The Idolmaker (Shout! Factory, PG)

The-Idolmaker 75The Idolmaker isn’t a musical in the classic, burst-into-random-song sense, but the doo-woppie, early pop/rock sounds of the film are very important.

 

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Stories in the “a star is born” vein are as common as real life wannabes. The Idolmaker is one of those stories, but the star in this case isn’t a naïve starlet or pretty boy crooner. This time it’s the type of decidedly un-glamorous, behind-the-scenes guy who has all the passion but none of the dreamboat looks.

Vinnie (Ray Sharkey) is a determined songwriter in the late 50s searching for a potential teen idol to mold, promote and manage to superstardom via the songs he’s slaved over for months. After studying his era’s version of Rolling Stone, People and Us Weekly, he notices a pattern; singers with dark hair and swarthy good looks are the ones that hit it big.

He soon discovers that acquaintance Tomaso (Paul Land), who plays saxophone in a corner bar band, has the perfect look and voice for his needs. Before long Vinnie and the newly-christened Tommy Dee are off and running toward finally creating an idol that can propel Vinnie to the top.

The Idolmaker sees the road to stardom from the point of view of the people that yarns like this usually relegate to the background. Vinnie might not be one of the beautiful people, but without him, those beautiful people wouldn’t seem interesting at all. Under his expert tutelage, Tommy becomes an almost instant star. Of course, that’s nothing a little booze, sex with underage girls, and extreme arrogance can’t fix.

Tommy begins to outgrow Vinnie’s guidance, but Vinnie, ever the hustler, has already laid eyes on his next target; shy, clumsy busboy Guido (Peter Gallagher). After convincing Guido’s reluctant grandmother (in a wonderful scene done entirely in Italian and without subtitles), Vinnie takes over every aspect of the teen’s life. And that stronghold manages to threaten the success of everyone involved.

The Idolmaker isn’t a musical in the classic, burst-into-random-song sense, but the doo-woppie, early pop/rock sounds of the film are very important. The original songs that were crafted for the movie clearly have some gentle undertones of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s time they were written in, but they’re true enough to the time period of the piece to help take the viewer back in time.

Since the movie is based on the real manager who discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian, you do get a very honest feeling portrait of the idol-making music business of the time. The controversial practice of payola (secret payments to radio stations in exchange for artist airtime) is on display, as well as the insane system of giving one magazine exclusive rights to all stories on the singer and a significant cut of all merchandising for said teen dream.

Extras on the disk are relatively slim. We get a photo gallery, the original (and sort of crappy) theatrical trailer and a commentary from director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray). I would suggest sticking with the commentary, where Hackford relays several insider details. | Adrienne Jones

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