm’s way. His fellow soldiers completely dismiss their grief and move on, as they must. It is the one time in the movie that we see blood and a dead U.S. soldier’s body, but the horror and harm done is conveyed more effectively by the soldiers’ words than any pictures could ever provide.

The difficulty of their mission plays out over and over again until the viewer is left with a certain sense of hopelessness that the Army, no matter how skilled, can battle the enemy successfully on their own turf. In addition to dealing with the insurgents, the soldiers must deal with the locals, some of whom are paid by the insurgents to hide ammo. Each week, the captain meets with the local leaders in an attempt at diplomacy. The meetings often take on a surreal tone as the U.S. soldiers have clearly been taught to be sensitive to the locals’ needs, but between language barriers, culture clashes and a wide sense of distrust on both sides, there is little hope of true cooperation or communication. However, the anguish on the captain’s face when an Army raid leaves five locals dead is palpable, but, in part, it’s clear his pain has to do with the difficulties the deaths will cause as his platoon continue to try to work with the locals.
“Restrepo” leaves the viewer with an awe and respect for the soldiers who serve, but also with a palpable sense of sorrow for their losses suffered while in Afghanistan and for the haunted souls who return to the U.S. as shadows of who they were before they left. It is required viewing.

The same cannot be said of “Boy,” a whimsical movie about an 11-year old New Zealand aboriginal boy, in 1984 who lives in a fantastical world that revolves largely around his obsession with Michael Jackson. His father, whom he describes as a master carpenter, world class scuba diver and man of the world, is actually in jail. “Boy,” written and directed by Taika Waititi, starts off strong, but loses the thread as Boy, as he’s called, realizes his father, whom he idolized in absentia, is a pathetic loser who only came back to find money buried in the back yard. To compensate, Boy fantasizes about his father as Michael Jackson in the “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “Thriller” videos. The dance moves are picture perfect, but Waititi obviously couldn’t get the rights to the music so the shots play out against instrumentals that make no sense. The best part of “Boy” are the completely natural performances by James Rolletson, who plays Boy, and by Te Aho Eketone-Whitu, who plays his six-year old brother.

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<p>Lady Antebellum</p>

Lady Antebellum

Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Brooks & Dunn vie for best country vocal in our 2010 Grammy Predictions

Which country act takes home the statue?

As we continue the countdown to the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards, we’re feeling a little bit country.

Best Country performance by a duo or group with vocals:
“Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” Brooks & Dunn
“Chicken Fried,” Zac Brown Band
“I Run to You,” Lady Antebellum
“Here Comes Goodbye,” Rascal Flatts
“It Happens,” Sugarland

How sentimental are Grammy voters? That’s the question here. If the voters feel like honoring Brooks & Dunn one more time as they do their victory lap prior to calling it quits, then they’ll win for sure. They’ve won twice before. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles is the best vocalist of the bunch and Sugarland won last year in this category, but “It Happens” borders on being a novelty song, as does “Chicken Fried.” Lady A’s “I Run to You” is still running on the momentum of winning CMA single of the year and the feeling that the trio represents the face of young country (along with Taylor Swift). Rascal Flatts has been nominated before and is likely to be a bridesmaid again here. Lady A deserves to win, but I’m betting that either Brooks & Dunn wins as a goodbye present or Sugarland wins on the strength of Nettles’ voice, not because of the weak song.

The Grammy goes to: “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” Brooks & Dunn

 

Best rock performance by duo or group
Best male pop vocal performance
Best female pop vocal performance
Best pop group performance
Best alternative album
Best rock song
Best pop vocal album

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<p>&nbsp;Loretta Lynn</p>

 Loretta Lynn

Credit: James Crisp/AP

Lilith Tour adds Loretta Lynn, the Gossip, Heart and Norah Jones

Women join Ke$ha, Sarah McLachlan, Mary J. Blige and others

 


Loretta Lynn, Heart, Norah Jones, Cat Power, Sia and the Gossip have all been added to the 2010 Lilith Tour.

The most exciting addition is, of course, Lynn, the pioneering country singer to whom all the ladies on the bill owe a debt of gratitude for helping pave the way for female artists.

"I'm happy they wanted me on this Lilith tour,” said Lynn in a statement. “I have never done shows just with other girl singers before. When I first started out, they said girl singers couldn't sell records or concert tickets. We've come a long way since then and we're gonna have a big time out there!"

