Review /

David Reed Häusler Contemporary / Zurich

David Reed’s works seem bizarre in our present moment, but what’s here cannot be dismissed, consistently compelling a deeper return. Each of these new paintings is curious, highly singular, and often initially repelling.

In either dramatic widescreen or columnar format, all continue Reed’s practice of recording a lexicon of marks. #665 (2014–18) is the most prototypical in the show — and of Reed’s project as a whole, in which multipanel and sectioned works tackle the legacy of abstract painting. Divided into four parts, the outer two are dominated by black and white “brushstrokes” — as graphic yet not as cool as Lichtenstein’s iconic takedowns of abstract expressionism. The two central areas, above and below each other, are differing tones of thin red in slippery loops that bring to mind the spaghetti in James Rosenquist’s I Love You With My Ford (1961). The main concern is with surface: both plasticky and matte, every color and section functions on its own level. The “brushstrokes” appear almost cast in bas-relief, each sculpturally distinct. Executed with a stencil of a stroke from Reed’s own repertoire, this gesture, repeated throughout the show, is a bipartisan success in the painterly feud between the real and the readymade. The central area possesses a visual depth that belies the way the snaking strokes have been applied. In works like #701 and #702 (both 2017–18), similarly modeled translucent layers are stacked on top of each other like graffiti on old New York subway cars. The ability to evoke comparable works is uncanny and central. One can imagine how much heavy lifting Reed has done for Christopher Wool. Yet, while I can list names and paintings reminded of and referenced, one finds nevertheless that these are idiosyncratic works in the truest sense of the word. Reed denies irony and cynicism while continuing to believe in the value of gestural abstract painting, feeding off of and wrestling with the repercussions of the generations above and around him. The result is fully digested and neither nostalgic or hostile. It’s as if Reed, for the past five decades, has been speeding down a lost highway, dreaming his own painterly definitions of composition, poetry, and aesthetic grace.

by Mitchell Anderson

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Review /

Max Hooper Schneider Jenny’s / Los Angeles

“Tryouts for the Human Race” is Max Hooper-Schneider’s second solo show at Jenny’s — and a 1979 proto-disco song by Sparks from their Giorgio Moroder era. The space is comprised of two aquariums populated by living organisms, a miniature train set, and a dollhouse, all sleek tokens for a continuing relationship of trust and fervor between the artist and his LA gallery.

The gallery’s walls, ceilings, and outlets are painted a fleshy pink color that bleeds into the complexion of anyone walking in, and gray-carpeted floors make the space feel alien. The miniature train set shares the walls’ color, sculpted in what looks like melted human flesh with to-scale human features poking through its terrain. Titled Utopia (2018), the work could suggest the future of the body, fully integrated with a transportation system and serene as a landscape. Although not referential to an existing place, the piece is reminiscent of Mike Kelley’s Chinatown Wishing Well (1999) in its homogenous build and sublimated reality. This is the first of many possible nods in the show to local and close-at-heart artists. One of the aquariums, Genesis (2018), is strongly reminiscent of Kelley’s “Memory Ware” series. The aquarium is host to tiny multicolor fish swarming alongside two massive mounds of trinkets and jewelry, many of them with pearl (real or not) finishes. The hundreds of jewelry items were carefully chosen to invoke nostalgic signs of a near-gone humanity. Cartoonish leopard prints, generic Hawaiian flowers, laminated snakeskins, and painted wooden figures are softly highlighted by touches of pink plastic, peace signs, crosses, or minuscule locks from teenage diaries. Scattered throughout are a few message pendants that spell out “discovering,” “spice,” “Mi$str$$,” “faith,” “friends,” and “HELP,” hinting at feelings no longer in effect within this ecosystem. Across the room, a white aquarium recalls Hooper-Schneider’s work as a technician for Pierre Huyghe’s 2014–15 LACMA show, with its dramatic lighting and precise composition. Many artists do skilled and unskilled work for more established ones, so why not in turn display the skills attained through hours of labor and collaboration? Titled Lady Marlene (2018), the aquarium features two mounds of marine resin–coated white vintage lingerie, with lace flowers recalling coral and draped silks forming elegant reefs. Various species of fish, crabs, and cockles crawl and swim among the newly formed ridge, with the implied hope that they might integrate into this environment. During my time in the gallery, a decorator crab escaped to carpet level, while another began eating the flesh off a plump starfish, forcing the gallerists into the roles of full-time lab technicians in order to avoid the work’s self-destruction. Even the landscape features of this Theater of Cruelty imply sentient movements of resilience, with bra straps arranged to suggest lifting shoulders and fishnet gloves pointing up above the water’s surface.

