Tag: Fellini

Shoot Me

Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane

David Bowie

There’s an interesting moment in Teenage Paparazzo, where the precocious teen of the title takes a look at himself onscreen, his eyes wide. It’s arguably the most poignant moment in the film, where the shooter becomes the shoot-ee, and the house of mirrors crumbles away in one awful, shattering thonk.

Fame, and its variable spinoffs, is the theme of this documentary, which made it debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Teenage Paparazzo tells the story of 13-year-old Austin Visschedyk, and actor-director Adrian Grenier‘s evolving relationship with him. The two met when the precocious youngster snapped the Entourage star one day in Los Angeles more than three years ago; that particular shooting had a psychological effect just as much as an imagistic one, and it launched Grenier’s desire to explore the twisted relationships between celebrities, corporations, and the hoards of paparazzi who can -and do frequently -make or break our public heroes.

Grenier understands this house of mirrors very well; he made his name in a television show that details the life of an actor who’s on a successful TV show. There’s a real irony at work as he films Austin hard at work following leads, trying to finish homework (he’s home-schooled), rushing around the city of Angels on his skateboard or scooter, visiting the camera store, and interacting with the salty old pros who are more than twice his age. Inadvertently, he winds up making Visschedyk a petulant wannabe-star with a reality show in the pipeline, and oodles of toxic attitude leaking all over his fast-fading youth. That’s after the actor becomes a pseudo-shutterbug-come-celeb-stalker himself, though he initially finds the paparazzi who used to trail him are less than open to being exposed themselves. The Hunter getting captured by the game has never seemed so skewed, or weirdly delicious.

Massive Attack – The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game feat. Tracey Thorn by user5776126

With so much going on on so many levels, it’s easy to get carried away, and yet Teenage Paparazzo maintains a fine focus and an above-board perspective that exploits neither its young subject nor the camera-toting ilk he’s part of. Instead, it maintains a smart balance between Grenier’s personal relationship with Austin and his explorations into wider societal ideas around fame and celebrity. Divvying up the film into titled chapters, Grenier takes this hall -make that labyrinth – of mirrors and lay some lines along the ground to make sense of it -at least enough sense to show his young friend that relating is more important than shooting. Likewise, the many interviews Grenier conducts add nice spark to what could be a dreary exercise in self-indulgence; they include candid yacks with stars like LiLo, Matt Damon, and Eva Longoria, along with academics, authors, photographers (yes, some of they do eventually open up), Hello! magazine‘s editorial board, and members of Austin’s family. What’s notable is how the film doesn’t judge any of them, but allows their own voices and actions to speak for themselves, adding subtle influence and subtext to the drama unfolding between pseudo-famous boy and firmly-famous man.


Perhaps most surprising is how the recently-busted Paris Hilton comes off; her impressions and ideas around fame aren’t nearly as vacuous as you might assume. Less helium-voiced ditz and more throaty maven, Hilton conveys a total understanding her celebrity, its demands, its image-upkeep (seriously, does anyone think cocaine possession will harm it?), and its absurd, if utterly enjoyable nature. She neither criticizes nor condemns, but accepts, puts on a smile, and plays up whatever role she’s chosen to play that day, knowing full well the paparazzi will eat it up, editorial boards will make it up, and the public will buy it up. There’s a brilliant scene involving Hilton and Grenier staging a series of appearances together in order to create, from scratch, a feeding frenzy among the paparazzi and itinerant gossip-mongers; it appears the public will buy anything so long as there’s photographic proof.

Thing is, as Grenier smartly points out, that trusted photographic proof can be staged, and, as Alec Baldwin wittily, wisely notes, the same circle of large companies control the outlets around the star anyway: magazines, movies, TV, internet sites all exist within the same massive, chugging machine. Paparazzi may be, true to their name, pests, and they are undoubtedly intrusive, but their connection to the corporate entertainment machines isn’t incidental at all. There’s a huge public thirst around the honey their buzzes give, and, as Visschedyk learns, a huge buzz from being around the honeys. At one point his mother laughs off girls coming to see her son at all hours of the morning, though when Austin is shown with his young catches, he shyly ducks the camera. The last vestige of an awkward youth, or the first inklings of a celebrity?

