Dateline: CANNES—A behind-the-scenes documentary about the life of world-renowned actor Johnny Hazitall has perplexed viewers, as experts in the film scramble to explain how anyone worshipped by hundreds of millions of fans could be so ungrateful as to avoid the pitfalls of celebrity.
On the silver screen Mr. Hazitall has appeared in dramas as well as comedic and action roles, and is mobbed by adoring fans wherever he goes.
One scene of the critical documentary, entitled “Poor Mr. Hazitall,” now screening at the Cannes Film Festival, shows the actor in disguise in a New York subway station. When he was recognized by an eagle-eyed fan who alerted the other bystanders to his presence like a deranged informant from The Body Snatchers, pointing and mouth agape, a mob gathered around the actor.
Women screamed and wept with joy. Many women and some men peeled off their pants and underwear and bent over backward, forming row upon row, often going as far as to miss their subway train as they begged for Johnny to penetrate them on the spot.
Men in the subway tunnel tussled to determine who could best serve the famous actor as his beta male, shoving and berating each other to attract Mr. Hazitall’s attention. They emptied their wallets and hurled money at him, shouting, “Take the rest of my money! You deserve it more than I do.”
When Johnny accidentally looked at one young man in the eyes, the fan promptly threw himself in front of an oncoming subway train, dying instantly and presumably in ecstasy.
An elderly woman got hold of a goat despite the rarity of farm animals in downtown New York. She screeched in tongues, cut the animal’s throat, covered her face and arms with its blood, and begged for Mr. Hazitall to forgive her sins.
Throughout these savage displays of idol worship, Johnny Hazitall appeared bored. Not even a smirk of narcissistic glee cracked his face as he wended his way through the crowd. Each of the fans he touched as he made his escape shuddered like a Pentecostal Christian touched by a pompous televangelist. “We’ll die for you, Johnny!” they shouted. “Tell us what to do and we’ll do it.”
In an interview for the documentary, Johnny Hazitall admitted to have been merely annoyed by that mob.
Half of the film is devoted to the attempts of sociologists, pop culture critics, and even theologians to make sense of Mr. Hazitall’s strange nonchalance.
“Johnny is a unique case in the annals of stardom, as far as I can tell,” said one expert. “The traditional route is for celebrities—and really for anyone with way too much wealth and power—to inevitably betray the public trust. When you’re worshipped as a god, naturally you’re supposed to let everyone down because there are no real gods and you’re just a dumb mortal, after all. So you’re supposed to let the power go to your head and start acting like a jackass. Your corruption then provides an excuse for the crowd to crucify you as a pretender to the crown.
“As James Frazer explains in The Golden Bough, that’s the primary religious pattern. We worship only to tear down our idols when they disappoint us. That’s what the ancients did with their kings, and it’s what we’re supposed to do with our gurus, dictators, banksters, and all our celebrities. That’s the point of The National Inquirer and of the celebrity gossip shows and websites.
“It’s in our social contract, if anyone even bothered to read it. Millions of people prop up a lowly primate who’s like a bug fast approaching the cosmic windshield as far as the universe is concerned. But the fans worship the celebrity, treating him like a god while secretly resenting the idol and yearning to tear him down, only to renew the cycle with the next fad.
“And the celebrity is supposed to play ball, not act all coy and self-pitying when worshiped, but to be a good little god and let everyone down with his petty scandals of drug abuse, anti-Semitic tirades, adultery, wife beating and the like. What else are the power elites’ narcissism and primitive social dominance instincts for but to remind us that our religious impulse is mentally retarded, that the world is absurd and life is a joke?”
When asked in the documentary film about his thoughts on fame, Mr. Hazitall said, “Fame is silly. I don’t know why anyone would think so little of themselves that they’d look up to anyone, especially me. I’m an actor. I lie for a living. I’m a complete phony, like all actors. The fans seem to feed off of lies.”
The interviewer then reminded Mr. Hazitall that he does, after all, live the good life, that he’s a multimillionaire with numerous mansions, a collection of sports cars, and a harem of models at his disposal. He wears the best clothes and takes a dozen vacations a year at exotic resorts.
“If it’s a lie that you deserve to be worshiped,” said the interviewer, “it’s a pretty convincing one. You live much more like a god than most people. So can you really blame your fans for idolizing you? You’re one of the few apparent gods around, what with a real one nowhere to be found.”
“Like almost everyone who’s ever lived, if I walked down the street, no one would care. If I died suddenly on the sidewalk, most people would pass on by, because I mean nothing to them. But for you it’s the exact opposite: hundreds of millions of people would gladly kill everyone else just to be near you, for you to acknowledge that they exist.
“In light of that, shouldn’t you dig deep and find the courage to dumbfound your fans with signs of your vanity and derangement from being always the center of attention? Don’t you owe them an excuse to dispose of you so they can commence the hunt for the next big distraction?”
“Yes, life is easier for me in all the material ways,” answered Mr. Hazitall. “I appreciate my fans for enjoying my movies. But I lie only to earn a living. That doesn’t mean I have to turn my whole life into some giant fiction.”