While the Emmys drew mixed reviews, film festivals closed to loud applause this week, not just for their films (we forgot some), but for their star-studded attendance (forgot a few too).
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Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Taylor Swift and Julianne Moore were there to give interviews and woo critics like in the past. Some had become strangers due to a mix of Covid-caused delays and their own rigid self-protection rules.
Movie stars used to make three or four movies a year and were constantly in front of us, pitching their wares. I once praised Tom Hanks three times in one week and the Damon-Affleck team seemed just as ubiquitous. Now even Jennifer Lawrence wants the spotlight again and Harrison Ford has also given up invisibility.
Of course, the presence of stars at the premieres also guarantees shrapnel on social networks. At the premiere in Venice of don’t worry darlingDid co-star Florence Pugh ever exchange a glance at her director Olivia Wilde? Did Wilde’s partner Harry Styles drop a dead goat in co-star Chris Pine’s lap?
As a result of these antics, the ritual known as the celebrity interview is making a comeback, focusing on talent and journalists who had lost the talent. After his lengthy layoff, Clooney admitted he had “nervous feelings” about returning, adding “If you think you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it anymore.”
Even Disney CEO Bob Chapek, known for his grudging rhetoric, this week vowed to “unleash a third dimension of storytelling by creating an experiential lifestyle platform.” Maybe like Disneyland.
By coincidence the New Yorker this week has released a special edition of celebrity interviews from years past, offering vivid period insights into John Lennon, Marlon Brando, Richard Pryor and Oprah Winfrey in their heyday.
Truman Capote wrote thousands of hard-hitting words about Marlon Brando in his 1957 book New Yorker profile in which “Brando sniffed cigarettes and apple pie and confessed his inability to love.” For Capote, “the star did not appear as a deity but as a very young man sitting on a pile of sweets”.
Notoriously press shy Bob Dylan sat down for an interview with Nat Hentoff in which he confessed his paranoia about interviews. “The writers don’t want to understand me. They’re all trying to use me for something. This renowned company – it has to go. As liberating as his songs seemed to be, Dylan always complained of feeling “confined” by the genre, saying “I now write a lot of poetry because poetry can create its own form”.
Delighted with his move to New York, Lennon revealed that, in his mind, he now lives “in the center of the world”. Lennon did not miss London in 1972, but missed “my walls full of books and other possessions which I had hastily abandoned”.
Tragically, he was about to be murdered in his new favorite city.
While writing his profiles, Capote acknowledged that star interviews were “the lowest form of journalism.” His cynicism is countered by Michael Schulman, the writing author of the New Yorker who organized the celebrity tryouts, noting that “these are time capsules but also destinations of the mind, inviting us to return”.
Celebrity complaints about their profilers are a centuries-old tradition. In the 18th century, the famous Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (author of Faust) complained bitterly that “the glare of publicity” affected performers like “toxic rain”. Goethe, as if contemplating cancel culture, said he knew he would be “shot down and crushed by a future generation”.
By timing their appearances at fall festivals, a number of today’s celebrities are now willing to take that risk. And judging by their positive reviews, the media establishment is eager to play along.
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