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John Belushi: the overdose that marked an end and a beginning in Hollywood | Culture

In Hollywood, the saying goes that the 1970s ended on March 5, 1982, the day that John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. “The game was up,” Taxi Driver director Paul Schrader would recall. “Some people stopped straight away; the feeling was that the rules had changed.” Bob Woodward’s 1984 biography of the comedian and actor, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, has recently been reissued in Spain, in which the journalist who uncovered the Watergate scandal paints a portrait not only of a man who was incapable of controlling his demons and impulses, but of a culture, that of Hollywood in the 1970s, that tolerated, facilitated and celebrated the rampant consumption of drugs.

It is hard to overstate Belushi’s impact on American culture, but it is also difficult to understand outside of his time. During an era of mistrust of the institutions and a crisis of values, after Nixon’s fall and the incapacity of Jimmy Carter, the US found a vehicle for its catharsis in Belushi. His humor was unpredictable, anarchic, uncomfortable, anti-system, surrealist and impulsive. “He adapted the counterculture to comedy,” says Toni García Ramón, author of the Spanish reissue of the prolog to Wired. “He was one of the first to pull jokes out of his sleeve, to improvise everything. He came from that dark, dirty, punk New York that Giuliani would later take on. Belushi was pure counterculture, he never bowed to anyone. He would walk into any sketch and blow it up. His greatest discovery was bringing street humor to the television, making the public at large laugh at the rough jokes people would tell in Hell’s Kitchen bars full of transvestites, punks and hookers.”

Saturday Night Live was the first show created by and for that generation who were born at the same time as television. Belushi used the platform to do things nobody thought could be done on television: he shoved cigars up his nose, smashed beer cans on his forehead, filled his mouth with food and spat it out. Through comedy, he dissected human behavior and parodied a masculinity that, in the middle of a second wave of feminism, had become childish, primitive and explosive. His style of humor was imitated so many times that it swiftly lost its impact, but in 1975 it made Belushi, 26, a national idol. “He represented all of the messy bedrooms in America,” said Steven Spielberg, who directed Belushi in 1941.

Belushi developed his ability to dissect American culture during adolescence. “He was a great observer,” says García Ramón. “He came from a family of immigrants that never integrated and knew little about the United States. He spent the afternoons at his classmates’ houses. He had to completely reinvent himself. And that’s one of the things that made him stand out as a comedian. He was the only person who could do it because he had invented it.”

In 1978, Belushi had the most-watched show on television, a number one record with the Blues Brothers, the duo he formed with Dan Aykroyd, to warm up the Saturday Night Live audience before filming, and the highest-grossing comedy movie in history at the time, National Lampoon’s Animal House.

“John would literally hail police cars like taxis. The cops would say, ‘Hey, Belushi!’ Then we’d fall into the backseat and the cops would drive us home.”,” writer and producer Mitch Glazer told Vanity Fair. For the first time in history, young people were in charge. The US had become one big university campus and Belushi was its demented dean. Comedian Nick Helm told The Guardian that in the 1970s comedians were the kings of New York. “He introduced [the idea of] funny people not just as rock stars but gods. And I think that the funniness of it maybe came second to the lifestyle. It’s hard to watch those SNL sketches and not smell the alcohol and drugs. They just smell of excess.” In one of Belushi’s most popular sketches, he is pretending to be Beethoven and after sniffing a white powder, he turns into Ray Charles. What he sniffed, live in front of 17 million viewers, was real cocaine. Belushi called it “Hitler’s drug” for the power it made him feel. He was convinced that his best impersonations, from Henry Kissinger to Joe Cocker, were due to cocaine. “The truth is that many on the show thought that you can’t do a ninety-minute live comedy show week after week without doing cocaine,” SNL writer (and future US Senator) Al Franken told People.

The budget for The Blues Brothers movie provided for cocaine, for night-time scenes. “Everyone did it, including me,” Aykroyd told Vanity Fair. “[But] John, he just loved what it did. It sort of brought him alive at night – that superpower feeling where you start to talk and converse and figure you can solve all the world’s problems.” In the documentary Belushi, there are letters the comedian wrote to his wife, promising he would give up drugs after the next movie. Belushi ended up spending $2,500 a week on cocaine. The more he earned, the more he took. And if he didn’t have money, it was given to him as a gift.

“I swear, you’d walk down the street with him, and people would hand him drugs. And then he’d do all of them — be the kind of character he played in sketches or Animal House,” the director Penny Marshall told Vanity Fair.