The last piece in the show, Mommy & Me (2018), is a large dollhouse partly completed in New Mexico, where Hooper-Schneider’s mother resides and where he got acquainted with a dollhouse expert who served as advisor for the project. Jenny tells me the advisor told Hooper-Schneider that “whatever you can imagine in real life exists in miniature,” suggesting unknown parallel worlds of intersecting ideas. Indeed, among hundreds of items, the partly burnt dollhouse contains multiple kinds of miniature garden lights, cinder blocks, a twice-miniaturized train set, a book titled History of the United States, an Obituary poster, and a box of Christmas decorations. Several rarefied human-scale artifacts stand out amid the abundance of appropriately sized dollhouse furnishings: a coiled phone cord ends in a curly branch, tiny limes are dried to look like pumpkins, and a miniature brain coral reef could equally pass as a human brain prop. Adding subtlety to the piece, the five rooms in the house have very distinct lighting, from the neon-lit ground-floor pet store to the warmly lit, tar-damaged Tiffany lamp store upstairs. Somehow it’s much easier to imagine reveling in the construction of such a lavish piece while living with one’s mother, where the surrounding domestic space would provide the artist with a living continuum. Film production, biology, landscape architecture, and various hobbyist practices are all parts of Hooper-Schneider’s context and schooling, and his works recognize and speak to all of these worlds, on both material and theoretical levels — in turn requiring the gallerists to get acquainted with new audiences, aquatic species, and various maintenance professionals during the course of the exhibition. Following the string of nods in the show, this last piece certainly echoes LA-based Richard Hawkins’s — who also exhibits with Jenny’s — series of haunted altered dollhouses, which get as much coverage on craft blogs and Pinterest as they do in art publications. Working with manifold interests and informed precision, Hooper-Schneider shares with Hawkins, Huyghe, and Kelley an unapologetic dedication to materializing parallel, lifelike visions of our present.

by Mona Varichon

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New Wave /

Face to Face

From an objective standpoint, the collective consensus regarding the practice of Lithuanian-born-and-based Augustas Serapinas seems to be that it can be categorized in relation to themes of empathy, anthropology, the potentialities of space, and personal histories and mythologies. To some extent, these general observations are valid; they are not factually inaccurate. Yet Serapinas is not an artist whose work thrives when recognized according to precise motives or explicit associations. Neat boxes of explanation will not do.

I came to this conclusion after conducting a cross-Atlantic FaceTime call with Serapinas: me in Texas, talking to a grainy image of him in Italy, where he was preparing an exhibition for Apalazzo Gallery in Brescia. During our conversation, I impulsively chose to ignore the series of questions that I had prepared beforehand, their rigid format feeling stilted in comparison to the artist’s engaging explanations of his intricate projects, all of which he emphasized were influenced by basic human interaction and the spaces in which they are engendered. (I might note here that some venture to draw lines between Serapinas and relational aesthetics, though that comparison is cheap and easy when weighing the full capacity of the young artist’s endeavors.)

Discarding my list of questions was a spontaneous decision that later became imperative in understanding Serapinas’s practice overall. Our exchange was not a traditional conversation in which I gained concrete facts about the artist’s technique or ideas. Instead, it was a manifestation of his work itself, at play, in real time — a clever maneuver on his part which I only recognized days later while sitting at my desk, the recording playing back on repeat, trying to comprehend the nature of our encounter. I realized that our meandering, unstructured conversation was a prime example of what Serapinas seeks to achieve: creating a space for exchange, for simple connection, and the messiness that it entails. His work is so embedded in the act of personal relations that it proves difficult to separate the delineated artistic project from everyday experiences with other people.

Augustas Serapinas, Late Autumn in Magûnai, 2018
Augustas Serapinas, Late Autumn in Magûnai, 2018. Courtest of the artist and Emalin, London.

Take, for example, a 2013 project in Poland staged at BWA WARSZAWA, in which Serapinas approached an older man living in a flat situated between two contemporary art galleries on the above and below floors. Despite complete inexperience with the Polish language, he knocked on the man’s door, managing to parse together a conversation via their shared broken Russian. The dialogue resulted in an installation in which the man’s belongings were transferred into the gallery space and arranged in the same fashion as in his home. The man was frequently in the gallery watering his plants. Serapinas marks this early installation — only the second of his career as a formal artist — as the germination of his interest in personal interactions. In recalling the project and the older Polish man, the artist stated, “I want to say that I never claimed that he and I became really good friends. It has to do with communication and mutual respect.” This firm declaration plays with the blurry boundaries established within the project overall: while the two men maintained a social distance, the short-lived overlapping of their lives was simultaneously deeply intimate; the man placed trust in Serapinas with both his objects and that which they would reveal about him, and the artist, in turn, treated this information with care.

