Buried deep within Chris Atkins' Starsuckers, gems of reportorial excellence gleam brightly. Atkins and his team employed hidden cameras to capture representatives of British tabloids agreeing to break agreed-upon industry standards for the sake of celebrity "scoops." It is eye-opening to see how willing the tabloids are to sacrifice profesional integrity.
To get to that point, however, one must sit through a banal, self-congratulatory, self-righteous "exposé" boldly declaring that celebrities, fame-seekers, and the media in general are all evil, and you are, too, even if you deny any interest in celebrity culture, because you can't be trusted, either.
Atkins builds his case one random brick at a time, using an irritating voice-over narration to represent the media: 'We do this, and we do that, and you don't even know it, ha ha!' An early segment focuses on a 5-year-old boy in Las Vegas, Nevada, who wants to be famous. The boy's mother dresses him up to resemble a gangster rapper, the boy's father promotes him ceaselessly, and a successful audition nets him an agent, who waxes enthusiastic about the possibilities that now await the boy, who 'has the rare ability to listen.'
It's all blamed on the media's fixation on reality television, force-fed to the public, which thoughtlessly watches whatever the media shoves at them. Ignored are the past 80 years (at least) of history, in which countless children have yearned to become famous in movies, or to become professional athletes. (One imagines this fixation dates back to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, with Cain killing his brother out of jealousy at the positive attention Abel received from God.) But, no, the basic human desire to be recognized -- whether that's a good impulse or not -- is pushed aside because it's all the fault of the media, and they're evil!
As an example of the film's manipulations, another early sequence features actors hired to play a celebrity couple, with other actors hired to play photographers chasing them down the street. Everyone stops and stares at the commotion. A-ha! Look at how everyone stops and stares at the commotion! It's because they are attracted to celebrities, even if they don't know who they are! Even if individuals deny it, look! They're staring at the "celebrities," mouths agape! They've been seduced, just like you! Could it be simple human curiosity? No! It's because they think someone famous is passing by! That's the only explanation!
To be fair, Atkins makes some valid points along the way. The British tabloids, in addition to their willingness to bend or break standards, are also happy to pay for and print gossip items from anonymous sources without corroboration. To prove this point, Atkins has someone call up and plant outrageous "news" items with different newspapers, which are dutifully printed and widely distributed.
The filmmakers ride along with a paparazzi who stalks celebrities, talk to publicists who disclose their willingness to make their clients look good in exchange for big paychecks, and stage interviews with prospective personal assistants, to see how far they'd be willing to go just to work for a celebrity. Starsuckers saves particular vitriol for the Cannes Film Festival and the media's obsession with red carpet coverage, as well as the way that press releases are often quoted word for word in publications without acknowledging their source.
Publicists are evil too!
Starsuckers paints hurriedly with a broad brush, seeking to infuriate and outrage on general principle. It's easy enough to agree that the media should devote less coverage to celebrity antics, or that fewer reality TV shows should be on the air, or that children shouldn't all want to be famous. On the other hand, Atkins fails to make clear what secret agenda the media is, exactly, pursuing, beyond a desire to make lots of money. And the film seriously overreaches when it suggests that charities associated with celebrities are the only non-profit organizations that fail to achieve their stated goals while proclaiming their great success to the public.
More balance on the subject, placing it into wider perspective -- the amount of celebrity coverage vs. political coverage in news outlets, for example, or why it's so difficult to persuade ordinary people to pay attention to pressing social issues of the day, or even why people like to come home from work, kick off their shoes, and vegetate in front of the TV -- would have been welcome.
Atkins, in fact, is so focused on "exposing" the woeful folly of celebrity-seekers that one wonders if he is, perhaps, a little too star-obsessed himself.
On the Region 1 DVD from Revolver, the picture looks sharp and clear, as expected for a recent documentary shot on video. The soundtrack will not tax any audio system.
The "Making Of" comprehensively covers the film's origins, revealing Atkins' intention in making the film, and is sufficiently blunt to include ridicule for a request by distributor Revolver Entertainment to feature celebrities in Atkins' previous film. Interviews with Atkins and his collaborators -- including an attorney! -- explains how they found their subjects, and also touches on concerns about using hidden camera footage.
It's a good package, and perhaps will play better for those who are not quite as media-obsessed as this reviewer.
Region 1 DVD now available from retailers everywhere. See below to order a copy from Amazon via our affiliate link.