Some of the stories Woodward relates in his biography are as sad as they are terrifying. One night he turned up on set at SNL in such a bad state that the producer, Lorne Michaels, called a doctor, who said that if Belushi performed he may well die. “What’s the probability?” Michaels asked. Fifty-fifty, came the reply. “I can live with that.” John Landis, who directed The Blues Brothers, found Belushi found him semi-conscious, soaked in urine and next to a pile of cocaine. “John, you’re killing yourself! This isn’t financially viable. You can’t do this to my movie!” His wife, Judy, wrote to Belushi’s dealer. “I understand it’s your job, but please stop selling him cocaine.”

As Belushi had been banned from all the bars in New York, he opened his own in an abandoned building on Hudson Street. Among his regulars were David Bowie, Keith Richards and ZZ Top. “It was tiny, it smelled awful and the bathrooms were filthy… it became the most fashionable party in New York,” Glazer recalls in the documentary.

Belushi spent the first week of March 1982 in Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, trying to rewrite the script for Noble Rot, a romantic comedy he hoped would help him mature as an actor. Paramount instead proposed he film The Joy of Sex, a comedy that required Belushi to wear diapers. The failures of 1941, Continental Divide and Neighbors had made him feel like a Hollywood pariah. Belushi, despite being anti-system, carried positive reviews around in his jacket pocket.

Bungalow 3 became a 24-hour party. To be able to sleep, Belushi had to rent a room at a nearby hotel. On March 5, Robin Williams came by to say hello and Robert de Niro stopped for a couple of drinks, but he didn’t stay long as he was uncomfortable around the mess, with bottles, overfilled ashtrays and leftover food everywhere, and because he didn’t like, by his own description, the “tawdry woman” accompanying Belushi.

That woman was Cathy Smith, a groupie who had lived in the Rolling Stones’ mansion for a couple of years and was then running errands for rock stars. Smith had taken up residence with Belushi at Chateau Marmont with the task of injecting him with speedballs, a mixture of cocaine and heroin, because he didn’t like needles. At dawn the next day, Smith took him a glass of water in bed and he told her that he was fine but asked her not to leave him alone. But she had errands to run. When she returned, the hotel was surrounded by police, reporters and onlookers: At midday, personal trainer Bill Wallace, who was helping Belushi to lose weight, had found him dead in his bed, naked and in the fetal position. He was 33 years old.

That morning, Hollywood awoke from a party that seemed it would never end but had stopped being fun all at once. “Before that day, nobody thought you could die from it,” Franken said. Belushi became a fable, with cautionary tale included, about the moral corruption of Hollywood and the suffering of its stars. Woodward’s book definitively inscribed the myth in the folklore of the city: “He made us laugh,” the reporter summed up. “Now he’s making us think.”

Photographs from Belushi’s funeral capture a generation of comedy stars in a state of shock. Cathy Smith gave an interview to sensationalist tabloid National Enquirer whose headline, I killed John Belushi, prompted the reopening of the investigation into his death. Smith was sentenced to 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter. She died in 2020, aged 73. The New York Times published an obituary describing her as “one of the most notorious footnotes in pop culture.”

Chateau Marmont, which had always been a discreet refuge for the stars, entered into the black chronicle of Hollywood after Belushi’s death. With the passage of time, the coaches carrying tourists around added it to the list of obligatory stops. Bungalow 3 became a place a cult worship and pilgrimage. New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat would always stay in Bungalow 3 during his trips to Los Angeles (he died in 1998 from a heroin overdose). In the late 1980s, writer Jay McInerney traveled to Hollywood to work on the movie adaptation of his novel Bright Lights, Big City, which was released in 1988 and starred Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland. On getting out of his taxi, the movie’s producer told McInerney he had a room reserved for him at Chateau Marmont. “Is it any good?” asked the writer. “Is it any good?” the producer replied. “John Belushi died here!”

Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.

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How Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins Is Revolutionizing The Fashion Modeling

Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins

The Voice Of EU | In the ever-evolving landscape of fashion modeling, a groundbreaking innovation has emerged: the creation of virtual twins through the power of artificial intelligence (AI). This technological advancement has already made waves in the industry, exemplified by the case of Alexsandrah, a renowned model who has seamlessly integrated her AI counterpart into her professional endeavors. The implications of this development are far-reaching, reshaping not only the creative landscape but also the economic and ethical dimensions of the fashion world.

Alexsandrah, known professionally by her first name, stands as a pioneer in this new era of modeling. She proudly shares that her digital twin mirrors her appearance “even down to the baby hairs,” blurring the lines between reality and simulation. This symbiotic relationship between the human model and her AI counterpart signifies a transformative shift propelled by AI technology.

