"Kenneth Branagh has been through what he calls the ‘white heat’ of media attention, where he was savaged by and, in his words, ‘bloodied’ by the Press (think of Frankenstein, and his break-up with Emma Thompson).

"All this creates irony upon irony when he plays a travel writer turned showbiz interviewer in Woody Allen’s red-hot (even though it’s shot in black and white) new film Celebrity.

"The film, in my view, is Allen’s best in years, and it comes at a time when people in the public eye aren’t allowed to have a private life – Bill Clinton is a good example – but makes the point that their problems are mostly of their own doing.

"Leonardo Di Caprio plays a bed-hopping, spoilt-brat film star to whom Branagh is trying to flog a film script. 'It’s hardest when you have that attention when you’re young and you really lose a sense of reality,' says Branagh who, with Judy Davis as his screen ex-wife, is excellent. Allen’s casting of Melanie Griffith as a shallow star is inspired.

"The film takes no prisoners and skewers models, film stars and journalists alike. It opens with a plane sky-writing the word 'HELP!' – which is what I often scream after meeting no-talent, boring, so-called stars who take themselves so seriously. There are legions of them – but not Ken, I hasten to add.

"He and girlfriend Helena Bonham Carter have been in Los Angeles, she playing in The Fight Club with Brad Pitt, he in Wild, Wild West."

Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail, 11/9/98


The pernicious state of fan worship called "Leomania" has at last got its come-uppance. And the person responsible is none other than the world-famous Leonardo DiCaprio himself.

In the new Woody Allen film, Celebrity, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival yesterday, DiCaprio good-naturedly stops at nothing to expose the bad nature behind his babyface stardom. A star-laden satire of what Allen calls "the phenomenon that has now reached hysterical proportions in America", it features DiCaprio as a teenage screen idol doing what stars of his magnitude do naturally - busting up hotel suites; abusing his girlfriend; snorting lines of coke; swearing like a troop of marines and then exacting apologies from a grovelling hotel manager who would be happy for Attila the Hun to add prestige to his guest list; and even consenting to give his autograph to the cop originally called to arrest him.

Deconstructing Harry was the name of Allen's last movie in which he did the job on himself. You could call this one Deconstructing Leo, if it was not that this is the common fate of the legion of celebrities - many playing Themselves - whom Allen pillories in what feels like a despairing communique about a nation where, as he says in a statement to the Press present at Venice, "even a fellatrix can achieve notoriety". No need to mention Monica, though again and again, in this fresco of egos behaving badly, line after line suggests the Lewinsky name. "How did you fix the smile on his face," someone asks a female friend. "By using my head," she replies.

Kenneth Branagh, playing a journalist who wants to be part of the celebrity scene he reports, asks Melanie Griffith's Hollywood superstar: "Have you ever given way to unbridled lust?" (Well, he's been ordered by her PR man to "lay off the bulimia angle".) She answers sweetly: "My body belongs to my husband. What I do from the neck up, that's another matter." Bill Clinton would have found plenty of what he calls "wiggle room" in that.

Celebrity, the film, invites and withstands comparison with Fellini's 1959 polemic La Dolce Vita, which signposted the hedonist society on the long march to satiety. Fellini's film opened with a statue of Christ being helicoptered over the Eternal City and looking help-lessly down on its sinful denizens. Allen's film opens with the word "Help" spelled out on the sky over central Manhattan.

Branagh represents the Mastroianni character, also a journalist, who was Fellini's alter ego in La Dolce Vita. In Allen's film, he is his master's voice. It gives you a curious feeling at first to hear Allen in the stammering wisecracks on his lips, but see Branagh.

Branagh plays the non-celebrity who wants to swim with the big fish, but discovers he's a sprat among piranha. The film covers the whole war-front of celebrities battling for attention. Among the ranks of real celebrities, Donald Trump confides to the television camera stalking his luncheon table that he wishes to pull down St Patrick's Cathedral and give Fifth Avenue a tasteful makeover. "Makeover" seems to describe the celebrity chameleons who throng the scenes.

Branagh's estranged wife, played by Judy Davis, at first resorts to her spiritual adviser for comfort - and revenge. "I'm surprised that you, a well brought-up Catholic, should even be thinking of a hit-man,'' says the priest, who deals with tougher questions such as "Is it true the Beatles were bigger stars than Jesus Christ?" with the soft answer: "Well, at that time the world population was much less."

DAVIS DECIDES a face lift will do more to raise her spirits and resorts to a celebrity surgeon dubbed the "Michelangelo of Manhattan". But later she takes cheaper, quicker advice from a celebrity hooker, played by Bebe Neuwirth, star of the Broadway musical Chicago, who uses a banana to illustrate techniques that have landed the celebrity occupant of the Oval Office in trouble.

Wherever you go, Allen says, society is sick with the pandemic of celebrity worship. Though more good-humoured by having Branagh as his mouthpiece than if he were delivering his own sour wisecracks, Allen finds whipping boys (and girls) at every celebrity address in the city. He shows what odd bedmates it makes when a television chat show gets its dates mixed up and skinheads with swastikas share a greenroom with a celebrity rabbi, whose only complaint is they've eaten all the bagels.

A publisher's book launch implodes with the numbers of celebrities present all looking over each other's shoulders in the hope of spotting a bigger celebrity than the one they're talking to. People are willing to forego Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame in return for 15 seconds of attention.

This brilliant film fairly fizzes with the gaseous airheads who inhabit it. But it has the deceptive geniality of a grinning death's head.

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