FROM Florence Lawrence to Jennifer Lawrence, film and fame have always been intertwined. Two co-dependent forces that have been in motion – sometimes joyously, sometimes tragically – for well over a century.
Yet the nature of fame is constantly evolving. This year the widening net of fame captures more people than anyone could keep up with. Celebrities are no longer cherry-picked by film studio bosses or music executives. Instead our globalised world provides a more instantaneous and accessible route to fame. A path that dictates a young girl can pull out her phone, take a few well-angled photos and soon be ‘Instagram famous’ – or a ‘social media influencer’.
As with traditional notions of fame, there is both beauty and a horror to be found in this volatile celebrity landscape.
Just this week, YouTube star Logan Paul (with over 15million subscribers, largely made up of pre-adolescents) uploaded a video of him entering ‘suicide forest’ in Japan. Within a few hundred yards of entering the infamous forest, the YouTuber happened upon a hanging body. He proceeded to film the deceased man, make jokes with his accompanying friends and then upload the video to his YouTube channel. A huge internet backlash followed, as did two apologies from Paul.
Paul represents a new, untamed strand of fame. He is a self-made millionaire, a ruthless entrepreneur and a relentlessly energetic entertainer. Hollywood, as it has always done, has recognised his influence and acted to harness it. Five teen movies starring the YouTuber will be released this year.
These movies, of course, are of little interest beyond their transparent, easy-money casting decisions. What would be more compelling is to see filmmakers tackle the type of fame Paul harvests in an insightful and revealing manner. To see artistically serious filmmakers address the changing face of modern fame.
Documentary filmmakers such as Asif Kapadia’s Amy and Brett Morgen’s Cobain: Montage of Heck have already told familiar cautionary tales. Both investigated the poisoning impact that fame can have on unique talent – the strong tide of celebrity that is almost impossible to fight, and eventually drowns those without help or those incapable of being helped.
It is frightening to wonder how this current generation of stars, many whom are self-made and self-policing, would cope if they fall into similar traps.
Sofia Coppola’s 2013 true-story film, The Bling Ring, tapped into the worrying allure of fame. It looked at the strong draw of reality stardom which can compel drifting and impressionable youths to make horrifying mistakes in the hope of enjoying a lavish lifestyle.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 film Birdman also touched upon the allure of fame. This time, from the perspective of an actor – Riggan (Michael Keaton) – battling for relevance and critical adoration as his post-Superhero career dwindled away.
Riggan’s window into the modern nature of celebrity culture is opened by his young daughter Sam (played by the magnificent Emma Stone). As she tells her father, we live in a world where social media clicks are ‘power’ – without them he means nothing.
As a result, Riggan takes extreme action at the end of the film to satisfy both his artist and celebrity aspirations. By shooting himself on stage, he is artistically brave enough to win critical acclaim for his performance and outrageous enough to be relevant again in the wider ‘click’ culture.
Paul’s actions in the ‘suicide forest’ were yet another escalation of this ‘click’ culture. He was, like Riggan, looking to connect with people through drastic and shocking action – regardless of how irresponsible it may have been.
It is Satoshi Kon’s visionary 1997 animation Perfect Blue that might best speak to our current situation. The horror-thriller tells the story of a young women trying to make it in television after becoming famous in a K-Pop girl group.
Perfect Blue eerily looks at society’s deepening obsession with fame. An obsession that, as the film incredibly predicts, the internet has fostered and intensified to a frightening level. Fandoms, like Paul’s, that go beyond admiration for a celeb and into cult-ish territories of worship. Made all the more dangerous by the intrusive personal information now at our fingertips – as shown in The Bling Ring.
On the opposite side of the coin, Perfect Blue also shows how easy it can be for stars to lose themselves in such a culture. To become puppets of the money-makers and be at the mercy of a demanding and oscillating public. It is all part of the Cobain and Winehouse tide I talked about earlier.
One can only imagine how Kon would have introduced social media to Perfect Blue. Had Mima (the lead character of the film) been on Twitter or YouTube, her breakdown would have swift and tragically public. Just as her stalkers would have been better equipped to deepen her turmoil.
I am sure the publicity of the Logan Paul ‘suicide forest’ story will stir the attention of writers and filmmakers to once again address these phenomena. We need films that challenge the changing face of fame from different, profound angles. The same amount of angles that an Instagram influencer might try for a selfie.
We need a modern fame film that is on a par with the penetrable levels of Truman Show or Sunset Boulevard.