‘Ingrid Goes West’ and Chasing Fame
Are you sure you want to catch it?
In director Matt Spicer’s debut feature Ingrid Goes West (which he also co-wrote), the estimable Aubrey Plaza — of Parks and Recreation, and most recently Jeff Baena’s subversively funny The Little Hours — plays the titular malcontent. Ingrid Thorburn is a young woman of extreme certainties and almost no self-control. Having decided that an emerging Instagram “star” (Elizabeth Olsen) is destined to be her new BFF, she simply packs up and moves to Los Angeles, aggressively inserting herself into her vapid and hapless quarry’s life.
Social media is the drug, Ingrid is the addict, and her mental health is way too out-there for reality to meaningfully intervene. Greeted as an inspired black comedy when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, Ingrid Goes West’s themes of celebrity obsession and social media addiction are as relevant as ever.
So many of us spend who-knows-how-much of our lives buried in our smartphones, about to walk off a proverbial (or literal) cliff, enviously absorbing the lifestyle details of the rich and famous even as we’re repeatedly reminded that there’s a dark side to that lifestyle. For both fans and the objects of their devotion, the experience of celebrity is so often destabilizing, yet we can’t look away. A glittering train wreck is at least as fascinating as a glamorous triumph. For other telling takes on fame, fandom, and pain (both the pursuit thereof and pain therein), check out these star-struck Fandor titles:
I Think We’re Alone Now (2008)
The stars of Sean Donnelly’s documentary feel a deep and special kinship to their idol (1980’s pop superstar Tiffany) that even legal action can’t dampen. One zealous, neuro-divergent super-fan is still ambushing her at every opportunity, certain that they are destined for each other even though she took out her first restraining order against him when she was 16. Another, an intersex fitness fanatic, claims to be Tiffany’s childhood friend and also claims Tiffany as her biggest inspiration.
A Star is Born (1937)
Hollywood had rarely turned its gaze inward — let alone critically so — when this famous drama was released, earning 8 Oscar® nods and taking home 2 statues. Janet Gaynor plays an actress-waitress who attracts the attention of matinee idol Frederic March. Spying her potential, he gives her a leg-up to screen stardom and a wedding ring to boot. But she soon learns that the pressures of fame have already proven too much for her husband, and she is unable to prevent his slide into self-destructive, alcoholic ruin.
Simultaneously illustrating the allure and the pitfalls of “the biz,” A Star is Born retained its appeal through several incarnations: It was adapted into a fabulous musical starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and then into a bad (but still commercially successful) “rock” vehicle for Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson 22 years later. Will the newest iteration, currently in production and starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, hold up?
Bob and the Monster (2011)
The perils of almost becoming a star are beautifully illustrated in Keirda Bahruth’s acclaimed documentary about Bob Forrest, whose onstage antics were a definite factor in building a following for his adventurous, late-1980’s indie-rock outfit Thelonious Monster. His songwriting talent was no joke, either, but his behavior and his drug abuse became more and more out of control as the band’s popularity rose. Even after it all went down in flames, he still hadn’t hit bottom. Featuring testimonials from famous friends like Courtney Love and Anthony Kiedis, this warts-and-all portrait finds its subject going through Hell on Earth before discovering a surprising new lot in life.
For other searing, non-fiction depictions of hipster high times and addiction, watch Ondi Timoner’s Dig!, which charts seven dramatic years in the wildly divergent paths of indie rock darlings The Dandy Warhols and their frenemies The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Tamra Davis’ Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, about the art star whose dizzying rise from poverty to international fame led to a rapid and fatal fall.
Dream Deceivers (1991)
Rock stars often need protection from over-zealous fans. But do over-impressionable fans need protection from rock? That question arose dramatically in the wake of a notorious Nevada court case involving two unhappy teenagers and their suicide pact. One died, and the other survived with heinous injuries. The parents sued veteran British heavy metal band Judas Priest, claiming their music had actually driven the boys to commit this desperate act. David Van Taylor’s intensely disturbing film captures the grief and denial on all sides, from the families all too eager to shift blame away from themselves to the wealthy rockstars bewildered to find themselves accused of musical manslaughter.
The Cult of JT Leroy (2014)
There are few recent sagas of celebrity intrigue as bizarre as the case of JT Leroy, the purported literary wunderkind of the 1990s: a transgender teen author and ex-sex-worker who began attracting attention for their semiautobiographical fiction and sensational life story. Many A-listers from the world of books, music, and movies felt deep empathy for LeRoy’s abusive past and became caught up in the young author’s mystique. Then, in 2006, a New York Magazine expose confirmed rumors that LeRoy was a total fabrication devised by San Francisco writer Laura Albert and performed by her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop.
Many who might otherwise have been entertained by the stunt felt that they had been manipulated for personal gain, and that Albert and Knoop had thoughtlessly exploited issues like AIDS, sexual abuse and homophobic violence. Other docs about this topic exist, but this one doesn’t flinch from this stranger-than-fiction story’s more incriminating details.
Meet Marlon Brando (1965)
A great movie star who often seemed to hate being one, Brando was “difficult” for directors, publicists, and journalists to deal with from early on in his career. By the mid-60s, his behavior toward all the above frequently bordered on the perverse. This half-hour portrait by famed documentarians the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin captures him during a day he’s forced to promote his latest project, a WW2 thriller (and flop) called Moritiuri. Alternately playful, caustic, and bored, he’s a study in charisma even as he demonstrates how tiresome he finds his stardom.
For other glimpses of luminaries at war with the spotlight, watch Mark Rappaport’s video essay From the Journals of Jean Seberg, about the corn-fed Iowa “discovery” who had a fiercely conflicted relationship toward the fame into which she was thrust, and Maximillian Schell’s Marlene, in which the legendary performer Marlene Dietrich — by now in her vain and camera shy twilight years — consents to have a film made about her, then changes her mind, forcing him to get creative.
Camp Hollywood (2004)
On some level, everyone knows that the chances of success in showbiz are miniscule. Yet with the lucky few who “make it” becoming ever more prominent in our cultural landscape, those harsh odds can’t dissuade the multitudes from continuing to try their luck. In an eye-opening view from the lowest rungs of the industry ladder, Steve Markle’s documentary Camp Hollywood finds the Canadian comic spending two months at a seedy “Tinseltown” hotel located (literally and metaphorically) at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. There, he makes the acquaintance of numerous other wannabes and hangers-on, including aspiring actors, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, porn performers, ex-cons, and even a few folks with actual screen credits.
To get a perspective on the long, hard career climb from those who’ve made it to the top, don’t miss Jordan Brady’s I Am Comic, in which a huge roster of comedians — including Judy Gold, Tim Allen, Leslie Jones, Louis C.K., Rosanne Barr, Phyllis Diller, Jeff Foxworthy, Carrot Top, and Sarah Silverman — discuss the perils and rewards of their profession. For a look at what it takes to get ahead in a very different sort of performance arena, Bobbi Jo Hart’s I Am Not A Rock Star focuses on one Marika Bournaki — a Montreal-born, Julliard-trained pianist who is followed by the camera from age 12 to 20 down the bumpy roads of not just classical-music careerism, but coming of age.