The intangible become more prominent in recent works, as seen in Vygintas, Kirilas & Semionovas (2018), presented in the Vilnius chapter of the recent Baltic Triennial 13. Though a physical installation was indeed on view, the fundamental essence of the work lay in the human histories infused in the art object’s physical components. Comprised of used wood and other discarded materials sourced from the defunct Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania, Vygintas, Kirilas & Semionovas is, at its core, about the six thousand Lithuanians who, under Soviet command, were forced to clean up the infamous nuclear waste repository. Serapinas sidestepped the work’s potential political implications in order to explore the emotional and interpersonal impact of this trauma upon the affected individuals and their families by considering the lingering intergenerational effects. With this particular event as a framing device, larger concerns emerged: first, how to navigate psychological and emotional closure, which then influences the way in which personal and collective identity is constructed — all of which are only further expatiated within the context of family.

As such, the objects Serapinas produces for gallery spaces are rarely a final product in themselves; rather, they take on a near-symbolic status. Like a souvenir, they are the representations of human experience and interaction, through which the tangible objects we see are a result — a memento, or a scar.

by Caroline Elbaor

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Subtext /

Somebody Wants It

“Thus, one of the things that anyone’s character or personality is is a record of the highly individual histories by which the fleeting emotion of shame has instituted far more durable, structural changes in one’s relational and interpretive strategies toward both self and others.”

—Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick¹

In 2016, I was asked by Flash Art to review Jill Soloway’s (lamentably short-lived) Amazon series I Love Dick. I assume that I was considered suitable for the job because, as a queer/feminist art historian, I must have watched Transparent, and such an assumption is indeed reasonable. Without thinking, I replied yes, of course, I love Soloway’s work. In fact, I had never seen Transparent, and I knew little about Soloway aside from what her work represented, at least within the thin slice of the culture industry from which I operate. I wanted to support someone who I thought was doing important things; the content of Soloway’s larger opus seemed secondary, or maybe I was just lazy. That was a little over two years ago, and I have thought about my impulsive decision at least weekly since.

Time passed and I naturally had to read Soloway’s new memoir She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy, which I speedily consumed on an eleven-hour plane trip to a conference. Upon finishing, I must admit that I felt profoundly empty and could not entirely articulate why. Sure, the book fails in some ways that have been pointed out (in an unhelpful fashion, I think) elsewhere—it is at times out of touch or overly sentimental or didactic or essentialist. However, it is impossible to speak to queerness or trans-ness without falling into problematic traps, without wanting to speak for everyone at times or only for yourself at others, without failing to recognize one’s privilege, without engaging in methods that seem retrograde or antiquated. We have all embodied a politics that fails in some respects. Take, for example, Jack Halberstam’s commentary on the belatedness of queer identification: “As someone who sexually identifies as a ‘stone butch,’ I am always surprised to hear that apparently there are no stone butches anymore! People often tell me that stone butch was an identity bound to the 1950s and apparently dependent on a preliberation understanding of lesbianism or queerness.”2 Of course, one can identify however one wants, but the political question of “But should you?” often complicates the agency of those who have come to speak in proximity to (not even for) marginalized communities. Such was the case for Soloway, who has been lambasted by writers and activists like Andrea Long Chu for the decision to identify as nonbinary, though such critiques often resemble a new conservatism or policing that falls prey to the elitism and cruelty exhibited by many writers whose primary creative outlet is Twitter.

Halberstam goes on, “So what does it mean to engage in a sexual practice whose time is past?”3 And what does it mean to engage in an identity politics whose time is allegedly past? She Wants It hopes to mobilize rhetoric drawn from second-wave feminism, with all its successes and shortcomings, alongside the advances made by trans activism. Like Lena Dunham, Soloway experienced an extraordinary backlash for attempting to utilize an identity politics of an earlier moment that has been endlessly parodied in academic and popular discussions of feminism alike — the goddess, central core imagery, consciousness raising, the possibility of coalition-building based on gender. Criticisms of these methods certainly deserve to be levied — but with an ounce of foresight and empathy, for it is not queer or feminist to denigrate the well-meaning activism of others. In any case, queerness often requires problematic attachments, sometimes to ideologies with which you violently disagree or that you feel may erase you; no one can say with surety that they have never wanted something that has marginalized someone else.

