Notes on Fame (Do you Know Who You Are?)
Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, Paramount Pictures, 1986
by Masha Tupitsyn
Youth, for her, was not a transitional age — for this modern one, youth was the only time befitting a human being.[…] Her youth had no need of ideals, it was in and of itself an ideal.
-Witold Gombrowicz, Fredydurke
The below screen shot is from Andrew McCarthy’s new book, The Longest Way Home. I’ve written a lot about Pretty in Pink, so it was interesting to see McCarthy read from his memoir at McNally Jackson Books in New York back in September. Because of the way he acted, talked. That’s the reason I went to the reading — to see. Because of what he said about fear (how acting and fame alleviate it and also create more of it) and being young on camera. What it means to be young on camera. What it meant for him to have been young on camera, something he understands and appreciates only in retrospect. What it means for the camera to see you young, to want you and love you young, to record you young, to show you to the world and the world to you — young — even after you no longer are, and precisely because you won’t be always be.
We waste time watching. Cinema incubates and eats time — it was made for this. Creating an always out of something transient — this is what cinema really does. Staying where you (actors) can never stay. Taking us (viewers) where we almost never go. Keeping you where you were. Allowing us to go back again, back again. Giving us a way to be before. The urgency and melancholy this creates, both for the viewer and the actor. Creating the problem it resolves.
The way the actor, with their face, helps us face, de-face, and re-face (re-map) our own faces in time through theirs. Even after you’ve changed, until what you see as an actor looking at yourself then — now — is precisely what you partly (if not entirely) lost by being on camera; by being in an industry which wants to exploit, cash in on, and preserve the very thing it extinguishes and painfully distances you from when it puts you on camera, and thus inside of things like subjective time as collective, and collective time as subjective. Because an actor onscreen is also a life onscreen. Time onscreen. You can’t get away from that.
The things your face loses, the sparks and openness that fade, the naiveté about being a star — before you are one, on the way to becoming one — that you can’t fake, says McCarthy (“I can see what was special about that kid now. I can see how open he was, how vulnerable. And I understand why people like him. I see it now.”), and that moves him now for that very reason. How we (the viewer) miss these things when they are gone as much as the person who was and did those things (the actor) misses them. Mourns them. “The ‘youth’ that the Spectacle has granted the Young-Girl,” write Tiqqun in Theory of The Young-Girl “is a very bitter gift, for this ‘youth’ is what is incessantly lost.”
At McCarthy’s reading there was woman in the audience (a writer) who asked a question that prompted this ramble. The way she said McCarthy had a look that he would give onscreen. Just a look, and she would know, she said. She would know the way the characters onscreen are supposed to know. Because viewers are characters, too. They are who they looks are for. They are part of the fiction. And that look was what Hollywood wanted. It was the look, maybe, that brought him there. And that kept him there for a while. At that time. But it was also something he had in himself to give because that was who he was inside, McCarthy says. So the inside made an outside in the same way that an outside always makes an inside. Makes and breaks an inside. It was the look that he had at that time, before he started to age, to know things, he says. To close down. To lose it. Himself. It was a self that he didn’t even really fully have, but that was taken in full by a medium that made him bigger than he was. That makes everyone bigger than they are. This “thing” (look) that is not a role, but beyond a role; something extra, something diegetic, something pro-filmic; in the eyes, and in the skin, which gets shed.
After the reading it struck me: Hollywood pushes for and instigates in its stars and in its screen faces what it does not want to see happen and that it punishes for when it does: the loss of the very thing it wants to capture and capitalize on. The a priori, which it sacrifices, and which must be, and inevitably is sacrificed for things like craft and experience. But also because one cannot maintain innocence and artlessness in the face of such attention, exposure, and affect. What McCarthy was talking about seeing in himself in movies like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire was the (his) body/being/face prior to the screen. That is, the a posteriori of the a priori via fame. You can no longer be what you were once you became famous because being famous precludes one from it. It makes a “look” (giving it and having it) self-conscious and reflexive, and in most cases, impossible to preserve as a result. Through fame, one begins to know, as others do, what one looks like and how to look like one looks. One sees it and one makes it visible to everyone. One produces and formulates the look rather than simply possessing it. That is the job of an actor. At the same time, you are shown forever looking like you were on the cusp, the threshold, of that cognitive shift. The before and after of being what you were before.
MashaTupitsyn’s video essay on Pretty in Pink, from her forthcoming essay collection, Screen to Screen, is available here
About the Author:
Masha Tupitsyn is a writer, cultural critic, and multi-media artist. She is the author of Love Dog (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (ZerO Books, 2011), Beauty Talk & Monsters, a collection of film-based stories (Semiotext(e) Press, 2007), and co-editor of the anthology Life As We Show It: Writing on Film (City Lights, 2009). Her fiction and criticism has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies Women in Clothes (Penguin, 2014), The Force of What’s Possible (Nightboat Books, 2014), The American Tetralogy (Blackjack Editions, 2013), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology (2012), The Encyclopedia Project Volume 2 (F-K) (2010) and Volume 3 (L-Z) (2014), and Wreckage of Reason: XXperimental Women Writers Writing in the 21st Century (Spuyten Duyvil, 2008), with additional works published by The White Review, The New Inquiry, Fence, Bookforum, The Rumpus, Boing Boing, Indiewire’s Press Play, Animal Shelter, the Shepparton Art Museum, and Ryberg Curated Video.