Movie review: ‘Videocracy’


To many observers, the cheese quotient on American television is reaching alarming levels. But based on the evidence in this cautionary horror show of a documentary, our talk-show/reality extravaganza is the height of good taste compared with what’s stinking up the small screen in Italy.

Erik Gandini’s fitfully absorbing “Videocracy,” a look at TV-centric celebrity culture in the age of Silvio Berlusconi, is neither a full-on exposé nor an attempt at “balanced” discussion. Pulsing with incredulity and dread, it’s less a fully developed argument than the seed of one. The central notion — the power of the image — is old but ever-relevant, and the particular players in this telling are the stuff of a satirist’s dream.

Gandini’s loosely defined case rests upon a quartet plucked ripe from the caricature tree: Prime Minister Berlusconi, the world’s preeminent media tycoon/national leader and controller of 90% of Italy’s TV networks; wannabe star Ricky, who’s convinced that fame is tutto and will solve all his problems; über-agent Lele Mora, friend of Berlusconi and unapologetic fan of Mussolini; and the self-consciously cynical Fabrizio Corona, a convicted extortionist who has made his fortune as commander of an army of paparazzi.

Upping the queasy factor by omitting mention of anti-Berlusconi sentiment, the filmmaker deploys expressionistic layers of imagery, chilling and ludicrous. The sight of Mora holding court in his all-white house is as spoof-ready as the veline, those barely clad, gyrating TV showgirls who are the live-action equivalent of mud-flap silhouettes. “Videocracy” offers dark glimpses beyond the blinding array of telegenic smiles.

“Videocracy.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.