Using recent work from philosophy, film studies, and economics, this article analyzes two instances of star discourse — Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience — to identify an emerging trend in contemporary cinema. I argue that these filmmakers exploit what I term the audience's cruel knowledge about actresses in order to position the films in relation to the other art forms associated with their actresses (ballet and pornography). Building from the premise that spectacle and excess are necessary to both celebrity and cruelty, I argue that contemporary directors activate cruel celebrity culture in three interrelated ways. I begin by discussing the spectator's role, a position from which the noncelebrity takes pleasure in witnessing the celebrity's destruction. The spectator's cruel desire to see more and more of the celebrity's destruction activates the second type of cruelty. Black Swan and Girlfriend Experience depend on the cruelty of the camera's eye: the paparazzo's invading eye, which takes the spectator beyond scopophilic pleasures into the realm of at least simulated interaction with the celebrity. Finally, directors deploy the cruelty of celebrity culture to gain their own prestige. By making casting choices that exploit tabloid knowledge and by recreating cinematographically the scene of the paparazzo's invasive gaze and the celebrity's evasion, filmmakers energize their own art works through the excessive extradiegetic attention carried by the celebrity into the film. In the cases of Black Swan and Girlfriend Experience, the overpowering extratextual discourses of Natalie Portman's and Sasha Grey's celebrity do not just inform their film roles but are in fact necessary to their work within the films' diegeses. By deploying audience knowledge about celebrities, these contemporary directors clear ground for the artistic merit of their films against the other art forms embodied by the films' stars.
Katherine Fusco; The Actress Experience: Cruel Knowing and the Death of the Picture Personality in Black Swan and The Girlfriend Experience. Camera Obscura 1 May 2013; 28 (1 (82)): 1–35. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2016942
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