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Performing Stardom

by Ethan Tussey

by James Harvey-Davitt for IN MEDIA RES

A tendency has appeared across several recent films whereby we see stars playing actors who – during overtly performative moments – allude to elements of their star persona. I wish simply to raise a few thoughts on three varying forms of this tendency, suggesting its reliance on both modernist and postmodernist ideas on the interchangeability of the actor/spectator positions. Juliette Binoche’s performance in Haneke's 'Code Unknown' (2000) and her two performances for Kiarostami ('Shirin' and 'Certified Copy' [both 2010]) exemplify the Brechtian lineage of the "verfremdungseffekt" in cinema. Using direct address, these performances confront the spectator with close-ups of Binoche’s iconic image, detaching us from the diegesis in differing but nevertheless related ways. Each moment a reflection on the ethics of spectatorship, Binoche becomes a surface for the realigning of the active/passive duality of actor and spectator through the method of alienation. Despite its stylistic difference to the aforementioned example, Folman’s 'The Congress' (2013) uses the semi-fictionalised persona of Robin Wright to continue this self-reflexive concern with star persona. In the ‘scan’ scene (whereby she allows the studio to digitally replicate her body for future use) a polemic is staged on the ethics of performance in ways similar to Haneke’s and Kiarostami’s ethics of spectatorship. Focus is again given to the star as star – doing what stars do. Yet in its concern for mobilising the corporeality, affectivity and authenticity of this quasi-biographical star concept, this performance draws upon Artuadian ideas of immersion. While Binoche’s iconic image directs us away from the narrative, Wright’s is used to further embed the spectator into this bizarre world. The third form departs from the modernist spectator to what Kristeva deemed representative of an inherent otherness: the intertextual performance of stardom. Of course, as Richard Dyer claimed, all star images are intertextual (1986: 3); but the ‘permutation of texts’ (Kristeva, 1980: 36) in Iñárritu’s 'Birdman' (2014) are, I think, constitutive of the film’s technical achievement. This is initiated by Keaton’s career as reference point; but these permutations abound. Anxious to attain recognition as an actress, Naomi Watts’s ‘Lesley’ reprises ‘Betty’ (from Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' [2001]). The surprising, heated moment she shares with co-star ‘Laura’ transports the spectator to ‘Betty’s’ relationship with ‘Diane’ – one of the most iconic lesbian relationships (or perhaps, ‘lezploitations’) in recent cinema history. Binoche’s confrontation, Wright’s immersion and Watts’s quotation all provoke a dialogue with the spectator from the stage of the star.

Movies about Movies and Performance

A clip from the film The Congress

from The Congress (2013)
Creator: Ari Folman
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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