by Paul Knoll
Fame, doin' it for the fame
'cause we wanna live the life of the rich and famous.
Fame, doin' it for the fame
'cause we gotta taste for champagne and endless fortune.
—"The Fame," Lady Gaga
Everyone wants to be famous, now even for 14 minutes. And where would Khloé, Kim and that other Kardasian twit be without TV? But becoming stupid-famous isn't just for reality nitwits and self-promoting Internet gimps, and it's certainly not exclusively an American freakshow, believe it or not.
Videocracy is a Swedish doc that shows Italy's own obsession with fame's idiot wind, and, in particular, television, and how celebrity, sex, gender, politics and power have all become horrifyingly intertwined in modern Italian culture. Director Erik Gandini — who also narrates — opens this doc with a zany archival clip from a call-in quiz show that featured masked housewives stripping to a contestant's correct answer. Flash forward 30 years and Italian TV is still peddling female anatomy for ratings.
More, this film-fest sweetie sees a cast of characters that's almost surreal: Ricky's a 26-year-old celebrity-seeking mama's boy and karate fan who fancies himself a cross between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin; Fabrizio Corona is a vain former paparazzi boss who becomes famous after serving time for extorting money from celebrities; Lele Mora is a hugely successful agent who has fascist Mussolini anthems on his phone and a palatial estate decorated all in white. But, for Gandini, the leader of these ragtag fame-chasers is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who also happens to be a media mogul who owns three Italian TV channels and countless publications. And it's Berlusconi's media empire that allows him to shape how Italians see their country, how they can define their culture — and him — while at the same time lining his pockets. It's Orwellian, all right — Berlusconi is in essence a character on his own reality show, like some macho version of Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks.
The problem here is Gandini sort of plops you down in the story with little exposition, so if your knowledge of the Italian Parliament and its politics is less than peripheral, you might feel as though you just fell down the proverbial rabbit hole — at first. But once your bearings are set, the doc's running visual monologue takes on a strangely dreamy, even nightmarish tone. With voyeuristic and grainy camera work and a sinister-sounding score, Videocracy's tone suggests just how creepy celebrity — and the PR machine that is politics — can be.
Opens Friday, June 18, at the Burton Theatre, 3420 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-473-9238.
Paul Knoll writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.