Filmmaker Annie Berman’s feature-length documentary film about obsessions turned out to be something of an obsession itself and clearly, you also have to have an obsessive nature to appreciate it too.
It all started in Rome in 1999 with Berman’s first obsession with a lollipop with a picture of the Pope on it. With her inquisitive nature, she discovered that every single schlocky souvenir on sale in the city (and the world outside) that carried His Holiness’s likeness had to be officially licensed by the Vatican. Sort of proving the point of why let good taste get in the way of making a decent profit.
In the case of this officially sanctioned lollipop, the photo was loose as the image could not be ingrained on the candy as that would mean tourists getting to lick the Pope’s face.
The whole incident started Berman’s 20-year quest looking into fandom and obsession with man-created ‘Gods’.
Next came Elvis, with Berman trolling the streets around Graceland and befriending totally besotted fans who would devote their lives, and a great deal of income that they could probably not afford, on worshiping the late “King of Rock’n Roll”. The extremes they would go to especially at marking anniversaries like his birthday or death matched the sheer intensity and devotion of any Catholic High Mass.
Behind it all there was Presley’s own version of the Vatican controlling every single aspect of the last singer’s image. and resorting to suing anyone who dared to use it without permission …… and I guess forking over big licensing fees. But as Berman went back year after year to visit and film these fans it was apparent that not only were their obsessions with all things Elvis still as strong as ever, but they had started indoctrinating their children who had been born way after the King’s death.
The third ‘idol in her film was the Princess of Wales who’s air of tragedy made her the target for the obsessions of so many people across the globe. Her death had really shaken the established British Monarchy especially when they witnessed the fervor of all the millions of people who worshiped her. They however did not seek to control her ‘image’ so the schlocky souvenir makers had a field day filling the demand for memorabilia without having to get any licenses or permits.
Berman seemed a little too enraptured with all the trappings of the fans to ask them any relevant questions about their own thought processes behind their own obsessions. Secondly, her narration is in a slow somber tone as if she is reading this from the back of a church. It may be her way of recognizing these obsessions as some sort of alternative religion but it’s inappropriate and totally out of place.
It’s an oddball film that most people will love or hate …. I’m still struggling with the whole idea it took some 20 years to make. A true obsession I guess