Looking from the outside in, the lives of the rich and the famous look pretty spiffy. They live in awesome houses, they wear awesome clothes, they have awesome accoutrements, and they get to do awesome stuff pretty much all day, every day. But if David Bowie and Young Jeezy have taught us anything, it’s that from the inside out, fame is a bitch, or at least it’s not all it’s cracked up to be; it’s a hollow existence that everybody envies you for. Think it over while you’re on the edge with your Glock.
But the music industry doesn’t have the market cornered on sobering portrayals of status and star power (not unlike David Cronenberg’s recent bite at Hollywood, Maps to the Stars); moving pictures also have a thing or two to say on the matter. So here, for your pleasure, are a slew of films dedicated to dissecting “fame” from every angle available:
If Alan Parker’s film feels like a too-obvious inclusion in a listicle of movies about fame, well, shame on us. But how can anyone talk about the search for fame without talking about Fame itself? Forget the 2009 reinvention; Parker’s chronicle of teens kicking their own asses to make it through the New York High School of Performing Arts and land a career in the entertainment industry is electric and sensational without ever feeling inauthentic. It’s a big, broad musical, but it’s an earnestly felt one, too.
Darren Aronofsky’s ballet picture is bound in the trappings of a psychological body horror thriller. The kids in Fame “want it”, but they have nothing on Nina Sayers; she’d eat them for breakfast, or she might hallucinate eating them for breakfast, because let’s face it, she’s a few cygnets short of a wedge. But though Nina gradually parts ways with reason throughout Black Swan’s narrative, she remains no less driven to succeed. She’ll break herself for fame. She’ll kill for fame. She’ll even die for it.
But what are the lasting effects of fame attained? What happens if you do make it? Billy Wilder’s noir classic lays bare the detrimental impact of celebrity by caging Gloria Swanson in a downturned world of decay; Norma Desmond’s impressively architected manse has clearly seen better days, much like Norma herself. The cruel, fleeting nature of stardom has left the great actress in suspended delusional state, and poor Joe Gillis winds up on the receiving end of her mania in the worst way possible.
The King of Comedy
Another movie about people self-deceiving in the entertainment world. Starting to see a theme here? For a movie with the word “comedy” in the title, Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy is remarkably unsettling; if you hate the scraping feeling of laughter catching in your throat, then the chronicle of Rupert Pupkin and the dark path his inclination toward aggrandizement and obsessive celebrity worship leads him down might not be your cup of crazy. Then again, it’s Scorsese. You should just bite down and watch it anyways.
Sneer at Alejandro Gonzáles Iňárritu’s newly minted Oscar winner, or fawn over its audacity, or wobble somewhere in between these axes. Do not, however, divorce Birdman from its explorations of fame (though it’s impossible to do so without performing a lot of mental gymnastics). The film is an ambitious, self-reflexive effort from Iňárritu, who puts everything on the table without second thought; he’s a spiritual cousin his harried protagonist, former superhero megastar Riggan Thompson, a man determined break free of his Hollywood shadow and do something meaningful with his notoriety.
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