If I’m honest I had mixed thoughts when it came to Elstree 1976 (2015) a little known documentary about some of the extra’s from Star Wars (1977). Instead of all the docs that had gone before focusing on the stars, the director and the origins of the film that in themselves have all taken on legendary status. But what about those bit parts which in the Star Wars universe have all become remembered, anything that’s vaguely relates to the franchise is worth sharing, selling or talking about. My reservations for this doc I think came from what could really be discovered that hadn’t already been said or discussed about the history of the film.
As soon as I got started I knew this was going to be different, unique even. Thankfully made in cooperation with Lucas Film that gave this doc more authority allowing it to be more credible, instead of just talking to the extra’s, we have recreations of the film sets, the costumes are brought out if only briefly. All these elements are important in telling the Star Wars story, without them it wouldn’t be authentic to the audience, false and not worth telling. You could say the untold story is more exciting as we have only had glimpses, If you look away from the hard-core fan-base your knowledge is not so sharp beyond the credited actors in the film.
Beginning with introductions that link the extras directly to their action figures, a strong link to the film that no average person can claim to having. Through the figures that helped to provide George Lucas with his fortune and ensuring the next two installments would be possible. The idea of action figures being tied into a film had tried and failed in the past, as history of the film tells us, for Lucas holding onto the rights to the toys was a very clever move. Becoming collectibles over time, practically anything that appeared in the three films has great value (if in great condition and in the original packaging). Ten figures to ten actors faces, all playing varying parts in the franchise’s first film.
Beyond opening comments of having their own action figures they talk very little about Star Wars. We learn of their childhoods, youth and early acting careers none of them as spectacular as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher who all had more success. These 10 actors have stayed in obscurity more or less. David Prowse the actor behind the helmet of Darth Vader has one of the more familiar stories, an ex body builder who turned to acting after being told he’d never be successful – because of his feet. I forgot he had a small part in A Clockwork Orange (1971). To lesser known actors such as Pam Rose who was in the Cantina as Leesub Sirlin before going onto other extra parts late 1970s and early 1980’s. Whilst others have made a career out of being an extra like Derek Lyons with more than 80 credits to his name, that’s a lot for an extra.
During the main body of the film – the making of Star Wars we gained an insight to what film was like. From the tacky costumes, the 100’s of storm troopers to prosethetics and meeting the quietly spoken George Lucas who got one of them a cup of tea. How some of them ate lunch with Hamill. I learned how some of these extras took on speaking roles such as the storm trooper who waved Obi Wan, Luke Skywalker and co through, with “the droids they were looking for”. All these and more moments that are looked over in favor of the Fisher/Harrson affair, or the quotes about the awful script. What also makes this film stand apart is the gifs, that show us those blink and you’ll miss them moments in the films where the extra’s can be found. Weird at first, you soon get used to what it going on. Really bringing to life those moments that we in the audience wouldn’t care about.
All this before moving onto post Star Wars life, some it opened the doors to steady work as an extra, for others little came of it. Yet the power of that film alone, ignoring Empire and Jedi we have a film that changed so many lives for those who worked on it. Leading to the present the culture that has been created by this little b-movie science fiction film of good vs. evil- the convention circuit that some warming to it, whilst others have shied away from it. Prowse talking about honestly how he has made a career out of Star Wars and fair play to him, there’s money to be made.
I see this short documentary as a nice little insight into those much forgotten actors who brought to life the characters who are just as celebrated, Greedo, Boba Fett and all the X-Wing fighters, the list is endless really. To see the faces behind the make-up and costumes, and their lives which brought all of that to the screen. It won’t be as exciting without an all star documentary, however its something more special, shinning a light on the overlooked actors who did gave their time and effort to bring Star Wars to life.
When I think of Maps to the Stars (2014) my first thought is Bart Simpson’s selling fake maps to tourists in Springfield, who believe Moe the bartender is Drew Barrymore. That’s something I can’t shake loose. It’s only when you get to the land of dreams where everyone comes to make their name, wanting it up above a cinema in bright lights, for all to see them. Te desire to be loved, seen and adored above all else.
I think John Cusack is right, it the most revealing look into life behind closed doors. For an actor who began his career in the early 1980’s he has seen people come and go, the big changes over 32 years, which is a long time when you think about in terms of a modern Hollywood career. With all that said he wasn’t the draw to this film. Looking more for the director David Cronenberg whose films I have seen more of recently, more of his earlier work, which all had a sense of dread and impending doom that builds up at the end of the film. Usually bloody and gory with you starting to turn away from the screen as you have an idea of what could happen. Yet you can’t turn away completely, drawn by his complex characters who we have seen for the films duration. After his last film Cosmopolis (2012) I felt alienated by the complex language, I never really understood it, I won’t be returning to it anytime soon either.
I would however with Maps to the Stars which begins at what we believe to be a fan’s viewpoint, a weird looking girl Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) from Florida who in-fact knows more than she’s letting on. Already having a connection to Carrie Fisher, just how did she pull that one off? Apparently just by connecting on Twitter was all it took, its incredibly easy today to reach celebrities, just a few characters of text in their direction, if they answer you’ve made a connection, however brief that is, you can build your life around that. All this is part of the fast-paced world of Hollywood today that is based on image and profile.
We meet all the characters briefly before we go back for more. The young teen star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird) who is doing his bit for his own profile, whilst not really caring. Another obnoxious teen-star who already a pre-maddona wanting it all right now, a creation of his own young success and driven family to live the Hollywood dream. Waiting to see if he can begin shooting another sequel in a franchise that built him up. Waiting to join him on-screen is a true child of Hollywood Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), wanting to make this easy money maker. A neurotic actresses who cannot escape the shadow of her late Art-house actress mother who died in a fire. We first meet her having an unusual therapy and massage session with with self-made guru Dr. Stafford Weiss (Cusack) whose has an incredible hold over her. She soaks it all up, he has all the answers, with his help she will be better.
It takes to join all the dots up but all of these characters are connects, the Weiss family is a fractured one doing their best to live off the system that allows them to function. With their own domestic problems. Not being able see their son is a just as flawed as their dangerous daughter. Whilst actress Segrand is desperate for a role that she loses all compassion for her friend who first gets the role. Theres a loss of humanity with these characters, even Robert Pattinson‘s wannabe actor Jerome Fontana who is easily led. His connection is not half as strong as the rest of the characters, his screen time is also poor in comparison to John Cusack who also had a with credit a sign of status but replicated in screen time.
Of course as with all Cronenberg’s films there is that build up and complication of the characters situations that becomes unbearable. What we learn about these unsavoury characters begins to make sense. The visions that some of them have make more sense. Pattinson in comparison gets on lightly going with research for a script which is not intone, is his comeuppance off-screen. It’s not a perfect film, let down by the special effects, or the sign of a low-budget which I can accept. Once again Moore is on scary form, is she channelling dark desires we don’t usually see on-screen. Maps to the Stars is probably as spot on as you’re going to get, even in the aftermath of the Sony Leak last year which revealed just how similar the film world is to any other industry, lots of in-fighting, arguments, all normal really. The industry that plays on our fantasy is as real as any other beyond the glamour. It’s how you decide to live your life and take the opportunities. Those further down in the film-system are in their own screwed up world, all trying to get on the best they can. Surely theres a better way though?
- Maps to the Stars (2014) (jordanandeddie.wordpress.com)
- Review and Interpretation: Maps to the Stars (2014) (moviesfilmsandmovies.blogspot.co.uk)