Like Bill

The former leader of a Western democracy is found to have had an extramarital affair with a woman of questionable taste, and members of the press are sharpening their long knives.

Surprise! It's not Bill Clinton.

At least not this week, so far as we know.

Nope, this round the poor horny fool about to have his hide removed by the press is prim John Major, former prime minister of Great Britain, whose erstwhile lover revealed their four-year affair last week. The fine folk from Fleet Street, members of London's tabloid press whose aggressiveness makes this paper look like The Watchtower, are headed to Dallas, where Major is in town to speak on behalf of the charity Mercy Ships, which provides medical care to developing countries.

"It's going to be an invasion," Marcus Warren, a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, a London broadsheet, says of his tabloid comrades. "It's frightening to see the guys in action."

From descriptions in the London press, Major was a Conservative stiff who had the added bonus of being unfriendly with the press. Sex, hypocrisy and the chance to whack a guy you don't like very much--for reporters, that's a grand slam story, which may partly explain why the British press is trailing a man who has not been prime minister since 1997. Besides, let's face it, it's fun.

Still, aren't Europeans supposed to be beyond fascination with the sex lives of public figures? Isn't that the message we heard repeatedly during the Clinton era? Different rules apply in the U.K. "We're not French," Warren explains, and not exactly European. The British expect their public figures to mind their zippers as much as we do, which must make it tough on sitting prime ministers. At least in this country when a sex scandal breaks, a president can fire off a few Tomahawk missiles, and former presidents can regain grace by moving to Harlem.

On November 16, the man who has thrice played Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter on screen will come to Dallas to accept the USA Film Festival's Master Screen Artist Award, which we're sure he deserves if only for his work in such films as Magic, Freejack and Meet Joe Black (well, at least one of those, anyway). Sir Anthony Hopkins--star of The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and this week's Red Dragon--will be in fine company: The USAFF has, in the past, doled out its accolades to the likes of Burt Lancaster, Jimmy Stewart and Audrey Hepburn.

But we have a couple of questions, as do many other concerned local film folk looking for something to do now that the mayor and city council killed off the local film commission. First, didn't the USA Film Festival just hand out this award to Debra Winger during the fest in April? And why did the festival choose to acknowledge Sir Tony the same weekend the Deep Ellum Film Festival throws its big party in honor of the recipient of its Pioneer Filmmaking Award?

Granted, there isn't a tremendous crossover between crowds: The 32-year-old USAFF is a fave with the Highland Park set; the 4-year-old DEFF caters to people who are too afraid to drive through Highland Park.

Still, can't we all just get along?

As it turns out, we can. DEFF founder and director Michael Cain says he has no problem with Hopkins' tribute. "What is good for the film community as a whole is good for the Deep Ellum Film Festival," Cain insists. "We welcome Mr. Hopkins to Dallas, and I believe his attendance is just another indication of the viable and vital film community here."

Ann Alexander, USAFF's managing director, says she informed Cain of the potential conflict early on and tried to keep off the friendly competitor's date. But Hopkins' calendar had a limited amount of free space, and November 16 was a good fit for him and the festival. "You can't pick when their schedules are free," she says. "It has to do with being able to honor the people you want on their schedule. I wish I had that power over time and space, and I was afraid this would happen."

Alexander says the event is a fund-raiser for the fest, which couldn't hold such a soiree last year because, post-September 11, it couldn't find anyone brave enough to fly in. But the entirety of the DEFF is something of a fund-raiser: One of DEFF's main goals is to raise money for cancer patients.


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