The Ignoble Cousin
A text for Totally Devoted by Alice Hattrick.
The works included in Totally Devoted evidence “fan labour,” the work of making worlds inside pre-existent worlds, building in their crevices and creases. Fan labour has a lot to do with love; as a kind of amateurism it is working for love not money. (“Amateurism” originates with love, from the Latin, amour. The term “Auteur,” popularised by Francois Truffaut in the 1954 essay “Une certaine tendance du cinema francais” is borrowed from the French for author – authority, master, visionary.) So the fan is a kind of lover, like the one in Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, who must negotiate the loved body in part by imagining its demise. He scrutinizes the other’s body, as if he wants to see inside it; “I am like those children who take a clock apart in order to find out what time it is.” It soon becomes obvious that he is fetishising a corpse.
Katie Goodwin’s animation BETWEEN INCEPTION I & 2 is a visual equivalent of the film’s “cutting room floor”, or perhaps it is the film’s cutting room floor, even though it’s just a turn of phrase, and not a real “floor” at all. The waste, all the bits of celluloid cut out is, after all, stored in a special bin for later use. Perhaps “The cutting room floor” is another way of articulating the becoming of a film, which begins as a mass and ends as a singular, as scenes, even characters, are cut out, written off. At the same time a finished film is imagined somehow emerging from a bed of waste, or a pile of crap, rising Phoenix-style out of the bin.
Fan labour in this instance uses the stuff of its making, film footage, or indeed the off cuts. Goodwin’s material is abstract, unusable because of its lack (of representation) – where is Leo?! It looks less like a Hollywood thriller, and more like direct animation, or Structuralist film. The soundtrack of BETWEEN INCEPTION I & 2 registers as a second reject, an ode or hymn to the first, and yet somehow undermines the animated image-as-waste. The track, which was written, performed, mastered, and yet unused, was nonetheless produced to behave somehow (and somewhere) in the background. Perhaps it was never joined to action, to visual representation, the exposed image, perhaps only by happenstance, or even an excess.
The fan speaks, seeks out other fans with which to exchange. There are loads of websites and articles called “Explaining Inception” or “What Inception Means,” things like that. The film’s commitment to multiple “levels” of reality and consciousness allows cinema to articulate itself, albeit in a nonsense kind of way: for the fan there is always more to discover, more to discuss, more to imagine: another kind of excess.
The lover, the fan, might have a discourse, but the fanatic refuses dialogue, denies negotiation; ‘…the fanatic stands outside the frame of political rationality… and will only rest, if ever, once every rival view or way of life is eradicated,’ writes Alberto Toscano, in Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea. Fanaticism, as a kind of passionate commitment, has unsettling affinities with rational emancipatory politics. The fan is, after all, a potential fanatic, a deviant, and therefore obsessive, insane, possessed, whether suffering from individual delusion or crowd madness. Enthusiasm is, to use the words of Toscano, fanaticism’s “nobler cousin”; it’s a kind of divine inspiration. The fanatic is an alien, an enemy, an other – like Eric Stoltz.
Eric Stoltz was supposed to be Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Five weeks into filming Michael J. Fox replaced him. (Oh to live in that parallel universe where all the films never made are advertised on billboards.) Robert Zemeckis used scenes shot during this time in the final cut, rescuing the trash, cutting the floor-bound back in. Never appearing, Stoltz is a spectre haunting the film, there, on set, but nonetheless buried in the bin, unusable: proper waste.
“Old man, how is it that you hear these things?” says David Blandy in ANJIN 1600 PART 4, but the sound of a small boy seems to be coming out. Blandy puts himself inside a Kung Fu movie, adopting the role of young (teenage?) apprentice, albeit from the distance of his own flat. Blandy is accepted into the temple even though he’s not of Chinese origin, or even really in the movie: “Come here!” exclaims the old blind man, and Blandy enters this other world, the world into which he is born, and is in turn liberated. The voice from the record player in Blandy’s flat is also a teacher, or maybe a preacher, like the master in the movie: (subtitled, like everything else) what it is is what it is.
Cinema has a habit of repeating itself. It thrives on re-makes, and cinema about cinema. The fan re-makes and re-models, but the products of fanatic love are not “straight” copies, they are worlds built into existing worlds, unruly additions pieced together from within.
The fan-turned-student (Blandy) in ANJIN 1600 PART 4 acts as an individual on the path to knowledge, whereas Stephen Paige’s THE TIES THAT BIND ME TO MY BROTHERS ARE NOT WRAPPED AROUND MY HEART, BUT ARE RATHER FASTENED TO MY HEART, a phrase borrowed from American fraternities, explores a universal, masculinity, and its production through representation and brotherly rhetoric. (Another pro-fraternity quote reads “Women’s best friends last you only 20 years, but mens best brothers will last you for the rest of your life.”) The work is a re-make of a scene ripped from In Hot Pursuit (not to be confused with the 1987 film starring John Cusack), which takes its sonic and visual cues from the original. Thunder cracks wildly, and unconvincingly. There isn’t even a door, let alone a doorbell, just a draped studio and some furniture. The pair stands at a fake fire, a projection. It’s visual trick, which could never warm their exposed skin. Then again, neither of them is wet to begin with.
