BUZZ/SAW: Free Rex Reed!

The news broke Sunday in New York newspapers and on Time Warner Cable’s New York 1 channel that film critic/columnist/actor Rex Reed was arrested Saturday for allegedly shoplifting three compact discs. National coverage of the alleged crime continued Monday in such publications as USA Today.

Reed was apprehended by security officers at a Tower Records store near his apartment for allegedly tucking CDs by Mel Torme, Peggy Lee and Carmen McRae into his jacket without, as authorities maintain, paying for them.

Sources suggest Reed, who currently writes an entertainment column for The New York Observer, could have sustained the financial hit of paying for the items. He lives at the Dakota, one of Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive apartment buildings (John Lennon was shot there); owns a spread in an elite corner of rural Connecticut; and, as a single man-about-town, is free of such asset-drainers as wives, mistresses, kids and pampered pets.

Also, say sources, there are all the free movies, books, theater tickets, meals, vacations (name your festival!), and, yes, CDs that are the rightful booty of any writer who covers books, celebs, restaurants, theater, movies, concerts, cabaret, etc. (Reed’s beat has been most of these.) Reed may even get free insurance, depending upon what his appearances in films like “Myra Breckinridge” and “Superman” guarantee him in terms of Screen Actors Guild benefits.

Yet not everyone in New York jumped with glee at news of Reed’s arrest. Take Shulabeth Ezrailson (Brandeis ’69), for instance, whose message board postings and e-mails have been coursing through the Web since the weekend and whose hand-outs have already papered lower Broadway and the New York University and Columbia University campuses.

“How can an entire nation jump to the conclusion that the pigs got it right and Reed got it wrong?” an outraged Shulabeth told Buzz/Saw, as she referred to allegations made by Tower Records security guards and arresting officers. The longtime activist (she headed the Patty Hearst Bail Fund) says she will be leading demonstrators on March 14 outside the downtown courtroom where Reed will have his hearing.

Shulabeth’s ravings on behalf of Reed have also apparently elicited an important witness who is scheduled to appear at the March 14 hearing on Reed’s behalf. Explains Shulabeth: “This individual will be testifying under oath that he has gone shopping with Reed and has seen him hand over cold hard cash for designer underwear.”

Shulabeth may not be real but her ardor is, as is her historical perspective. “The 19th century had Dreyfus, the 20th century had Patty Hearst,” she cries. “We’re now in the 21st century where no one — not even Rex Reed — can get enough!”

In spite of her fervor, Shulabeth’s motives may not be as pure as her political protestations and commitment suggest. Buzz/Saw has learned that she is currently shopping life rights to her story, including her efforts on behalf of Reed and her just-launched Rex Reed Defense Fund.

STEAM HEAT: Writer/director Ben Younger‘s feature debut “Boiler Room,” opening Friday, is a terrifically impressive and entertaining film that should knock the socks off critics and bring filmgoers into theaters in droves.

Yes, the film — a kind of “Wall Street”-lite but with the hip, frenetic pizazz and slickness of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” — has its antecedents (Variety’s guy predicted “Boiler Room” will be “dismissed by serious critics as derivative”). But the story about twentysomething recruits sucked in by greed into the high-pressure, low-life, and corrupt world of illegal stock brokering is gripping, as are the unforgettable performances from Giovanni Ribisi, Nicky Katt, Ron Rifkin, Nia Long, Scott Caan, Vin Diesel and others.

Some critics have suggested “Boiler Room” is the perfect entry in this era of dot-com frenzy and instant millions. Yet there are several films in the works that are pure dot-com plays: D. A. Pennebaker‘s “,” a documentary about a real startup called GovWorks; and Wayne Wang‘s “Center of the World,” which focuses on the sex lives of young guys caught up in the Web.

Pennebaker‘s film has been in the works for ages as it patiently tracks the not quite blazing-speed birth of a dot-com that is going through rounds of financing and endless meetings. The Wang film, which is now casting, begins shooting next month in digital and may be out, via Artisan Entertainment, later this year.

In the meantime, “Boiler Room” is a best bet for a thrilling look at Young Men Wanting Money.

BART’S BARK: Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart has another book out, “Hollywood May Be Dead…but Who Did It?” but does he dare name the culprits? The problem in so doing is that Variety, like its competitor The Hollywood Reporter, is abetted in its reporting if the Powers That Be are cooperative.

Now with stakes raised as the Reporter prepares to open a New York office, Variety should be playing nicey-nice with the Hollywood higher-ups. But a quick glance at the Bart tome suggests he really takes some important issues by the collar.

For instance, about the “Meet Joe Black” fiasco, he writes: “What were they thinking? Here’s a movie with a premise that works, provided you don’t have time to think about it. That’s the rub: You have precisely three hours and one second to think about it,” a fact Bart finds all the more ironic since the film was a remake of the merely 78-minute “Death Takes a Holiday.”

Bart blasts such filmmaking indulgences, fueled by the unprecedented success of the very lengthy “Titanic,” and shows how the studios — now turned into monstrous multinational corporations — have lost their touch. Yes, “Hollywood May Be Dead…” is more recycled Bart columns from GQ but he knows his stuff and, occasionally, takes some brave and deserved swipes.

But the really nifty swiping to watch may happen in the near future when Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Kurt Andersen’s Powerful Media all converge on the same turf as they cover and try to outdo one another in the wonderful, wacky world of entertainment business reporting. Toss in the dizzying developments of programming delivered on the Web or that elusive thing called the television and it may be more than Hollywood that’s dead.