Friday, September 28, 2007
A race to the finish line
More than 20 years ago, I stumbled on a book at the late, much-lamented Oxford Too bookstore in Atlanta: "Baseball's Pennant Races: A Graphic View," by John Warner Davenport. It contained, of all things, every major-league pennant race from 1901 to 1980 in graph form, which -- in that pre-Internet, pre-PC era -- Davenport had patiently assembled with graph paper and drafting tape, researching daily standings on microfilm. (Davenport also wrote nifty descriptions of each season.)

To this day, it's one of my most-loved baseball books (foolishly left off a list I once compiled because it's been long out of print). Davenport's rendering of the 1967 American League chase is more exciting than a shelf of Robert Ludlum novels.

I bring all this up because here it is, the final weekend of the 2007 regular season, and the National League is still anybody's guess. (Yes, this entry isn't really about entertainment in the Britney sense, but please grant me dispensation.) All you baseball fans out there know what I mean: It could be a wild weekend.

John Warner Davenport died in 1989, as a kind letter from his wife informed me many years ago, but his spirit lives on in a Web site by Alex Reisner, who's done the work and put it on the Web. And perhaps someday, someone will re-release Davenport's fine work.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
'Halo 3': Record-smashing button mashing
It's certainly not a surprise, but it is official. "Halo 3" is a hit.

In fact, it's a hit on such a massive scale, it defied the expectations of the industry.

According to Microsoft, "Halo 3" racked up $170 million in sales in the United States alone in its first day of release, making it the biggest launch in entertainment history. Industry analysts had pegged the number somewhere in the range of $150 million. According to my contacts at the company, the figures reflect the sales of the game only.

International numbers have yet to be released, but if the sales figures for the U.S. are any indicator, they're going to be huge. Factor in the international exchange rate and that number could easily reach $300 million.

Let me remind you, we're talking about just one day's sales.

To put things in perspective, this summer's blockbuster "Spider-Man 3" grossed $151 million in its first three days in theaters. Though official numbers haven't been released, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" sold 6.9 million copies in its first day on book shelves. Literary industry analysts have pegged that number close to $160 million.

It's important to mention that Microsoft released three different versions of the game, priced at three different levels -- ranging from a basic version priced at $59.99 all the way to a "legendary edition" priced at $129.99.

Now, there's obviously a great difference between the cost of a movie ticket and a video game, but there's clearly an audience out there willing to spend the money. In fact, you can probably make a fairly accurate assumption that a good number of those people who stood in line to get their hands on a copy of "Halo 3" had another late-night earlier this summer to catch a midnight screening of "Spider-Man 3," too.

As someone who covers gaming for CNN.com, I always find it kind of curious when mainstream entertainment media refer to video games, despite it being a billion dollar industry, as catering to a niche audience.

If you can sell $170 million worth of anything -- I'd say that's a pretty big niche.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
A message from Bob Dylan
Big month for Bob Dylan devotees (and I hope that means most of you) coming up: a single-disc "greatest songs" CD out October 1, the 3-CD "Dylan" box set due the same day and "The Other Side of the Mirror," the Dylan Newport performances DVD, out October 30. Yes, I'm sure that you own most of the music, as I do, but any month is a good month to celebrate Bob Dylan.

(Update, 9/28: Of course, much of this Dylan mania ties in with the release of the new Todd Haynes film, "I'm Not There," which opens in November.)

In the meantime, want to make your own Bob Dylan "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video? Click here to send a message.
Monday, September 24, 2007
The Tyrant of Tinseltown
Hollywood has never lacked for folks who could use a little anger management. Studio heads, directors and even some actors have made their names on their explosive tempers.

But few did it as well as Otto Preminger. The director and occasional actor not only had an upper-class German accent (actually Austrian, but who in Hollywood would take the time to tell the difference?), he was capable of volcanic tirades that left some of actors -- in movies including "Laura," "The Man with the Golden Arm," "Exodus" and "Advise and Consent" -- literally shaking. Not for nothing was he cast as a Nazi in "Stalag 17."

But, as Foster Hirsch's fine new biography, "Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King" (Knopf, due October 16), makes clear, there was more than one side to Preminger. If he wasn't an flashy director, he was a audacious publicist, knowing the value of a little titillation in attracting audiences (his "The Moon Is Blue" was considered scandalous in 1953). If he wasn't a groundbreaking artist, he was an innovative producer, controlling many aspects of his films at a time when the studios still reigned supreme.

And he could be caring and kind, as well as cruel. Hirsch takes care to present both sides of Preminger, from the tyrant who terrorized Jean Seberg in "Saint Joan" -- he even continued shooting when Seberg started to catch fire during the burning-at-the-stake scene -- to the professional who made "Anatomy of a Murder" such a brilliant film. He was also quite the ladies' man. Hirsch doesn't skimp on that material, either.

Most of Preminger's films pop up on TV time and time again, with one exception: 1959's "Porgy and Bess," which featured an all-black cast -- another brave move for Preminger. Thanks to biographer Hirsch and the Samuel Goldwyn estate, for the first time in 40 years, the film is going to be shown. The screening is scheduled for New York's Ziegfeld Theatre Wednesday and Thursday, September 26 and 27.

"The film to be shown is an original roadshow print, with overture, intermission music and exit music," Hirsch said in a release. "It is the only known complete print of the film in the United States."

If you're in the area, check it out. And definitely give Hirsch's biography a look, too.
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