Advocates of AI-generated modeling argue that its increasing prevalence promotes diversity and inclusivity within the fashion industry. By showcasing a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics, AI models empower consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, ultimately reducing fashion waste stemming from product returns. Moreover, the cost-effectiveness of digital modeling presents economic opportunities for both companies and individuals seeking to leverage this innovative technology.

However, amidst the promise of progress, critics voice concerns regarding the potential ramifications of AI modeling. The displacement of human models, makeup artists, and photographers looms large, raising questions about job security and ethical implications. Furthermore, there is apprehension that unsuspecting consumers may be deceived into mistaking AI models for real individuals, undermining transparency and authenticity in the industry.

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, underscores the pressing need to address these concerns. She highlights the risk of distorting racial representation and marginalizing models of color through the uncritical adoption of AI technology. Indeed, data indicates that women, especially those from underrepresented groups, are disproportionately affected by the advent of AI in modeling, further exacerbating existing disparities in the industry.

The case of iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. illustrates the nuanced stance that companies are taking towards AI-generated models. While initial experiments with AI models aimed to diversify representation, backlash prompted a reevaluation of their approach. Levi reaffirmed its commitment to live photo shoots and human models, signaling a cautious approach to AI integration in its operations.

Despite varying responses from industry players, the demand for AI-generated models continues to grow. Companies like Lalaland.ai, founded by Michael Musandu, are at the forefront of this technological revolution. Musandu emphasizes the complementary nature of AI models, envisioning them as supplements rather than replacements for traditional photo shoots. He underscores the potential of AI to enhance the shopping experience, reduce product returns, and create new job opportunities within the industry.

The journey towards ethical AI implementation in fashion modeling is fraught with challenges, as highlighted by the experiences of models like Yve Edmond. Concerns regarding consent, compensation, and labor rights underscore the need for robust regulatory frameworks. The Model Alliance advocates for legislative measures to safeguard the rights of fashion workers, including provisions for informed consent and fair compensation in the realm of AI modeling.

Amidst the complexities and controversies surrounding AI-generated modeling, individuals like Alexsandrah navigate this new frontier with a sense of optimism tempered by vigilance. By fostering transparency, ethical use, and equitable compensation, AI has the potential to expand opportunities for models of color and revolutionize the fashion industry. As stakeholders grapple with the ethical and economic implications of this technology, the journey towards a more inclusive and sustainable future for fashion modeling continues.


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— By Darren Wilson | Contributor VoiceOfEU.com

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Top 10 most profitable places in Britain for holiday rentals

The most profitable locations in Britain for holiday rentals has been revealed – and the majority are not located anywhere near a beach.

Staycation favourite Cornwall is top of the rankings, with an average price per night of £84 for a room and £117 for a whole house.

A total of 476,910 bookings were made via popular holiday rental companies in the area last summer, according to analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the money website Wealth of Geeks.

The figures suggest that holiday lets in Cornwall took bookings worth £40million between the beginning of July and the end of September last year.

However, most of the top 10 are located in inner London, the research showed.

The most profitable locations for buy-to-let have been revealed, with staycation favourite Cornwall at the top of the rankings

The list of top ten places also includes several areas in London, including Westminster in second place.

The average price of renting a holiday let in Westminster is £133 a night for a room and £435 for a house.

With 304,790 holiday let bookings, it produces a revenue for the area in the heart of London’s west end of £34,441,270 for the summer period last year.

The calculations were based on bookings on Airbnb, Booking.com and the Expedia Group, with data taken from the Office for National Statistics.

The rental prices, meanwhile, were taken from Airbnb across 388 British towns, and the total revenue was calculated by multiplying the number of nights with the nightly cost of a room on Airbnb.

The revenue did not take into account any costs of running a holiday let, such as repairs and maintenance, nor did it factor in property prices.

All of the remaining locations in the top ten were in London except for one on the south coast.

This was Brighton and Hove, where average rental prices per night were £100 for a room.

In total, the data suggested that the British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023.

Michael Dinich, of Wealth of Geeks, said: ‘Holiday rentals play a vital role in the UK’s tourism industry by supporting local economies, providing accommodation to enhance visitor experience, and promoting tourism in diverse regions across the country.

‘Tourism also helps to promote awareness of lesser-known areas, helping to distribute tourist spending more evenly across the country.

‘While some destinations may experience seasonal fluctuations in tourism often in the summer months, holiday rentals attract visit year-round, helping to sustain economies and businesses during off-peak seasons.’

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year's Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

The findings show that those looking to invest in the holiday lets market need to do their sums carefully before taking the plunge and committing to a particular area.

