Another entry in my Extra Credit feature, where I provide background on the cultural artifacts capturing the zeitgeist.
In one of the vignettes that make up Woody Allen’s latest European trifle, To Rome With Love, Roberto Benigni — the kind of naively mugging clown that seems to be the sole province of rubber-faced Europeans and the Quebecois — plays a resolutely average man plunged into unexpected celebrity: he almost literally wakes up one morning to find everyone obsessed with his shaving habits. Allen doesn’t use To Rome With Love for a lot besides some intermittently witty banter, but here at least he gets to riff on a theme that always seems to (amusingly) intrigue him: the excessively odd nature of fame has popped up throughout his films ever since it became something he had to deal with, from the misappropriation of a genius in Annie Hall‘s Marshall McLuhan scene, to Stardust Memory’s exasperated Sandy Bates (an Allen stand-in to end all Allen stand-ins) to the shape-shifting Zelig to the on-the-nose, hypersexed punch of Celebrity.
Allen is, of course, not alone: though there’s plenty of people who treat fame like a combination of the ultimate orgasm and the ultimate balm, there’s plenty of others who find the notoriety that comes along with their actual achievements absurd at the least and abhorrent at worst. At least it gives them something else to put their minds to, though: and so we present meditations on the oddities of fame.