‘Soliloquy (Sharon),’ 1992-2000
From the ‘Soliloquy Trilogy,’ 2000
A short film on DVD
Duration: 7 minutes, 11 seconds, 3 frames
[The other two short films from this trilogy—‘Soliloquy (Clint)’ and ‘Soliloquy (Jack)’—are available via separate links on this Vimeo page]
Breitz’s ‘Soliloquy Trilogy’ (2000), expands her previous investigations of the imaginary relations between the star and the fan. Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’ of the mid-1960s were reportedly a key impetus for the series of three short films that make up the trilogy. Warhol’s short film portraits of the famous and the non-famous employ a static camera that focuses unblinkingly on the face of the motionless sitter over the course of several minutes. His fascination with compressed presence is echoed in Breitz’s films, which, like the ‘Screen Tests,’ reflect on the manner in which celebrity aura is created and maintained.
Taking to heart Hollywood’s dictum that what movie-goers fundamentally desire is to see larger-than-life stars on the silver screen, Breitz chose three of Hollywood’s most iconic performers in some of their best-known roles: Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct,’ Clint Eastwood in ‘Dirty Harry,’ and Jack Nicholson in ‘The Witches of Eastwick.’ She then devised an editing procedure that radically tests the power of star appeal versus narrative coherence. Reworking each of the three films, Breitz eliminated every moment in which the star is not vocally present to the viewer (silent screen time was eliminated along with other footage in which the chosen star was not articulating). The storyline and the contextual backdrop of the original feature film vanish along with the secondary actors, all now relegated to the mute realm of the proverbial cutting room floor.
The much-abridged new films are shown as large-screen projections in a standard cinema setting. Watching them, we quickly realize how parsimoniously Hollywood doles out star presence: Sharon Stone is vocally present on screen for just over 7 minutes, Clint Eastwood for a mere 6 minutes and 57 seconds, while Jack Nicholson manages to eke out just over 14 minutes. Experienced as a series of jump cuts which draw on the distracted tempo of the sound bite, the stars’ truncated words can only be understood as ruptured stream-of-consciousness monologues: flows of cryptic remarks, non-sequitur asides and unprovoked outbursts. The highest-order linguistic functions—grammar, syntax, consecutive argument—all but disappear. In ‘Soliloquy (Sharon),’ Sharon Stone jumps dizzily from subject to subject: “Would someone give me a ride home? Not really. If I was guilty and I wanted to beat that machine, it wouldn’t be hard. Wouldn’t be hard at all. You took a lie detector test after you shot those two people, didn’t you? You see, we’re both innocent….” Clint Eastwood is frankly incoherent in ‘Soliloquy (Clint)’: “Turn that thing up a little louder. He’s no… he’s there. Throw a net over the whole bunch of… where? I haven’t even seen the son of a bitch yet. Get the hell out of the way, hammerhead!”
As is most often the case in Breitz’s work, subtle references to avant-garde precedents are never entirely lost. Visually, the ‘Soliloquy Trilogy’ recalls the cinematic stuttering effects of Jonas Mekas’s experimental films; aurally, it calls to mind cut-up audiotapes made in the 1960s by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Listening to the ‘Soliloquies’ is unnerving; the extreme, abrupt shifts of mood and tone are suggestive of psychotic speech. Yet we sit watching, fascinated, because there is a residual core of satisfaction: the pure iconic presence of the star, crudely distilled for our viewing pleasure. ‘(Sharon)’ as the ultimate incarnation of the blonde goddess and sexual predator; ‘(Clint)’ as the vengeful, Old Testament figure transplanted to a modern city; ‘(Jack)’ as the consummate trickster, the repulsive yet irresistible ladies’ man. Breitz’s formulaic editing serves to exacerbate the fact that the characters barely evolve or change through the duration of the movies, no doubt to some extent because our pleasure as mass culture consumers is predicated on a standardized celebrity presence that remains eternally, unalterably the same.
ABOVE EXTRACT FROM: Christopher Phillips, ‘Candice Breitz: Four Installations,’ in: Sturm, Martin and Plöchl, Renate (editors). ‘Candice Breitz: CUTTINGS.’ (Linz: O.K Center for Contemporary Art Upper Austria, 2001) exhibition catalogue.