Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday Morning Cinema: The Idolmaker

This morning one of the cable stations (for which I pay dearly - thanks a lot, Comcast) was running 1980's The Idolmaker.

I first saw this movie when it came out at the theatre and loved it. What can I say, I am a sucker for movies about pretty Italian boys in tight pants that gyrate to music...err, what I mean is that, I am a sucker for movies about dreamers. Yeah, that's it.

Starring the late, Ray Sharkey as a Svengali-like music promoter (Vinnie Vacarri), The Idolmaker follows his character from song writer, to manager of teen idols, to singer songwriter.

Based on the life story of the man who discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian: Bob Marucci, the film is a grab bag of brilliant scenes, over-the-top musical productions and cute guys in tight pants...err, that is, stereotypical cautionary tales of too much to soon.

That said, Sharkey gives a fantastic performance. It is quite clear that each of the men he discovers and reinvents are a part of him. Vinnie wants nothing more than to the be the one in the spotlight that the teen aged girls are screaming for ... however, since he's short and balding and not exactly endowed with matinee-idol looks, he has to settle on being the puppet master of his creations.

His first boy is Tommy Dee (played by Paul Land) who he discovers playing sax in a band. Vinnie convinces the kid that he should drop his horn and pick up a microphone and just like that, a star is born. Of course Tommy becomes a big hit and Vinnie needs another new face to feed the never ending star machine.

Enter Guido (played by Peter Gallagher) as the so-pretty-it-hurts bus boy that Vinnie takes under his wing, trains and rechristens, Caesare. Though the kid can't sing or dance, Vinnie builds him up with so much publicity that during his first concert, Caesare is attacked by a mob of horny bobby-sox-gals who charge the stage and begin ripping the clothes from his back (not that I could blame them). When he runs back stage in a state of total melt down, Vinnie convinces the kid to get back out there in his shredded shirt and sing. Caesare does as he's told and ... another star is born!

Of course, as in all great Hollywood music tales, things go amiss and once Caesare tastes success (after a brilliant staging of him singing a gospel-like-rock-song in a theater in Elvis's hometown), he fires Vinnie and heads out on his own.

Not to worry, The Idolmaker does have something of a happy ending with Vinnie realizing his goal and appearing on stage to sing one of his own compositions to an appreciative audience.

There is a great supporting cast in this film as well, including Soprano's star,Joe Pantoliano (as the nerdy, but dedicated piano player), Gino; Tovah Feldshuh (as the long suffering girlfriend of Vinnie's -- and voice of reason); and Miss Maureen McCormick (yes, it's Marcia Brady, all grown up) as the slutty reporter for a teen magazine.

Of course the star of this production is Sharkey, man but that guy was a great actor. How sad that his personal life was such a mess and his use of drugs made him HIV positive. Sharkey died in 1993 in denial of his illness to the very end.

Be that as it may, The Idolmaker is one of those movies that, though rarely celebrated, is a must see for fans of showbiz tales, dreamers, and yes, pretty boys gyrating in tight pants.

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