Adrian Grenier offers no easy answers, neither in the film nor in person. I was in attendance at a special screening of his film last week here in Toronto, and I found that the Byronic-looking Entourage star comes off thoughtful, well-read, and deeply insightful. In interviews, he’s spoken of his deep curiosity around plumbing the depths of the superficial world he occupies. To a few insipid, self-aggrandizing questions from his old-school print journalist interlocutor, he politely smiled, responding with care and consideration. But at one point, when he was thrown a hoary “T. S. Eliot/Wasteland-what-is-the-deep-meaning-here” quote (surely the mark of smarmy pseudo-intellectuals everywhere), Grenier slyly quoted Socrates as a response -and, it should be noted, without a hint of malice (though certainly with a playful spirit; I could’ve sworn I saw a twinkling of the eye). With one foot firmly in the “old” world of books, art, and classic celluloid film (he cited Werner Herzog as a favorite filmmaker and influence), and the other in the high-tech, fast-paced world of pop culture and the internet (he said more features and an adjunct, interactive site to TP is in the works), Grenier is certainly more than a pretty face, and I’ll be very curious to see what he offers in his next film.

For now, he’s firm about keeping his private life… well, private. That includes his friendship with Visschedyk. The wide-eyed boy of Teenage Paparazzo, staring at his precocious, arrogant self grows gracefully into a more thoughtful teen, as we see at the film’s end; it’s interesting to hear him talk about respecting the privacy of the people he used to make money off of, especially in light of his adventure with LiLo last fall. Less interested now in celebrity than in being a confidante, Visschedyk has, at least partly, Grenier to thank -or damn, depending on your viewpoint.

But you probably won’t look at those tabloids at the checkout quite the same again -or the ads in and around them, or indeed, the people buying them. Even if those people happen to be friends, lovers… or you.

Photo credits:

Top photo still from La Dolce Vita, 1960, Federico Fellini.
Photos of Austin Visschedyk and Adrian Grenier taken from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Sex On A Plate

Jennifer Iannolo really loves food.

The Culinary Media Network‘s co-founder isn’t just a lady who enjoys a good glass of wine and a steak; she’s also an informed, thoughtful food activist who clearly sees the cultural relationships that exist between food and life, or more specifically, food and sex. The New York-based Iannolo, an author, broadcaster, consultant and fiercely ambitious entrepreneur, is about to launch Sex On A Plate, an event that will leave attendees drooling in body and soul. What began as a simple observation on food turned into a bigger passion that many relate to. I mean really, food? sex? What’s not to like?

More than just a suggestive moniker, Iannolo connects various sensual experiences -sights, sounds, smells, touches, textures, tastes -with wider ideas around what good food is, and how its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment is a powerful agent for change, both inside and out.

What I love so much about this fierce, fabulous foodie is that she can so clearly understand, appreciate, and promote the sensual aspects of good food and its enjoyment, along with its connection to wider culture and women’s body images. Sex, like fat, is mainly in the brain, and it’s only through the senses that we come to truly embrace ourselves and our relationship with food with unbridled joy. Iannolo chanels that joy, and serves it up -luscious, succulent, sexy.

Where did the idea for “sex on a plate” come from?

I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my career working with the culinary greats, including chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy and Eric Ripert. The more time I spent observing them, getting past the “who” to find the “what,” the more I began to see that a sensual quality permeated their food. Each of them had his own unique philosophy, but the root of it was far deeper than merely feeding people -it was about making love to their senses. When eating their dishes, I began to have those food moments that would take me to another place, with nuances of flavor and texture I didn’t realize were possible.

