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2012 | 89 min



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Theatrical release date

 11 January, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Sellebrity Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 31, 2013

With a documentary like “Sellebrity,” sympathy is in short supply. Photographer Kevin Mazur, notable for his front-line access to famous folks during red carpet events, endeavors to fashion a statement of unease and outrage when it comes to the Wild West world of tabloid photography, creating a portrait of anarchy to emphasize the divide between self-promotion and exploitation. However, when dealing with unshowered paparazzi types hunkered down on greasy street corners and immaculate interviewees captured in their palatial homes, it’s a lose-lose situation of sensitivity. “Sellebrity” is a numbing viewing experience that’s oddly constructed and a touch too sanctimonious to take seriously, eventually coming to blame the viewer for the ills of the tabloid industry, despite Mazur feeding into the same diseased hype with this cinematic effort.

It’s vicious out there for a famous face these days. Not only is there a general aura of excitement with every career choice, but there’s also an element of constant surveillance, with swarms of paparazzi capturing every single angle of movement during mundane activities, hoping to acquire the perfect shot that could be sold to a celebrity magazine or blog. “Sellebrity” seeks to understand how this stalker-like mentality has come into play, gathering forces in film, music, law, and layman to understand the insatiability of celebrity images, and how the industry approaches the importance of acquisition and the puzzle of implementation. Admittedly, it’s an interesting topic for a no-holds-barred discussion of privacy, respect, and journalism, yet Mazur isn’t exactly looking to challenge his interviewees with troubling, multifaceted concepts of celebrity and its circular demands of publicity. Instead, he’s made a horror show starring close friends such as Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Salma Hayek, Kid Rock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sheryl Crow, and Elton John, who share their fears and frustrations with the photographic hunt and its often ravenous participants.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Before TMZ there was a studio-mandated system of information and images, with the highlights of “Sellebrity” inspecting the days of private failures and easily contained scandals. While still a ruthless system of publicity, camera omnipresence wasn’t there, leading to more rigid public personas, with Hollywood feeding the public exactly what it wanted to share. The Italian paparazzi culture of the 1950s effectively destroyed that barrier, with Fellini legitimizing the pastime in 1960’s “La Dolce Vita,” ushering in a new wave of bloodthirsty photographers out to catch celebrities at their worst, creating a growing consumer demand for unsavory images and gossip-style reporting.

“Sellebrity” tracks the rise of the paparazzi to what it’s become today: a hot mess. With compact and complex cameras able to reach beyond any physical barriers and the explosion of cameraphone technology, celebrity images are everywhere, with a modern fixation on the invasion of privacy a top concern for the documentary. It’s a provocative topic that’s handled reasonably well by Mazur, who delves into the decimation of personal space for the average star, with Lopez and Anthony sharing a memory of when they locked themselves into a trunk of a car to get away from the paparazzi, while Parker (who’s particularly sickened with the whole culture) talks of emotional hysteria and covert clothes-swapping during one clash with the picture-seekers. There’s also an isolation of reality television’s toxic impact, which has gifted anyone notoriety, making publicity a vicious game that’s soured the impact of fame as it was once understood and accepted. Regality is gone, folks. Now it’s one big soup of attention that’s exploded due to internet ubiquity and the general lowering of standards, which “Sellebrity” essentially pins on the lapel of magazine US Weekly, crediting them for the shift in nuisance journalism, introducing a brand that relied on unflattering pictures of celebrities.

Should one feel badly for the famous folks? After all, paparazzi only want to take pictures of these figures due to their fame, which generally requires a presence in the public eye to help cultivate. Obviously, privacy is a concern and a valid one, with daily chores subjected to heated examination and headline manipulation (creating soap opera stories of victimization and betrayal to feed reader imagination), while the topic of celebrity children is especially intriguing, finding more sites and magazines brazenly posting pictures of innocent kids without permission. A legal discussion is only moderately addressed, offering one opinion that a world without photographs is more dangerous than the battle royal we have today. Certainly there are lines being crossed, but the group gathered here to defend the celebrity point of view comes off a little whiny and nonspecific, trying to communicate the horror of a public life while enjoying its luxuries, with Rock perhaps the most muddled in his viewpoint.

As for the paparazzi featured, I have no idea why these guys even bother to participate in the discussion. Callous and absurdly sleazy, the photographers do more to degrade their vocation than any other evidence in the documentary, seeking their own version of fame. Too bad Mazur doesn’t pull at that thread.

Ultimately, “Sellebrity” points an accusatory finger toward the reader -- that gossip-swallowing ghoul who devours every last morsel of celebrity news and imagery, begging for more. It’s our fault we don’t seek out true journalism and headline news, our fault we show interest in the lives of the famous, and our fault that the tabloid floodwaters are rising again after Princess Diana’s death in 1997, which temporarily paralyzed the industry. Never mind that Mazur uses his celebrity connections to add some star power to the documentary, while showcasing a considerable amount of unblurred paparazzi footage to support his case. It’s our fault for watching. I don’t doubt the earnestness of the message, but the execution of the picture is borderline insulting, playing pious while engaging in the same tricks used by those Mazur is seeking to condemn.

Director: Kevin Mazur

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