Jennifer O'Meara

Cate Blanchett’s Deconstruction of Performance through Performance

Year: 2014

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Trinity College Dublin
(at time of presentation)

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Jennifer O’Meara is a Ph.D. candidate in Film Studies at Trinity College Dublin, where her research focuses on verbal style in the work of selected writer-directors. Jennifer’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cinema Journal, The Soundtrack, The Films of Wes Anderson: Critical Essays on an Indiewood Icon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Verse, Voice and Vision: Poetry and the Cinema (Scarecrow Press, 2013).




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Despite widespread acclaim since her break-out performance in Elizabeth (Shekar Kapur, 1998), Cate Blanchett has received little attention within film studies. My paper focuses on a sub-set of performances that reveal Blanchett’s talent for embodying roles that deconstruct the performance process. I argue that the actress is particularly drawn to reflexive parts that make a feature of the character’s own performances.

In a discussion of ‘performing performing’, Charles Affron (1980) explains how, unlike classical Hollywood style that is meant to ‘hide the fiction-effect altogether’, when an actor is performing a role within a role ‘we become conscious of a high level of fictivity’ (42). Although Affron was concerned with overtly reflexive performances (when the character is also an actor), I focus on three roles that require Blanchett to perform characters whose own performances are failing, and who are ‘split’ in different ways. In Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003) she plays a fictionalised version of herself and her cousin. In providing a unique opportunity to see an actress do an impersonation of her own impersonation of herself, the dual roles offer rich insights into screen acting. In I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)Blanchett plays one aspect of a character (Bob Dylan) who is split across six performers. While in Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013) Blanchett performs a character whose internal breakdown requires her to convey a mental split through external signs. In each case, I demonstrate how Blanchett creates a sense that the character is also performing, through layered nuances of voice and body.