Tracking down and snapping retired stars is a gross and uneasy trend | Movies
Few headlines get people clicking like “OMG, you won’t BELIEVE how UNRECOGNISABLE this star looks today”. People fall for it every time. They fall for it when the star has succumbed to the natural ageing process (Steve Perry from Journey, seen this week with grey hair). They fall for it when the star is wearing movie prosthetics on set (Colin Farrell filming as the Penguin, the iconic character he played in a highly successful film). They even fall for it when the star has simply chosen to accessorise (“Australian actress looks unrecognisable in a pair of quirky sunglasses during a stroll through London – can you identify the star?” above some photos of Cate Blanchett looking exactly like Cate Blanchett). It’s a cheap trick, basically.
But over the last few weeks, these headlines have taken on a grottier note. A month ago, photographs of Gene Hackman, a 93-year-old man who retired from acting almost two decades ago, emerged online. Shortly after that, someone snapped a picture of Jack Nicholson – an octogenarian actor who retired 12 years ago, hasn’t been seen for 18 months and reportedly suffers from dementia – standing on the balcony of his home. And then, this week, the same thing happened to Bridget Fonda. She’s 59, she hasn’t acted in 20 years, and yet the sight of her visiting a landscaping supply store got the whole world fizzing.
“PICTURED: Jackie Brown star Bridget Fonda, 59, looks unrecognizable as she’s seen on rare public outing” read the headline, with the article itself breathlessly announcing that, prior to the landscaping supply run, nobody had taken a photo of her for almost six months. And then days later, Fonda was caught again in public, looking visibly disconcerted by a Page Six reporter who tailed her through an airport car park repeatedly asking why she doesn’t act any more.
This isn’t exactly a new fad – a decade ago, three years before his death, the National Enquirer famously ran a story entitled “DISGUSTED GENE WILDER IS BITTER RECLUSE” – but the rush to track down people who used to be famous does seem to have picked up some speed lately. And, as far as I can tell, it seems to be rooted in a mixture of confusion and entitlement.
Confusion because we’re all led to believe fame is the highest honour any of us could ever receive. When you’re famous, you get to do whatever you like, and you have unlimited resources with which to do it. Why simply walk away from that? Why not cling on to your fame with your fingernails like your life actually depends on it, rather than simply realising it’s not for you and leaving with most of your dignity intact?
And entitlement because, well, how dare they retire? Don’t these people know they belong to us? We spent money to see a film they made at some point in the last century, and now they’re ours forever. We deserve to see pictures of how unrecognisable they are, because snooping on people who haven’t courted our attention for nearly quarter of a decade is in the public interest.
There’s an element of the big-game hunter to some of the most recent pictures. Because, sure, anyone can go outside and take a picture of, say, a Kardashian. But Gene Hackman? Gene Hackman, who deliberately turned his back on the business in 2004 and appears to be going out of his way to lead as anonymous a life as he possibly can? That’s like bagging a rhino. Same goes for Bridget Fonda. She is not only retired, but actually looks distressed whenever anyone recognises her, which makes her an even more attractive proposition.
But, really, the first prize should go to whoever sneaked up to the boundaries of Jack Nicholson’s house and took a photo of him literally just going about his daily business. Nicholson wasn’t even doing anything as outrageously attention-seeking as quietly visiting a landscaping supply store by herself. No, he was at home and elderly and ill. That’s like tracking down the rarest animal on the planet, and then blowing its head off, and then posing for a selfie with the corpse.
All these instances obviously constitute a grotesque invasion of privacy. Then again, we’re the ones who click on them. Figuring out why that is might take forever. Why are we so keen to see our heroes looking old and unwell? Perhaps we use them to remind ourselves of our own mortality. We’re so used to seeing these figures preserved forever onscreen looking young and sexy and cool, that it’s a jolt to see them frail and old and ordinary. Perhaps we use them to remind ourselves that decay and death perpetually lurks around the corner for all of us. Or perhaps we’re just nosy. Who knows?