After experiencing food in that way, I wondered where to go from there. What do you do with yourself after Alain Ducasse has prepared a special meal for you at the chef’s table? Rather than head in the hopeless direction of the food snob, I decided to go back to the roots — to the ingredients themselves: the perfect fig, the ultimate tomato. It became a quest for my senses.

As I was mulling over such things (in early 2004), I took a recreational cooking class to determine whether I wanted to cook, write or both. We were making roasted strawberries with zabaglione one night, and as I watched the custard being poured over the strawberries, I was somewhat overcome by the sight, and blurted out: “That, right there, is sex on a plate.” It set the tone for my manifesto On Food And Sensuality several weeks later, and the rest has unfolded from there.

How do you think the ideas behind Sex on a Plate fits with the foodie scene, especially online?

I’m still finding that out. I’ve got an amazing team of people working with me to plan Sex on a Plate as a series of events around the country, and we are deep in planning for Napa at the moment. There are about seven cities that have approached us to do the event, so we will take it where the food lovers will welcome it. We had planned a launch here in NYC for Valentine’s Day, but there was so much else competing for dollars and attention on that day, we decided it was best to postpone that for a quieter time, if there is such a thing in NYC.

Online, the concept seems to swing a number of ways (pardon the pun). It straddles a number of topics (I’m killing myself here), from sex to sensual indulgence to food. It started one day when I threw a #sexonaplate hash tag in a Twitter update, and it’s become a fun meme, with people posting Twitpics of fabulous desserts, perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever it is that turns their senses on. It’s one of the things I love about the idea: each of us experiences “sex on a plate” differently, so I get a kick out of seeing what it means to people.

In terms of blogging, I’ve started doing guests posts and content sharing with a couple of sex blogs, and have really ramped up my discussions on sensuality on my own blog as it relates to everything we eat, and the way in which we approach food. I love that people are engaging and talking about this, because I find that food lovers really get it, and those just discovering food want to. This makes my soul happy.

For the events themselves, how will you go about planning the menus?

This is where the events get most interesting, because in each city, I’m leaving that piece up to the chefs. I want to know what excites their senses, and I’m challenging them to wow us with those dishes and flavor combinations they might not get to put on the regular menu. They tend to get excited like kids at Christmas when I say that.

Who are the events for?

The events are for anyone who wants to have an indulgent, sensual food experience. I mean that not in the sense of overly heavy foods, but a food experience that focuses on how each taste indulges the senses through flavor, color, texture and smell. Even touch.

More importantly, I’ve decided that in each city where we do an event, a portion of the proceeds will go to the local food bank. It seems fair to balance the scales that while we’re indulging ourselves on the finest of food, that people struggling for basic survival are also taken care of. This makes my soul even happier.

How much of a subtext is there of women accepting our bodies? This feels like a theme in your “food philosophy”-ism.

Can I get a “Hell, yes?” The first line of my manifesto, On Food And Sensuality, is from Federico Fellini: “Never trust a woman who doesn’t like to eat. She’s probably lousy in bed.” Sensual appreciation extends to everything, from head to toe, inside and out, from farm to plate.

I do believe we should take good care of ourselves, and eat foods that are good for us; but in my mind, this means less about broccoli vs chocolate than it does chemicals vs no chemicals. We need to eat a little bit of everything to be satisfied as humans — we were built with the capability to enjoy pleasure, so why on earth should we deny ourselves? And I’m sorry to break it to the ladies, but Fellini’s right. I’m carrying a little extra padding, and I have yet to experience that as a hindrance for either attraction or action.

The wonderful thing about human beings is that they self-select. Be who you are, and those who like you will find you, whether it’s for friendship or romance. If you have a big butt, the men who like that will find you. Trust me. And this delights me on all fronts, because I don’t want to dine with men or women who live on lettuce and tofu. No fun.

What’s the ultimate “sex on a plate” dish for you?

Macaroni and cheese made with fusilli, mascarpone cheese, duck confit, foie gras mousse and truffle shavings. Oh my, yes.

All photography by Kelly Cline, except for head shot of Jennifer Iannolo, by Renata DeAngelis.

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