The circus that came to town

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 09:47 01/03/2014

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: You might think a sleepy coastal village like Diamond Harbour would be as far from Hollywood as you can get.

But for the last few months, the chances of bumping into a Hollywood star or starlet at the local cafe have been pretty good.

This is because Spiderman Toby McGuire's company Material Pictures is making a movie just down the road in Port Levy and the crew and actors have rented about 20 houses in the area.

The actors in the movie, Z for Zachariah (read the book, it's good), are Hollywood A-listers or pretty close to it. Chiwetel Ejiofor has been nominated for a best actor Oscar for his last film 12 Years a Slave and Margot Robbie plays a conspicuous role in another Oscar contender The Wolf of Wall Street.

The personable Chris Pine was Captain Kirk in Star Trek into Darkness and also took on the role of the action star Jack Ryan in Shadow Recruit.

My fellow citizens of Diamond Harbour and districts could be having a beer at the cafe and see Chris Pine buying a packet of cigarettes, observe Ejiofor enjoying a cup of coffee or witness Robbie partying after a few drinks, as though it was an everyday event. One lucky young local woman even got a Valentine's Day hug from Pine.

Residents have been pretty unruffled by the presence of celebrities and famous directors like Craig Zoleb but of course the stars and the film have not escaped being the subject of some local gossip.

I liked the fact the stars could live in the area unmolested by celebrity seekers or paparazzi and that we were all so under-awed and unexcited about some famous luvvies living and working in the area.

But I am also part of a newsroom and I knew the day would come when I would be dispatched with a photographer to do a followup. After all it was my patch. With Californian producer Stephen Johnson - famous himself for his Lady Gaga videos - refusing even to acknowledge emails it was always going to be a hit and run exercise and we ended up driving into the middle of the film set in search of film representatives.

In the end, some damage might have been done to a power board and bird bath, resulting in a rather testy exchange with some of the film people.

The whole thing was most unseemly and undignified but the story was "in the can" as I think the jargon goes.

And the coverage hasn't stopped there. The latest story on the film covers a fling between Robbie and a local boy in the film's art department.

You might well ask why we bother? Well for the simple reason people love this stuff. It's even got a medical name.

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Celebrity worship syndrome. No kidding, I read it on the internet.

Robbie's latest foray was easily one of our best-read stories of the year and even compared favourably with sightings of Johnny Depp in Lyttelton (it wasn't him) a few months ago.

If people didn't love all the celebrity gossip, how do you explain the raft of publications devoted to the subject in the supermarket?

Why are we so fixated on celebrities? Because they are celebrities? A good answer but an answer that does not help write a column.

Evolutionists would say we are programmed to keep tabs on high status individuals because the information is important in identifying successful networks and gives us clues on how we can improve our own status. In the modern era such information is more accessible than ever and our appetite is insatiable. It's frightening.

It's hard to see how watching celebrities make a mess of their lives provides us with any helpful guidance but I can see why nosiness would help an individual in the survival stakes. Watching Britney Spears disintegrate is hardly educational but it's worth taking note of the factors that brought her down.

Hugh Grant making an arse of himself with Divine Brown had an added benefit. We love a celebrity slipup because it brings them down to earth.

The best explanation for our obsession with celebrities is they and their doings offer us an escape from our fairly mundane lives. The duller and dumber our lives, the more we are interested.

When the stars are living in close proximity, like those in Port Levy, it's tempting to think some of the stardust might rub off on us.

Celebrities of whatever ilk seem to operate by different rules. They have talent, power, looks, beautiful friends and luxurious lifestyles. They do outrageous things like taking drugs and disposing quickly of relationships. Who wouldn't want to imagine a life so varied and interesting?

In fact, the movie crew coming to Diamond Harbour and Port Levy was like the circus, with world-class acts, coming to town.

Their nomadic and exotic lifestyle dedicated to entertainment of the masses was ineluctably attractive.

Perhaps celebrities are like the feuding, fornicating and scheming deities of the classical world. If celebrities didn't exist, we would invent them.

Like the deities, the celebrities we imagine in our fantasies are not real people. They transport us into a world which can never live up to its promise, as even celebrities themselves find out.

- The Press

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