January 26, 2010

Sundance films turn cameras on the paparazzi


PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - In a celebrity culture that turns the spotlight on its heroes to uncover their flaws, it seems only natural, at some point, to return it to the people who take the pictures -- the paparazzi -- to see if they can live up to their own scrutiny.


Two films at this week's Sundance Film Festival have taken on that cause. One examines the career of one of the industry's icons, Ron Galella, and the other is a turn-the-tables effort by paparazzi target, actor Adrian Grenier of "Entourage" fame.
In "Teenage Paparazzo", Grenier picks up his own camera to pursue Austin Visschedyk, a 13-year-old paparazzo whom Grenier met after he was ambushed by the young photographer.

Initially motivated by curiosity and concern for the teenager -- who routinely stays out until 2 a.m. on school nights jostling for shooting position with men twice his age -- Grenier broadens the focus to the relationship between paparazzi and the celebrities who are their targets.

"One of the reasons I made this film was to diffuse the tension that's so apparent between the paparazzi and the celebrities," Grenier told Reuters at Sundance.
"There's this one-way street, a one-way conversation. They're firing at you, but there's no real exchange."

Grenier, who calls his film a "big, fat kiss to the paparazzi," has a resume perfectly suited for the task. He is, after all, someone who became a star by playing a star on TV -- heartthrob film actor Vincent Chase on "Entourage."

For "Teenage Paparazzo," Grenier dips into his celebrity connections to strike interviews with targets such as Lindsay Lohan, Eva Longoria and Paris Hilton, who eventually becomes a co-conspirator with Grenier in manufacturing a "photo op."
Visschedyk, meanwhile, is clearly ambitious beyond his years, hopping into cabs to chase fleeing starlets and selling his pictures for thousands of dollars.

TURNING THE TABLES

At first, Visschedyk is somewhat awe-struck by Grenier's attention. But when he learns he is the focus of the film, he begins to wield his own power and thrusts Grenier into the role of pursuer, vying for time with Visschedyk to finish the movie.
Ultimately, Grenier confronts the notion that the film itself could be doing damage to Visschedyk. "It becomes a slippery slope when you think you're helping, but you're becoming part of that negative influence," he said.

At the other end of age and experience from Visschedyk is Ron Galella, a 50-year veteran of the trade and widely considered the original Hollywood paparazzo.
Galella, 79, whose life is examined in Leon Gast's "Smash His Camera", is old enough to have been working when the term "paparazzo" -- the sound in Italian made by a buzzing mosquito -- was coined to name a celebrity-chasing photographer character in the 1960 film "La Dolce Vita".

He operated in a time before it became normal for hordes of photographers to wait outside restaurants for celebrities, and he saw himself as an artist, first -- a claim backed up by having five of his pictures housed in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.

"Smash His Camera" gets its name from an order Jacqueline Onassis -- Galella's top target and subject of his most famous pictures -- gave to her bodyguard after he followed her and her children into New York's Central Park as they rode bikes.
Such events led to a lawsuit by Onassis that earned Galella some negative, but hardly unwelcome, publicity of his own.

In fact, Galella reveled in being portrayed as a villain, although he considers himself a breed apart from the armies of paparazzi that stalk celebrities today.
"A lot of paparazzi today are not trained, they're not serious. I was a serious student of art, and that's what makes great photographers," he said.

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