Hot Docs Review: Teenage Paparazzo
by Monika Bartyzel May 11th 2010 // 1:33PM
As the star of Entourage for the last six years, Adrian Grenier’s life contends with paparazzi both on and off the screen. That mass of insistent cameras is everyday fare that comes with the territory. But one day a few years ago, he was blinded by the rapid-fire explosion of one specific camera flash. At the firing end wasn’t some older pap eager for a prime picture worth thousands, it was a little blonde kid. And he wasn’t a fan; he was part of the paparazzi.
Intrigued, Grenier hunted down 13-year-old Austin Visschedyk and turned the cameras on him for a two-punch documentary called Teenage Paparazzo. Detailing the life of a teen who roams the Los Angeles streets day and night to capture celebrity pictures, and the business of paparazzi photography and tabloid journalism, Grenier tackles a thematic double bill that is an entertaining — if occasionally glossy and over-stretched — account of the culture of fame.
At the center of everything is Austin, a well-spoken thirteen year old kid who roams the streets of Los Angeles, hanging out with fellow paparazzi and clamoring for shots of tabloid darlings like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Offspring of the smallest sliver of parental authority, Austin comes and goes as he pleases. Mom is sure that can she can trust her son, and doesn’t seemed worried about his late-night ways. Whether it’s 3 P.M. on a Saturday or 3 A.M. on a weeknight, he has almost free reign to follow incoming tips and hound local celebrities. He gets around the obvious educational challenges by being home-schooled, and it’s quite clear that Austin is not only well-spoken, but also a Grade-A manipulator. When teacher comes to visit, he’s a rambunctious kid. When Mom pops her head in, he’s a well-behaved student. But he gets B’s, so no alarms are raised and the 13-year-old can do what he wants.
Grenier follows Austin, grilling the kid and his fellow paps to try and figure out what makes these men (and women) tick — why they take the business to such extremes. Naturally, many aren’t too keen on Grenier’s presence, offering a nice slice of irony with the belief that he is exploiting their work. Eager to understand the life, however, Grenier perseveres and gets in on the action, picking up a camera, joining the chase, and even fighting his way into the mass to grab a picture of Brooke Shields. He wants to understand and experience the life, just as he wants to manipulate and play with it.
With the help of Paris Hilton, Grenier has many opportunities to manipulate the paparazzi, to manufacture rumors and experience the tabloid darling life. Hilton becomes a right-hand woman of sorts, popping up in many interview segments — though she has nothing worthwhile to say — and helping Grenier taunt the paps. She is, in fact, front and center so much that one has to wonder if it was part of the deal for her involvement. Her only worthwhile contribution, other than helping Grenier manipulate the photographers, is to act as an airhead. In one of the film’s funnier moments, and a totally irrelevant scene, Grenier describes the myth of Narcissus to her, as the story becomes all the more relevant to Austin’s life, and she asks him if the story is true.
Superfluous interviews slow the journey on more than one occasion. While some offer insight and valid complaint, whether it be Matt Damon discussing what attracts paparazzi or Lewis Black ranting about the lack of parenting in Austin’s life, many don’t really add to the discussion, especially when Grenier sits down and chats about the documentary with his Entourage co-stars. He remains a step removed, choosing to be respectful rather than probing, which misses the great opportunity to get some personal and engaging thoughts on the matter. When Grenier digs into the nature of celebrity, and talks to experts about the world of one-sided parasocial relationships and celebrity obsession, however, things fare better. This is their business, and they know how to give the goods.
It’s a hard line to travel. Grenier has made himself an active player in this story, wanting to walk in Austin’s shoes, and feeling responsible for his own involvement in the kid’s growing fame. The filmmaker attempts to befriend and mentor the kid, but the camera offers no insights into Grenier’s life. It’s focused in one direction like the click of the paparazzi’s camera — a one-sided hand and opinion attempting to guide its subject to a happy ending.
Matched with some pretty flashy graphics and editorial techniques, Teenage Paparazzo won’t hit as deep as it could or maybe should. But it is a fun documentary that should, at the very least, make you think and discuss paparazzi and Hollywood celebrity.
Archive for the ‘FILM FESTIVAL’ Category
January 29, 2010 | 7:00 am
Talk about karmic connections. I had just started reading Roger Ebert’s wonderful essay about Ron Galella, the notoriously relentless paparazzo, who is profiled in the new documentary “Smash His Camera,” when I heard the news about the death of J.D. Salinger, who might have been the only celebrity reclusive enough to have actually escaped the jittery glare of Galella’s camera. As for virtually every other star, from the swinging ’60s on, Galella rarely missed his prey.
Galella snapped ’em all, the kind of star that you have to refer to only by one name: Sinatra, Jackie O., Capote, Liz and Dick, Brando, Jagger (both Mick and Bianca), Elvis, Sophia, Redford, Nicholson. I haven’t seen the film, which debuted this week at Sundance, but the reviews have largely been good. Ebert nicely captures the stylish if slightly sleaze-ball appeal of Galella, who represents a natural bridge between the first generation of tabloid icons like Weegee and today’s less distinctive TMZ-style celeb stalkers. How did Galella get his money shots? Here’s what Ebert has to say about Galella’s working style, which makes it sound as though he would’ve made a great CIA agent or Hollywood private eye:
He hid in bushes and behind trees. Driving like a madman, he outraced celebrities to their destinations. He bribed doormen, chauffeurs, head waiters, security guards. He lurked in parking garages. He knew the back ways into ballrooms. He forged credentials. He chased his prey for blocks on foot. Year after year, he outworked, outran and outsmarted the competition, and he ran with a ferocious pack. Even now when he is wealthy, he hasn’t stopped standing in the cold to get his shot.
Ebert goes on to recount Galella’s epic battles with Jackie Onassis, who eventually got a court order preventing Galella from being within 75 yards of her at any time. Marlon Brando was once so ticked off by Galella that he punched him in the jaw so hard the photographer lost five teeth. No matter. The next time he went after Brando, he wore a football helmet. (Ebert has the photo up on his site, along with Galella’s classic shot of Jackie O. crossing the street, the wind blowing her hair across her face. She’s never looked more glamorously enigmatic.)
At Sundance, someone asked Robert Redford about “Smash His Camera,” surely knowing that Redford, like so many celebs, had his share of run-ins with Galella. It turns out Redford had one victory, eluding Galella while shooting “Three Days of the Condor,” though it wasn’t easy, because it involved almost as much skulduggery as Redford uses in the film itself.
So was Galella a scuzzy pest or a brilliant photographer? Or both? Ebert makes the case that as much as Galella harassed Jackie O., no one else captured her essence the way he did. As with most things, we’ll remember Galella’s work long after his pain-in-the-butt intrusiveness is forgotten. After all, we are all voyeurs at heart. As Ebert recalls, it was Andy Warhol who said, “A great photograph shows the famous doing something unfamous.”
Photo: Jackie Onassis. Credit: Ron Galella