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ThemesArt and CinematographyAuteurs
Artists, Auteurs, and Stars
On the Human Factor in the Culture Industry
Diedrich Diederichsen

Just in time for Oscar weekend 2001, the New York Times created a new category within the terminology of film studies—the «arteur.» An «arteur»—is that the Jabberwocky of cultural production? A filmmaker-artist; an artist-filmmaker? And, you might ask, just what is so new about that amalgam anyway? Artists have been making films since Leger and Duchamp, Man Ray and Dalí, and filmmakers have always brought in visual artists to work on mainstream productions. What is remarkable in this case, however, is the timing of the coining of this neologism. It’s Oscar night: Javier Bardem’s best actor nomination brought an «arteur» closer to winning an Oscar, the highest honour awarded in mainstream film. Bardem played the starring role in Julian Schnabel’s second dramatic feature, «Before Night Falls.» The notoriously immodest painter had previously made it known that people such as himself—visual artists, tough guys—were going to breathe new life, reform and ultimately save the musty and decrepit Hollywood system.

1. The Auteur

The auteur was perhaps the final exemplar of the «old European» [1] artist, who epitomized the tradition of European film art in both its popular and arcane incarnations. Fundamental to the auteur was the notion that even when dealing with an enormous economic, technical, and hierarchical apparatus, it was possible for the auteur to place a recognizable, individual signature on the work. Even in the most routine of studio productions, the individual’s mark on the film, that is his or her artistic influence on the work, is the most crucial part of the product. Cinema could only qualify as belonging to the category of «art» at the cost of the maintenance of a particular notion of authorship, an aspect implicit in the politique des auteurs. And the reverse begs consideration as well: the notion of authorship had to prove itself through art, but in a qualitative sense. The concept of the auteur linked the structural dimension of authorship with a means of qualitative and normative judgment. Thus were linked the realm of fine art (legitimizing models of operation for «the artist») and that of the more or less industrially-produced cinema. Lurking within the auteur, however, is a formula that determines that autonomous art can only originate from authors. As much as the auteur was conceived of around 1960 as a corrective measure hidden within industrial production—this despite the fact that he came about as an odd blend of a normative demand and a pure and simple description of the status quo within the texts of film reviews—in retrospect he seems instead to be an immensely defensive figure, the last bastion against the developments which would, in the years to come, shake (or at least relativize) all models of authorship. Around 1960, the European artist was still active, indeed he was a challenge to the film industry. Only a short time later this kind of artist would be the subject of attacks by the avant-garde and the industry would simply choose to quietly discontinue the model. However around 1960, artists, who were both active in the fine arts and had been influenced by its myths, offered a template for the film world. In 1966, Manny Farber named Pollock specifically as a prototype, an artist who had created autonomous works, a type that did not yet exist in the cinema; it was the cinema’s strength that it was continually being either rescued or ruined by thesurprising achievements and mistakes of stars or technicians. [2] Today, the fine arts are in need of models such as that of the auteur in order to reconsider the relationship that exits between its protagonists and participants and contemporary modes of production. Currently, the fine arts are in a similar situation to that of the cinema of the nouvelle vague during its heyday: very interested in «industrial» and technologically-developed methods of production. We may observe today a similar approach in the contemporary genre of narrative installation, for instance. Nonetheless, the fine arts are not prepared to completely abandon models of authorship in favour of others based on the division of labour (though not simply due to misguided vanity or an over-emphasis on subjectivity). Despite their willingness to repeatedly make reference to the seminal texts by Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault (which address completely different problems), they are unwilling to begin a new, more productive discussion of the issue of authorship.

