- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Toga fever
"Hollywood's future may be ancient history.
"We're talking Leonardo DiCaprio in a toga (in Baz Luhrmann's planned 'Alexander the Great' biopic) and a slew of other movies unfolding two millennia ago. Mel Gibson is in Rome directing Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ in the indie 'The Passion.' This spring, Wolfgang Petersen will begin shooting Warner Bros.' 'Troy,' a Trojan War epic starring Brad Pitt as Achilles. Keanu Reeves is circling a Warner film about Roman emperor Constantine. And Vin Diesel will shoot Revolution's biopic of Hannibal the Carthaginian who crossed the Alps on an elephant. (Twentieth Century Fox also has a Hannibal film in the works, with Denzel Washington in mind.)
"Two years after 'Gladiator' grossed $457 worldwide and won five Oscars, studios are going to the mat for Greco-Roman pics. 'People's appetite for history seems to be unlimited,' notes industry analyst Jack Myers. 'Look at the History Channel, one of the most successful new-network launches over the last 10 years.'"
Gillian Flynn, writing on "Hooked on Classics," in the Dec. 6 issue of Entertainment Weekly

Genetic genie
"Gene scientists J. Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, a Nobel laureate, intend to use a $3 million federal grant to create a single-celled organism with the minimum number of genes necessary to sustain life. The long-term results could include new sources of energy and ways to detect biological weapons.
"At a time when scientists are unraveling complex genetic codes and cloning has become almost commonplace, developing a new life-form in the laboratory may be the logical next frontier. But, if anything, it raises even deeper ethical questions. The effort, all agree, goes to the very essence of science.
"If successful, it would give scientists a genetic recipe for life in the simplest of known creatures. But its potential uses could also be catastrophic.
"Venter has put the issue out for public debate as science once again pushes the boundaries of human knowledge with the promise of a discovery both tantalizing and troublesome."
Mark Sappenfield, writing on "Promise and pitfalls in quest to create new life," in the Nov. 22 edition of the Christian Science Monitor

New is old
"In 1973 Tom Wolfe paused to draw breath long enough to look back on what had happened to journalism and to him in the previous ten years and wrote a lengthy essay on what by then had been codified as The New Journalism.
"And what a time it was, as he and such Legends of the Trade as Gay Talese, Jimmy Breslin, Rex Reed, Hunter S. Thompson, Garry Wills, Joan Didion, John Sack, and George Plimpton were setting the Great American Novelists back on their bench-crafted heels and proclaiming that the age of nonfiction social realism had begun.
"Tom Wolfe delineated the defining principles of the New Journalistic Order: Technique. Technique. And Technique.
"Technique slid slowly, maddeningly, and seemingly inevitably into The Form: anecdote; set-up graph; scene, digression, scene, quote from Harvard sociologist. And time and again if a story did not conform to form it did not run. Kill fees do not pay the rent. And so you adjusted, which is a gentle way of saying that you edited yourself making sure to give them what they wanted.
"Magazines certainly looked different and sounded different. But in the very place where the revolution had begun the stories it had not only stalled but ossified. The Form became a crutch. It became the fallback position, the safe route to the last paragraph. You could avoid the clutter simply by conceiving of, reporting, and writing a story according to the clear and immutable lines of expectation that The Form dictated."
Michael Shapiro, writing on "The Curse of Tom Wolfe," in the November/December issue of the Columbia Journalism Review


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