From the ar­chive

A look back at the Ob­server Mag­a­zine’s past

The Observer Magazine - - Up Front - Chris Hall

For the Ob­server Mag­a­zine of 28 Septem­ber 1980, the novelist An­thony Burgess writes about ‘snatched pho­tos’ – or pa­parazzi shots – of the fa­mous by the French pho­tog­ra­phers Daniel An­geli and Jean-Paul Dous­set for their book Pri­vate Pic­tures.

‘Stars with­out their glit­ter’ is the head­line and Burgess does his best to revel in them be­ing taken down from their ex­alted po­si­tions and put in the gut­ter. ‘These pho­to­graphs do not pretend to be art,’ he writes. ‘They are cruel but they are cor­rec­tive.’ More high-mind­edly, they are a re­minder that ‘even myths are mor­tal’.

Burgess is in a long line of writ­ers stretch­ing back to Aristo­phanes and more re­cently the scan­dal sheets of the early 20th cen­tury in their cyn­i­cism towards author­ity and celebrity, here de­ploy­ing the broad­sheet trick of analysing the cul­tural mean­ing of fame while print­ing the lurid pic­tures, too. And so we have a top­less Brigitte Bar­dot in 1973, El­ton John at the pool in St Tropez in 1979, and – al­to­gether more dis­turbingly – a pic­ture cap­tioned: ‘Ro­man Polan­ski with teenage girls in St Tropez (1978).’ It’s uned­i­fy­ing, too, when he be­moans the state of Mar­lene Di­et­rich, pic­tured on the street in Paris, ‘very old and very or­di­nary’, and her ‘shell of glam­our’.

‘An un­be­com­ing pos­ture of the body, a grotesque move­ment of the mouth, a grace­less ges­ture, can be caught by the pho­tog­ra­pher and can­cel out a whole le­gend.’ Any­one else think­ing of poor Ed Miliband eat­ing that ba­con sand­wich in 2014?

The pho­tog­ra­phers, Burgess con­cludes, ‘want to re­mind us that fame and wealth do not trans­fig­ure, they de­base’. But sound­ing like Alex in his novel A Clock­work Or­ange, he urges: ‘Give your sadism full play: rel­ish what lies within here.’ In so do­ing, he un­com­fort­ably turns the cam­era on us, the com­plicit viewer.

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