2. Counter-images: Art and Cinema

Thus, a constant of post-war modern and (neo-)avant-garde art appears to be that cinema and art always need to conceive of each other as opposites, in order to identify their internal differences and make them operable. If, in the context of this project, we talk about an other kind of cinema and an other kind of art, you will still most probably wind up believing that the other cinema leads to the same old art and the other art leads to the same old cinema. However, as we talk about an other cinema here, it is more likely that, in most cases, this other cinema sees its own opposite in a single word saturated with fantasies: Hollywood. Hollywood as the site of the industrial production of film; Hollywood as the name for a normative standard of narrative cinema; Hollywood as a place from whence imperial, industrial methods of production destroy divergent art, culture, and politics around the world. In other words: we pit an other cinema against this kind of cinema, and above all, then, an other kind of art, because filmmakers, no matter how opposed to Hollywood, always had to acknowledge the existence of the Hollywood model as a model of filmmaking, whereas it is up to art, to (ignorantly) reject Hollywood as the name for an ideology.However Hollywood was itself always, if not a part of, then at least the subject of that which opposed it. Indeed, one can not only differentiate between various phases, but also, most likely, different genres of the other cinema by looking at what it, in its difference, wanted from Hollywood, or rather, whether or not it actually wanted nothing at all to do with Hollywood. Of course these kinds of issues touch on the issue of the so-called culture industry and the relationship of the rest of the arts to it. It is often assumed that the terms ‹culture industry‹ and ‹Hollywood› are synonymous, and philologically, this is not unreasonable. After all, nineteen-forties’ Hollywood served as the model for the originators of the term ‹culture industry.› I would even maintain that by taking a closer look at «Dialectic of Enlightenment,» where this term was coined, one can guess which films the two authors had in mind: namely, Frank Capra’s New Deal comedies and Cecil B. De Mille’s megalomaniacal works. These authors encountered the culture industry, either as an ideology (Capra) or a method of production—or rather a production format (De Mille). I would add that, when reacting to Hollywood, the «other cinema» or the «other arts» have mostly referred to precisely these two aspects. [3] However, I am less concerned with various historical critiques or the aggression shown toward Hollywood, than with the numerous ways of formulating desire for Hollywood and how this desire evokes another side of the «otherness» of cinema and art. My thesis is that this desire almost always has something to do with a compromise inherent in the term «auteur.» This thesis is only valid if you understand this problematic constellation in a broader sense to include the role of the subjective or, if you will, the human factor in industrial forms of production, a production that is strongly defined by technology and is, nevertheless, culturally coded. As we will see, the author is just one means of indicating the human factor; others might originate with the audience, the actors, and naturally media technology itself, each of which would offer different approaches to this topic. Thus when I speak of the author, I do not refer to a problematic and much-criticized, metaphysical category within antiquated approaches to aesthetics, but rather, pragmatically and postmetaphysically, so to speak, to one of thesubjective links in the culture industry’s production chain of processes (which are based upon the division of labour) and to the various things that can help us conceptualize this link, including the other subjective factors already mentioned. I would like to describe four constellations, four authors’ politics, in which an «other» cinema poses the question of the human factor to the ‹dominant› (Hollywood) cinema.

