There is a lot to be said for this audiovisual essay. It is very well-constructed, with clear titling to sign-post the discrete sections that it encompasses. Appropriately chosen music smoothly bridges the transition from one scene to another, sometimes utilizing Julianne Moore’s voice within the soundtrack. In the main we are looking at Moore, and Moore is worthy of such attention - Moore as mother, Moore as a sexual woman, Moore on her own within the frame, Moore as Moore. This audiovisual essay seductively pulls us in.
And yet, the range of material that this videographic essay draws from makes some of these connections problematic due to the span of Moore’s career. Çakırlar is connecting Moore’s recurring roles as the losing mother and the sexualized maternal figure, he draws from a range of films and diverse roles, and we see and hear Moore performing in a variety of work. From one film clip to another, as a mother to a sexually confident woman, sometimes with an overlap between these types/roles, but, and here is the thing, sometimes without an overlap. The compilation essay film can, and, in this instance, consciously does, collapse these performances, categories, and anomalies. And the star image of Moore facilitates such an approach. Moore’s face, body, voice and movement allows for such a compilation and at times the segue between films is unnoticeable, even when genres and eras are at odds with each other. And yet, Moore’s performances transgress an eroticized/maternal binary, often, she is seen on screen motionless, in an understated performance shining a momentary sliver of light into the depth of her characters. Through this stillness she also manages to remain slippery, difficult to pin down. Her performances exceed Çakırlar’s argument, his reading of Moore undervalues the totality of her enigmatic screen presence. And yet, there is something here in what he is teasing through. The allure of Moore is without question. The recurring performances of maternal roles and as sexually transgressive women, who as a consequence, pay the price for such deviations (sometimes through violent murder) illustrate that Çakırlar’s videographic essay is much more than a compilation piece, through the juxtaposition of roles, the scope and range of Moore’s performative style becomes evident, and it is thrilling to see all of these performances together, it is an affective work on a star text, and yet…
In his keynote ‘The Persistence of Textual Analysis’ at the 2014 conference of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS), Richard Dyer reminded us that the initial motivation to study stars – the star image and the star text – was to gain a better understanding of the film text. Recent work in Star Studies and Celebrity Studies seems to suggest that the focus has shifted from the film text to the star itself, in which the films are merely seen as part of the total star text, rather than as the prime objects of study.
On first viewing, the main focus of Cüneyt Çakırlar’s audiovisual essay ‘Mothers on the Line: The Allure of Julianne Moore’ is indeed on Moore’s star image, as is clearly pointed out by the subtitle. By connecting Moore’s performances in seventeen films over a period of two decades, organized in three—seemingly linearly ordered—sections, the essay invites us to recognize the similarities and recurring tropes in Moore’s performances throughout these different films. Here a productive comparison can be made to Pasquale Iannone’s audiovisual essay ‘A Note on Comedy Vitti Style’, published in NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies (Autumn 2015), which aims to highlight the skills of Italian actress Monica Vitti as a comic performer. Both essays can be perceived as tributes to the respective actresses, yet there is a significant difference. Whereas Iannone’s video focuses primarily on the actress’s performance (with parts of the soundtrack featuring Vitti commenting on her own work), Çakırlar’s video aims, as is stated in the accompanying text, to show how ‘Moore’s image is … not a particularly authentic signature in her acting style but the thematic and erotic investment in her appearances cast as maternal women of grief, ambivalence, transgression and detachment’. In other words, it is not (just) Moore’s performance, but the ‘allure’ of her presence that marks her star image.
After repeated viewings, I have to admit that, although I do recognize the allure of Julianne Moore that the audiovisual essay makes explicitly visible, the very notion of allure remains a slippery concept to me. If Moore’s allure is not based in her performance, what are we really talking about: charisma, unconventional human figure, and/or just sheer effective casting? The video’s poetic mode succeeds quite beautifully in providing a sense of Moore’s allure, yet without fully grasping what such a concept eventually entails – which might be its point.
To me, the strength of Çakırlar’s audiovisual essay lies somewhere else, namely in its visualization of Dyer’s reminder that analyzing the star text adds to our understanding of the film text. By connecting these performances from seventeen different films, the video foregrounds how these performances inform each other and thus how Moore’s star image works not ‘regardless of the individual ideological operation of each film and its framing of motherhood’ but actually helps to shape them.