(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, October 8.)
I’ve always rather liked George Clooney. I particularly enjoyed the films he made with the directors Joel and Ethan Coen, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty.Both movies bore the Coen brothers’ trademark storyline of greedy, evil or stupid people (sometimes all three) getting caught up in grotesquely complex events that spiral out of control, usually with disastrous and outrageously funny consequences.
Clooney seemed a natural fit with the Coen brothers’ darkly whimsical view of the world. What especially impressed me was that even with his matinee-idol looks, he was happy to play roles that required a degree of self-mockery. He didn’t seem to take himself too seriously – a quality he shares with a similarly suave heart-throb from an earlier era, Cary Grant.I was less impressed with the over-rated Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney’s directorial debut, in which he starred as a colleague of the legendary American broadcaster Edward R Murrow, and I probably should resent him for his involvement as producer of Argo, which wilfully misrepresented New Zealand’s role in a plot to spirit six American diplomats out of hostile Iran.
But his best films have been brilliant and even his poorer ones are better than most, so he remained one of the few Hollywood stars I admired.His efforts on behalf of war victims in Sudan seemed to mark him as a decent man, too – a genuine humanitarian, and blessedly free of the irritating sanctimony and self-promotion that has made U2’s Bono a figure of ridicule.
On top of all this, Clooney seemed endearingly immune to the hype, humbug and glitz customarily associated with big box-office names. Still more reason to like him.That is, until last week. Then he blew it.
Clooney could have got married quietly and discreetly. Instead, his wedding was the centre of a media event that was extravagant even by Hollywood standards.We can only conclude this was deliberate. Why else choose Venice as the venue?
It’s hard to imagine any city in the world where there would be less prospect of privacy. In Venice, people get around in open boats. This meant that virtually every move by Clooney and his bride, the Lebanese-born civil rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, would be witnessed and recorded by paparazzi and TV cameras.Again, we can only assume it was orchestrated with this intent. The media seemed to have been advised in advance of the wedding party’s movements so that they could be on hand to capture every moment.
Certainly Clooney seemed to revel in the attention, beaming and waving like a monarch acknowledging the adoration of his subjects. Not for him the raised hand to fend off prying lenses or the phalanx of bodyguards to keep the press at bay, as we’ve come to expect of celebrity weddings.On the contrary, there seemed an inordinate amount of very public cruising back and forth on the canals in the company of his illustrious guests, the purpose of which was presumably to ensure maximum exposure.
George, George, what were you thinking?Journalists, clearly so mesmerised by the glamour of the occasion that they momentarily took leave of their professional scepticism, wittered on about the prospect of Clooney’s female fans worldwide being plunged into despair at the sight of the man they called the world’s most desirable bachelor giving his heart to someone else.
In fact a more probable consequence was that many people who had previously respected Clooney as an intelligent and sensible man, with an admirable disregard for the usual excesses of Hollywood stardom, would be wondering how he could have let them down so badly. Or perhaps, like me, they were quietly rebuking themselves for having so naively misread him.
Several questions arise from the extravaganza in Venice. The first and most obvious is why so many stars feel an apparent compulsion to live their lives so publicly. Is it because they depend on the constant affirmation of the crowd? Does stardom get inside their heads to the point where public adulation eventually becomes the only way they can measure their worth?Another is why celebrities appear to crave the company of other celebrities. Is this another form of validation for insecure egos? (Matt Damon, Bono, Cindy Crawford and Bill Murray are at my wedding – ergo, I must be up there in the celebrity stratosphere.) Did they have a life, friends, before they became stars?
But perhaps the most perplexing question of all relates to our own fascination with the cult of stardom, without which the Clooney-Alamuddin wedding would have been ignored.After all, what are actors? They are people who are famous for pretending to be someone else.
We wrongly attribute to them the characteristics of the fictional characters they play. The extent to which we worship them hinges on how convincingly they pull off this feat. Our interest in them is as illogical as our fascination with royalty, whose mass appeal is derived from accidents of birth.So we’re the suckers, and Clooney is simply taking advantage of our gullibility. But I can’t help liking him less as a result.