3. Kenneth Anger

My first example would be Kenneth Anger's work, which is, chronologically, poised at the beginning of the postwar history of an ‹other› cinema, next to that of Maya Deren and James Broughton. In this context, there are two interesting points in Anger’s oeuvre. One of his central themes was that the normative behaviour defined by Hollywood stars could only set heterosexual standards to the degree that the stars themselves lived as homosexuals. In other words, there was a connection between what we would today call mandatory heterosexual cultural norms and the homosexual actors and actresses who were necessary for the production of these norms. It’s true that this theme is explicitly formulated only in his books, the two «Hollywood Babylon» volumes, yet it is found implicitly in all of his films—formulated, however, in a very ambivalent fashion. For one, this theme followed the logic of the revelation: the reality of the situation, the actor’s authentic life, is the opposite of the heterosexual male or female image that s/he embodies, laying bare the lies that various people, from Bertold Brecht to Otto Friedrich, have often accused Hollywood of. However, it is much easier to draw these conclusions from Anger’s books than from his films. Instead of a clear-cut critique, his films reveal a dialectic alliance, which informs his opposition to the conformity of nineteen-fifties’ Hollywood. For instance, «Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome» has been correctly described as the dark version of an MGM musical. [4] Indeed the film could have used a more explicit reference to this source—though it does not treat it as an ironic citation, an essence that must be revealed, or a simulacrum that must be inverted. The MGM musical and, indeed, all of Hollywood’s standardized productions—the technically and artistically highly developed production of visualideology—provided material for Anger’s notion (inspired by Aleister Crowley and other occultists) of a deeper and more truthful human nature, which could only prove itself by beating industrially produced images on their own turf. Authenticity, conceived by Anger as a product of exaggeration and excess, is created by surpassing those same highly advanced, extremely expensive products of the reviled lie-machine. Anger’s work is not trapped in a duality of appearance/reality—embraced at least on the surface by him in his «Hollywood Babylon» books. Instead, it insists upon overdoing appearances. One might accuse Anger of merely portraying the flip side of the conformity of the industrial machine, with what is either his own satanic or socialist, individualist, anarchism. Yet his films, primarily those made in the nineteen-fifties, make a second reference to Hollywood. If it is indeed the nature of the culture industry to conceal the site from which it describes and normatively shapes the world, and if one of its most essential ideologies involves veiling its own particularities and locales, Anger has consistently attempted to deal with the theme of the geographical location of the culture industry. «Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome» is something almost approaching a Heimatfilm for Anger, who returned to Los Angeles, (his Heimat for years prior to that), specifically to make the film. The actors were recruited from the bohemian cliques, subcultures, and sects to which Anger belonged and which in turn belonged to the repressed specifics of Hollywood, just as the homosexuality of the leading men and ladies did. «Puce Momet» (1949) anticipates Wilder’s «Sunset Boulevard» (1950) on an underground level. Hollywood has often portrayed itself critically, even in its regular films. However, all of its criticism has persistently been tangled up again with the image of what is, on the one hand, indeed, a hard and career-obsessed milieu, yet one that is entirely preoccupied with producing itself, with cultivating its own talents. Officially, Hollywood has often accused itself of being evil, but always in the interest of its own artistic self-realization. For Anger, Hollywood is a production workshop that is highly dependent upon self-denial. However, Hollywood relies upon these and other thoroughly (so to speak) ‹perverse› human factors. And this is precisely the starting point forAnger’s work.

4. Jack Smith