No word yet on how many dates Lynn—or any of the new additions-- will do. In fact, we’re still waiting for dates for the tour. But in the meantime, Lilith has dropped the word “fair” from its title and added 15 more cities to the originally announced slate of stops: Edmonton, San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Hartford, Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Houston and Austin.

Full list of artists announced so far:

A Fine Frenzy, Ann Atomic, Ash Koley, Beth Orton, Brandi Carlile, Butterfly Boucher, Cat Power, Ceci Bastida, Chairlift, Chantal Kreviazuk, Colbie Caillat, Corinne Bailey Rae, Donna Delory, Elizaveta, Emmylou Harris, Erin McCarley, Erykah Badu, Frazey Ford, Gossip, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Heart, Ima, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Knapp, Jill Hennessy, Jill Scott, Julia Othmer, Kate Nash Katzenjammer, Ke$ha, La Roux, Lights, Lissie, Loretta Lynn, Marina & The Diamonds, Mary J. Blige, Meaghan Smith, Melissa McClelland, Metric, Miranda Lambert, Missy Higgins, Nneka, Norah Jones, Priscilla Renea, Rosie Thomas, Sara Bareilles, Sarah McLachlan, Serena Ryder, Sheryl Crow, Sia, Sugarland, Susan Justice, Tara MacLean, Tegan and Sara, Toby Lightman, Vedera, Vita Chambers, The Submarines, The Weepies, Ximena Sarinana, Zee Avi
 

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<p>&nbsp;Robert Redford</p>

 Robert Redford

Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC

Robert Redford hopes for a Paris Hilton-free Sundance

Film Festival kicks off with founder's declaration of returning to its roots

 

What do T.S. Eliot and Paris Hilton have in common? Robert Redford invoked both today at a press conference that officially kicked off the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, which runs Jan. 21-30 here in Park City, Utah.

“With this year’s festival, I’m reminded that there’s a poem that I’m always fond of by T.S. Eliot,” said Redford, Sundance’s founder, before launching into Eliot’s “Little Giddings”: “We will not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started.” “We’re going back to our roots with fresh new ideas and fresh new voices and that’s really the thrust of our festival this year," Redford told reporters gathered at the Egyptian Theater on Main Street, the site of the first Sundance Film Festival in 1981.

To that end, Redford and Sundance director John Cooper, who took over that role from longtime director Geoff Gilmore earlier this year, touted a return to low-budget pictures and documentaries from all over the globe. “World cinema has been high on our list,” Cooper said. “We have 41 countries represented. Estonia and Greenland were never at the festival before.”

As far as how the more than 100 films screened here are selected, Cooper joked, “It turns into a big blood bath of arguments,” between him and the other programmers. “We know each other very well and how to judge each other’s passions.” (For a list of movies the Hitfix staff is passionate about, see here).

Redford, who had a cast on his right arm, has always had a soft spot for documentaries, but he said their importance continues to grow. “By expanding the venue for documentaries to be seen, you can move into areas vacated by the news media. Where are people going to get the truth? It’s starting to get confusing with the bloggers and the yada, yada, yada. We bring in documentaries from other countries where filmmakers risk their lives. There’s a truth that’s verifiable. Our commitment [going forward] will be to look to how we can create opportunities for them."

As Sundance approaches its 30th birthday, Redford confessed that he never expected the festival to survive past 10 years. As events age, “people get afraid of taking chances,” he said. “I assumed we wouldn’t last more than 10 years. When we cease to provide a benefit to independent filmmakers we shouldn’t stick around, but as long as we [could], we should keep going.” He added that he takes the festival’s temperature every year and that over the last few years, he’d felt, “we were sliding,” in part due to the hijacking of the festival by “ambush marketers who took over Main Street and the houses in the mountains, at three or four times [the normal price] to hand out their swag. You end up with Paris Hilton here who had nothing to do with us.” Redford has trotted out Hilton as the poster child of the over commercialization of Sundance by brand names hoping to capitalize on Sundance’s reputation. “There’s nothing we do about that, but it kind of engulfed what we did. Now with the economy, these people can’t come back or I hope they don’t come.”

Among this year’s slate of films is “8: The Mormon Proposition,” a documentary by Reed Cowan, a former Mormon missionary, about the Mormons’ fight against gay rights including the Church’s involvement in the passage of California’s Prop 8. Clearly, in Utah, this movie has raised a ruckus, but Redford denied any political leanings by the festival. “It’s up to the audience to decide about it. The criteria is is the work interesting?…we don’t take a side politically. I may personally, but not the festival.”

The Prop 8 controversy arose last year surrounding public screenings at the Holiday Theaters 1-3 local multiplex here because the owners contributed to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign, causing many political activists to ask the festival to disassociate the festival from the multiplex, which the festival declined to do. This year, there are no public screenings at the Holiday, although the festival continues to use it for press and industry screenings this year.

On a lighter note, also showing this year is “Smash His Camera,” a documentary about Ron Galella, the first true paparazzo. Redford was asked about that selection since he and Galella had a 30-year relationship of the cameraman chasing the elusive star. Redford responded with a long, winding story about how he pulled a fast one when Galella tried to shoot him while Redford was filming “Three Days of the Condor.” Redford hasn’t seen “Smash His Camera.”

To follow Melinda Newman on Twitter, click here.


 

 

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<p>Taylor Swift: Shhh! I&nbsp;have a movie coming out!</p>

Taylor Swift: Shhh! I have a movie coming out!

Listen: Taylor Swift's 'Today was a Fairytale'

Review: 'Valentine's Day' tune is sweet as a heart-shaped box of candy

Taylor Swift’s “Today was a Fairytale,” her new song from “Valentine’s Day,” debuted on iTunes Wednesday and soared to No. 1 more on the strength of the mighty Swifter than the power of the song. We’ll post a link soon.

The mid-tempo track treads well-worn themes of she’s the loser, he’s the hero (“You Belong with Me”). She’s a damsel in distress until he comes in and rescues her (“Love Story”) and suddenly, there’s “magic in the air” because of the way he kissed her. Unlike “White Horse,” they presumably live happily ever after. This is a fairy tale, after all.

The song, which appears as the end title of the movie and is on the soundtrack (out Feb. 9), is sweet as a heart-shaped box of candy and dreamy in that way that appeals to braces-wearing 14-year-old girls with crushes on the high school quarterback. Musically, she continues to perfectly walk that tricky line between country and pop. In fact, the largely acoustic “Fairytale” is little more country than “You Belong with Me,” so that will no doubt please country programmers. There’s even what sounds like a mandolin at one point.

Swift, who appears in the movie as the love interest of her real-life ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner, will perform the song for the first time on the Jan. 31 Grammy Awards. She is up for eight awards, including album, record and song of the year.

As YouTube videos come and go, you may want to dial up Taylor Swift's site for a stream of the song if the clip below fails to load.

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<p>Kelly Clarkson</p>

Kelly Clarkson

2010 Grammy Predictions: Should Pink, BEP or Kelly Clarkson win best pop vocal album?

The Fray and Colbie Caillat also in contention

As we continue to plow through Grammy categories as we countdown to the Jan. 31 awards show, we're in a pop frame of mind.

Best Pop Vocal Album

“The E.N.D.,” Black Eyed Peas
“Breakthrough,” Colbie Caillat
“All I Ever Wanted,” Kelly Clarkson
The Fray,” The Fray
“Funhouse,” Pink

These are all strong contenders as pop is having a nice resurgence for females. Having said that, we’re knocking Caillat out of the running. Even though she’s made some nice strides, “Breakthrough” has not been as successful as her 2007 debut, plus her competition is too strong. Same with The Fray. Nice record, but not as successful as their last. “All I Ever Wanted” has spawned some nice hits for Clarkson, but hasn’t advanced her career artistically.  (Although if people really took the "vocal" part of the category seriously, she's be the clear winner). That leaves us with “The E.N.D.” and “Funhouse.” Pink deserves it as “Funhouse” continues her exploration of deep topics, such as on “Sober,” but also keeps the mood light on other tracks. “The E.N.D.” is a great party album, full of inventive beats, but it doesn’t hold up as well on repeated listening. Having said that, given that “The E.N.D.” is also nominated for album of the year, voters who haven’t spent time with all five albums will definitely check the box for the Peas.

The Grammy goes to: “The E.N.D.," Black Eyed Peas

Read other HitFix 2010 Grammy predictions:

Best rock performance by duo or group
Best male pop vocal performance
Best female pop vocal performance
Best pop group performance
Best alternative album
Best rock song

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