It may lack Tim Burton behind the director’s chair, but …
There’s something theatrical about this new version of Cronenberg. Not in the way we think of Stratford or Shaw. More like pseudo-artistic interpretive theatre that happens during one’s experimental phase in University. Maps to the Stars is a colossal disappointment, offering stilted performances, a disjointed and predominantly ineffectual script, and bewilderingly bad sound design. What appears on the surface to be an interesting dialogue on child stars, the vapid, all-consuming and destructive nature of celebrity, and the superficial nature of Los Angeles very quickly reveals itself to be something else altogether – the tired, lazy half-measures of an auteur riding on his own coattails.
Adapting such a real life story into a piece of cinema brings with it a series of extraordinary challenges. For starters, the walk itself lasted a mind-boggling 9 months. How does one communicate the length of a near 3,000-kilometer long walk to modern audiences with boring them to death? Short of pulling off a Béla Tarr Satantango-esque epic, judicious decisions need be taken in order to pack the essentials into a reasonable running length whilst conveying the harrowing experience in gripping manner.
Los Angeles, the city that homes the superstars and studios responsible for mainstream cinema culture, has consistently received its due criticism from those who either reject it or work within it. Look no further than Thom Andersen’s nearly comprehensive Los Angeles Plays Itself to see the town utilized as an easy space for shooting, a battleground for the melodrama of the privileged, and home field for telling stories about the storytellers. The business-driven artistic culture that pervades the town has been satirized in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Player, and Barton Fink to the point that a simple update of finger-pointing to the 21st century may be seen as a rehashing. Bruce Wagner’s crazy script for David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars instead paints the town as a machine capable of rehashing through its own ghostly presence of the-machine-that-once-was: a cycle so foreboding that it must be spoken of through horror tropes.
Better to have an ungainly surplus of ideas than none at all; that seems to be Richard Ayoade’s philosophy behind The Double, a wild, uneven, but never dull sci-fi black comedy that purports to tackle Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, but is at least as interested in pilfering visual ideas from films gone by while marrying them to Ayoade’s winningly dry comic sensibility.