Student’s Lesson

Construction of Celebrity

The celebrity documentary is a genre of its own and even within this category there are sub-categories depending on the type of celebrity (for example the music celebrity, the film celebrity, the intellectual). The style of the celebrity documentary is also influenced by its purpose.

Celebrity documentaries often try to:

  1. create links between the celebrity’s private life and their public life
  2. explore notions of identity
  3. praise and reinforce the greatness of the celebrity (panegyric)
  4. look for what is authentic in a world where the public face is often discredited
  5. use the power and influence of celebrity to support a cause
  6. use the celebrity as a commodity for merchandising.

Student Activity: Class Challenge

  • In small groups choose one of the points above to explore.
  • Develop a case to support the position that your chosen purpose is the primary purpose of the Paul Kelly documentary.
  • Speak to a PowerPoint presentation to put forward your group’s case, making sure that
    • you explain the concept you are addressing (eg authenticity, identity etc).
    • you have prepared an elaboration of key points in a summary
    • the PowerPoint contains stills or footage from the documentary.
  • At the end of the challenge vote on which presentation was the most convincing.

What is celebrity? A theoretical perspective

According to Paul Dyer celebrities are ‘elevated individuals’. Any biographical and autobiographical writing on the public personality focuses on:

  • what makes the individual unique
  • key events that led to recognition
  • Traits that promoted stardom.

Audiences are looking for “the core of the individual and the roots of a causal relationship between the celebrity’s actions and the successful consequences of those actions”. Dyer believes that in many ways star images “correspond to novelistic notions of character… with regard to roundness, development, interiority, motivation and consistency”.[1]

Dyer also talks about their becoming “figures of identification” in that we want to identify with the look, behaviour and products associated with the star. This identification is achieved principally through the star’s relation to social types (the rebel, the smooth operator, the glamour queen, the mogul). So there is a strong tension between the star’s uniqueness and the star as a part of the recognisable fabric of society, outstanding yet normal.

In the star we “look for transparency, sincerity, authenticity to find the true person” who is a real person in private. There is a tension here: while texts surrounding the celebrity aim to create a coherent image through:

  • actions which logically lead to stardom through traceable cause and effect
  • a rounded and consistent character with whom we can build a stable identification

…the biography purports to be an attempt to uncover the “true person” who is usually the product of circumstance, often beyond personal control, and may be like most of us, inconsistent and to some extent erratic and unexplainable.

Consider these oppositions that Dyer discusses.

[1] Dyer, Paul, Stars as Signs p.243

Graphic: Celebrity as oppositions by Paul Dyer

  1. What does each pairing mean?
  2. How does the documentary deal with the divide between private and public self?
  3. Does the documentary deal with all these pairings? In what ways?

Activity 1

Complete the table in the form to consider how PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME attempts to resolve the tension between the celebrity image and the “true” Paul Kelly.

Using the information you have collected in the table, have a class discussion in which you consider how successful the documentary is in appearing to resolve the tension between the man and the image.
Interactive PDF Form: Construction of image

Celebrities as signs

Paul Kelly isn’t the only celebrity in this film. The interviewees include many different celebrities who know Paul professionally and personally. Each of the celebrities is like a sign. For example if a writer talks about Paul Kelly’s lyrics as stories then the kind of authority that person has, endorses Paul Kelly as a writer.

Think about the celebrities and what they say — how does their status validate the point of view being shared?

Use the table in the form: Celebrities as signs to gather your information.
Interactive PDF Form: Celebrities as signs

Celebrity as narrative arc

The rise and fall of celebrities is a common pattern that we see in the media and in art. In fact, it has become a genre and can follow a formula. Here is one formula suggested by Robert Waznak.

Graphic: Celebrity as narrative arc

Does this account of Paul Kelly’s life follow this pattern? Complete the table in the form and then try to map his life based on the information we are given in the documentary. Use dates and specific detail.


Evidence from the documentary

A star is born with unconventional talent
News of the star’s success
Questioning the star’s ability to stay
The star has “feet of clay”
The  star has a comeback

Are the stages that Waznak has given sufficient?

Explain how this representation of Paul Kelly’s life differs from the model?


Write an essay in which you discuss:

To what extent does the departure from narrative structure affect dramatic tension in the documentary? What is gained and what is lost by approaching PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME through the exploration of influences on Paul Kelly’s work?

Interactive PDF Form: Celebrity as narrative arc

Teacher’s Notes