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Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

The Celebrity Image and Desire

by Kacey Liebes

In Todd Haynes’s Dottie Gets Spanked, Stevie gets a chance to see the set of The Dottie Show. The young boy is obsessed with the star of the show, watching her show religiously and constantly drawing pictures of her. When he gets a chance to go to the set and meet her, he is elated. As he sits in the audience, he has a wide smile on his face. Quickly, it becomes apparent that the scene he is watching includes spanking, another topic that has recently piqued Stevie’s interest.

Throughout the clip, Haynes uses an eyeline match from Stevie to the set, which allows the viewer to see through Stevie’s eyes. Furthermore, the camera is constantly panning when it is on Dottie, or the action in or around the set. In contrast, the camera remains mostly fixed during shots of Stevie. This makes the images Stevie would be see feel observed. The panning the camera mimics the movements of eyes scanning and a head turning. Meanwhile, Stevie’s image remains fixed in the camera. Though Dottie controls the image, he controls the gaze.

The celebrity image, and even the construction of that image, adopts new meaning when filtered through Stevie’s perspective. On its own, the spanking in the scene is relatively innocuous. When seen through the eyes of a young boy who adulates Dottie, and who has also begun to seemingly eroticize spanking, the action on camera becomes intense and personal. While waiting for the spanking to occur, Stevie becomes increasingly anxious. He loses his smile, and the camera movements become quicker the longer her waits for the scene to be set up. At one point, he can be seen gripping the metal bar in front of him. This is shown in a wide shot, which reveals that those around him are perfectly calm. This is a response that specifically this boy is having.

The time spent in anticipation, waiting for a desire he feels on his own and cannot verbalize, heightens the experience of watching the act finally committed. The celebrity element of the moment burns the image into his consciousness, and he begins to associate the act with the individual.

Aspinwall Response

by JP Aspinwall

This scene from Dottie Gets Spanked plays out one of Steven’s hidden fantasies. On the set of “The Dottie Frank Show” Steven watches the filming of his favorite show and sees them film a scene in which Dottie gets caught in some bit of mischief by her husband and faces his consequences, a quite staged spanking. The camera cuts back and forth between the filming and Steven to show his suppressed enjoyment of the scene. As Haynes gives us this glimpse into the sexualized obsession of a young boy he also comments on celebrity vanity. The actress that plays Dottie interrupts the filming to check the camera angle of her spanking. She assumes a dominant role on the set and everyone works to appease her. This can be attributed to the celebrity status of the Dottie actress that inclines people to follow her wherever she may take them. Here she takes them down a road of frivolity. Nit-picking the camera angle she exclaims is doesn’t catch her face enough and calls for a wedge to lift the couch up. The resulting scene looks the exact same as it did before but the actress is satisfied that she got to exercise some agency. Todd Haynes through this scene and the actions of Dottie zooms in on the celebrity experience. He seems to be commenting that celebrities try hard to drive their image and make sure their face is in the limelight but that these efforts are driven by vanity. Celebrities then get caught in a cycle of self-affirmation as the people around them and the public enable their antics.

Dottie Gets Spanked: "On Set"

In this clip from director Todd Haynes' Dottie Gets Spanked, Stevie (Evan Bonifant) watches his favorite actress, Dottie (Julie Halston) take control of a scene in which her sitcom character gets spanked.

from Dottie Gets Spanked (1993)
Creator: Todd Haynes
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
Posted by Michelle Robinson
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