I enjoyed the launch of the Fame Formula paperback at the Riverside Studios at Hammersmith on Wednesday night for many reasons: it’s a great venue, the people who came were interested and interesting, it was good to expound on the brilliance of publicist extraordinaire Russell Birdwell to an audience and it was marvellous to see one of the films he promoted, Nothing Sacred, on a big screen for the first time. And what a film it is!
It may have been made in 1937, but Nothing Sacred still resonates today, thanks to Ben Hecht’s razor sharp script and William Wellman’s ironic, deadpan direction. The film features a disgraced reporter who, desperate to make good with his editor after a series of exposed scams and fake news stories, discovers a girl who is dying of radium poisoning and decides to bring her to New York to be feted by the world.
It’s extraordinary how like the Jade Goody story the film is, but for the fact that Hazel Flagg, played by the luminous Carol Lombard, is not actually dying of cancer. From the ecstatic headlines reporting Hazel’s every move and utterance to the grand plans for a funeral to see her off in style – something she deserves because she is so “brave and vulnerable” – it skewers modern celebrity reporting perfectly.
Nothing Sacred turns the screw on the nature of celebrity ever tighter, right up until the end, despite being made 72 years ago. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. I’d even suggest it should be remade, but it would have to be done by someone with a sharp, satirical eye like Jason Reitman – this is not a film that deserves softening by Hollywood.
Next up on the promotional trail is my head-to-head debate with Max Clifford at the London College of Communication on Tuesday, May 5th at 6 p.m. discussing the toxic nature of modern celebrity. I’m not sure if there are any tickets left, but if you can’t make it, rest assured that the volatile results will be filmed for webcast and recorded for podcast.