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Stardom (2000)

by on 2013/07/30

Stardom (2000)

“I’m in no position to spit on it.”

* * *

When I began to record my thoughts on Stardom, I scrawled the following phrase: “A shotgun blast of misanthropic bullshit.” Which might just sound like pull-quote bait if they actually used swear words for shock promos.

And it’s not an entirely accurate assessment. By the end, I realized, it’s more rapid fire than a single blast. It’s a machine gun barrage of misanthropic bullshit. With many machine guns, all overheating, exploding, and maiming their wielders.

The story concerns an Ontario girl (Jessica Pare) discovered playing hockey in Cornwall. Estranged from her father early on in her teens, she is searching in vain for a substitute. When a French photographer notices her, she latches onto him, struggling through Montreal and Paris, a stranger in the stranger land of modelling.

She slowly gains traction over the coming months and years. She travels the world, associates with increasingly older men – a sports figure (Gregory Calpakis), restaurateur (Dan Aykroyd), and politician (Frank Langella) – and leaves a trail of wounded lives behind her. She is just as damaged, however, and ascends to a distinctly un-heavenly realm.

Through her trials we experience the superficiality of celebrity, fashion, fame, and fortune, of phony confessions, of staged activism, with the nearly unanimous participation – or at least acceptance – by her peers. Only one sole photographer (Robert Lepage) dares to question her choices, eventually at great personal risk.

Unfortunately I found the anti-heroine somewhat hard to bear. I disliked her affectations of innocence despite her gross personal conduct. It was easy to see, however, how she was twisted by circumstances early on, and Pare does a good job of conveying the repressed frustration of being ignored . . . ignored for her thoughts, that is, and not her appearance or scandalous acts.

A clear value is placed on the visuals here, as appropriate to the story’s themes. The style is reflected in a massive ensemble cast, most of whom address the camera directly, less for any mockumentary conceit than a sense of desperation for attention.

This production may feature the fastest pacing I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s a nonstop montage, nearly intertextual by design, quick cutting between character exchanges (both on and “offscreen”), news reports, commercial breaks, even a telethon segment. The format of many familiar shows and networks is parodied, including Entertainment Tonight, Jerry Springer, and even MuchMusic.

My greatest regret, if I had to name one, was with the absence of slickness in these shows. They simply didn’t feel distinctive, nor American. Their lack of authenticity proved distracting. It may have been the sets, actors, lighting, film stock, colours, or something else. It all felt like what it probably was: a lower budget recreation of sources whose individual episodes cost more than this entire production combined.

(To be fair, though, it would be surprising if writer/director Denys Arcand had gotten the cooperation of the originals. They’d only be biting the hand that feeds them in a scathing indictment of show business.)

Ultimately, the constant energy of peak-upon-peak is tiring which admittedly may be intended, but I felt the point of dysfunction and destruction was made long before the film’s end. Still, Stardom is worth a look. I admired its effort, observations, and style, finding substance in the insubstantial.

* * *

Rated 14A

102 minutes

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