chapter  14
Performance and performers
Pages 20

I n playing up to the camera, inventing a persona for the passing moment of fame, realitytelevision participants are paying homage to the celebrities whose world they yearn to enter.Just as every stumble along Amy Winehouse’s troubled career pathway feeds a press frenzy, stars have always provided far more entertainment than they set out to deliver on stage and screen. From the early days of the modern entertainment industry, documentary filmmakers – not least through being of the same generation as the rock legends of the 1960s and 1970s – were quick to see the potential of performance that exceeded the staged event and its traditional broadcasts on entertainment showcases such as The Ed Sullivan Show1

in the United States and Sunday Night at the London Palladium.2 Audiences do not want to worship stars from afar, accepting the gilded image as constructed in the Golden Age of Hollywood: they want to get up close and personal, enjoying the quirks of human nature, warts and all. As film cameras became more mobile, they inevitably began to penetrate the process behind the performance, the performers behind the scenes. Although some genres’ performers have managed reasonably well to preserve their privacy and mystique – opera singers and even some sportsmen – others have actively sought the camera’s stare as a useful adjunct to their fame and fortune, however humiliating its revelations. This chapter will look at three variations on the theme: the classic rock documentary, the sports documentary and the celebrity showcase. It will show that performance documentaries are much more than mere celebrity anthropology. At their best, they chart the popular culture of their time in the most visceral and evocative manner.