France, 2010, 52 mins. | Poland 2011, 33 min.
Paparazzi: Two new documentaries look into the problematic methods of the paparazzi. Being a paparazzi seems similar to being a private detective.
By Two recent documentaries about paparazzi and their methods seem more relevant than ever. Only one of them, the French documentary Exposed! The Ruthless Methods of the Paparazzi, deal directly with the case against the News of the World even though it is not fully updated with the latest developments.
Exposed! starts by portraying a French paparazzi in disguise. We see how he meets with informants who give him valuable information on the whereabouts, phone numbers and addresses of celebrities. The informants come from all parts of society: staff at phone companies, airline stewardesses, security personnel and even police officers are all sources the photographer cooperates with – and pays large sums of Euros – in order to get the information that is vital to his business. Another French paparazzi, this one not in disguise, proudly tells us how he plans to track down Bill Gates while he vacations in Paris. We follow this thorough planning and are at his side right there in the middle of the action when he trespasses private sections of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles and takes pictures of Bill Gates having lunch with his family. Afterwards, the photographer speaks about the battle between him and Gates’ many security officers.He speaks proudly, as if it had been a battle between David and Goliath. As eye witnesses to the paparazzi’s working day we can easily understand the adrenalin rush and why he gets so hooked on his work. Being a paparazzi seems similar to being a private detective. A lot of the same methods are involved including spying, secret meetings and tapping.
«STAFF AT PHONE COMPANIES, AIRLINE STEWARDESSES, SECURITY PERSONNEL AND EVEN POLICE OFFICERS ARE ALL SOURCES THE PHOTOGRAPHER COOPERATES WITH»
The photographers can make a living from this since the thirst for gossip seems stronger than ever. Readers keep buying the magazines, and, when questioned about working methods, the photographers do not seem to care and the editors quickly deny liability and knowledge of these methods exactly as we have just seen in the case of the News of the World and owner Robert Murdoch. Because the copyright laws in the UK are rather flexible, the more cynical parts of the media world can, to a great extent, operate easily without facing charges. The title of the film – Exposed! The Ruthless Methods of the Paparazzi – almost promises to take a critical look at the paparazzi world. That is however not really the case. Most of all it is a well crafted observational documentary and what critique the director tries to establish is quickly overrun by the participants.
At the end of the film, we meet Italian photographer Antonio Zappadu. He was the man responsible for taking the images of Berlusconi partying with young prostitutes in a Sardinian residence. This presents an interesting dilemma. Was Zappadu just invading privacy or did he reveal relevant information that Italian citizens need to know? Not only did Zappadu unveil Berlusconi’s moral standards by showing the president in the company of prostitutes and a major heroin dealer, Zappadu also found evidence that taxpayers’ money was used to transport Berlusconi back and forth between his offices in mainland Italy and his Dionysian pleasure palace on Sardinia. One can easily be disgusted by the methods of Zappadu but when valid and relevant information is the result, the discussion about paparazzi needs to get more varied and complex.
While Exposed! deals with the big picture of the paparazzi world, Polish documentary filmmaker Piotra Bernasia zooms in on a single Polish photographer and uses a dynamic, hand-held style to mimic the working day of a paparazzi. It is a perfect match. There is so much tension, excitement and secrecy in the working day of a paparazzi especially if you cut out all the waiting time, all the false clues and all the failures during a day’s work. What we are left with is a high-speed, action-filled snapshot of a man at work. Again the lack of bad conscience is a clear characteristic of the photographer. In his own words he calls himself a ‘motherfucker’. He feels famous people just have to accept having their picture taken no matter what they are up to. At the end of the film, however, our protagonist starts to have doubts. This occurs after the plane crash in Russia which caused the death of Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people. The paparazzi tracks down the car of the president’s brother but he hesitates to chase him and decides not to. There may be a limit after all. Even for a paparazzi.