27 February 2008

Seamy goodness.

Sure, I follow celebrity news. Partly because I write about it sometimes for this site, but even if I didn't have that I would probably still read gossip blogs and Page Six. I think I feel about an average level of shame for doing this, and attempt to justify by saying, Well, I'm not as hooked on the stuff as I used to be. I don't subscribe to US Weekly, but I will buy it once in a while.

Kenneth Anger's HOLLYWOOD BABYLON is like OK! or Life & Style from the 1930s in book form. Organized in no particular way, it's a long narrative of someone whispering in your ear, "Hey, have you heard about Charlie Chaplin's second wife? You're going to love this story..." Instead of "Stars! They're Just Like Us!" there are black and white photos from courtrooms, private bedrooms and movie sets. Reading it is like consuming the first 20 pages of Perez Hilton without a break. I'm not sure whether the scandals covered in the book were open secrets at the time it was published (1959) or were not widely known at all, but I didn't know most of these stories, even ones about stars whose names I recognized like Marlene Dietrich and Rudolph Valentino. But don't expect even the occasional uplifting story; it's all suicides, murders, addictions and perversions.

In a sense, HOLLYWOOD BABYLON is a historic document on how much has changed in celebrity news. Not only has the way we consume gossip been altered by the Internet, but the access we expect to be given to our favorite stars (and the access we get in most cases) has greatly increased. It was much easier to conceal an actor's drug problem or philandering back when major news outlets could collude and decide together to avert their eyes from this or that scandal. Now, even if the Associated Press decides it won't cover Britney Spears (which it did briefly -- I believe she's back to More Important Than African Governance status now), other media will gladly pick up the slack. It sold back when HOLLYWOOD BABYLON was published, and it sells now -- especially if we are to believe, as this 2004 interview states, that Anger will be publishing a third BABYLON.

Read an excerpt from HOLLYWOOD BABYLON about Rudy Valentino here.

No comments: