- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

“The Siege,” rereleased this week on DVD, paints a harrowing portrait of how New York City, and the country as a whole, could change in the face of repeated terrorist attacks.

That the film originally came out in 1998, not post-September 11, speaks volumes about the movie industry’s reluctance to tackle terrorism head-on.

Sure, “United 93” and “World Trade Center” addressed the real-life events directly, but we’re still waiting for a film in which some modern-day film hero or heroine dispatches fictional al Qaeda thugs.

Surely some WWE star, searching for action-hero bona fides, could take out a terror cell, right?

Until then, we’ll have to settle for “The Siege,” which at times is more than enough.

Director Edward Zwick’s constitutional thriller moves in fits and starts, and for every electrifying moment, there’s another that reeks of expediency. A series of terrorist attacks has left the Big Apple shaken to its core. An FBI agent (Denzel Washington) must deal with a mysterious CIA operative (Annette Bening) and a headstrong general (Bruce Willis) to keep New York safe. Meanwhile, the government declares martial law in the city, leading the military to round up young Arab men and stirring up all sorts of constitutional issues.

The DVD, officially titled “The Siege: Martial Law Edition,” offers three featurettes with well-deserved backslapping for being so historically intuitive and intriguing glimpses into how the film came to pass.

The film’s producer, Lynda Obst, vaguely points a finger at the U.S. support for the mujahideen against the Soviet Union as one explanation for the modern wave of terrorism, but otherwise, the commentary lacks political bite. Better are the revelations regarding the interagency squabbling among local law enforcement, the FBI and CIA that helped blind the nation to the impending attack.

Mr. Zwick apparently did his homework, talking to members of the various U.S. agencies. Their frustrations can be heard throughout the movie, which makes sense, given Mr. Zwick’s previous work as a journalist for Rolling Stone and the New Republic.

The package integrates newly shot footage with material clearly recorded near the time of the film’s theatrical release. Mr. Zwick’s beard, sometimes flecked with gray, sometimes solid black, is the clearest giveaway.

Christian Toto

Behind the Web music

With everything from YouTube to French-filmed videos, you no longer need VH1 to go behind the music.

A number of acts recently have developed channels on YouTube to help promote album releases. The first notable forays by professional musicians into the video-sharing site were by P. Diddy and Paris Hilton — if you can call Ms. Hilton a professional musician. Their entries drew some anger from YouTube’s protective amateur community, but it has become commonplace for well-known acts to post videos.

On R. Kelly’s Youtube channel, R. Kelly TV, you can step into the R&B singer’s closet to hear him talk about his new album while getting his hair braided or see him sing an a cappella version of “Double Up.” Most of Mr. Kelly’s 37 videos are music videos, but these recent entries — called “webisodes” — show the singer has embraced the intimate, raw nature of YouTube.

So has former “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, who has posted videos of himself at rehearsal and signing T-shirts. Linkin Park has been perhaps the most revealing act on YouTube, where the rock band has posted 11 behind-the-scenes episodes since late March. Those clips were taken mostly from an ITunes LPTV series, which sells videos for $1.99 each.

Getting a glimpse behind the velvet rope doesn’t have to cost anything.

One French Web site presents artists performing songs, as the French would say, en plein air. Blogotheque.net recently celebrated its one-year anniversary of producing its incredible “Take Away Shows,” a video podcast series of bands and musicians playing acoustically in the street, in a bar or even on a sailboat.

Each song is filmed in one long take by director Vincent Moon. Contributors have included Arcade Fire, the Shins and Tapes ‘N Tapes. Emanuel Lundgren, lead singer of I’m From Barcelona, strolls down a European street like a pied piper, singing and playing acoustic guitar while others join him.

The National performs while band members sit at a long table littered with empty wineglasses and cigarette butts; My Brightest Diamond singer Shara Worden sings in the woods of a Brooklyn park; the Cold War Kids find acoustics in a French parking lot.

In the commercial music world of digital downloads, amplified arena concerts and flashy music videos, the Blogotheque videos feel revolutionary in their naturalism. Everything unnecessary has been discarded. It’s a superior version of MTV’s “Unplugged” for the digital age.

Jake Coyle, Associated Press

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