Celebrity obsession is a serious problem in our society, and it has been for a pretty long time. Thankfully for us, filmmakers have been chronicling and commenting on the status of fame since the beginning of cinema. This weekend, Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring, a film about a group of fame-obsessed teenagers who rob the homes of the rich and famous, comes to theaters. We decided that now would be a great time to look back at some of the films that have commented on our society’s fixation with the private lives of celebrated people. Take a look.
10. Bright Young Things
In his debut film, Stephen Fry examined the celebrity culture of 1930s London, a time when the lives of young and carefree aristocrats (known as “bright young things”) were chronicled by gossip mongers of the press. Stephen Campbell Moore plays Adam, an out-of-luck writer who is trying to raise money to marry his party-girl girlfriend Nina Blount, played delightfully by Emily Mortimer. But problems arise often and they can never seem to be able to tie the knot. Bright Young Things takes place right before WWII, yet Fry shows us a society that’s completely consumed by tabloid scandals and celebrity culture, apathetic towards the things that actually matter. Ring any bells?
9. Almost Famous
In Almost Famous, everyone is obsessed with fame, and as a result, they each lose a little of themselves. 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) might’ve started from a pure place when he went on tour with Stillwater, but soon he began to enjoy the famous lifestyle. Eventually he was idolizing instead of analyzing the famous people that surrounded him. Kate Hudson‘s Penny Lane was literally a groupie; and Stillwater was a band that tried hard to stick to their humble roots, but ended up giving into the fame and glory, or “industry of cool”.
8. Being John Makovich
Being John Malkovich is fascinating on so many levels. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman gave us something truly unique with this film, and they made us see Cameron Diaz in a different light. As a commentary on celebrity culture, Being John Malkovich depicts a fantasy in which regular people are given the opportunity to be someone famous for a few moments. The film reflects on the vanity of celebrity in modern society. People only want to be John Malkovich because he is famous, but they have no idea who he really is, and they don’t care to find out.
7. Bye Bye Birdie
If you think about, Bye Bye Birdie is a terrifying picture. The 1963 musical covers all things teenager, from high school to crushes and celebrity obsessions. The film was literally inspired by the phenomenon that was Elvis Presley, and his being drafted into the United States Army. Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is the pop singer celebrity a la Elvis, and Kim MacAfee (Ann-Margret) is his faithful worshiper, who, by the way, is only in high school. Kim is obsessed along with every teenager in the town, and much like the teenagers of today are obsessed with the Robert “Edward ” Pattinsons and Justin Biebers of the world.
6. Everybody’s Famous!
At the core of Everybody’s Famous! is an endearing story of a father’s love for his daughter – but let’s focus on the fun stuff. Jean Vereecken (Josse De Pauw) is an unemployed Belgian factory worker who wants his chubby daughter Marva (Eva van deer Gucht) to be the next Britney Spears. He drags her from talent show to talent show, as she performs horrible-versions of Madonna‘s best hits. In a moment of desperation, Jean kidnaps Belgium’s pop princess Debbie (Thekla Reuten) and holds her hostage. As his ransom, he demands Debbie’s manager to make Marva a star. You can’t really guess what happens next, so just watch the movie if you haven’t (it’s on Netflix). Everybody’s Famous’ take on celebrity isn’t dark, but the film still manages to show us the media shenanigans that come with being famous.
5. The King Of Comedy
In Martin Scorsese‘s The King of Comedy, Robert DeNiro plays a wannabe stand-up comedian named Rupert Pupkin who stalks his celebrity idol (played by Jerry Lewis) for a shot at fame. The film is a cold tale of fan obsession, celebrity worship and total delusion. Like La Dolce Vita and The Truman Show, The King Of Comedy foreshadowed our current society’s unquenchable thirst for celebrity culture.
4. La Dolce Vita
Long before the world was introduced to Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, there was Anita Ekberg, the Swedish actress/sex symbol who gained screen icon status when Federico Fellini cast her in his 1960s classic La Dolce Vita. The film follows Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a celebrity journalist who hangs around the rich and famous as he looks for happiness and love. Not only does La Dolce Vita perfectly show the parallels between celebrity worship and religious worship, but it’s also the film responsible for introducing the term paparazzi – the main photographer in the film is called Paparazzo – to the world.
3. The Truman Show
It use to be that only people who were famous went on television, but when reality TV was introduced, things changed. Now people go on television to become famous. They sign a contract with E!, MTV or the hundreds of others channels that include reality shows in their programming, and bang, they’re on the cover of People magazine. You don’t need to have talent to become famous, all you need is camera crew to follow you around. This kind of lifestyle was predicted in The Truman Show. Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) was just a regular Joe; he was an insurance salesman, of all things, except that his whole life was being broadcast on the tube, and that made him exceptional. The society of The Truman Show, much like the one we actually live in now, was obsessed with knowing every little detail of the private life of someone who was famous for being famous.
2. Sunset Boulevard
With Sunset Boulevard, we get a celebrity who is obsessed with her own celebrity. Former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is no longer in the spotlight, she’s holed up in her Beverly Hills mansion, waiting for Cecille B. Demille to make her a star again. In the mean time, she keeps herself entertained with the unsuccessful screenwriter who stumbled into her garage. Billy Wilder‘s classic film noir takes place in the 1950s, but the ideas he shares still hold true today. Norma is an exaggeration of a starlet who is obsessed with her former glory days, but Sunset Boulevard shows us that fame does not equal happiness, and that obsessing over it is nothing but a plague.
1. To Die For
Gus Van Sant‘s wickedly funny satire To Die For is a perfect example of America’s obsession with celebrity and fame. Nicole Kidman plays an all-American girl with high-hopes of becoming the next Barbara Walters. She is dead set on being famous, and she will go to great lengths to get what she wants. Aside from being one of the finest performances of her career, Kidman’s Suzanne also offers an interesting analysis on society’s fascination with violence. Suzanne always assumed that her teen-focused documentary would be her breakthrough, but it took a murder for people to notice her. The scene where Suzanne sees all of the reporters outside of her condo is absolutely chilling because she’s finally getting what she always wanted: fame.
What other movies have you seen that deal with celebrity worship? Any good ones?