White Star

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White Star (1983) finds filmmaker Roland Klick (best known for the films Supermarkt and Deadlock) turning a critical eye towards the music promotion business. Klick satirizes the crass publicity surrounding John Lennon’s murder in 1980 and the fateful Rolling Stones show of December 6, 1969 with a modus operandi not so distant from Giants & Toys (1958). Capitalism is the great villain of White Star and promoters are its committed disciples.

Dennis Hopper plays promoter Kenneth Barlow whose latest project is to make a superstar out of synth guru Moody (Terrance Robay). Hopper plays Barlow like a manic depressive on coke. Barlow is the great manipulator, thief, and instigator of riots who will stop at nothing to see his artist sign a record contract. Barlow screams and curses wildly as he flails about plotting schemes within schemes until he is ultimately undone by the savagery of his own machinations.

First, Barlow inspires a riot at a show to garner publicity for his David Sylvian-esque client. Then he pushes a publicity campaign calling for his client’s assassination. When the attempt is made it’s a fan who dies not Moody. These extreme measures look like the campy maneuvers of Paul Williams in Phantom Of The Paradise (1974), but Klick’s neorealist approach to the material invites comparisons to actual crimes committed in the pursuit of rock promotion (the death of Meredith Hunter).

Klick lets Hopper’s unhinged energy carry the film. Klick will cut for coverage but for the most part scenes play out in uninterrupted tableaus like a stage play centered around Hopper. These intentional restriction reiterate the constant presence of the Berlin Wall; the isolation and claustrophobia of West Berlin. Klick makes this allusion literal roughly half way through the film in a montage of urban scenes. This deliberate sense of space colors Barlow’s manipulations and ambitions as an extension of the Americanization of West Germany.

The result of Klick’s considered stylistic choices is a cruel little film with nothing but venom for pop music’s publicity machine. Questions of art and integrity never enter the conversation of White Star. It’s a film that documents the abuse of power and of people in the name of enterprise. The synth score and location photography would make White Star a good double feature with equally pessimistic Decoder (1984).