An Introduction to the Works of Mark Rappaport Pt. 2: Faux(to)biographies

Note: This blog entry was written by Dan Levine.

You can find him here.

Last post we went over the early works of overt fiction, everything from Casual Relations through to Chain Letters, though I focused most explicitly on his first two films. The later works in the fiction period are also very good but continue to explore the themes and questions I feel like I expounded in my first piece. Does the fact I didn’t spend much time on The Scenic Route, Imposters, and Chain Letters mean you should skip them? No, by all means see them. See them multiple times; they’re the continuation of the earlier films and when dealing with something as new and unusual as these films, any further exegesis is a gift to be carefully studied and put into some relationship to the earlier works. The Scenic Route in particular is absolutely necessary, though I think I might have to brush off my copy again before I can say anything definitive on it.

So in this installment we’ll explore the second phase of Rappaport’s career-the fake auto-biographical films that started with the classic piece of film criticism Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, a film that despite its many technical issues (the sound desperately needs to get remixed if it’s ever rereleased-Mark I know you’re reading this) redefines the boundaries of both the single subject historical documentary and the film-as-film criticism, and offers incredibly useful reinterpretations to some of the major tenets of postmodern criticism. Like the rest of his films, it’s screamingly hilarious.

Through the novel technique of using an actor to play the deceased Hudson who then guides the audience through a collection of clips from Hudson’s films Rappaport brings seasoned viewers to uncomfortable problems of film criticism rapidly and with gleeful abandon. By positing that Hudson was expressing his closeted homosexuality in his choices as an actor, both in scripts and performance, the cinema so straitjacketed into misreadings of French auteur theory, is broken up into an almost inconceivable spectrum of subjectivity; reading film is no longer the bitter struggle with a jigsaw puzzle of images in hopes for the imperialist domination of the “final reading”, the “director’s intent”, a flag of interpretation to hoist up, a meat thermometer to stick in so as to have the satisfaction of saying “It’s done”, but an act of imagination with no possibility of triumph beyond hard to articulate resonances. That the actor playing Hudson looks little or nothing like him, a fact driven home repeatedly by his literally being posed next to pictures of the actual Hudson, works because it shows the intent is not to bring Hudson back to life in the creepy necrophile manner of so many bio-pics obsessed with the actor’s superficial resemblance to the deceased.

How much of self is social? How much of the social self is noticed even if it is? When taking the text on its own terms what sorts of rabbit holes might we stumble into? If trying to find the author (in this case Hudson) is a doomed task of endless supplements and uncomfortably off doubles must this be viewed with the bitter taste of having been betrayed by stories of the possibility of truth? Or can the lack of “truth”, of recovery of the dead, be seen on its own terms as a new aesthetic path defined by an almost unlimited potential?

Go watch some movies.

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