While Anger is interested in the lie inherent in ‹Hollywood› in general, and specifically, both in the repressed location and the repressed conditions of production, ultimately, he winds up focusing on the phantasm of the darkness of human nature. Jack Smith, however, and many of his cohorts in passing had another aspect in mind: he considered the failed product of the culture industry to be the highest, and most probably, the ultimate form of artistic authenticity. In his classic essay «The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez,» [5] Smith describes the characteristics of an aesthetic that is to this day called «trash» or «camp» both very specifically and generally enough to have wide-reaching consequences, which, despite the fact that the regime of irony in contemporary culture has domesticated trash and camp, remains the point of departure for any response to the omnipresence of the culture industry. Smith characterized those who could only see the worst actress in the world in Maria Montez (which she, according to Smith, doubtless also was) as fans of a magic of pure efficiency. The only thing that someone who demanded believable images from the products of the culture industry could believe in was the miracle that a car’s motor can still function well after a long trip. Hollywood is just that kind of motor. However, anyone who saw how the «machinery» of the film factory failed to construct a reasonable set around Maria Montez—even though just one of her sighs could fill a thousand tons of dead plaster with imaginative life and truth—was able to experience a different kind of magic. This magic consisted in the willingness to believe in her and her vision, something which neither she nor anyone around her seemed able to do. In watching these films, there is a sensation that we are witnessing the displacement, indeed the inadequacy of humanity to the machinery, a sensation that proves to be visceral. However in order for this sensation to be produced it is not only necessary that a human be placed within this machinery and be doomed to failure, but also that the audience be empathetic. Her vision (for Smith, Montez is clearly the author of her films) has not yet been realized; Hollywood fails despite itstons of plaster. In the midst of the machinery’s futile activity, someone must advance her some faith—indeed, as a viewer, one must give oneself over to faith and only then can the magic begin—the magic that allows us to share in her vision. The sheer quantity of pretentious material amassed in her films raises the spiritual surplus value available once we have decided to recognize that Maria opposes the machinery that surrounds her. However, this only works when the audience—in this case, Smith—becomes a producer of another kind, one that does not invest, but instead freely gives his love and attention. To Smith, Hollywood is neither a town of lies, nor one of truth; it simply produces mechanical norms. In the best-case scenario—that is, from the squarest point of view, a point of view, whose idea of magic could be satisfied by the «most inevitable execution of the conventional pattern of acting,« [6] —Hollywood achieves this with the reliability of a car’s motor. Both the process of film production and the audience embellish (a term that Smith never would have used, but I will) the human subject. Only an utterly uneconomical willingness to believe in this kind of failure within the system, indeed the worship of this failure as a kind of scandalous and sacred immanence could oppose this machinery. Smith would go on to build several cinematic altars for Maria Montez, for instance in his best-known film, « Flaming Creatures» (1963), in which the actor, Mario Montez, best known from Warhol's films, appearing here under the name Dolores Flores represents another figure who embodied Smith’s notion of «perfect filmic appositeness:» Marlene Dietrich Josef von Sternberg’s «The Devil is a Woman.» For Smith it wasn’t only a question of recuperating figures from B-movies. Without wanting (or being able to) delve too deeply into Smith’s work here, let it be said, however, that it is rewarding to note not only how his films endeavour to radicalize truth (which emerges precisely through Smith’s failure in the face of convention), but also how he strives to ascend to the heights of Hollywood’s own ineffectual ‹tons of plaster.› In this undertaking, he not only proves his reverence for the ultimately subversive and thus honest failure of the Maria Montez vision, but also for the shortcomings of the machinery—the industry’s inability to extend its machinery to theproduction of art. In turn, this failure is constitutive for the ‹successful failure› of the B-movie diva. So, just as he had faith in Maria, Smith asks us to have as much faith in what is, of course, his unsuccessful presentation of industrial failure. We are asked to perceive even more of a failure than there actually was. Of course, we cannot merely reduce Smith’s oeuvre to an exemplification of how failure may be regarded as an opportunity. However, Smith actually introduced the first completely developed aesthetic whose existence, to a large extent, is dependent upon both the futility of industrial cultural production and the attempt to escape it. In this aesthetic, garbage is defined as the useless (i.e. worthless), material leftovers of a culture industry completely focused on producing goods. Here, garbage does not simply provide a refuge or asylum from artistic truth, but became instead the sole possible location for its production. Smith’s fan, Andy Warhol, who will represent the next constellation in this argument, developed an opposing model along similar lines.