None of this really surprised me, as these are debates that have been going on for some time in queer and feminist theory, so whence my discomfort with She Wants It? Upon landing in Copenhagen, I texted my boyfriend, who promptly asked what I thought of the book. All I could think to reply was, “I think Jill is very sad about something.” I know that is presumptuous to say, but shame and melancholia are often as coextensive with queerness as joyful liberation. I saw Soloway trying desperately to grapple with mistakes and complex decisions whose magnitude we cannot comprehend, because, and this is the unfortunate truth, some voices will always resonate more widely than others. Thus held universally responsible but in no way claiming to speak for anyone else, She Wants It is often a story of self-disappointment and paranoia and regret. However, Soloway does not become a melodramatic stereotype with which we can all identify. Instead, and contrary to those who attack Soloway’s essentialism, the book is so resolutely individualized as to refute any kind of projection or identification or collectivization. There lies, I think, why I found She Wants It so upsetting — its insights swirl around you like dust, but nothing ever gets in your eye, as much as you yearn for contact or community. Tears held back and not extracted. Nothing quite sticks to you. This is not a book that speaks for anyone else; it articulates only itself and allows Soloway some space from what they have come to represent in narratives of queer visual culture.

I have finally started watching Transparent, and I think my hypothesis is confirmed. It is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. What intrigues me is that within Soloway’s activist cinematic statement is a stream of characters who bear traces of pathos we recognize, even while remaining intensely enclosed and unrecognizable, trapped in the screen and in their own self-destructive arrogance. At the same time, however, someone might see themselves in Maura’s story, or Tammy’s (my favorite), or even She Wants It, and we have to create a politics wherein that choice, as sentimental, regressive, or abrasive as it may be, is provisionally alright.

by William J. Simmons


Subtext is a column exploring new and old books, art and ephemera.


1. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Queer Performativity: Warhol’s Shyness/Warhol’s Whiteness,” in Jennifer Doyle, Jonathan Flatley, and José Esteban Muñoz, eds., Pop Out: Queer Warhol (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), pp. 141–2.

2. Carolyn Dinshaw, et. al., “Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13, no. 2 (2007), p. 190.

3. Ibid.

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Review /

Rebecca Belmore AGO / Toronto

Rebecca Belmore tackles complex political themes with a daring economy of means. Canada’s shameful record of missing and murdered indigenous women, systems of land use, and the sovereignty of First Nations as well as the vulnerability of migrant populations: Belmore engages some of the most urgent crises of our time. “Facing the Monumental” is an efficient yet emotionally powerful survey of the Anishinaabekwe artist’s career.

The taut syntax of Wanda Nanibush’s curatorial presentation unfolds as a carefully argued sequence of interrelated ensembles. Nanibush, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s first curator of indigenous art, has been lauded for her innovative prioritization of indigenous languages in the gallery’s trilingual didactic materials as well as the culturally sensitive retitling of historic (mis)representations of indigenous cultures.

Tower (2018), an imposing pillar of clay encased in stacked shopping carts evocative of the repetitive grammar of both Minimalist and First Nations art, is a declaration of the exhibition’s multivalent aspirations, where the “monumental” addressed by Belmore is simultaneously the institutional and symbolic legacies of colonialism and the resilient agency of a more-than-human nature. The totem-pole-like Tower is in productive dialogue with other works exposing structures of governmentality and resistance through a tactical repurposing of standardized materials and formats.

Rebecca Belmore Tower, 2018
Rebecca Belmore Tower, 2018. Courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario © Rebecca Belmore

Belmore broaches themes of mortality and violence with a remarkable restraint that in no way mutes the emotional impact of the final grouping of works encountered by visitors. The two-channel video installation March 5, 1819 (2008), which restages the kidnapping of Beothuk artist Shanawdithit, is granted space for reflection that is unfortunately denied an extensive archive of Belmore’s performance works, which are relegated to a simultaneous, multi-channel projection in a modest room.

A more generous contextualizing of materials would have assisted viewers — particularly visitors and new arrivals to Canada — in navigating the dense histories excavated by Belmore’s layered narratives. Where “Facing the Monumental” triumphs is in demonstrating the provocative potential of the para-exhibitionary gesture. As interlopers in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s permanent collection, satellite works, including Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) (2017), a marble tent quarried from the same source as the Parthenon and originally installed in Athens for Documenta 14, forcefully materialize the nomadic logic of the global refugee crisis.

by Adam Lauder

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Movie Night /

Double Take

Mary Evans: Oh, you wouldn’t do this if I were a man!
Lonny Borden: I wouldn’t want to.

