We hear all the time about “publicity stunts”—actors acting out to gain attention. There’s Britney and Madonna’s kiss. Sasha Baron Cohen’s Oscar Awards crash. And then a variety of fake wars-of-words, sex tapes, and wardrobe malfunctions that—despite and because of their controversial nature—enhanced the popularity of the actors or musical artists involved. (Here’s a list of some famous publicity stunts from the 2000s.) My favourite example from recent years (a movie-music overlap) is Joaquin Phoenix’s purported “retirement” from movies and public declaration to become a hip hop artist. The hoax (covered by the Huff Post and The Guardian) is one of the more elaborate examples, and one of the very few (perhaps aside from SB Cohen’s?) to offer an intelligent statement about Hollywood or the celebrity lifestyle.
In David Cook’s A History of Narrative Film, a book I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there’s a section that discusses perhaps one of the very first of such stunts, though the goal seemed as shameless as (if less salacious than) any in the history of Hollywood.