Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


Celebrities and Characters

In accordance with Leslie’s post, Margolin’s definitions of character become problematic when applied to the cinema because, as she points out, there are many “authors” (actors, screenwriters, and directors) involved in constructing a viewer’s mental representation of a character. In this post however, I’d like to focus on the acting aspect of character creation, specifically celebrity acting.

Just as “cinematic representations of setting are more complete but less highlighted  than literary narration” (Mittell, 161) so too are cinematic representations of character. A film can’t leave out a character’s appearance, mannerisms, and tone of voice; these are all concrete, physical qualities which are rarely left up to the imagination. It’s not surprising, then, that audiences have preferences as to which people they like to see on the big screen.

So Margolin’s concepts of a character’s individuation and singularity become especially tricky in Hollywood when often times, audiences go to the movies solely to see a certain movie star.  Celebrities can thus be seen as having a uniqueness of their own; they are themselves characters.  Just as narration often involves a real author and an implied author, blockbuster films typically utilize a “real” character (the celebrity) and an implied character (the celebrity’s role). In this sense,  audiences will go to the movies to see the “real” character (such as Will Smith), the implied character (such as James Bond), or both (such as Heath Ledger and the Joker).

Often viewers cognitively drift back and forth between watching the real character and the implied character. For instance, in Swordfish, when Halle Berry suddenly reveals her breasts, she exposes herself as Halle Berry, distancing herself from her character. (Men see Halle Berry in the nude, not her character). Or when Samuel L Jackson exclaims his popular line from Snakes on a Plane, there’s no doubt the audience sees Samuel L. Jackson.

Margolin says about Don Quixote:

“They [the conclusions we make about Don] are just a set of data which needs to be critically evaluated. It is only through a complex process of computation that the reader can decide which of these claims he/she will endorse and use in his/her own character construction. (77)

The same holds true when a viewer compares a celebrity’s persona against their particular character in a film. We are constantly evaluating two different kinds of characters–the celebirty character and the storyworld character.  As we watch a Hollywood film,  sometimes we separate them (like when the actor/actress calls attention to themself)and sometimes we merge them together (like when they are particularly convincing). Often it’s not one or the other, but a mixture of the two. Anyway, it’s all just another cognitive process involved in viewing (Hollywood) narratives.

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