Friday, 19 August 2011

On demand: "Starsuckers"

The documentarist Chris Atkins first came to prominence with 2007's Taking Liberties, his take on the erosion of civil liberties under the Blair government. For his next trick, Atkins has elected to address another very contemporary concern. Starsuckers is an urgent and quietly chilling deconstruction of the modern fame game, setting out a comprehensive list of the tools used to get us hooked, and keep us hooked, on all things celebrity. Aspiration, Atkins reckons, has given way to addiction, those afflicted - as made clear by certain reality-TV contestants - now prepared to do anything for their next fix. The pushers, meanwhile, have realised they have in their means a new way of exploiting the poor and maintaining the status quo: this is celebrity as the well-groomed face of consumerism, and there's something undeniably thrilling in the way Atkins exposes what might previously have seemed attractive as ugly indeed in its methods and motives.

The obvious comparison to make would be that between Atkins and Michael Moore: both filmmakers share an ease with pop culture, their handling of archive footage is similar, as is their fondness for telling stunts. Atkins' crew sets up in a shopping centre, and gets parents to blithely, unthinkingly waive their youngsters' rights to appear in such (non-existant) shows as "Baby Boozers", in which tots drink shots, and "Take Your Daughters To The Slaughterhouse". Neither Atkins nor Moore is ashamed to use brash entertainment to make their point; Atkins, however, has a greater faith in expert testimony, approaching his subject from a social and psychological perspective, as well as a satirical one. There's even an experiment with monkeys, if you like that sort of thing.

Still, there's no denying Starsuckers is an angry film. It's the erosion of ethics and standards that gets Atkins' goat, the breakdown of proper communication that threatens to turn the information age into an age of what Nick Davies here defines as "information chaos". (You have only to watch the documentarist's team planting false stories about Amy Winehouse in the tabloids, or the covertly recorded footage of Max Clifford in full pomp, to spot it.) There's real rage at the manner in which the Make Poverty History campaign was hijacked by the celebrities of Live 8, to no greater end than their own self-promotion, as a way of claiming back whatever price they might have paid to get to the top. (Given Peaches and Pixie's contributions to the world thus far, I doubt the DVD is going to be high on the Geldof family's Christmas list.) Smuggled into UK cinemas by a hitherto unknown distributor [and onto British TV screens long after midnight], rich with damning hidden-camera footage, unafraid to point fingers and name names, it's both a rallying cry - a film for anyone who's ever had cause to shudder upon learning the name of Simon Cowell's production company (SyCo, since you're asking) - and a revolutionary act: no-one has better skewered our present global epidemic of narcissism.

Starsuckers is available via 4OD until mid-September.

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