Candice Breitz: The Woods
Commissioned on the occasion of Candice Breitz: The Character ACMI commissioned The Woods, a three part work that zooms in on child performers and the performance of childhood to probe the aspirations and promises embedded in mainstream cinema.
Consistent with Breitz’s interest in the role that mimicry plays in the forging of selfhood, and with her ongoing analysis of the circular relationship between real life and reel life, The Woods traverses three continents to explore the rituals and conventions governing the on-camera and off-camera personae of professional actors working in Hollywood (LA), Bollywood (Mumbai) and Nollywood (Lagos)respectively.
Engaging actors and crews whose creative labour would ordinarily be subsumed into these three giant popular cinema industries, the three chapters of The Woods bring a behind-the-scenes eye to industries that typically prefer to mask their inner workings. As suggested by their titles— The Audition, The Rehearsal and The Interview—in each of the three installations, a particular show business ritual becomes the locus of meaning through which to more broadly reflect upon and decode the aspirational logic of mainstream entertainment.
The Woods is a new work that has been co-commissioned by ACMI and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.
The Audition 2012
Shot on location in Los Angeles in September 2012 with the support of a professional Hollywood crew, and conceived as the first chapter of The Woods, The Audition features 25 aspiring child actors aged between 10 and 16. In place of the short comedic or dramatic monologues that they would usually be asked to prepare and perform for a Hollywood audition, Breitz asked each actor to learn and re-perform a series of quotations transcribed directly from online motivational videos featuring industry gurus offering professional advice to would-be actors looking to ace an audition and move onto successful Hollywood careers.
As they regurgitate the adult advice that they are accustomed to internalising in pursuit of a Hollywood career, the young actors lay bare the gruelling path that must be travelled in order to break into a career in showbiz. While they succeed at times in seamlessly ventriloquizing the casting directors, talent managers and acting coaches from whom their script derives,at other moments the borrowed advice is rendered grotesque and brutal via exaggerated delivery or as a result of their imperfect mimicry.
Drawing on and following the protocol of Hollywood auditions and casting routines, The Audition also incorporates footage of the young actors being ‘slated’ (introducing themselves to the camera) and singing excerpts of songs of their choice (several of the kids perform self-written songs). Breaking with the harsh efficiency of the Hollywood audition, the young actors are also seen enduring free-form screen tests during which they were asked to engage the camera as they wished, without any direction whatsoever, for a period of five minutes.
While The Rehearsal and The Interview map the terrain of the celebrity interview, The Audition is an at-times-painful study of the dynamics underpinning Hollywood’s equivalent of the job interview.
Duration: 70:33 minutes
The Rehearsal 2012
Shot in Mumbai in May 2011 with the support of a professional Bollywood crew, The Rehearsal features six young Bollywood stars. Conceived as the second chapter of the trilogy, The Rehearsal spotlights child actors who have managed to advance their careers (beyond the anonymity and gruelling audition-to-audition existence of the aspiring actors featured in The Audition), and to gain a degree of visibility. As child stars, they nevertheless remain at a distance from the full-blown celebrity that they hope to eventually achieve. They are as such in a state of rehearsal for adulthood, but also rehearsal towards the greater fame and recognition that—statistically viewed—few are likely to achieve.
As they describe their lives as Bollywood celebrities, their relationship to their fans and their approaches to acting, the six young actors at first glance appear to be spontaneously responding to interview questions. It soon becomes clear, however, that rather than ‘being themselves,’ they are in fact channelling the words of an adult. Each member of the cast was, in fact, asked to memorize and deliver a range of quotations drawn from interviews with Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan, an actor who, in the Indian context, perhaps best embodies the future celebrity to which the child performers aspire. Known to his fans as the ‘Badshah of Bollywood’ or ‘SRK,’ Khan is broadly considered to have achieved greater acclaim than any of his Bollywood peers. Based on a script woven entirely out of his words (as these are owned and re-performed by the child cast), The Rehearsal paints a quirky composite portrait of SRK, and at the same time offers a revealing glimpse into the workings of the Bollywood star system.
Each young star was filmed on the same set in a luxury hotel suite (as per the protocol for interviewing Bollywood stars), for the period of a single day. The high attrition rate facing young stars hoping to one day migrate into adult celebrity is suggested by the single chair that is temporarily occupied by each actor (alluding to the children’s game ‘musical chairs’), as well as by the vase of cut flowers appearing behind each actor.
The Rehearsal features Ahsaas Channa, Ishita Panchal, Darsheel Safary, Shriya Sharma, Aman Siddiqui and Markand Soni.
Duration: 58:27 minutes
ACMI Commission: Candice Breitz