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Film, Fame, And Cultural Failure


By Adam Thomas

Friday February 4, 2005


It’s hard to deny the vast reach Hollywood has over global culture. The USA’s greatest export after democracy is celebrity culture. From Marilyn Monroe to Leo DiCaprio, the influence and prevalence of the Hollywood movie machine is everywhere. With an effective blend of American dreams mixed with savvy marketing, Hollywood tells its own kind of stories, for budgets larger than the G.D.P of most African countries. But Hollywood film culture is not Canadian film culture. And for years we’ve had a lagging industry making small, meaningful films about rural families with snow capped secrets or gentle comedies about middle aged emotionally repressed loggers. It’s ludicrous that so many English Canadian films exist where the terms: good, little and Canadian, serve as qualifiers and justification for why they are boring, lame or silly. Often the pleasure of experiencing a great film is heightened when you find out it was a Canadian production. Like it was good in spite of itself.

Don Mckellar’s new film Childstar takes a comic stab at the entire film industry, both Canadian and American, and is a smart satire about the consequences of cross border celebrity and the effects it has on the character of child super-star Taylor Brandon Burns. Mckellar plays Rick Schiller a never-had-work filmmaker who gets a job driving limos for celebrities. Hot on the heels of the hugely popular family sitcom, Family Differences, young Taylor Burns arrives in Toronto to shoot a big budget action comedy called The First Son. The film is an American runaway production about the President’s son who must save his father from the clutches of terrorists who have hijacked Air Force One. Complete with bad, over the top computer graphics, the First Son is a pointed example of the crap that studios send up here to be shot. Arriving in Toronto, Burns and his image controlling mother Suzanne (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are picked up by Rick, who in good old Canadian fashion is oblivious to the fame and stature of his client, stands innocently at the gate carrying a hand written card with the star’s name on it. When Taylor emerges, they are swarmed by schoolgirls and paparazzi. The film changes gears here and soon, Rick finds himself sleeping with Suzanne, becoming the bratty boy’s tutor and then his legal guardian. In essence he becomes the father figure to two people whose only family has been themselves and the industry.

In an attempt to fulfill this vaguely appointed role Rick attempts to help Taylor experience life as a normal child and gives him innocent pep talks about the nature of love and adolescent sexual impulses. This is all ironic as Taylor sneaks out one night, arrives at a nightclub where his friend is waiting with some girls who are ready to party. Taking one girl back to the studio lot, they find themselves on the set of the oval office. Under pressure and expectation to have sex, Taylor asks the girl where they should do it, to which she replies depreciatingly, “Wherever you want, it’s your fantasy, I’m Canadian.”

Childstar is one part satire, one part cultural parody, and one part dysfunctional family film that ultimately examines the pressures fame can have on anyone. The consequences being heightened when that anyone is a thirteen-year-old boy. All we need to do is look at the child stars of yesterday to see the frightening effects pre-pubescent fame can have.

As an independent Canadian filmmaker, McKellar knows first hand the difficulties involved with producing films in this country. Overshadowed by hulking productions from Hollywood, the Canadian film industry has become too reliant and complacent about playing second string. Using the character of a child star to illustrate his point, Mckellar has made a film that criticizes our own cultural dependency on an industry that will throw us to the wolves once we no longer fit the part.

The Canadian film industry, ever fearful of investing in itself, may find itself broke and unemployed when the big old Hollywood movie factory moves somewhere cheaper. Maybe it’s time to confront our selves and think about who we want to make movies for anyway.