It’s Katy Perry! In 3D! And you’re almost certainly not going to see it! But for most of those who are, this is probably as good as cinema is going to get this year, or perhaps ever. Indeed, this documentary about Ms Perry’s rise to pop hyper-stardom is — to steal the title of her third studio album — a teenage dream. For many teenage girls (and younger), this is a chance to see their heroine’s life in exacting high definition. For many teenage boys (and older), it will be something else entirely. And in 3D too!
But first some background information for those who are unfamiliar with Katy Perry and her work. The basic points are: she’s 27; she’s discovered a niche in the music industry as a kind of sexy cartoon character, all eyelashes, cleavage and wacky costumes; and she’s outselling almost every other singer in town, notably becoming the first female artist to have five songs from the same album go to No.1 in America.
And now this, her big screen documentary. If you want to see a better film this week, then The Hunter is opening as well. But Katy Perry: Part of Me is a concentrated shot of what the kids are drinking nowadays, so it probably contains more insight about where our world is heading than a thousand worthier films. Or at least that’s one way to justify buying a ticket. Don’t worry, there’s another justification coming later on.
Looked at from a distance, the film is very simple. It follows Ms Perry around as she tours her latest album, offering up interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and on-stage performances as it goes along. But none of that describes the effect it has on your eyes and brain up close, which is altogether more complicated and degenerative. Even putting the music aside, this film doesn’t cohere as the great tour films — e.g., Gimme Shelter (1970) or Don’t Look Back (1967) — do.
Instead, it frazzles all your neural connections with a barrage of mismatched footage. Webcam-style fan testimonies overlap with slick, bubble-gum dance routines, which then crash into home videos of Perry and her family, and so on — and all at 100 miles an hour. Katy Perry: Part of Me is either an amazing experiment in cut-up filmmaking, or too hyperactive for many people outside of her excitable fan base to bear. I’m going to go with the latter.
There is some compensation for sitting there and taking the beating, however. The first is Katy Perry herself — and I don’t mean that in a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ way either, fellas. So far as the cameras can reveal, she is just very likeable. Whether it’s the (eventually excessive) shots of her hugging her fans in ‘meet and greet’ sessions before each concert, or the segment outlining how much hard slog she put in on the road to fame, this is not a success story to begrudge.
And then there are the film’s few slow and pensive moments. The cameras were not just present for all the singing, gyrating and applause, but also for the end of Ms Perry’s marriage to the British jester Russell Brand. Of course, similar heartbreaks befall thousands of other people each day — but here it is in Technicolor, splashed across the screen. There is a scene in which Perry collapses crying, from the pressure and exhaustion, as a concert is about to start. And it culminates with her forcing a robotic smile across her face as she is elevated on to the stage, a microphone in her hand and battery-powered discs spinning away on her dress. Honestly, there won’t be many more weird, terrifying or poignant shots in cinema all year. And that is your second justification for buying a ticket.
It is this, much more than the 3D or the music, that makes Katy Perry: Part of Me a very modern film. At one time, people made fictional movies — such as David Holzman’s Diary (1967) — about the sort of neurotic weirdos who might film every part of their lives. Now, it’s just a matter of course even for mainstream popstars. And it doesn’t end with film. At one point in this documentary, the filmmakers record Perry taking a photo of herself and her best friends (who have, naturally, already been interviewed) in a Japanese café, to beam to her followers on Twitter. Cross-media, cross-everything. The film even incorporates some of the YouTube-ready confessional videos that Perry shot herself, before she was famous.
By the time the film ends with a cascade of easy morals (‘Just be yourself’, ‘You can achieve anything’, etc.), I felt that this girl deserved it. Besides, it’s hard to
be cynical when your mind has been wiped out. This one isn’t really for me and it probably isn’t for you. It’s for Ms Perry’s fans, who I’m sure will love it. Lap it up,