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Titanic takings for Fox

VARIETY'S ANNUAL survey of top grossers at the box office revealed Titanic to have been a bigger success than anyone had feared. Raking in almost $1.7bn (around pounds 1bn) worldwide in 1998 alone, its takings represented more than 13 per cent of the total receipts for the top 100 movies. It out-grossed the closest opposition everywhere by anything from three- to seven-fold, even taking an unheard of $40m in China. The film helped to make Rupert Murdoch's Fox the top studio with a collective gross of $2.6bn. The top ranked non-US production was Britain's The Full Monty, in 40th place with $83m.

Vatican unveils vocals

THE POPE is now available on CD. Sony Classical and Radio Vaticana, the official broadcasting arm of the Vatican, have unleashed Abba Pater, which blends music with prayers and chants by Pope John Paul II. The disc, which will debut in advance of Holy Week and Easter in April, comprises original compositions and arrangements of contemporary music with the pontiff's radio broadcasts over the past 20 years. The Pope will also appear in a spin-off music video. The move is to commemorate the forthcoming jubilee in 2000 and the Pope's 20th year in the business. The use of contemporary instrumental, World Music and classical music will, it is hoped, give the disc global appeal to both pop fans and devoted Roman Catholics. The Pope is expected to surpass the 1995 success of Gregorian chants by the chart-topping Benedictine Monks. On Friday, however, he urged the media to stop its "meaningless accumulation of facts", and said it should instead take a leading role in celebrating the human spirit. The entertainment media, he emphasised, should not become "a soulless flight from truth and responsibility".

Lipstick and lace

THE HEAVY METAL giants Metallica are reportedly suing a lingerie company for selling a lipstick bearing their name. The company, Victoria's Secret, has refused to withdraw the product from sale despite claims that it has infringed the band's trademark. The band now seeks an order to bar the sale and promotion of the lipstick and, more in character, for the product to be "destroyed". No slouches themselves when it comes to merchandising, Metallica currently have spin-offs ranging from cigar clippers to a roadside repair kit with jump leads and a warning triangle. Yet a spokeswoman assured reporters that the band had no problem with the product's "girlie" nature - they wear make-up themselves - merely that people might assume they endorse it. Victoria's Secret denies its lipstick was named after the band, claiming that it was named after its metallic sheen.

Egg fight escalates

A TRADITIONAL Afghan egg fight escalated into a gun battle after Taliban soldiers tried to halt proceedings. The contests are forbidden in Taleban- controlled areas of Afghanistan because they usually involve gambling, a crime under Islamic Sharia law. Under the rules of the game, two contestants each hold an egg in one hand and strike them together. The loser is the one whose egg breaks first. The egg fight in question was held in Khost to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. When soldiers tried to stop bets, blows were exchanged and then stones thrown. Finding themselves outnumbered, the Taliban retreated and sent for reinforcements. According to reports, they returned heavily armed in eight vehicles. The local tribesmen were also ready, however, having taken up positions in nearby mountains. In the ensuing battle, in which rocket launchers were used, at least six people were killed. Several other casualties were taken for medical treatment in Pakistan.

Wartime slavery

POLISH citizens claiming to have been used as forced labourers during the Second World War filed suit on Thursday against more than 20 German, Austrian and US banks and companies. The corporations named by lawyers included DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Bayer, Hoechst, BASF, Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank. A spokesman for Hoechst said: "Just like a number of other companies in Germany we used Polish slave labour, but we are currently undertaking a historical investigation."