The scenario and script of THE TIES THAT BIND ME is pure porn, stereotypical porn: “I’m drenched to the skin. Guess I’ll have to take everything off.” You’re meant to anticipate sex between these two men, who, from their lines, appear to identify as straight. The characters talk about working out, and each others bodies, naked but for their matching white cotton briefs. They talk about women, none of whom are really their “type”. Lots of the lines start with “Yeah man.” It’s like the scene was written to be casual, offhand, even “realistic”, but now it’s something altogether staged, performed. (The “original” encounter was of course just as “faked”.) This lack of authenticity is associated with the need to get off. The transgression is anticipated. It never comes, but it is threatened, and threatening. Can one be a fan of pornography, a lover, or only an addict?
Paige’s MORAL DEVELOPMENT is another re-enactment; this time it’s some kind of instructional or educational film, a record of an experiment. Two men play the parts of two (other) men, tasked with delivering an electric shock to an unseen individual if they get a question wrong, even if, as one explains “there is no answer”. At first they seem conflicted by their sense of power and responsibility, continually turning to the (also unseen) “Dr.” for instruction, but when the experiment is complete, both rationalise their actions: “I had to do it because you told me to do it”, etc. The “Dr.” plays a devilish role, supplying dominance to the “weak” men. Conflicted and de-moralised, both are mere conductors in a game of electric power play.
SPIN. WATCHING THE WIND is an impossible fiction. Jayne Wilson cut archive footage, 1960s newsreels, I guess, to the music hall song Oh I do like to be beside the seaside! Over this footage is laid strange symbols and numbers, a code, which constitutes The Beaufort Scale, a way of measuring wind speed. The footage and musical accompaniment universalise the notion of “the seaside”, which is somewhat ridiculed by the absurdist use of the Beaumont Scale to measure its particular weather conditions precisely. The world is what it is. And then it isn’t.
Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s CO-OPERATIVE EXPLANATORY CAPABILITIES IN ORGANISATIONAL DESIGN AND PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT is the story of a company, as it finds increasingly cultish or religious models for efficient post-industrial work. Two IBM teams study the development lab, or rather, one studies workers at the development lab and another studies the group studying the workers at the development lab, whose work is “less measurable” and more “spiritual”, although the plant workers are kept in the dark to ensure “authentic” labour. The first group makes all sorts of findings: lab technicians and data analysts are better at problem solving if they eat less protein, more efficient if their individuality is cultivated, and productive if given time for private creative endeavours. Social bonds are enhanced through competition and aggression with one another. The photographs, which illustrate the narration, are clearly promotional, meant to “document” the birth and life of a company and its employees; many look more like interior shots for magazines (composed, static, fixed). Nonetheless, they stand in as evidence of IBM’s intellectual activity.
As the narrative progresses, hidden microphones detect spectral voices in the air conditioning unit, a ghost in the machine. The vandals are thought to be local boys, and that the second group operated as a mirror cult to the first. Watching the narrative unfold, you come to realise that these photographs, borrowed from the archive of a company called Chiltern Computing, are not evidence at all; they have been corrupted, implicated in a plausible fiction. There were clues, or at least visible absences: where were the dog intestines, or the caravans, supposedly housing ex-employees outside Dundee? Who can tell the difference between dog and other animal (or human) intestines? And there’s always common sense, or indeed choreographed failures in the suspension of belief: mood-altering music composed by the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, really?
It’s hard to say whether the narrative of CO-OPERATIVE EXPLANATORY CAPABILITIES, the one supplied by the documentary-style voiceover, is entirely absent from the body of evidence (the Chiltern Computing photographs), or whether it was somehow buried inside all along. Here, material evidence and narrative tropes are borrowed fictions. The fan, as a kind of searcher who seeks out the loved body, and in doing so fetishises its corpse, threatens to undermine all other positions, if they are positions at all.
Alice Hattrick is a writer and producer based in London. She graduated from the MA in Critical Writing in Art and Design at the Royal College of Art in 2013, where she conducted research into ZG magazine and co-published After Butler’s Wharf: Essays on a Working Building. She is a co-founder of CAR, a podcast and performance group that experiments with the essay in live and recorded form, currently based at the Woodmill in Bermondsey. Working primarily in audio, her essays and interviews have appeared in numerous publications and journals, most recently Inherent Vice (PAMI) and The White Review.