5. Andy Warhol

In Smith’s work, Maria Montez’s star quality was localized in her failure, in her impractically grandiose visions, which could not be instrumentalized by the machinery of her environment. For Warhol, star quality is something like a Hollywood-manufactured surplus, a phenomenon that projects far beyond cinematic plans and calculations, in both a commercial and an artistic sense. This kind of star quality was a transcendent attribute in certain people, which, just as in Smith’s films, had nothing to do with the artistic ability of an actor. It could be seen, not by failing to meet industry standards, but when that standard was exceeded and expanded. This difference between Smith and Warhol might seem to be trivial or academic, since neither one actually ever troubled himself with consistent theoretical formulas and both sought that particular romantic moment where the individual is incommensurable with the commercial machine. However, this difference is not simply a theoretical one. While Smith’s aesthetic also boiled down to a real, continual failure to comply with the demands of capitalism (to deliver products, complete works, or even to allow a performance to begin and end),Warhol’s aesthetic, on the other hand, amounted to booming productivity, a difference, which also had its ‹philosophical› reasons. While Smith develops an almost negative-dialectic trash aesthetic by observing and being fascinated with a certain sort of Hollywood film, Warhol, in a rather Foucauldian manner, sees a special productivity in Hollywood, a dispositiv that, in its positive incarnation, may arrive at a new form of human production that goes far beyond what the film industry, in its calculation and greed, wanted to bring about: the production of and emphasis upon human peculiarities, which could not really be made useful for either an individual film or the industry’s master plan. Such human peculiarities seem to occur exclusively through the encounter between a particular human subjectivity and an industrially configured apparatus that is extremely sensitive, both psychologically and technologically. Thus Warhol wanted to continue to produce precisely this quality in his Factory, but in a more concentrated form, focusing entirely on this essence, the star quality of his actors. He was aware of the fact that he knew people who had more star quality than the usual actors, who were, after all, still being cast according to conventional acting criteria. All of that could be excised, along with the story, the setting, etc., in order to produce nothing but excess or surplus. The aforementioned apparatus—not to be described in technical terms alone—was key for the creation of star quality. While it’s true that star quality is part of the surplus of industrial production, it is as dependent upon its dispositives as Maria Montez was upon ineffectual plaster. Warhol’s notion of filmmaking was based on a certain notion of industrial production. Indeed, Annette Michelson was completely right when she called the early Factory a direct reaction to culture industry practices. In fact, she goes so far as to declare that the factory was a carnivalesque parody of the culture industry, in the Bakhtinian sense. [7] However, she follows the line of the Factory historians, and especially Warhol’s own, when she claims that after the attempt on Warhol’s life, nothing was the same anymore, and that the evil Paul Morrissey then aspired to turn it all into a real culture industry. Yet, as far as the Factory’s film production is concerned, I think one should not overestimate the importance of this rupture. As a director or filmmaker, Warhol hadalways tried to stay out of the foreground as much as possible and—to paraphrase many familiar aphorisms—to meld with the machine. It is easy to recognize the reason for the machine metaphor: it makes it possible to connect the state of technological development with economic factors. To put a fine point on it, Warhol wanted to personally embody anonymous industrial production methods, in the truest sense of the term. He wanted to incorporate and thus rationalize the industry and the apparatus. He tried to simplify the production of star quality by transforming the relationship between the industrial apparatus and the star into production relations that were not only less expensive and less complex but also socially uncomplicated: he located them quite simply in the bohemianism of the Factory. The Factory was supposed to be a production workshop that manufactured industrial star quality—only, the special effects and illusions were not created by technology, but by sociology, so to speak. It follows that Warhol preferred to constantly delegate tasks, to let things run their course. Other people were allowed to leave visible marks: for instance, Ronald Tavel wrote scripts or gave off-camera directions. Actors, such as Jack Smith in Camp or the superstars, made clear, recognizable decisions and influenced the proceedings. It was only logical that Warhol should at some point simply subtract himself from the production process, abandoning the position of author (which was still being debated in Paris) and delegating it to Paul Morrissey. Warhol’s response to both the metaphysical concept of authorship (with its origins in bourgeois tradition) and to relations within the culture industry (which had done away with the author, however in a fashion contrary to the intentions of any critique of the institution of the author) was his position that he did, indeed, remain the author. This, even after he had relinquished all functions which belonged to the duties of the director, the figure who now bore the label signalling a compromise, that of the «auteur,» but who had nevertheless remained the central figure of production within the film industry. Authorship could no longer result from industrial film production; authorship could only survive by addressing the metaphysical dimension of the term and its tradition directly. At the same time that Warhol delegatedresponsibility to Morrissey, conceptual art was attempting to achieve the same thing.

