Best in Show


Massy and multi-tentacled, the celebrity-industrial complex has never been so hell-bent on proving Andy Warhol right as it is now. What’s any given reality-TV show, after all, if not a Factory machine with its gears exposed? But piecing together the mechanics of self-conscious fame acquisition (cf. Making the Band) sorely lacks the magnetic existential quandary presented by actual fame (cf. US Weekly). In Lisa Picard Is Famous, Lisa Picard is not famous, though her renown is presented as imminent—a self-fulfilling prophecy that a filmmaker records and, in so doing, confirms. Lisa Picard is also a fictional character, which means that this mockumentary, cowritten by leads Nat DeWolf and Laura Kirk, actually goes out of its way to create another grasping aspirant to throw onto the celebrity slush pile.

Documentarian Andrew (director Griffin Dunne) is searching for an actress “who would talk to me before she got famous,” and New York-based Lisa (Kirk) is all too happy to oblige, taking Andrew’s crew on a guided tour of her Method (dancing, solo improv, meditation) before she auditions for an Advil commercial and accosting Sandra Bullock in the post office. Best known for a borderline-softcore Wheat Chex commercial that sparked protests and appreciative Web sites, Lisa is uptight and monumentally self-involved. She barely notices her pushover boyfriend (Daniel London), though she shares an easily inflamed umbilical bond with fellow aspiring thespian Tate (DeWolf), the dullish writer and star of a shrill, semiautobiographical one-man play about homophobia that he performs in his skivvies.

For a little while, the film is cheaply amusing in a sub-Waiting for Guffman kind of way; it imitates Christopher Guest’s poker-faced cinema-vérité cadences but lacks the richly detailed ensemble energies of his faux docs—Lisa Picard Is Famous comes down to two sorely limited and rapidly tiresome characters. The neuroses of unlikely critical darling Tate all but take over the movie; running out of steam even at 87 minutes, it falls back on prolonged catfights and infantilized-homo gags. Meanwhile a potpourri of real celebs sprinkle their pixie dust on the proceedings, either as talking heads (Buck Henry, Carrie Fisher) or in cameo roles (Charlie Sheen and Spike Lee, who option Tate’s play as a hetero romance starring Mira Sorvino). The rich and famous stroll by like magnanimous grandees, barely suppressing a smirk, perhaps nostalgic for Lisa and Tate’s poignant certainty that they’re gonna live forever.

A receiving line of immortals queue up in the newly restored 35mm print of Monterey Pop, D.A. Pennebaker’s arm’s-length document of the June 1967 love-in. Though there’s considerable footage of hippie activity (crafting kites, sleeping) and moments of prelapsarian frisson (a cop warns that “there’s talk of the Hell’s Angels coming down”), the film is resolutely performance-driven, and iconically so: Michelle Phillips singing inaudibly during “California Dreamin’,” Keith Moon going apeshit in the chaotic midst of “A Quick One While He’s Away,” Jimi Hendrix bringing his guitar to multiple orgasm and then administering a Ballardian smash-and-burn. This last spectacle flummoxes Pennebaker enough that he makes a non-sequitur cut to Mama Cass serenely crooning a ballad.