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The Nation

'It's Been a Busy Week' for New York's Red Carpet Liberals

Celebrities of the liberal persuasion were out in force for the openings of two political films and are expected again at a Clinton book party.

June 20, 2004|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — This city's political and entertainment celebrities -- at least those of the liberal persuasion -- are in the midst of a sprint.

Nearly 1,000 of them came out early last week to watch filmmaker Michael Moore's take on President Bush in "Fahrenheit 9/11." Two days later many of the same crowd were at an 800-seat screening of "The Hunting of the President," described as a documentary on the political right's 10-year campaign against President Clinton.

Monday night, they'll gather yet again in the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a party to celebrate the Tuesday publication of Clinton's autobiography.

"It's been a busy week," said writer Salman Rushdie, who along with his wife, Padma Lakshmi, attended both movie screenings. So did actors Glenn Close and Mike Myers, model Lauren Hutton, writer Kurt Vonnegut, musician Moby, CNBC anchor Tina Brown, comedian Al Franken and many others. Franken recounted that the first screening alone prompted actor Tim Robbins to joke: "Isn't this what neutron bombs were invented for?"

"Every liberal in New York was out this week," said publicist Peggy Siegal, who arranged the "Fahrenheit 9/11" screening and helped out with the second film, using the same guest list. "I'm the lefty princess!" she said Wednesday, before running off to help Hutton find her seat.

June is already New York's busiest social season, with ballet and other charity events, and parties in Central Park for wildlife conservation. "From Memorial Day to July 4th, every single night there are a million things in New York, and then people go away and it drops dead" until September, Siegal said.

But this year, the summer break won't be as lengthy. Those on the left of the political spectrum will try to keep the heat on through the Republican National Convention at the end of August. Stars have already been summoned in recent weeks to former Vice President Al Gore's talk on global warming, tied to the release of the movie "The Day After Tomorrow," and to a benefit featuring the play "Embedded," which was written by Tim Robbins and criticizes how the media covered the Iraq war. Siegal handled the "Embedded" event too.

This week's screenings, however, weren't on the calendar until Moore picked a fight with Disney head Michael Eisner, contending the media giant was blocking distribution of his movie, which then went on to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Suddenly, there were people clamoring to see the movie and screening parties to plan, first in Los Angeles, then in New York, both with less than a week's notice. As buzz built, the New York screening had to move to a larger theater to accommodate the crowd, which included Moore.

The "Hunting of the President" screening got pushed to the same week when it was was postponed because of former President Reagan's funeral. It quickly became a hot ticket because of the promised post-movie "special guest," Clinton himself, who was finally liberated to begin talking ever so coyly about his hotly anticipated book.

Having a bigger media presence is part of the Democrats' strategy this year, and has included the launch of Air America Radio, where Franken is a host.

"It's nice to make some noise," Rushdie said after the "Hunting" screening.

Not that anyone seemed to mind adding a dose of politics to their socializing. "We're just having a great time," said Franken, adding that the problem with conservatives was that they were not as much fun.

To be sure, the movies' sober topics -- Moore's broad indictment of the Bush administration's foreign policies and the intense political battling chronicled in "The Hunting of the President" -- didn't quite lend themselves to all of the usual glitter of a Manhattan movie premiere. So there were press lines for the hordes of photographers on hand, but no official red carpet at either event.

The "Fahrenheit 9/11" screening didn't have the de rigueur mobbed after-party, but instead opted for a modest cocktail hour beforehand: wine, water and sodas, and wrap sandwiches and cookies handed out in Chinese food boxes.

"The Hunting of the President" screening was held in a decidedly non-glitzy theater that was part of New York University, but it didn't forgo one celebrity touch: Some of the stars as well as the film's producers were ushered afterward to a backstage mingle with the former president.

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