Everybody’s Famous!

[]

By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor

+ Everybody’s Famous! review

“People always want something else”

Dominique Deruddere seems like the ideal dad. He’s young (born in Turnhout, Belgium in 1957), with thinning hair and twinkly blue eyes, he has a warm and generous sensibility, and he laughs often. (And he is in fact the father of two young children). When you meet him, you understand immediately how it is that he tends to make comedies, though he’s hardly married to one genre or approach to making films. His feature debut, Love Is a Dog From Hell (1987), was based on stories by Charles Bukowski. In 1989, he made Wait Until Spring Bandini, with Faye Dunaway and Joe Mantegna, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope. And in 1994, he made Suite 16, a thriller with Pete Postlethwaite.

This past year, Deruddere’s most recent film, Everybody’s Famous! (Iedereen Beroemd!), was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. It’s a mostly funny mediation on celebrity, commenting along the way on reality tv, pop-music stardom, tabloid sensationalism. It stars the writer-director’s good friend of many years, Josse de Pauw, as a laid off factory worker and aspiring songwriter who will stop at nothing to ensure that his talented daughter (Eve Van Der Gucht) gets a shot at being a pop singer. When he kidnaps a superstar (Thekla Reuten) in an effort to compel a music manager to give his daughter a chance, he’s suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of tv and tabloid coverage.

PopMatters:

What made you want to focus on a father-child relationship for Everybody’s Famous!?

Dominique Deruddere:

It really comes from my personal life, you know. One is eight, one is six, and a couple of years ago, they went through the “mama” period, modeling themselves after her, I always felt jealous. So I started to think, what would happen if this went on for the rest of my life? Imagine that every time I tried to do something that would please him, he would misunderstand it or I would do it wrong. So that was the starting point, and I was thinking, what do many parents want for their children? Unfortunately many parents want their children to become famous or something.

PM:

And Jean [the father in the film, played by Josse De Pauw] has his own desires, for himself.

DD:

He’s a frustrated artist himself, working in a factory, hoping that one day he’ll get his big break, proving to the world he has some talent in composing songs. And now that he has a daughter [Marva, played by Eva van der Gucht], with a beautiful voice, it will be great if he can write something for her.

PM:

The film doesn’t seem so much critical of that desire as it is observant.

DD:

It is observant, yes. The critique is not so much toward these people who want to become famous, because these two people have a certain amount of talent. If there is criticism, it is toward television exploiting these people. Still, so many people these days think that fame is a profession. For someone like Mozart, he loved music so he wrote it. Then people said they liked it and he became famous. Now people say, “I want to become famous.” And nobody says, “You’re completely a nutcase!” But what is it? Why do you want to be it? First try to give some sense to your life and know what you want to do. If then you become famous, that’s okay. But many people too, once they become famous, they try to escape it.

PM:

You directed your first film when you were very young: it sounds like you knew pretty early on what you wanted to do.

DD:

Oh yes. I found that I had a passion for film, though where exactly it comes from, it’s difficult to know. I remember that one of my first film experiences was very exciting to me. I was 12 years old and had older brothers and sister, and I had stolen the camera from my brother because I was too young to play with it. I finished the cassette that was in there, it was a little Super-8 camera, and then he wasn’t angry, and we sent it to the lab and we were excited, waiting for the film to come back from the lab. So maybe it comes from that excitement. When I was a bit older, 13 years old, my friends and I would do sketches at the playground at school, sort of Monty Python. And sometimes we thought we were really funny and regretted the fact that the thing we had just invented was gone. So I used the camera and filmed these sketches. It was exciting to tell a story, to see if it will work. I never thought I was going to be famous with it, because normally you don’t get famous in Belgium by making films.

PM:

Has your thinking about filmmaking changed, as you have become more famous, as your movies have garnered a broader and more international audience?

DD:

I tend to, as I grow older in this profession, I do give more importance to how many people will see the film. That’s without making films that are stupid. Before I was making films, thinking, “I’ll do what I want to, fuck ‘em all” [laughs]. Now, I will be more thinking, “Will this work for an audience, yes or no?” It’s not so much because of the commercial aspect, but because you start to feel it’s important to talk to as many people as you can. I think Frank Capra or somebody who said that it takes a lot of courage to talk to people in the dark for two hours. And you’d better have something to say. I’m more aware of that now.

PM:

Do you go to the theater and talk with people who see your films?

DD:

Afterwards, yes. At festivals especially, with question-and-answers. It’s very relaxed, but we also get to the topics that we are talking about now. For instance, I’m very happy that people are seeing that this film think of it as more than just a comedy. And most of the discussions have gone into that reality-television aspect, and how we can do something to turn the boat around again [laughs].

PM:

At this point it’s about money.

DD:

Yes, it’s all about money, it’s cheap to make, and people will watch it. In Belgium, I know a lot of television makers, who went to film school with me, and some of them are really talented but they’re doing this crap. I ask them why and they say it’s because people want to see it. I ask, “But you go home and read Baudelaire.” But when they think of people, they think they’re so stupid they don’t understand. And they say, yes, but we’ll make more money than you. Well , yeah, and of course, that’s the end of the discussion.

PM:

But from your talks with audiences that this isn’t the case for “people,” and your film doesn’t condescend to the characters who watch tv.

DD:

I think people are entitled to have dreams, especially if they have talent. He’s convinced his daughter can sing because he has heard her sing and we have heard her sing, so we know he’s right. So he’s right to try to build her self-confidence somehow. He does it clumsily, but he manages it by the end. I sympathize enormously with my characters, though the mean guy, of course, is a manager [played by Victor Low]. The ending is upbeat, but it is double-edged, because the process goes on. The real winner of this is the manager, again. The money people will go on.

