culture in Brief

The comeback mouse

MICKEY MOUSE will star this weekend in the world premiere of his first cartoon short since 1953. The rodent who helped to launch an entertainment empire made his big comeback yesterday in the 7 1/2-minute Mickey's New Car on American channel ABC. The Mickey "look" - red shorts, yellow shoes, bright eyes and big smile - has changed little in 46 years. "We didn't want to have a knee-jerk reaction and try to make him a 'hip' Mickey," either in style or tone, said executive producer Robert Gannaway. "These cartoons are full of good old physical gags, but with a few more contemporary props."

Fiennes favoured for Razzy

THE SPICE girls squared up to Godzilla and Armageddon in the battle for the worst film of 1998 when the Golden Raspberry nominations for Hollywood's most loathsome annual achievements were announced. John Wilson, the founder of the "Razzies", said the 19th annual list represented a new low for film making, the "worst movie-going year ever". Accordingly, he created a new category to celebrate the worst trends in recent films, including: "Gidgets and Geezers" - 58-year-old men wooing 28-year-old leading ladies, "If You've Seen the Trailer Why Bother to See the Movie" - previews that give away the film's entire plot and "30 Minutes of Story Conveyed in Less than 3 Hours" - longer movies, shorter plots. The award ceremony will be on 20 March, the day before the Oscars. Spice World garnered six nominations, including worst actress and worst new star for the entire five-member group, worst screenplay, worst original song and worst screen couple, which for Spice World was defined as "any combination of two characters, body parts or fashion accessories". The verdict in brief: "a five-member girl group with the talent of one bad actress between them". Bruce Willis was nominated for worst actor for his roles in Armaggedon, Mercury Rising and The Siege, but the smart money is on Ralph Fiennes for his dubious achievements in The Avengers.

The age of the ghost

ACCORDING TO researchers for the Fortean Times Weirdness Index, which specialises in tales of the bizarre, there has been a marked rise in paranormal and weird activity as the millennium approaches. Its report concludes that the world was 4.1 per cent weirder in 1998 than in 1997. Weirdness in the paranormal world was up by a "staggering" 8 per cent on 1997, with the number of weeping statues, prophecies, apparitions and UFO encounters reaching epidemic proportions. "Last year was by far the strangest year since our records began," said Fortean Times associate editor Joe McNally. "As we approach the year 2000 we're seeing unprecedented interest in the paranormal world." Humans themselves are also getting weirder, with ineptitude, stupidity, hoaxes, and cult activity up some 6.5 per cent. 1998 reports included: A 12-year-old from North Carolina, reputed to work miracles despite being in a coma since the age of three; a woman in Merthyr Tydfil who was accidentally abandoned by her acupuncturist in mid-treatment, and spent several hours locked in a surgery covered in needles; and a leap in the number of poltergeists reported in the Australian town of Humpty Doo.

Recaptured youth

BLONDIE, FRONTED by former Playboy Bunny Debbie Harry, returned to the top of the hit parade last Tuesday with the first record it has made in 17 years. Overjoyed at the group's revival, the singer who launched a million schoolboy fantasies in the 1970s said: "I want to recapture my youth, jerk around in front of thousands of people and make money of course." Responding to critics of her current, more ample figure, Harry said, "I always felt I could sing better when there was more meat on me." Blondie enjoyed huge success at the end of the Seventies with a string of five number-one hits and worldwide album sales of at least 40 million. The band split up when Harry left for three years to care for her lover and fellow band-member Chris Stein, who developed a near-fatal skin condition.

We are trying to connect you

THE BRITISH Journal of Psychology reports that the music on telephone answering machines conveys an image that could help companies to boost business. A survey of 103 people showed that most preferred to listen to the Beatles, though they thought almost any melody was better than a recorded message telling them to hold. If callers liked the music, they held on for up to 20 per cent longer than normal and had a better image of the company. Even piped, muzak versions of Beatles hits were judged preferable to the recorded message, which might leave one mystified as to the identity of the "annoying" tunes the report warns against.

Hitler's film-maker defiant

LENI RIEFENSTAHL, 96, once Hitler's favourite film-maker and one of the last surviving personalities of the Third Reich, took the opportunity of a rare news conference at an exhibition of her work in Potsdam to rebut her reputation as a Nazi propagandist. She has long refused to apologise for work she did during Hitler's rule. "It was a completely different time," she said. "There wasn't information about the horrible things that we learned about after the war. It wasn't imaginable." Her film Triumph of the Will documented the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and depicted Hitler addressing cheering crowds. Riefenstahl, however, described the event as "boring". "Making a documentary film was like a punishment for me," she said. "I was a passionate actress and wanted to get better roles. But then I saw that I had the talent of making interesting documentaries out of minimal content." For the record, she continued, "Abroad, no one was interested in these seven months that I worked for Hitler. People were only interested in my films, my work, how I did it as a woman, the techniques I developed that some cameramen are still learning from. Not, 'Did she have an affair with Hitler?' That was all nonsense."

Polished brass plates

British solicitors may be able to drop the PR men recently hired to improve their image. The American Bar Association's reports that hit television shows such as Ally McBeal are already doing the impossible - turning lawyers into likeable, competent characters. Michael Asimow, author of Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies, said a study of people who used to watch the series L.A. Law showed they had consequently developed a more favourable opinion of lawyers. He said lawyers were portrayed far more positively on television than in the movies, where, particularly since the Eighties, they had been depicted as "slime bags". Their British cousins should, however, heed researchers Stephen Daniels and Joanne Martin's warning against aggressive advertising. "Aggressive advertisers are called 'scum', 'bottom feeders', 'incompetents' and worse," they wrote.