Maybe it should be called "American Idol" Maker? @ 30 August 2013 05:53 PM
The 1980 musical drama The Idolmaker, reissued on Blu-ray, crackles with relevance in today's overnight success-promised marketplace. The main difference between what Ray Sharkey's character, Vinny, does in this film and they do nowadays on TV talent shows is that it was on a much smaller scale back then. Today, the stakes are higher, the rise is more lucrative and the fall can be more precipitous.
The Idolmaker is based on the real-life impressario Bob Marcucci, who masterminded the careers of Frankie Avalon and Fabian. This is an amazing process to watch, as the unknowns are trained, designed and marketed by the Henry Higgins-like Svengali.
Sharkey, whose tragic tailspin of a personal life imploded with an untimely death, saw Idolmaker as his big breakout movie. As the director explains on the commentary (probably recorded previously as he mentions laserdiscs), Sharkey took the film's lack of success as a devastating blow, and even though he got a lot of attention later on TV's prestigious Wiseguy, he never really recovered.
It would have been interesting to see how Sharkey might have developed beyond this film, which is so close to his own background and so steeped in his personal pain, he draws a little too intensely on inner demons and leaves little room for subtlety. If he had dialed it down, he might have been another DeNiro or Pacino, which seemed to be his goal.
The director makes a point of setting the record straight about how Sharkey took credit for the iconic scene in which Vinny duplicates Paul Land's stage moves while standing in the wings. He told Jane Pauley he just made it up on the spot, while it was really storyboarded all along. It was this relentless nature that might have contributed to his highly destructive path.
The wonderful Tovah Feldshuh, so often versatile and inventive when given the opportunity, starts out as the savvy executive in this story but becomes little more than the archetypical adoring lady friend, not allowing her to make more of her talents.
The stars that really emerge in Idolmaker are the legendary songwriter Jeff Barry, one of the all time greats of the pop music days from the "Brill Building" stable of hit makers to The Monkees and The Archies to TV theme songs that we will never get out of our heads, like "Movin' On Up." For The Idolmaker, Barry wrote a stack of songs that could have been hits. It's a fresh approach rather than taking the less risky route of playing records over the soundtrack.
The other star is a super young Peter Gallagher, who dominates the film in each of his scenes, not by emoting, but by becoming someone he really wasn't: a less-than-gifted, terrified, naive busboy who Vinny gives the Eliza Doolittle treatment. Since this film, his career trajectory has been substantial indeed, yet you could see the possibilities even in this role.
The bonus features include the aforementioned commentary and a trailer. If you love classic pop, popular culture, or want to see how they did it back then, take a look.
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