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Review: Starsuckers


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The latest documentary from Chris Atkins (nominated for a BAFTA for the brilliant Taking Liberties) sets its sights on the cult of celebrity and our fascination with it. 

Working from the thesis that the mass-media corporations use and fuel this fascination to take our cash and ultimately control us, Starsuckers makes a good case.

On the surface much of what Starsuckers has to say is far from revelatory: we as a society are obsessed with celebrity (you don't say!), celebrities are used to sell us stuff and influence our decisions (really?) and when it comes to the truth the media won't let it get in the way of making a quick buck (no way!).

It is not necessarily the points this documentary is trying to make that make it so worthwhile, it is the manner in which Atkins presents a series of compelling arguments that really drives it home.

In the opening scene the parents are offered the chance to get their kids on reality TV shows such as 'Slaughterhouse' (where the kids will work in an abattoir) and 'Baby Boozers' (a show about child alcoholics). The parents prove so desperate to get their child fame, they allow their children to be 'exploited' in truly questionable ways.

The film received much publicity about how the documentary team had fed several tabloid newspapers completely fake stories about celebs over the phone only to have them published the next day. In one impressive sting they orchestrate a great cosmetic surgery hoax, presenting a story about top-celebrities going under the knife via an unnamed source from 'a clinic'. The hacks lap it up, offering obscene amounts of money to spread the story.

The film is crammed full of compelling evidence of how our love of the famous few corrupts our lives, even as far as causing political problems.

Atkins' look at the Live 8 concert highlights how the famous can hinder not help campaigns. On the day of the G8 225,000 Make Poverty History campaigners marched in Edinburgh in one of the largest grass-roots, anti-poverty marches ever to make their voices heard. Organised for months before that date, it was then overshadowed by the Live 8 concerts which saturated the media to over-flowing point, doing little more (so the documentary states) than fuelling the careers of the celebrities and burying the real campaign under the weight of the 'stars'.

Elsewhere the hidden camera chats with publicist Max Clifford need to be seen to be believed.

Overall the power of the message is diminished by the slightly smug, cheesy American voiceover that comes across as sinister rather than authoritative, and adds to the films major problem. Whilst doing a good job of making its point much of it leans towards one-sided scaremongering without the inclusion of the other side of the argument. Are all media workers really complicit in this evil game of control? Do the audience have any role to play in the content they are provided with?
In this way Starsuckers falls slightly into the trap of falling into its own media stereotype using fear as a means to control the way the message is received.

Whilst not as compelling and convincing as his previous work Taking Liberties, Starsuckers is a rousing polemic that lays bare the pit-falls of the modern media-world and proves Atkins as one of Britain's top documentary makers.

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