PM:

So you don’t see a solution to this?

DD:

The only solution is very naive, to make better television programs. Though, it is happening in Belgium. First, before we even knew what “ratings” were, television makers weren’t concerned with ratings, but with quality. Now, 12 years ago, commercial television was introduced in our country, and now everybody’s talking about ratings. The government still has television stations, and they should preserve some kind of quality, but they have imitated the commercial, because they were jealous of the success. Now they realize that they were on the wrong track, and are trying to be like the BBC in England. Slowly, the BBC is getting people who are sick of it. People used to look up to famous people, and it became an abbreviation, like, “He’s a Famous Belgian, an FB!” Now, it’s an insult: “You’re acting like some kind of FB!” [Laughs.] So there’s already some kind of turning around!

PM:

It’s hard to keep up, since tv can absorb itself and make irony out of its own topics so quickly, and then that sells too.

DD:

Yes. We’ll always be turning around.

PM:

I understand that this film is now being remade in a U.S. version, by Miramax?

DD:

Yes, we sold the rights. But I’m not worried about it: I won’t do it myself. This area is closed and I move on to the next thing. And I’m honored by it, it means it has some value. I look forward to seeing what comes out of it, I hope it’s something good.

PM:

You write most of the films you direct?

DD:

Yes, and it’s not that I want to write everything. It’s that it’s hard to get good screenplays. Maybe it’ll be easier now, but before, if I didn’t write it myself, there wasn’t anything I would do [laughs]. What can I do? I have to write for myself!

PM:

In the States too, it’s hard to be a writer who’s not also the director, because the material is bought and the writer is dismissed.

DD:

Yes, the system in Europe is different, where the artist is protected. Though that’s changing too, as producers want more control. If I would come to America, I would work within the system here: you work within the system you have.

PM:

You’ve worked with Josse De Pauw several times?

DD:

Yes, this is the fourth film we’ve done together. We know each other very well, and he’s the godfather of my oldest son. And this film I wrote with him in mind. But it’s not every film that I’m thinking, “What can I write for Josse?” When I have a subject matter where I think Josse can be involved, it’s easy for me to write, because he is an actor and also an intelligent guy. He writes books and plays. He has lots of good ideas: for example, the Michael Jackson mask is his idea. Actors sometimes don’t have such good ideas, but this guy does.

PM:

Do you also have a crew that travels from project to project with you?

DD:

Oh yes. Behind the camera I try always to use the same key people, same DP [Willy Stassen], production designer [Hubert Pouille], costume designer [Loret Meus], and the editors [Nico Leunen and Ludo Troch] are very important. We work well together, we understand each other, we have fun together, which I think is important. It can be very draining sometimes to work with new people. And my last two films I produced myself, so I could choose whomever I wanted. That can be a risk too, because the film I did before this [Hombres complicados, 1997] was not a commercial success. So sometimes you can get a blow in the face. It’s a comedy, but it’s very dark.

PM:

It sounds like you try to do different things, to stay fresh: you’re done with this one and ready to “move on.”

DD:

Yes, I don’t think I’m so much an auteur filmmaker, though I do write most of my own films, they tend to go in different directions. Though, almost always in my films there will be humor, that’s important. It’s not that they’re all comedies, but they all have humor to some degree.

PM:

And why is that important for you?

DD:

I think it’s a great way to communicate, and it’s impossible for me to take life so seriously. Or, even though it is serious sometimes, I cannot take myself seriously. We’re just passing through here very fast [laughs].

PM:

Tell me about those shows where Marva competes.

DD:

Those exist in our country. You have to dress up like the star and you have to sound like the star, to imitate the voice. And that Otis Redding guy? He won the contest two years ago [laughs]. He’s great!

PM:

Yes he is [laughs]. Though in the States, that blackface performance would never go over.

DD:

Yes, of course. But he’s white! What else can he do!? It’s silly and painful to do [these performances]. And that’s why at the end [during the credits], you have this very thin singer trying to imitate Marva. She’s not doing a bad job but she has two problems: she’s way too thin and, you wouldn’t get this, but she has a terrible accent in Flemish!

PM:

Throughout the film you also refer to the way tabloids make events almost “more” than real.

DD:

Yes, and in our country, the tabloids are in the same hands as the people who own the television stations, so they can create the stories. So in this film, the music manager is also connected to the tabloids. There was a scene that I cut, where he says to Debbie, “We should try something new with you, people are getting bored with. We should try incest!” But I thought it was clear enough that they’re all sticking together, these people. If there’s not a real tragedy, they’ll invent it. It’s dangerous, because the people who run the business can create and break stars when they want. You know, they might think, “She’s a bit annoying, eh? Kill her off!” Two weeks later, she will not be there anymore. It’s silly, but it’s all happening and everyone thinks it’s normal. You can hope that people will get fed up, because it’s cynical but you also lower your audience. In the 1950s they did the same thing, they created Marilyn Monroe, but people weren’t so aware of it then. It was still a mystery. Now they do it and they say it out loud.

PM:

And the secondary industry, the tv experts, who appear on tv to provide “commentary” on sensational events. There’s a blurring between news and entertainment.

DD:

Yes. They have to milk the cow, to get as much out of it as possible. They try to keep it as exciting for the audience as possible, to sell more records.

PM:

So do you think it’s possible for these characters to have a “normal life,” as the mother puts it?

DD:

Well, the mom is happy, the more “normal” one. She says to herself, “I have a good husband, I love my daughter, I am happy.” And she wants the manager’s assistant to leave her family alone. But it’s very often that people don’t appreciate the life they have. People always want something else. That’s the struggle of life that everybody goes through.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/deruddere-dominique/