Mothers on the Line: The Allure of Julianne Moore
Mothers on the Line: the Allure of Julianne Moore by Cüneyt Çakırlar
[The above video contains some mature content. The below reports comment on the final, amended version of the video]
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.
JM as a mother
To me this audiovisual essay is less about JM herself than the "maternal characters that JM portrays". Despite the seemingly effortless grouping of the common themes that JM's characters' central conflicts are based upon (using images from 17 films!), the video also reveals the range in which these "mothering" characters differ, such as erotic, agressive, and affectionate, which evidently, regardless of the films' subjects or genres, says something about both JM's choices of roles as a performer and the industry's typecasting her. I find the allure to be embedded in "JM as a mother", and I find this allure lying in its complexity. I especially like the mix of audio and sound over the selection of shots: Bernstein's music evokes immobile characters deep in thought, and directs the attention to their interiority, while we watch JM move, and explicitly voice that interority, making the video poetic, disturbing and thought provoking, all at once.
A truly moving and poetic
A truly moving and poetic video essay - elegantly structured and composed, and richly layered. The sequencing, use of music, and pacing really accentuated the scope of Moore's career and reinforce the thesis. With a very convincing accompanying text, and incisive reviews I agree with, and am inspired by, this essay's ability - and willingness - to situate itself within a new avenue of star studies. For my own research this approach is of great benefit, both in its willingness to re-neogtiate how we view an actor's body of work, and similarily how one establishes a corpus of films for study. One a personal level seeing Moore's work unpacked this way is so rewarding, entertaining, and fascinating. Within the essay's consideration of Moore's (performative) appeal and allure in an abstract and theoretical way, I find its form and breadth of (specific) analysis to be an alluring appeal in and of itself. As a self professed Moore devotee, cinephile, and 'actressexual' it is very exciting and gratifying to see research as contemporary and alive as this on this platform and treated with the respect and academic sincerity it undoubtably deserves.
Many thanks for your appreciative comments, Elif and Daniel! As I’d had the chance to talk to you in detail regarding this video, I know how your affective investments in this piece operate, and how different these investments are. Yet, the ways you both intellectually framed in our conversations how the video “moved” and “touched” you had been tremendously helpful to me. I have never had the chance to officially respond to the reception of this piece post publication. I must admit that this delay was partly because the one-year-long peer-review process was extremely challenging to me and the published versions of the review reports confused me for a while. Although I grew to like the Derridean Glas-like two-column format of its final presentation above, I had ended up questioning the extent/effectivity of openness and of intellectual reciprocity in the review process, which is why I needed some time to critically reflect on my reactions to the entire process before providing a mature account of my thoughts and experiences. Inspired by the recurring images of mothering/motherhood in Moore’s performances, this video’s primary ambition was a formal one. It aimed to formally register a “queer erotic” that is significantly informed by the friction between “mothering” and sexuality. The video exploits this friction in order to produce an incestuous maternal persona by making use of Moore’s performances. If there was a claim of original contribution (to the growing literature on videographic criticism) here, I had tried to make the formal/textual operation of the video as the central concern in its contribution: How to achieve a queer form (and method) in the production of a video essay that attempts to prioritise the erotic as the primary marker of a star-text – while providing a poetic/performative account of a star-image? How to eroticize, and even queer, the tribute/compilation format? My modest engagement with editing and sound tried to tackle these questions. Because all my “un-official peer-reviewers” (the majority of whom are scholars and practitioners in various fields of LGBTQ media, film and arts) were able to grasp the queer erotic and performativity embedded in the piece, I was intrigued by the fact that the peer reviewers had not addressed, at all, the queer performativity (failed or not), and perhaps more significantly, the erotic register/address (successfully articulated or not) in this video and its formal choices. Although the peer-review process in its entirety (including the editorial interventions from the inTransition team) had been an intellectually rewarding process, I must admit that the unintelligibility of what I thought to be my original intervention/contribution was upsetting. In her discussion on “recent videographic approaches to film performance”, published by Cinema Journal in the special dossier “In Focus: Videographic Criticism”, Catherine Grant considers Mothers on the Line as one of the “most dynamic, original, and productive works emerging from or most connected to the contemporary context of online video” (2017: 151). Grant notes that the piece exemplifies a videographic practice that “combine[s] a multilayered homage to the performer [it] showcases […] with exacting critical audiovisual analysis, achieved through intricate processes of associative editing” (152). Comparing the video with Jaap Kooijman’s Success (2016), Grant argues that Mothers on the Line is a “somewhat more ambiguous, much less verbally “anchored” video” (152). Reminding the reader of my reference to “allure”-as-concept (in the title) and Kooijman’s critique of it, Grant uses Mothers on the Line as an example where an experimental videographic practice could escape its author’s intent and discursive predictions. Yet, Grant does not restrict her reading to the use of allure-as-concept which is, for me, a minor element of the video when compared to the formal/methodological issues raised above. Grant problematizes the place of appropriation (in her reference to the “inventive conjunctions of song lyrics and film footage”) and of performativity (through Barbara Bolt’s focus on the difficulties of access/intelligibility to works operating at the intersections between the “performative paradigms” and “research paradigms”) in videographic criticism. This debate on appropriation and performativity was precisely what I wished to provoke in Mothers on the Line. Problematizing my use of “allure”-as-concept, Kooijman states (above) that the “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.” The use of “allure” was indeed deliberately ambivalent. It was deliberately made “slippery”. So was the use of "maternal" in square brackets. As Liz Greene also notes in her review (above), Moore’s appearances in the video “manage to remain slippery and difficult to pin down”. The swerve from the section “I. Union/Dissolution” to “II. The [Maternal] Allure” (i.e. from the generic dramas of maternal attachment/detachment to the scenes of erotic[/incestuous?] attachments to mothers/mother-substitutes) enacts this deliberate slipperiness. After all, can we “fully grasp” our erotic investments in stars and their images? Or, does such a compilation require a queer cinephilic engagement for its slippery erotic to be “grasped” more effectively? This critical ambivalence had been an immensely productive tool for me to provide a poetic/performative account of the prevalent erotic embedded in Julianne Moore’s maternal persona. With certain resonances and dissonances, motherhood/mothering is almost a performative anchor in most of Moore’s characters. Is my incorporation of 17 films really “collapsing” all these characters into a monolithic marker of “mothering”? Or, does it, in Greene’s words, “undervalue the totality of [Moore’s] enigmatic star presence”? I don't think so. In my opinion, the reviewers’ critical focus on conceptual ambivalence (Kooijman) and the ethic of representation (Greene) undermines the value and the constitutive role of “the erotic” in this video’s formal operation. Focused on their own critical frameworks, the reviewers don’t seem to address (in the published version of their reports) what precisely they thought was worthy of publication in this work, and what its original contribution, if any, was to videographic criticism. Grant, however, does ameliorate this by also maintaining her critical curiosities in her reading.
On Professionalism and Open Review / Commenting
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