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Challenging the study of both celebrity and the cinema, Mandy Merck argues that modern fame and film melodrama are part of the same worldview, one that cannot resolve the relation of personal worth to social esteem. Tracing the history of this conundrum back to the philosophy of the seventeenth century and the theatre of the eighteenth, she demonstrates its convergence in stage melodrama and its intensification in the Hollywood star system. Are today's celebrities worth our attention? In that demand for judgement and the hope for its visual guidance, the melodramatic imagination survives – permeating not only fiction film, but documentary, the artist's film, and our self-exhibition on social media.
Examining a range of classical and contemporary films from Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931) to Laura Poitras's Citizenfour (2014) , the many remakes of A Star Is Born, the compulsory exhibitionism of political celebrity and the unmasking of whistle-blowers, Merck illustrates the ways in which the cinema constantly restages the moral evaluation of prominent individuals, whether they are actors, artists, politicians or activists.