Andrea Bell – 9 March, 2012
Cynics may see this film as Lohan seeking to legitimize herself through art, or the art world buying into celebrity culture. Others may take it as a sign that we have entered a post-critical or post-ironic era, or a comment on performativity as a pervasive characteristic of contemporary subjectivity. And while the film may (or may not) reflect these broader trends, 'Lindsay Lohan' is a work very much of this time.
18 February - 14 April 2012
Richard Phillips is widely known for his large scale, Pop-like portraits of youthful celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, JT and the kids from Twilight. Lindsay Lohan represents Phillips’s first foray into film, although at ninety seconds you could barely call this a film.
The film is made at a crucial time in Lindsay’s career and life (‘career and life’ often sharing a complex relationship in Phillips’s chosen subjects). The film was shot at a Malibu mansion around the time of Lohan’s highly publicized legal dramas. He has since followed this with a similar film, featuring actress Sasha Grey, who is currently negotiating the transition from hardcore pornography (Phillips describes her as “a performance artist working within the adult film world.”) to serious art house film, recently starring in Steven Soderberg’s The Girlfriend Experience. Both films were shown together at Commercial Break, presented by Garage Projects at the 54th Venice Biennale.
A ninety-second clip featuring a troubled celebutaunt of dubious talent lounging by the pool and looking out to sea might easily be dismissed. Phillips is very much a celebrity painter, and his works have even appeared as set decoration on Gossip Girl. Cynics may see this film as Lohan seeking to legitimize herself through art, or the art world buying into celebrity culture. Others may take it as a sign that we have entered a post-critical or post-ironic era, or a comment on performativity as a pervasive characteristic of contemporary subjectivity. And while the film may (or may not) reflect these broader trends, like Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s Zidane: A Twenty-First Century Portrait, Lindsay Lohan is a work very much of this time. In addition to this, within the work itself, Phillips has attempted to create a space for transcending the culture we find ourselves in.
The film, which is easily available on the internet, features several shots of Lohan emerging from the water, Lohan looking out at the Pacific Ocean, profiles of Lohan’s face, and Lohan gazing directly at us. Finally, in a shot evoking Bergman’s Persona, a silhouetted Lohan looks into her own enlarged portrait. The foreground Lohan fades and we are left looking into Lindsay’s face, and she into ours. Then the credits roll. In terms of length, cinematography and content, LL is somewhat reminiscent of an advertisement for perfume or some other luxury product. The titles at the end of the film contribute to this by presenting Lindsay Lohan as a brand. Ditto the artist and Gagosian gallery. This suggests a comment on commercial, celebrity culture, but also on the way names and brands tend to operate within the art world. Taken as a portrait of a star, the film is a descendant of Warhol’s celebrity portraits. Beyond what these generic similarities might imply, the film is neither a celebration nor critique of celebrity culture. Taken as a whole, the film seems to be about communication in contemporary culture, the age of the meme. The medium is the message, and the film is not about Lindsay Lohan as a person, but as sign, a transcendent presence, and the value she has in our culture.
However, on another level, Phillips is clearly trying to reach beyond this. All of the shots are modeled on compositions from works of art or cinema. Specifically Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, Monk by the Sea; Brigitte Bardot in Godard’s Contempt, and most significantly, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s Persona. This becomes more obvious with repeated visits. Phillips has also spoken of how cinema has informed the film, and how he sees Lohan as embodying the same existential, transcendent presence as the actresses in these films. It’s interesting to note Lohan’s re-enactment other actresses’ performances, given her previous re-staging of Marilyn Monroe pictorials for Playboy and the New York Magazine, and her planned starring role in a biopic of Linda Lovelace, of Deep Throat fame. While the film in no way generates the kind of existential angst embodied in Bergman’s European art cinema aesthetic, the big screen version of LL, with its loud shoegaze soundtrack, and subtle interplay of gaze, subject and object, achieves a momentary transcendence. Tellingly, this is the same form of transcendence sold to us everyday through advertising. It’s no accident that the film functions in the same way as so much of contemporary media culture (perfume advertisements, etc) in its attempt to offer us something unattainable, beyond the everyday. Rather than a failing, this is the key to the work.