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1959. Twenty-seven year old Vinnie Vacarri works as a waiter at his older brother Mario's upscale Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, but much to Mario's chagrin, Vinnie lets work at the restaurant slide whenever opportunities arise to achieve his dream of being in the music business. Along with his best friend and music partner, pianist Gino Pilato, Vinnie writes songs, and believes he has everything but the most important thing to make it big, namely the look, he most self-conscious about his receding hairline. As such, he and Gino are looking for someone to perform their songs on their own terms. He thinks he's found the person in his friend Tomaso DeLorusso, a saxophonist who has been struggling himself in the club scene to find his niche. With Gino largely staying in the background, Vinnie begins a professional association with Tomaso, who he reinvents as rock singer Tommy Dee, this the beginning of Vinnie's foray into talent manager, he knowing the look and sound he wants, with his ...Written by
In the opening sequence taking place in 1959, a one dollar "Green Seal" Federal Reserve bill is shown. The treasury dept introduced them starting in 1963. "Blue Seal" Silver Certificates were in use in 1959. See more »
Nearly a quarter-century before directing Jamie Foxx in "Ray," director Taylor Hackford paid his first respects to the power of early rock 'n' roll in this equally galvanizing, sadly overlooked film.
It's the end of the 1950s, and struggling songwriter/impresario Vinnie Vacarri (Ray Sharkey) is trying to find someone he can mold into a rock singer, filling the void left by Elvis Presley's Army stint. He discovers a young sax player who has the right look and voice, and recasts him as teen sensation "Tommy D." Now Vinnie is riding high. Trouble is, Tommy's a creep and Vinnie's hungry to prove he can do it again. Can he, or will he lose everything he has trying?
"Success has no conscience, Vincent," says his father, a rich man who abandoned him and his mother. Vinnie doesn't believe that, though, and unlike 99% of the agents and promoters you see in movies, he actually tries to do right by his young stars and their fans. Sharkey challenges himself and us by essaying a character who's compelling for both his slickness and decency. His control freakiness may grate, but he's hard not to like, especially as Sharkey plays him with such electricity he comes through the screen.
Sharkey won a Golden Globe, and deserved an Oscar nomination at least for what should have been a breakthrough performance. Whether he's paying payola to a crooked DJ or saving Tommy D from an underage fling, Sharkey does it with panache and charm. He lights a mean cigarette but lets us in with his eyes, "the windows" as Vinnie calls them.
Of course, the irony of Vinnie is that unlike most agents, he actually has more talent than his stars. He just doesn't have the right look and knows it, so he must convince others to play the roles he creates. Maybe the film suffers a bit from the fact it's the thinly-disguised autobiography of Bob Marucci, the real-life impresario who broke Fabian and Frankie Avalon. I'm sure Fabian and Frankie would have different takes on who made who, but Sharkey's so consistently involving and engaging you don't care.
In addition to Sharkey, "The Idolmaker" is lifted by a killer soundtrack by Jeff Barry that is blended with some fantastic staging, lighting, and dancing. Like Poseidon-3 noted in another review here, the songs are hardly vintage-sounding, fed through a 1980 pop sensibility that utilizes more chord changes and orchestration than the teen-idol songs of Fabian's day. That's actually a good thing, especially as the score begins with the coy but catchy "Here Is My Love" and keeps getting better from there. It's a shame the songs never found a home on radio, or they'd be remembered still. Yes, "The Idolmaker" flopped in theaters in late 1980, but so did "The Jazz Singer" and "Xanadu," and they had hits. What kept out the brilliant Spectorized "However Dark The Night," with Peter Gallagher's terrific vocal performance? Gallagher's great on screen, too as Vacarri's second project, kind of doing Mick Jagger as lost choirboy and giving Vinnie his greatest star. If this film had come out just three years later, when MTV was established, Gallagher's looks alone would have sold the film.
The plot is the film's weakness, not bad but labored. There's a romantic subplot between Sharkey and Tovah Feldshuh that goes on too long, as when she asks "Where are you, Vincent? I'm looking for the human being and I can't find him anywhere." Maybe if the film didn't stack the deck so heavily in Vacarri's favor, those trite words might have a little more resonance, instead of feeling tacked on to create the impression of moral ambiguity in Vinnie's character.
Frankly, Sharkey doesn't need the help. You watch him here and wonder why he didn't turn out to be one of the 1980s' biggest stars, instead of a drug casualty lost to AIDS. Maybe he had too much passion to keep inside. But here, for this one film, he found the perfect channel to let it all out. "The Idolmaker" is a fitting monument that way, as Sharkey centers an entertaining spectacle worth your time.
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