By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 24, 2015)
Is it any wonder I reject you first? Fame, fame, fame, fame Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool Fame (fame)
-from “Fame”, by David Bowie
Back in the early 90s, I shared a train ride with David Bowie. It was the least likely celebrity sighting I’ve ever experienced. I was visiting my parents in upstate New York. During my extended stay, I took a side trip to NYC via Amtrak. On the return trip to Albany, I boarded the train at Grand Central. As I was settling in, I shot a textbook double take at the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me (I nearly gave myself whiplash). Could it be? No, that’s too weird. All by himself…no handlers, no entourage?
Why would David Bowie be taking a train to Albany? It had to be a look-alike. However, since it took several hours, I had ample time to (discreetly) confirm…yep, that’s him (the different colored eyes sealed the I.D.). Internally, I was freaking out (I’m a huge Bowie fan), but I always hold back and respect people’s privacy in such situations, because I dread coming off like the embarrassingly star-struck interview host Chris Farley used to play on SNL (“Do you remember when you were with the Beatles? That was awesome!”).
With the clarity of hindsight, why wouldn’t David Bowie take a train from NYC to Albany? There’s no law that says David Bowie can’t take a train to Albany, if he should so desire. For all I know, he was planning to shuffle off to Buffalo. And why would I assume a famous person never travels without handlers or an entourage? After all, he’s just another human being. He takes his pants off and puts them on the same way I do.
But “fame” is a funny thing; as Bowie himself once sang, it “makes a man take things over”. Among other things, it “puts you where things are hollow”, and if you’re not careful, “what you get is no tomorrow.” Apparently, in some cases, “to bind your time…it drives you to crime.” Which brings us to a twisty French thriller called Number One Fan (aka Elle l’adore), a rumination on fame, fandom, crime, punishment, and erm, wax jobs.
This is a film that is difficult to review without inadvertently divulging spoilers, so I will do my best not to. Sandrine Kimberlane stars as Muriel, a divorcee with two teenagers who works as a beautician. Muriel is attractive and outgoing, but a bubble off plum. She regales friends, family and co-workers with bizarrely concocted anecdotes (like the time she “recognized” one of her customers as Klaus Barbie’s daughter halfway through a treatment, and promptly sent her packing sans one waxed leg…under threat of revealing her identity to the other customers).
She is also a big fan of pop idol Vincent Lacroix (Laurent Lafitte). Her apartment is chockablock with Vincent’s CDs, collectibles, posters, and photos (one of them autographed “To Muriel, with love”). We see Muriel backstage after one of Vincent’s performances, hoping for a brief audience or an autograph. “Not tonight, Muriel,” his handler tells her, implying she’s a frequent lurker. You could say that she is…obsessed.
Imagine Muriel’s surprise when she answers her door late one night, and sees her idol standing there. While she’s still processing whether or not this is even really happening , he tells her he desperately needs her help. Vincent’s done a bad, bad, thing. It was an accident, but he needs a civilian to be his, you know, “cleaner”. I can say no more.
This is the directing debut for actress Jeanne Herry (who also co-wrote the screenplay, with Gaelle Mace) and it’s an impressive first feature, with excellent performances, effective atmosphere, and a unique piano score by Pascal Sangla. I detected a touch of Hitchcock in the film’s central themes of obsession and duplicity (I believe it has been a rule since Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black that every French thriller is required to have a touch of Hitchcock). The film makers also make keen observations about the cult of celebrity. Most notably, there’s acknowledgment of the ever-odious duality of “justice” systems everywhere: the fact that there’s one for the rich, and one for the poor.
And here’s “number one fan” Chris Farley, in a classic SNL skit: