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Woody Allen - Celebrity

Warhol was right, of course: everyone is now famous for fifteen minutes. But Woody Allen challenges the veracity of Warhol’s most widely quoted quip: ‘That’s one of those things that sounds great, but has nothing to do with reality. Fame is a major goal for many people, but really only a fraction of one percent of the population enjoys any kind of notoriety or fame.’ Maybe their respective pronouncements can be reconciled in J G Ballard’s observation: ‘A kind of banalisation of celebrity has occurred: we are now offered an instant, ready-to-mix fame as nutritious as packet soup. Warhol’s screen-prints show the process at work. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy drain the tragedy from the lives of these desperate women, while his day-glow palette returns them to the innocent world of the child’s colouring book.’ But some people still want the real deal. They want to be famous for longer than fifteen minutes. They want to become legendary, iconic, mythic, even if ultimately that still doesn’t spare them the day-glow treatment. Or else they want to be able to get as close as possible to those who possess these qualities.




Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh) is a celebrity journalist and failed novelist (his first effort got the three Ss from reviewers: self-indulgent, solipsistic, and sophomore), who has fallen in love with the glitz of fame. Tellingly, in a film which examines the notion of celebrity in all its manifestations, Allen chooses not to appear in front of the camera, and Branagh inhabits the director’s usual anxiously stammering screen persona. This allows Allen a necessary distance, although maybe his motives were more pragmatic than that: he’s just getting too old to play frustrated middle-aged men.
Lee is recently divorced from Robin (Judy Davis), and their paths cross as they try to construct new lives for themselves. He pursues a number of unsuccessful connections with a series of beautiful women: Nola (Winona Ryder), an actress/waitress, who, it goes without saying, is in psychoanalysis; an airhead socialite supermodel (Charlize Theron); and Bonnie (Famke Janssen), an editor at a publishing house, who encourages him to return to serious writing. At the same time, he attempts to ingratiate himself with a number of famous people who might be useful to him professionally, if only he can persuade them to read his screenplay. These include beautiful actress Nicole Oliver (Melanie Griffith), and young screen star Brandon Darrow (Leonardo Di Caprio). Trouble is, they can smell his desperation.
Lee, on the other hand, is trying everything from a Catholic retreat to plastic surgery (the good doctor is so booked up that someone sold their appointment for $3000) to fill the emptiness in her life. Then a chance meeting with television producer Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna), gets her a job presenting a Hello style show. Tony guesses that Robin’s self-consciousness, her sense that she doesn’t belong in the same room with the rich and famous, will play well on TV. She’s as addled as anyone in her audience would be in stellar company (there’s a marvellous scene where she hesitantly interviews the guests at a wedding reception in the outdoor garden of Barbetta’s Restaurant on West 46th Street) so of course they identify with her, and in turn grant her star status. She also, inter alia, winds up marrying Tony.
Stardust Memories is the previous Allen movie his new one most resembles, although it is not confined to being a study of the movie business alone, but broadens its scope to encompass other media, flitting episodically between filmmaking, book publishing, fashion and television. Robin’s rise, and Lee’s fall (he doesn’t get the girl - any girl - in the end) take place against the backdrop of the intensely striving world of Manhattan’s cultural demimonde, and literally features a cast of thousands, including: a film critic who used to hate every movie, but then married a busty young blonde, and now loves every movie; a director named Papadakis, who is described as “an arty farty pretentious guy who makes all his films in black and white” (Celebrity is in black and white); fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi as artist Bruce Bishop (“He’s a genius,” declares the supermodel at his opening); Donald Trump as himself; and those in attendance at Lee’s high school reunion, none of whom seem very satisfied with their lot. The stage upon which all of this plays out, New York City, has rarely looked so good on film. Not since Manhattan, in fact.
Jokes range from a role-reversal Clinton swipe, courtesy of Griffith’s character (“I could never be unfaithful to my husband, but whatever I do from the neck up is my business.”, to an eye-watering rather than mouth-watering blowjob gag (you’ll see why this is le mot juste when you see the movie), from Davis and Bebe Neuwirth, as the hooker she consults for sex tips.
The film will invite the inevitable accusations of misogyny from ideologically blinkered women (and their right-on menfolk), who fail to see that such satire stems from a general misanthropy, and is not solely directed against only one gender. Not that Allen can be written off as merely a malcontented old misanthrope, for he has produced a strangely moving, wryly rueful look at this microcosm which contains the macrocosm, and captured perfectly with great lightness of touch the sadness, unease and unfulfillment of much of modern life.
Perhaps ambition has always far outstripped talent, but Celebrity finally implies that it’s not always those who want fame most who wind up getting it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s just about a clique of terminally sophisticated, self-obsessed Manhattan socialites either. You only have to watch The Lyrics Board or read The Sunday Independent to realise that there’s an army of people out there, mad for fame. (One doubts that VIP, the proposed new Irish-style Hello, will even have to pay its interviewees, a la the magazine it is based on. Irish people will pay to be in it.)
The funniest moment in Celebrity for me is when Branagh, amid a misguided attempt to interest Di Caprio in his screenplay, finds himself a reluctant participant in an orgy in an Atlantic City hotel room with the young star and two bimbos (no guy-on-guy stuff, of course). While Leonardo gets down to business with his girl, Branagh is having problems getting started with his. So she starts telling him about her screenplay (you see, it is just like Ireland: every asshole you meet is flogging a film script.) “You know Chekhov?” the ingénue asks, without a trace of irony. “Yeah.” “I write like him.” This claim is dubious at best, one suspects. But Woody Allen, on the other hand...

First published in Film Ireland













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