Week 5 - The Non Filmstar Filmstar Continues...


So what other techniques have directors employed to keep the audiences' focus on the narrative and not on the actors? Well, how about cramming as many stars as you can into one film so the audience is overwhelmed with stars? Robert Altman's film Gosford Park (2001) reads as a veritable who's who of British stars: Steven Fry, Maggie Smith, Richard E Grant, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Alan Bates etc the list just goes on and on. And don't be fooled to think the bigger stars are "upstairs" as Helen Mirren rules the "downstairs" while Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) is indebted to her maid, Mary played by Kelly McDonald. And that's part of the joke, neither upstairs or downstairs can survive without each other and the interesting power plays that occur between this hierarchical household.

The opening scene of Gosford Park is brilliant, Constance (Maggie Smith) slips into her Bentley (almost unnoticed by the audience) and on route she encounters another party on their way to the house. Matinee idol Ivor Novello and his friend Hollywood producer Morris Weissman, clearly offended that someone of such low rank should presume to speak to her she cuts short the pleasantries to continue on her way. Her maid Mary (Kelly McDonald) plays the role of the audience, she is oblivious to social rank and in awe of this "star" being in such close proximity.

Finally it’s back to subversive genius Stanley Kubrick and his 1968 masterpiece, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Set in the distant future (eight years ago) a team of astronauts are on spaceship Discovery One bound for Jupiter with the ship’s on-board computer HAL 9000, addressed as "Hal" and voiced by Douglas Rain, who has human-like intelligence and runs most of the ship’s operations. The lead characters are Dr. David Bowman played by Keir Dullea and Dr. Francis Poole played by Gary Lockwood. Lockwood and Dullea? Who? Exactly.

Kubrick knew the power of the “star” that’s why he chose to use actors almost unrecognisable to the audience, that way the force of the narractive, the action, the protagnist could be a faceless computer. Brave move. Kubrick manipulated stars for other films: The Shining built on Jack Nicholson’s already proven reputation for being “crazy” and Eyes Wide Shut seeks to subversivly emasculate the ultimate “lead man” Tom Cruise.

It’s an interesting tactic: either a director can bamboozle an audience with too many film star’s for them to focus on, or they can remove them entirely. I’ve always enjoyed films where I don’t recognise the lead. The best example was when I first saw the Motorcycle Diaries, I had no idea who Mexican actor Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, and Argentine actor Rodrigo de la Serna were so I could easily accept they were Che and Alberto Granado and this in turn meant I could comfortably believe the actions and narrative of the film without thinking, isn’t Bernal convincing as Che? However, with Che Part 1 and 2 released and starring Benicio Del Toro I think I won’t have the same response… isn’t he that lawyer from Fear and Loathing?

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