REVIEW / Honey, I psychologically damaged the kids

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The Independent Culture
Jilly Hafenrichter, the producer of Hollywood Kids (ITV), has changed her name since she featured on the credits of last year's Hollywood Women (she was Hutchinson then). Perhaps she wanted to make a clean start, put the unseemly past behind her.

But it's no good, I'm afraid - her fingerprints are all over the film. The same frenzied cutting style, the same armlock on your opinions, the same indifference to the nuances of human expression. It's shallow, slick, and occasionally odious. Unfortunately it's also disgustingly compelling.

The subject last night was "Children of the Rich and Famous", an account of the high price of privilege, from the cradle ("A baby can't be a baby without Baby Dior!") to the rehab unit. Not very rich and famous, in truth; they were either too busy or toowell protected to talk. For all the gloss and money, the people here were Hollywood's needy, people hungry for the attention of the camera. Hungry enough, at least, to bite down on the poisoned bait offered by Hafenrichter's lens and lights. In that respect it was a loser's anthropology - balanced only by Jamie Lee Curtis, a woman who appeared to be in deep denial about the darker side of town (Hafenrichter contradicted her oddly strenuous protests with first-hand evidence from victims).

That it was a loser's account doesn't matter - this was the iceberg below the waterline, a reminder that what's visible necessarily submerges other lives. "Remember," the daughter of Loretta Young recalled her mother saying, "when you are in public you are a reflection of me." Ordinary parents think, or even say as much, but their solipsism isn't reinforced for the child by the barrage of flash-bulbs and an adoring public. Sometimes the reflection isn't what the star wants to see - there was a wincing passage in which the film cut between that grotesque denial of nature, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and her daughter, a plump girl who had cheerfully ignored her mother's advice on dieting but couldn't cheerfully ignore the contempt that inspired it.

It would have been nice to have some sense that Hollywood Kids could distinguish between those who've simply been affected and those who have affectations. But the brutality of the editorial style - rapid, sardonic cuts - effectively prevents discrimination or compassion, even when such feelings might be legitimate. In many cases you can't even tell how or why people are saying things, whether they are lying to themselves or trying to tell the truth.

It isn't that the style is bankrupt in itself - it can be used brilliantly for satirical effect, to highlight cliches of thought or to expose lies. Indeed, the film was at its best when exploring the vacuous complexities of Hollywood family life - not somuch nuclear as post-nuclear, the result of some awful chain-reaction of multiple divorces and remarriages, which ends up with siblings scattered all across town. "I'm anxious to meet her," said Kimber Eastwood of her new half-sister, "but our schedulesdon't allow it, as of now." She wasn't joking.

But Hollywood Kids doesn't really know the difference between satire and a freak-show - there's an awful sense of opportunistic glee in the face of distress, a moral numbness about the way it can't listen to anybody for any length of time. This was most conspicuous when Catya Sassoon came on screen. She also featured in Hollywood Women, and Hafenrichter obviously thought she could squeeze more out of her. Catya obligingly delivered a slurred condemnation of her father, her head lolling; "He kno ws how to be Vidal Sassoon,'' she said, "but he doesn't know how to be Dad." A kinder person might have looked away at this moment but the material was too good to pass over. Guaranteed box-office from one of the wannabes.