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, explained: ‘This data shows that it’s not just the prospect of beaches and more reliable weather which drives profitability.

‘It’s not just traditionally popular holiday destinations which produce the best returns so it’s vital that would-be landlords do their research carefully before investing.

‘The ability to make money depends on supply and demand, not just the attributes of an area.

‘At what level a landlord can rent their property for, after taking into account all expenses, is key and explains why areas such as Westminster and Camden are proving profitable, where they may lack the charm of a traditional UK holiday destination such as Cornwall.’

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

Tax crackdown

The data on the most profitable holiday lets follows a crackdown on the sector by the Chancellor.

Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped to help improve the availability of long-term rentals.

The move is due to come into force at the beginning of April next year and is widely seen as a way of bringing the tax regime of shorter-term lets more in line with longer term rentals.

Experts operating in the sector insisted that holiday rentals remained in demand ahead of the changes.

Graham Donoghue, of Sykes Holiday Cottages, said: ‘Staycations have been growing in popularity over the past decade and right now demand for our UK holiday cottages is higher than ever, with the average annual income of a holiday let owner up as a result.

‘Hotspot locations like Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Cornwall continue to see considerable demand and bookings across the UK for our holiday cottages have been up 11 per cent during the current Easter school holidays.

‘The demand we’re witnessing is particularly good news for our holiday let owners who have faced their own set of challenges recently. Despite changes, which we are carefully guiding our owners through, it’s clear that holiday letting remains a profitable and rewarding long-term business model.’

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‘Monkey Man’: Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel has always had an intelligent glint in his eye. From his big screen debut in Slumdog Millionaire to his role as a journalist in Aaron Sorkin’s series The Newsroom, the British actor usually brings a sense of peace, calm and intelligence to his performances. Perhaps that is why it is no surprise that, at 32, he has made his directorial debut with a film in favor of social outcasts, which he also produces, co-writes and stars in. The surprise is its genre: Monkey Man is a fierce action and martial arts film, revolving around hand-to-hand combat, dismemberment and knife fights.

Patel returns to India, the land of his ancestors, for his story of revenge that is strengthened by the creative arsenal applied to its sequences — and not only those of combat. While there was a serious lack of design in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, one of the worst choices for Oscar for Best Film in Oscar history, Monkey Man has at its heart a physical and moral entanglement, involving a sadistic police chief, a luxury brothel that serves as home to both fornication and power, and a ragged young man who seeks to atone for the death of his mother through the most savage forms of violence.

Monkey Man is also set in a slum overrun by gambling and fights, with Patel earning a few rupees as an underground bare fist fighter wearing a crude monkey mask. With its colors and the camera’s handling of Bombay’s chaos, the movie has echoes of Brazil’s City of God.

Image from the movie 'Monkey Man.'
Image from the movie ‘Monkey Man.’Universal Pictures

A comparison can also easily be made with the John Wick saga, which has revolutionized commercial action and martial arts cinema in the past 10 years. Patel even mentions John Wick in one on-screen exchange. Yet, despite the similarities, the staging and editing of their spectacular fight sequences set them apart. In the four installments of the John Wick movies starring Keanu Reeves, the choreography regarding the confrontations is developed through a paradoxically harmonious staging of continuity, with general shots extended in time. The dynamics of their contenders and their movements are visualized with hardly any editing, almost like a classic fifties musical but instead of dances, there is physical destruction.

The action in Monkey Man, on the other hand, is not one of continuity, but of rupture. The cuts are incessant and move at an unrestrained pace; the shots come in quick succession, with barely a second or two between them. Patel’s handling of cinematic language is brutal. For a novice director, he displays a dazzling energy, cadence and expressiveness. This is demonstrated by three of the only four fights in the ring, each one based on a dynamic sense of space and narrative. The first is defined by the close-up shot, with the camera directed at the waist of the opponents or even lower — giving the viewers a sense of overwhelming closeness. The second offers a very different vision of the fight, which is both more poetic and exquisite. And the third uses surprise as the main exponent, and is raw and concise.

With rough textures, contrasting colors and ochre photography, reflecting the social mud in which most of the characters are stuck, Monkey Man only slips off kilter in the second half, when the Hindu demigod, Hanuman, assumes the tragic halo that envelops the protagonist. Although it gives him authenticity with respect to his lineage, the visualization is tinged with a somewhat tiresome messianic muddle of lyrical ambition.

Monkey Man

Director: Dev Patel.

Cast: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhuliwala.

Genre: Action. United States, 2024.

Duration: 121 minutes

Release date: April 12.


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