Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Access Denied

By Jim Hanas

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Your assignment: a certain young Hollywood star has rocketed into prominence and heartthrob superstardom with a role as the romantic lead in a mega-budget Oscar-winning motion picture. Pre-teenage girls everywhere are clamoring to buy anything even remotely related to the star. There are specials on television, incessant coverage in the tabloids, and even one-off issues of magazines devoted entirely to him. Surely there’s room for a video biography of the young dreamboat, as long as it’s done quickly, before the hype and hysteria have a chance to cool.

Now, it would be nice if you could land an interview with the star, or with his parents, or his manager, or prominent actors and actresses who have worked with him. But there’s no time for that, and it’s not like you’re going to get your phone calls returned anyway. You’re going to have to work with what you’ve got. Which is nothing.

The result of your efforts under such circumstances will probably look a lot like Leonardo: King of the World, a new video that bills itself as “the definitive biography” of Leonardo DiCaprio. While it is anything but definitive, its aspirations are almost admirable. Cobbled together out of a handful of interviews with the star’s high-school acquaintances and a shoebox full of snapshots, Leonardo manages to drag itself out for 52 minutes, which – when it’s printed on the outside of the box, at least – makes it seem substantial.

While Leonardo might be the thinnest biography ever made, it doesn’t stand alone. Whether it’s tragedy, scandal, or just the bald fact of celebrity, someone out there will be ready to hurl a straight-to-video documentary into the media maelstrom. They’re there, in the video store, just as surely and quickly as unauthorized biographies appear in bookstores and supermarkets. There are Princess Diana biovids galore, compiled, with delicious irony – like Diana, Princess of Wales: The People’s Princess – out of paparazzi footage, even as the voiceovers scold the evil cameramen for stalking the princess to her death.

Even breaking news is not immune from quick video synopsis, despite the fact that the format’s strength would seem to be in its timelessness rather than its timeliness. Already there is a video documenting President Clinton’s alleged philandering, and already it is hopelessly obsolete. Clinton’s Angels is a grave look at the accusers of the man they call a “saxophone-playing rock-and-roll baby-boomer.” Each one is introduced X-Files style – first Monica, then Paula, then Gennifer – as their name, date of birth, origin, and particular accusation are typed out on the screen. Passages from the Kama Sutra are regularly invoked as evidence of the timeless connection between leadership and sex, and the Washington Monument and various rocket launches are used not-so-subliminally during the film’s campy opening sequence. The same Clinton sound bite is shown time and again as a denial of each new allegation.

And that seems to be the key to making a documentary out of next to nothing: repetition. At least Diana and Clinton’s Angels are culled from video footage. Leonardo doesn’t even have that; not a single video clip of the actor, in fact. The biography’s only moving parts are the “World Wide Exclusive interviews” with two of Leonardo’s high-school teachers and three students who remember him as a really, really nice guy. The rest of the bio consists of still photographs floating across the screen, peppered with found quotes from Leo himself, revealing that he is anti-drug, pro-parents, and that he would like to fall in love. Unlike Clinton, Leo is his own Kama Sutra.

With so little to work with, the stretch is really in. Early in the bio, there is a five-minute-long sequence of Leo photographs bouncing around over the skyline of New York to a burping keyboard score.

But their pride does not end there. Throughout, a running commentary on the relative merits of DiCaprio’s various movies is offered up by a man who is identified only as “executive producer.” Curious viewers will be left wondering just what it is he’s executively produced. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? The Basketball Diaries? But no. When you can’t get access to celebrities, you can always talk about celebrities with whomever you have access to. He’s the executive producer of Leonardo: King of the World.

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