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The Culture of Celebrity

Very soon Time Magazine will choose its Person of the Year
(and You can’t win again because You won last year). The folks at Time have posted a
shortlist of ten luminaries – JK Rowling is currently leading the online poll –
although they are coy about whether the POTY will ultimately be among them.

Liz Smith, the New York Post’s grande dame of gossip, favors
an idea rather than an individual. She
"I think this year they could well cite the cataclysmic confusion,
stress, worry and resulting triviality of this stressed (sic) beset age, a time
affected by instant technology. There is no downtime anymore from the worship
of celebrity and trash…"

She has a point, but we’ve always been fame-focused, and our
films reflect that. The word paparazzi originated
in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce
: the director named a news photographer character Paparazzo after an
Italian slang word for "annoying mosquito."

One recent and very fine film that examines celebrity
culture and its effects is The Queen. In the title role as HM Elizabeth II, Helen
Mirren struggles to respond to the British public’s demand that the House of
Windsor alter its historically reserved behavior and grieve openly after the
death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

After the jump, more celebrity-oriented films.

Woody Allen’s Celebrity
(1998) stars Kenneth Branagh as a journalist covering top actresses,
supermodels, teen idols and the like, all the while searching for love and a
producer for his screenplay. Meanwhile,
his ex-wife Robin (Judy Davis) keeps busy actually becoming a celebrity. Branagh seems to be channeling Allen, which is a bit disconcerting, but
the film is a treasure trove of cool cameos, by Leonardo DiCaprio, Marian
Seldes, Patti D’Arbenville, Erica Jong, Donald Trump, and Joey and Mary Jo
Buttafuoco, among many others.

In one of his most compelling roles, the late Peter Sellers
is Chance the Gardener, aka Chauncey Gardiner, in the dark and satirical Being There (1979), directed by Hal
Ashby (Coming Home, Harold and Maude). An illiterate, none-too-bright and sheltered
man thrust into the media spotlight by a series of accidental but all too
credible events, Chance becomes an unlikely source of wisdom, embraced by a
gullible populace.

Steve Buscemi directed and starred in Interview (2007), adapted from a film by Dutch director Theo Van
, who was tragically murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004. Buscemi plays a political journalist forced
by his editor to profile a seemingly air-headed actress (Sienna Miller) known
more for her tabloid-worthy shenanigans than her roles. The two prove surprisingly well-matched in
the battle of wills and egos that follows.

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