Thumbs up for Tarantino; thumbs down for Chan

As we’ve observed over and over again in recent weeks at this site, the current conflicts over the pro-liberty protesters in Hong Kong – and over the growing arrogance of China generally in its relations with the free world – have separated the sheep from the goats. Here are a couple of stories we haven’t covered yet.

Quentin Tarantino

To begin with, there’s Quentin Tarantino. We’ve criticized the brilliant, eccentric writer-director on this site, but it’s important to give credit where credit is due. His new Brad Pitt-Leonardo di Caprio vehicle, Once upon a Time in Hollywood, has been generating even more buzz than his pictures usually do, and looks like it has a fair chance to pick up a few statuettes at Oscar time. But there’s been one problem: the bigwigs in China, a top market for Hollywood films these days, insisted that he make certain cuts before they would allow the movie to be released there. To be sure, when Beijing objected to scenes of violence and nudity in one of his previous works, Django Unchained, he did agree to clip out a few of the scenes that bothered them. But this time Tarantino – who has rights to final cut – responded to their demands with a firm no.

Michael Chan

Then there’s Canadian politician Michael Chan, a former minister of immigration and international trade in the government of Ontario who now sits on the board of governors of Seneca College. He’s come out firmly against the Hong Kong protest, echoing Beijing’s spurious claims that they’re the work of dark “foreign forces” that are interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and out to make trouble for China. “I have been thinking, why are these young people so radical, so passionate [and] committed to do these things? And why so many people?” Chan said. “If there is no deeply hidden organization in this, or deeply hidden push from the outside, there is no way that such large-scale turmoil would happen in Hong Kong in a few months.”

Chan’s career history is far from irrelevant here. When he was in government, according to the Globe and Mail, Canadian intelligence was seriously concerned about the closeness of his relationship with Chinese consular officials in Toronto and privately warned higher-ups about Chan’s “conduct and the risk of foreign influence.” The Globe and Mail quoted Gloria Fung, president of a group called Canada-Hong Kong Link, as saying that Chan is clearly “not using Canadian values nor the universal values of Western democracies in making all these comments. Rather, he abides by the values of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Mickey Rourke’s price tag – and other Putin purchases

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Sophia Loren and Putin at a 2012 event

Yesterday we discussed a December 2010 benefit at which stars like Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke gleefully rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Putin.

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Paul Anka obviously enjoying himself

That was bad enough. But it gets worse. Guess what? The benefit, it turned out, hadn’t really been a benefit at all: not a single hospital or clinic or other such organization ended up receiving so much as a ruble as a result of it. Yet that didn’t keep Putin’s pals from organizing a similar event the following year – and, astonishingly, it didn’t prevent another gaggle of famous folk from turning up.

Among them: Chris Noth of Sex and the City, Sophia Loren, Steven Seagal, Andrea Bocelli, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Jeremy Irons – and Isabella Rosellini, who, according to the New Yorker, had been informed that morning that she was involved in a scambut was unfazed by it.”

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Mickey Rourke in Putin t-shirt

Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, writing about these shenanigans recently in Buzzfeed, provided information about Seagal’s trips to Russia – which they described as “frequent” – that was new to us. In 2007 he visited Kalmykia, a majority-Buddhist province, and promised its leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to produce and star in a movie about Genghis Khan; when that project failed to get green-lighted, Seagal blamed “the Jews”: “There are no Buddhists among the people who finance movies,” he explained. Another tidbit from Buzzfeed: last August, while Russian troops were pouring into Ukraine, Mickey Rourke, in exchange for a $50,000 Kremlin payment, allowed himself to be photographed wearing a Putin t-shirt. (Rourke had previously said that he purchased the t-shirt of his own accord and solely for reasons of private sentiment: “I have a Russian girlfriend.”) 

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Woody Allen shaking the hand of Roman Abramovich, whom Putin has described as a “son”

Finally, as recently as this June – while Poland and the Baltic republics were begging NATO to beef up their defenses in case of a possible Russian invasion – Woody Allen was spotted in Russia again, this time attending the opening of a new art museum owned by billionaire – and Putin intimate – Roman Abramovich and his wife, Daria Zhukova. Other guests at the opening included George Lucas, Harvey Weinstein, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Salma Hayek. Was Allen, we wonder, paid to be there – or was he, perhaps, fishing for Russian financing for a future project? As for Putin, is he courting these people, who’ve already provided him with positive press in the West, in hopes of developing some larger-scale, longer-term connection with some of the Tinseltown powers-that-be? Who’s better at propaganda, after all, than Hollywood?

Hearts of stone: Putin’s Hollywood pals

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Steven Seagal, Vladimir Putin

Back in April, Buzzfeed ran a useful and perceptive study of the use Vladimir Putin makes of his useful American-showbiz stooges. The focus was on washed-up lowbrow-movie headliner Steven Seagal, whose friendship (Buzzfeed called it a “bromance”) with Putin we’ve already rehearsed here, but the insights were widely applicable.

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Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

“Putin’s unlikely bromance with Seagal,” wrote Max Seddon and Rosie Gray, “speaks to a core tenet of his rule: that political power is star power, and the president is the biggest celebrity of all. Under Putin, politics has become a carefully stage-managed TV show where spectacle takes the place of substance.” Seddon and Gray quoted Brookings Institution scholar Fiona Hill as saying that Putin “plays an action hero as president.”

Hence the systematic “ferrying” of “foreign celebrities to Moscow to meet Putin, staging displays of his virility and star pull.” Case in point: a December 2010 event in St. Petersburg that was billed as a benefit concert for children with cancer. That night Putin not only mingled with the likes of Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, and Mickey Rourke, but also (sort of) sang “Blueberry Hill” and (sort of) played a Russian song on a piano.

Did the stars all show up out of the goodness of their hearts? Not according to Shaun Walker of the Independent, who, noting that “Russia is fertile ground for celebrities of all hues to make pots of extra cash,” underscored that the star who’s “been popping up more than any other of late” is Stone:

At anything Russia-related these days, her grinning face seems to put in an appearance, like some kind of recurring nightmare, supporting whatever it is that the particular junket is about. A trusted source told me about the prices to bring different “entertainers” to Russia for events – Stone is one of the more expensive, reportedly coming in at as much as $250,000 a time. But pay that, and, calendar permitting, she’ll likely be there.

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Putin onstage with Sharon Stone, Paul Anka, Goldie Hawn, and others

It has to be said that Stone gives plenty of bang for the buck: at the purported child-cancer benefit, she actually sang a duet with Putin and cheered his own “performance” lustily. But then again, so did Hawn, Russell, and the rest.

This disgraceful conduct didn’t go entirely unnoticed. In a livid commentary, Russian-born adult-film actor and producer Michael Lucas condemned the Hollywood luminaries who attended the so-called benefit for showing such

Stone giving Putin the “V” for victory (or peace sign?) at the 2010 gala

adoration for a man who really is a swell guy — when he’s not ordering people to be thrown out of windows or shot in their doorways. When the camera cuts to the audience during his nails-on-chalkboard performance, the stars have enraptured, ecstatic looks — like they were at Frank Sinatra’s final performance…. Don’t they — or their handlers, know how to use Wikipedia? Did Sharon Stone not realize she was flashing a victory sign to an ex-KGB agent, an eternal Communist, and a historical revisionist? (Now he is forcing Russia’s teachers to portray Josef Stalin — who murdered at least 8 million of his own people in Siberian gulags — as a good leader and the savior of Russia.)

But there’s more. Tune in tomorrow.