6 Films That Dance and Sing with the Fame Monster
Brady Corbet follows his daring debut The Childhood of a Leader with the equally if not more daring Vox Lux. This social thriller is led by Natalie Portman, backed up by a fine array of stars in Raffey Cassidy, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Abbot and Stacey Martin.
Following notorious pop star, Celeste, as she builds from trauma and tragedy to global fame, Vox Lux courses with high energy and takes a fascinating look at what it is to be placed in the spotlight, especially as a woman.
To celebrate its release, UCL Film Society member, Alex Dewing, has selected six of the best films about being female and famous, and the various manifestations this can take.
It is impossible when talking about women in the spotlight to not mention Satoshi Kon’s psychological horror Perfect Blue. Its hyper-stylised depiction of real-world Tokyo wasn’t the only reason why this animation found such critical acclaim; its unrestrained portrayal of the intense objectification and its consequent fallout, as well as its fascinatingly profound female protagonist, Mima (Junko Iwao), makes this one a perfect study in the complexities of being female and famous. Both a cult classic and a welcome introduction to animated social horror, Perfect Blue is visceral and violent, daring and disturbing.
Craig Gillespie’s mockumentary style biopic of the notorious figure skater, Tonya Harding, played by the magnificent Margot Robbie, is much like Vox Lux in showing us that even those who find fame are not saved from abuse, violence, and trauma. In fact, these are rarely mutually exclusive with abuse from parents, mentors, or the media simultaneously fuelling success and tearing those successful down. I, Tonya strikes a balance in presenting this violence ‘truthfully’ without coming close to glorification by framing it through a satirical lens. When Tonya’s boyfriend Jeff (Sebastian Stan) pulls a gun on her during a couples’ tiff and she turns to look straight down the camera to tell you “this definitely didn’t happen,” the light relief works twofold; making the film wickedly entertaining whilst mocking the faux-omnipresent eye the media turns towards those in fame.
All About Eve
Bette Davis shines in her peak career performance as Broadway star Margot Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s comedy-drama. All About Eve presents a surprisingly complex look at what it is to be a woman working in the spotlight in the theatre industry. Holding a mirror up to the creative industries, the film tackles female agency and ambition in a world where men keep a tight grip on what women can say and do. Protagonists Margot and Eve may be pitted against one another as hero and villain, but they are both fiercely intelligent, determined, and defiant. Aware of the male gaze that constantly penetrates their lives, they push forward nonetheless for fame, for freedom, but predominantly for themselves.
A Star is Born
The most recent iteration of the 1937 drama, A Star is Born, this time written and directed by actor-turned-director Bradley Cooper, has drawn both praise and criticism for its similarities to its leading lady’s life; Lady Gaga’s Ally uses her raw talent to break into the music industry, only for it to break her down into a very different type of musician. Dancers leap around her as managers push her to a new, popular style, all so that she might achieve fame. It’s a stark contrast to the ways in which Cooper’s Jackson Maine can behave as he pleases, playing the music that he wants. But don’t forgo the other three versions of this drama - each examine the place of the female within fame with a unique spin. Don’t know where to start? I recommend the 1954 A Star is Born starring Judy Garland and James Mason that transformed the film into a musical, sporting one of the greatest performances of cinematic history in Garland’s Esther.
Where else are you going to find themes of maddening-passion, the quest for prestige, and exploitation of power than in a Darren Aronofsky film? Although taking place in the far more niche industry of ballet, Black Swan is a darkly fascinating look at the lengths to which someone will go for fame and the impact that can have on your mind and body. Natalie Portman’s transformative performance as Nina is mesmerising; she dances across the screen with a desperation to have her moment in the spotlight. This desire meets with the anxiety of celebrity culture that runs thematically through the film; to take centre stage is to be scrutinised and judged, not only for her dancing but for everything about her - including her sexuality, which even she is unsure of. It raises the question: is fame, perfection, really worth it?
The music, life, and untimely death of the singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse is a modern tragedy that has been perceptively and delicately re-told in this found-footage documentary by Asif Kapadia. Whatever your prior thoughts of Amy were, they are swiftly removed by the impartial tone taken throughout the film. It is not an easy watch; tackling the dark side of fame and how it dehumanises those in the spotlight. There is, too, a dark sense of irony when you realise the cyclicality of our presence as consumers of fan culture: so much of this film would not exist if not for the ceaseless omnipresence of paparazzi and groupies, and yet there is a poignancy in watching it all the same.
Natalie Portman is a troubled pop star in Brady Corbet's Vox Lux. Having shot to fame as a victim of a school shooting, Celeste (Portman) has reached the other side of teen stardom, and is on the brink, manipulated by her manager (Jude Law).
Narrated by Willem Dafoe, what follows is nothing less than an exploration of modern America, with celebrity, terrorism and the media in the sights.
With ambitious storytelling paired by audacious visuals, Vox Lux is also one of the best showcases since Jackie of Natalie Portman’s ability to bring authenticity to an outsize persona. Backed by a score by Scott Walker and songs by Sia, this film is a confirmation of a new filmmaking force.
Vox Lux plays in cinemas from Friday 3 May