Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

13

ARTICULATING STARDOM

Barry King

Despite the early interest shown by the Prague School, the role of the actor as re-presenter of signs has barely been examined. 1 Thus one of the main purposes of this chapter is to focus attention on the categories and variables that I take to be essential to the semiotics of acting in film and, by extension, television. My second purpose is to develop a means of reconciling a 'political economy' approach to stardom in mainstream (Hollywood) cinema and the theorisation of the star as an interplay of representation and identification. The crux of my argument is that stardom is a strategy of performance that is an adaptive response to the limits and pressures exerted upon acting in the mainstream cinema.

To pursue this argument it is necessary to show how stardom develops as a response to the interaction of three areas of discursive practice or economies-systems of control that mobilise discursive resources in order to achieve specifiable effects. These are: the cultural economy of the human body as a sign; the economy of signification in film; and the economy of the labour market for actors.

But before addressing these points directly, it is necessary to explore the relationship between stage and screen acting, since it is my reading of this relationship that conditions the treatment that follows.


STAGE AND SCREEN

The view that stage acting provides a yardstick against which to evaluate acting on screen is widespread among actors, even among those whose main professional activities have been confined to the screen. A common argument is that the stage is an actor's medium, in the sense that it is on the stage that the actor is best placed to realise his or her 'creative intentions' in character portrayal. 2 While such assertions may be seen as conditioned by the desire to be publicly associated with an elite institution-the 'Stage', its 'Great' tradition etc.-certain empirical features of the work situation of the actor tend to confirm such a judgement. 3

Two recurrent themes can be identified. First, that 'good' acting is based

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