A Very Human Performer on a Bigger Than Life Tour
#19: Katy Perry: Part of Me (2012)
Directors: Dan Cutforth & Jane Lipsitz
I did not see this coming. A friend who is a serous cinephile handed me a stack of DVDs for the #52FilmsByWomen project, and in the stack was Katy Perry: Part of Me. Really? A Katy Perry tour documentary? I didn’t anticipate that I would enjoy the documentary so much, and even wind up with a much more positive view of Katy Perry herself.
Katy Perry: Part of Me was filmed on the 2011 California Dreams tour, in support of the monster hit album Teenage Dream. Perry did 127 shows across five continents in less than a year – stats that sound exhausting even in print. A movie just following the tour and the arc of Perry’s career would have been entertaining. Having that tour converge with deep loss in Perry’s personal life gives the film real emotional weight.
Even as I write this, I feel conflicted about celebrity and the bargain our stars make in giving up their privacy. In October of 2010, Katy Perry married British actor and comedian Russell Brand. Four months later the California Dreams tour launched. Throughout Part of Me, Brand is seen occasionally visiting Perry on tour. More often Perry is heard talking about him, trying to find times to fly home and see him, looking forward to spending time with him. And then, suddenly, the marriage is ending, and Part of Me is observing Katy Perry’s heart breaking while she is still on tour.
Katy Perry may choose to look like a fictional character, with her pastel wigs and playful costumes – but she’s a real person. Those were real tears; that was real pain. The fact that she was able to keep performing says a great deal about her professionalism, and also about the high cost of being a star.
How did Perry feel about that being in the documentary, I wonder? Surely it was not part of the plan when she agreed to be filmed on tour, newly married, at the height of stardom. And yet, I think there’s real value in the fact that Perry allowed viewers of the documentary a small window into this episode. We are so accustomed to celebrity gossip that we often come to think of celebrities as less then truly human. Their personal dramas seem like performances offered for our consumption. There is a wrenching scene in Katy Perry: Part of Me in which the singer, having been weeping uncontrollably backstage, takes her mark, turns on a smile, and starts the show. Watching it, I was reminded of the movie A Star is Born – the story of an actress whose career ascends even as her marriage falls apart. But this is not that.
Katy Perry may choose to look like a fictional character, with her pastel wigs and playful costumes – but she’s a real person. Those were real tears; that was real pain. The fact that she was able to keep performing says a great deal about her professionalism, and also about the high cost of being a star. I’m focusing on the personal drama behind the California Dreams tour, but the documentary has much more to recommend it. Perry is the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, and the transformation in her music and life is especially fascinating to those of us who grew up in conservative Christianity. There’s no contempt for her history, though, and her parents and siblings are in the documentary (her older sister travels with the tour). The California Dreams show itself is sheer spectacle: its as if a Candyland Game came to life. We often complain about the sexualization of our female pop stars, but Katy Perry has largely built her image on whimsy, fun, and childlike glee. And it is fun! A film like this is a marketing tool, so a positive view of Perry herself is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, she comes across as hardworking, loyal to her family and longtime friends, and determined to please her fans.
I can’t say that Katy Perry: Part of Me made me a Katycat (the name for Katy Perry fandom), but I came away with much respect for her as a performer and a person. I’m almost a fan now.
Bonus Pick: Advanced Style
Director: Lina Plioplyte
Street photographer Ari Seth Cohen has been documenting New York’s fashion forward over-60 crowd for several years now. This documentary profiles seven of his subjects in all of their sartorial splendor, but it also opens a door into their lives, careers, and vibrant personalities. I will never, ever be as stylish as these women, but I still want to “grow up” to be like them in their refusal to play by the rules that society sets for older women. Who says that aging means you have to play it safe and slip into the background? The film is glossy and not especially profound, but it’s inspiring. No one lives forever, but these women are committed to really living right up to the end.