6. The «Arteur»

There is very likely no one who has provided such a more radical response than Warhol to the problem that led to the formula for the auteur in cinema—a problem that art has only learned to deal with in recent years through the introduction of new technological and economic parameters. Problems first encountered in the film world have resurfaced in the fine arts in two respects: on the one hand, there is greater reflection, more often, upon the central role of the medium film and the institution of the cinema in the fine arts. Today, as those brazen media allies, the film print and the space of the cinema, are coming under digital, technological, and economical fire, this reflection is helping to shape a meta-theory of the moving image. On the other hand, the problems that led to the formula for the auteur affect the inner workings of art itself: artists are increasingly reliant upon private patrons and sponsors, producers and executive producers. Phenomena such as Yvonne Force’s Art Production Fund, which produces art—ostensibly on a non-profit basis, while actually functioning like an early Hollywood studio—are new realities, which question the notions of authors and creators in new ways, as may be observed in many other places in the digital world. This dimension of authorship does not pertain to the metaphysical, philosophical side of the term, but rather the cultural, political, and practical side. To insist upon an appropriate clarification of this side of the equation may also require that the legal rights of the auteur against the apparatus be addressed. Yet in the mounting confusion over the various levels of discussion of authorship, all of this is often overlooked, although the name given to the original discussion, «le politique des auteurs,» clearly made reference to these things. In this sense, the «arteur» represents the proposition that art should maintain a similar position of autonomy in the production process and leave the rest to the course of the division of labour and the economically oriented organization of production. However, one of the special features of digital production is precisely the superfluous nature of the apparatus itself: the other example of an «arteur»named in the aforementioned New York Times article, Shirin Neshat, certainly does not need (at least in post-production) any more helpers and assistants than a conventional artist. The booming genre of narrative video installation looks more complicated and industrial than it actually is. Nonetheless, due to the success (including the artistic kind) of artists such as Matthew Barney, Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas [8] , Bruce Yonemoto, and many others, the notion of the auteur seems to be an appropriate one. Even though most of them delegate as little as possible and insist upon all sorts of final control, the credits on their films are longer than some movies. At any rate, in many cases, the current black box/white cube fusions have long since been reconciled with the old model of the auteur, creating the foundation for the work of these artists: indeed they view the problem of industrial production only as one of loss of technical control over the end product. 7. Julian Schnabel Now, Julian has not yet won an Oscar, and neither has Javier. Still, Julian Schnabel was the first visual artist, who—almost forty years after Warhol’s failed attempt to invade Hollywood with his hoards—has managed to ride proudly into town in his Sunday best for the Oscar ceremony, after giving countless interviews in which he presented himself as the leader and the saviour of independent cinema. Schnabel’s first film was about Jean-Michel Basquiat. He did succeed in a rather interesting (although, when you look at the whole picture, not at all laudable) fashion in deemphasizing every bit of political content specific to Basquiat’s work (especially his concept of himself as an African-American artist), in favour of a portrayal of the artist’s path to fame, which included depicting Basquiat being called to his vocation, being initiated, etc. In his most recent film, «Before Night Falls,» Schnabel tells the life story of Cuban poet Reynaldo Arenas: biopics are, after all, his genre. Originally a supporter of Castro, Arenas’ openly homosexual lifestyle ultimately forced him to become a dissident. After years in Cuban jails, he finally immigrated to New York, where he died of complications from AIDS. Under Schnabel’s direction, Arenas, too, becomes a nature boy, who literally emerges from the soil, and, because he has been chosen, follows the certain path to genius and thus is forced into conflict with a totalitarianregime. Schnabel’s film, however, has rightly been criticized for implying that this conflict sprang from the opposing forces of genius/bureaucracy and nature/order and not, as is clearly the case in Arenas’ real life, most definitely from his homosexuality and the specific homophobia of the Castro regime. In addition, the similarity to Basquiat’s story as it was told by Schnabel—the story of being one of the chosen—is very apparent. All it takes is a psychologist of minimal competence, such as myself, for example, to recognize the connection to Schnabel’s own story—that is, to his not exactly secret image of himself as another one of the chosen few. We, however, must discuss how this self-image is connected to three of the themes at issue here: Firstly, any consideration of Schnabel’s past as a painter must take account of his very controversial, much-debated reconstruction of the figure of the metaphysical author whose creations originate entirely within himself. Secondly, he has sustained his project of generating an image of himself as a creative source, using cinema as a medium, in spite of the fact that, compared to painting and other kinds of atelier art, cinema is conventionally connected with the loss of control. Finally, Schnabel’s general tendency in both media has been to tell his own rather scantily disguised autobiography, using biographies, which did not focus on work which stems from the power of a pure, hegemonic, subject position, but instead dealt with the fate of the real life artist, whose artistic practice also includes, among other things, the role of a self-empowering, working artist who belongs to a minority group. Now, I think that all three of these issues point to the fact that Julian senses what is going on: no buyer is interested in the posturing of the painter-prince of the early 1980s anymore. It is only credible when the process of attaining a powerful position (and, indeed, the subject position) is staged as something else—as political selfempowerment, so to speak. As a rule, those who are pursuing the path to fame feel as if they are doing something for humanity. After he reaches the top, every entrepreneur tells his story as if he were Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. This approach only functions, however, in mainstream cinema, because there nobody thinks about the circumstances of production, but instead only about the stories that are told, which distract attention fromthis topic. Control can only be maintained in fiction; in reality, it has to be given away to an increasing number of financiers. Currently, the number of producers in the mid-size, independent cinema is exploding, and as it increases, of course, the artistic independence of which Schnabel’s films speak, implodes. «The Caveman’s Valentine,» another recent independent film starring Samuel L. Jackson, boasts a record number of sixteen producers. We can only imagine the sheer number of power lunches, cell phone conversations, and test screenings that must have taken place in order to satisfy that many behind-thescenes producers, all of whom have different motives. Under these circumstances, anybody who tells stories about being called to solitary greatness also appears to be driven by the need to deny all familiar, painful conditions of production by claiming that they are the fairy tales. Schnabel inverts Anger (who represents the beginning of the love-hate relationship between Hollywood and the «other cinema«). Instead of parasitically deriving his own deeper truth from the concrete, social realities of Hollywood’s lies, as Anger does, Schnabel creates an individualistic, heroic fairy tale, (which acts as a reproach to the cynical openness that Hollywood has begun to employ in the meantime to discuss itself) confronting it with the obligation to tell a big, fat lie. True, at the heart of this plan lies a reactionary idea, which, as so often happens with that which is reactionary, comes across very soothingly and naturally also contains a kernel of truth; a well-equipped, ideological machinery, which of course fuses relationships out of masses of inverted and twisted reflections of power relations, is ultimately a more attractive and worldly opponent than one, who is cynical and enlightened. Schnabel’s helpless grandiosity is, despite its embarrassments, certainly more sympathetic than disillusioned cynicism. Yet perhaps it is not the glitter of ideology or the appealing consistency of the lies, which have empowered the «other» cinema. Perhaps it is the riveting failure of these qualities in the face of the introduction of a completely unexpected subjective factor — and «Traffic» is certainly in many ways an ideological film, but one that does not fail.

