Only In LA: How Mickey Mouse got his own back

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The Independent Culture
IT SEEMS the rivalry between Michael Eisner, Disney's chief executive, and his erstwhile studio-chief-turned-arch-enemy Jeffrey Katzenberg knows no bounds. Two months after Eisner (pictured) was forced to admit defeat and pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to Katzenberg to settle their long-running contract severance dispute, he has at last found a way - albeit a subtle one - of getting back at the man he once referred to as "the ball at the end of my pom-pom".

Katzenberg hasn't exposed too many chinks in his armour since walking out of Disney to set up the new DreamWorks studio venture with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen five years ago. His main task has been to churn out animation and computer-generated movies in direct competition with his old company, something he has done to great effect with such films as Antz and The Prince of Egypt.

Then, this summer, came the first sign of weakness. You may recall that DreamWorks had grandiose plans to build a spanking new soundstage complex and "creative campus" on the last piece of open land in west Los Angeles - a controversial project as it would have contributed to the destruction of the last surviving coastal wetland in southern California.

That project was abruptly cancelled right around the time of Katzenberg's court settlement, apparently as DreamWorks decided the investment would have been too large. It was an embarrassing setback, one that Eisner now appears to have turned into a perfect opportunity for oneupmanship.

Last week Disney announced that it, too, was taking over a large vacant lot in Los Angeles to build soundstages and a "creative campus". Just like the proposed DreamWorks site, which once belonged to Howard Hughes, the Disney lot is a former airfield. Most deliciously of all, the site is bang next to DreamWorks' animation facility in Glendale, the building that just happens to house Jeffrey Katzenberg's office.

In other words, Katzenberg may have thought he had told Disney to take a running jump, but now the Mouse House - as it is affectionately known in Hollywood - is moving in next door. But whether Eisner can succeed where Katzenberg et al failed remains to be seen. Disney has had its own share of financial trouble recently, and soundstages look like a shaky investment in the current climate. As a local real-estate broker commented: "We're four years away from occupancy. Between now and then, a lot could happen."

A DISNEY-related incident has prompted one of the more bizarre items in the current end-of-season flurry of legislation to come out of California: a law to prevent voyeurs from poking small video cameras up women's skirts or down their blouses and publishing the results on the Internet.

The issue came before the State legislature after a man spent 16 hours filming the underwear of women waiting in line at Disneyland. Security guards finally realised what he was doing and the local police came to confiscate his camera, but prosecutors couldn't find a law under which to prosecute him as current peeping-tom legislation only covers such obviously private places as toilets and changing-rooms. A local Republican lawmaker, Dick Ackerman, obligingly took the issue to Sacramento, where his bill sailed through both legislative houses.

Although hi-tech voyeurs will now face a fine and up to a year in jail, the new law will actually do remarkably little to prevent the proliferation of dirty sneak-peek websites on the Internet. First off, they are protected by the constitutional right to freedom of speech. And secondly, it is almost impossible to disprove claims by the sites' operators that their pictures were taken with the full consent of the subjects.

After all, who would volunteer to recognise themselves from some shaky video footage of their underwear?

A MORE vigorous attack on the perverted byways of the Internet is going on in a suburban Los Angeles courtroom where a woman is on trial for taking part in online animal snuff movies. Video extracts played in the West Covina criminal court showed the woman in skimpy clothing torturing and stomping mice to death with her high-heeled shoes. She now faces three felony charges of animal cruelty.

Apparently, such "crush videos" are quite the rage with some fetish- crazy men. Firms with names such as Squish Productions, depict scantily- clad women killing rats, mice, hamsters or insects. Kittens, puppies and monkeys have also been known to feature on websites charging up to $90 a video.

Hollywood's numerous animal-rights activists are outraged, and are now lobbying Congress to take legislative action. But the snuff movie producers don't understand the fuss. Jeff Vilencia, who sells insect-crushing videos via porn magazines, protested last week: "We have a love-hate relationship with mice and rats. If you're an apartment owner in Los Angeles and you don't kill rats, you'll get fined."

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