Some People Do Anything for 15 Minutes of Celebrity

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTOPHER TOOKEY

Celebrity (18) Verdict: More Woody Allen navel-gazing - some great scenes, though

Cruel Intentions (15) Verdict: Elegant update of Les Liaisons Dangeureuses to American high-school students

CELEBRITY is a flawed but enjoyable film about an important and timely topic.

Woody Allen is intelligent enough to have noticed that the exploitation of celebrity has become a defining characteristic of the Nineties.

Newspapers (including the broad-sheets), television and even charities use public fascination with the new and ever-changing celebrity elite to increase circulation, audiences and income.

Nor has it escaped the notice of Allen as a writer that fellow scribes are among the victims of the new cult. Criticism is out; celebrity-profiling is in. And newspapers, television and publishing houses are guilty of throwing money at celebrities merely because they guarantee sales and publicity.

So those who have bothered to learn their craft are likely to find themselves replaced or overtaken by people with no talent or credentials, but with names and faces that the punters will recognise, while real writers are employed - at much lower rates - to write their copy.

There's something sad and funny about this dispiriting and relatively recent aspect of 'dumbing down', and no one has made a decent film about it.

So I attended Woody Allen's latest with anticipation and came out reasonably entertained. Many amusing characters stick in the mind, especially Leonardo DiCaprio as a spoiled movie star who trashes hotel rooms, takes drugs, beats up girlfriends and humiliates screenwriters - all because everyone allows him to.

THERE'S another funny sequence in a TV station where Ku Klux Klan members, obese teenagers,Roman Catholic priests and skinheads battle for their 15 minutes of celebrity.

And a wealth of background detail suggests that Celebrity might have become Allen's answer to Thack-eray's great novel of early 19th-century England, Vanity Fair.

Though Celebrity is loosely modelled on the 1959 Fellini movie, La Dolce Vita, which gave a kaleidoscopic view of Roman life, Allen lacks breadth or historical perspective. He isn't a social satirist, and you get the feeling that as he grows older he doesn't get out much.

He doesn't have a thesis about why some people need to be celebrities, and why others feel the need to gawp at them. He shows no interest in how modern celebrities differ from those of previous eras.

He is content merely to show what a powerful and arbitrary thing Celebrity is.

The movie stars Kenneth Branagh, supposedly playing a writer of celebrity profiles and would-be novelist and screenwriter.

Unwisely, Branagh gives an irritating impersonation of Woody Allen at his most voyeuristic, conceited, sleazy and charmless - and without Allen's comic timing.

This transparently worthless and self-destructive individual callously ditches his insecure wife of 16 years (Judy Davis) and implausibly attracts a number of younger women, including Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen and Winona Ryder.

Unsurprisingly, the audience remains detached from start to finish.

The fact that we don't care what happens to the little rat-bag will lead to the film's failure at the box office.

It also confuses the issue that the leading man is attracted to women not because they are celebrities (one is a book editor, another a struggling actress) but because they are drop-dead gorgeous and sexually insatiable. …