8. Star-quality

In the Winter of 2000, Anette Michelson moderated a roundtable discussion with Stuart Klawans, Richard Pena, James Schamus, and Malcolm Turvey [9] —that is, with some contemporary theoreticians and producers who represent the so-called independent cinema. In her introduction, Michelson first established a relationship between the old nouvelle vague and the independent cinema of today. Then she accused the nouvelle vague of not having questioned the structures of the culture industry, but simply of having demanded «access to that system in the name of an oppositional stance with respect to the nature of cinema as an artistic practice and, eventually, of its theorization.« [10] Combining her argument with my own, this means they simply replaced the director with the auteur in the division of labour, in order to guarantee the survival of a particular notion of art. In the discussion in question, however, a similar critique was implicitly levelled at the contemporary practitioners present. They then made a counter strike directed at Michelson as the representative of the old, experimental avant-garde, accusing it of having committed two original sins, so to speak, with regards to a theory of contemporary cinema: for one, the condemnation of narrative, and for another, the fixed positioning of experimental cinema in an art context. Both sides, however, are probably right. Yet when old stories are being discussed, I ask myself if there was not perhaps another oversight, which has proved to be even more damaging: the suspension of the social, artistic experimentation around the production of star quality beyond the parameters of the industry and its logic. Instead of condemning the seductive quality of cinema, perhaps a different notion of seduction should have been investigated—in lieu, however, of a bargain basement displacement of the idea that everyone can be famous for fifteen minutes onto television. If star quality can perhaps, as has been suggested, be thought of as a by-product of, and genuinely specific to, the cinema, as a new, human reaction to the normative, industrial apparatus, then star quality is not that «special something» had by someone who is good-looking and can «master» the «conventional patterns of acting,» but instead is possessed by those who produce the queer surplus that is connected with the non-identity of the norm and itsactor-representatives. Star quality is a new kind of human behaviour, a psychological and political answer to the cinematic apparatus and its social (culture-industrial) function. Warhol recognized this and attempted to create star quality, preliminary attempts, which were seldom or never pursued any further. However, the notion of the star is an alternative to the auteur and deserves to be taken more seriously. Perhaps that is why Julian fumbles around so helplessly with grandiosity, because he is searching for precisely this quality—and is blinded by the notion that he must be the star. But a star is not a person in real life—neither is a star an author who has done his work well, nor an actor, who takes on a normative role because we think he looks good and somehow manages to get through life really well. A star is a star precisely because it is impossible to be a star, because we can only worship stars, not imitate them. In this sense, there are stars only in the movies.

© Media Art Net 2004