Perhaps viewers consider idol worship a private pursuit, and one that's twice-removed from reality. For Hollywood, it may be too incestuous a subject, too self-referential to be entertainment. Moviemakers may well be uncomfortable trying to psychoanalyze on screen the people who fill the theater seats.
Calendar Girl (Columbia TriStar), which came out on video yesterday and which marked the big-screen debut of Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210), plunges into this risky terrain to focus on the obsession of "regular" characters with a star. In this case, Priestley and his two pals (Gabriel Olds and Jerry O'Connell) are Nevada youths, circa 1962, who dream of meeting Marilyn Monroe. They travel to Hollywood hoping to have their lives touched, if only for a moment, by her magic. Is it adolescent lust? Is it egos in need of a massage? Or is it the pursuit of an unattainable dream that becomes all the more appealing precisely because it is impossible?
Here are some other movies on video that explore idols and their worshippers.
SUNSET BOULEVARD. (Paramount and Home Vision, 1950.) Billy Wilder's brilliant, macabre tale remains the quintessential Hollywood movie about Hollywood. Gloria Swanson plays Norma Desmond, a silent-movie queen who lives in her own celluloid past. Like countless other stars, she believed her own myth and ended up devastated when it exploded in her face. If anybody idolizes Norma more than she does herself, it's her discoverer and ex-husband (Erich von Stroheim), now content to work as her butler so that he can keep her glorious illusions alive. It's an outrageous, highly moving yet perverse satire on an industry that cannibalizes its own while feeding them the
illusion of the love they crave.
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. (Paramount, 1972.) Woody Allen is at his most klutzy and nerdy in this Herbert Ross-directed comedy about a movie buff who can't score with women. His idol, Humphrey Bogart, comes uninvited into his fantasy life and proceeds to give him advice from his own tough-guy experience. While Allen can hardly measure up to Bogart - and, as a performer, he exploits the differences between them to the hilt - he does learn the meaning of the grand gesture, when he re-enacts the ending of Casablanca in his own life, letting his beloved (Diane Keaton) go back to her husband (Tony Roberts), who's also his best friend. By elevating himself to the level of his celluloid idol, Allen suggests that life imitating art may have positive consequences, not the least of which is his own liberation from the very shackles of idolatry. His conclusion: "I'm short and ugly enough to make it on my own."
GARBO TALKS. (MGM/UA and CBS/Fox, 1984.) In Sidney Lumet's oddly moving comedy-drama, Anne Bancroft plays Estelle Rolfe, a dying woman whose greatest desire is to meet the most reclusive and mysterious star ever, Greta Garbo. For Rolfe, a left-wing activist who's forever attempting to change the social order, Garbo represents a dream - she is everything Bancroft would have liked to be: grandiose, eccentric, beautiful. But even more important, meeting her is almost as unattainable a goal as social reform. Her eventual encounter with her idol, thanks to the relentless efforts of her own son (Ron Silver), amounts to an affirmation of her life and ideals.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1955. (MCA, 1977.) The effects of James Dean's death on a group of Arkansas youths, headed by Jimmy J., an alienated undergrad played by the affecting Richard Thomas, is the subject of James Bridges' insightful drama. Thomas assembles his friends for a vigil for Dean, which is meant to
serve as an opportunity for soul-searching, but they are so distraught by the death of their hero that they soon imitate his nihilistic stance by drinking, getting into trouble with the police, and courting tragedy, which indeed comes. The movie, co-starring Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid (in his film debut) shows just how powerful a star mystique can be.
DEAR BRIGITTE. (CBS/Fox, 1965.) In this family vacation comedy, Billy Mumy (Lost in Space) plays an 8-year-old mathematical prodigy who dreams of meeting sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. He manages to do just that, and for four minutes of enchantment, discovers with the audience that BB (who remains fully clothed here) is most endearing for her childlike innocence. James Stewart plays Mumy's professor father and Fabian and Cindy Carol provide the teen angle.