What Price Hollywood? (1932)

Last month, gravel-toned actor Sam Elliott appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his supporting turn in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born (2018). The interview progressed through the usual talk show platitudes — his amazing performance, his incredible voice — before ending with a game. Would Elliott recite pop lyrics written by costar Lady Gaga in his signature growling cadence? He obliged and the studio audience soon broke out in laughter, delighted by the incongruity of a respected artist deigning to read lines from the singer’s various commercial triumphs. Never mind that his best-known credits include boorish fare like Road House (1989) and Ghost Rider (2007).

While not occurring by Elliott’s design, the segment’s conspiratorial humor speaks to the evergreen jurisdiction of such men in distinguishing between high and low art. It is they who reserve the right to look twice, not in the tired sense of hunter and hunted, of suspect voyeurism, of the active and the impotent, but instead in the casual passing of a value judgment. That hierarchy of taste has always informed the narrative backbone of A Star Is Born, from its first iteration in George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood? (1932) to Frank Pierson’s indulgent Streisand vehicle. But, until the arrival of this most recent remake, it has rarely seeped so plainly into the film’s promotional campaign or become a defining hallmark of its production.

We begin where they do. When Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) first encounters Ally (Lady Gaga), she is performing a rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” — sung live and thus distinguished from the played-for-laughs lip-syncing and latex breastplates of her drag bar surrounds. His determined curiosity leads him to Ally’s dressing room after the show where he informs her of her own talent. This is not before Maine, a complete stranger, has peeled off her stuck-on eyebrows. Critical distance that the director might hold from his onscreen counterpart in this moment is blunted by the now notorious anecdote in which Cooper dragged a makeup wipe down Gaga’s face upon her arrival for a screen test. Much like Maine, he reasoned that he wanted to see her “completely open” with “no artifice.” For both men, this translates to a no-less-affected country-sexy-casual aesthetic — all tied-off midriffs and low-slung belts. The arbitrary laws of embodied authenticity are rarely enforced in reverse, of course. Cooper’s approach to portraying Jackson Maine involved weekly spray tan sessions and the near-constant application of a Tom Ford bronzer.

After an evening spent touching her face and sizing it up for stardom — Cooper speaks often about “falling in love” with Gaga’s face and eyes — Maine listens as Ally sings an original composition a cappella. “Can I tell you a secret?” he asks, “I think you might be a songwriter.” It’s a flirtatious line burdened with patronizing charity, and especially faint praise from an artist whose own music trades in county-fair wisdom. He’ll later elevate her song by setting it to music and inserting his own corresponding lyrics.

Both narratives of being seen, that of Ally’s discovery and Lady Gaga’s acting trajectory, hinge on the generous scopophilia of Bradley Cooper and his onscreen foil. Gaga’s widely mocked press circuit refrain — all variations on “There can be one hundred people in a room and ninety-nine don’t believe in you, but [Cooper] did” — in truth has little to do with her. The line is not intended to suggest that she was memorable enough to warrant Cooper’s attention, but rather that Cooper was gracious enough to bestow her with artistic approval, or “take another look” as Maine might put it in the film.

“I remember when we first met,” Cooper recalled at the Venice Film Festival, “after ten minutes we were eating homemade food that she cooked. I love to eat.” The magnetism of modest, down-home womanhood, reliable as ever. It’s the same Pygmalion logic that has grounded everything from Four Sided Triangle (1953) and My Fair Lady (1964) to Weird Science (1985) and the sinister celebritization of Sophia the Robot. The most bizarre element of this artistic dynamic is that — two years ago, at least — the aesthetic convictions of Bradley Cooper should have meant very little given his entire lack of directorial pedigree. Though limited in experience, Gaga had already demonstrated her bankable and award-winning acting talent by that time. It’s to her credit that her performance as Ally feels like a first-time revelation — as it was described by Cooper at the Tribeca Film Festival — among the mumble-speak of her colleagues, breathable air in an onslaught of hot subway wind.

The openhearted relish with which Gaga has approached the promotion of A Star Is Born stands in similar contrast to her director’s often detached stoicism, typified by his childish profile in The New York Times. The manner in which his film distinguishes between the tasteful and the embarrassing, between good and bad forms of self-expression, is no different. In the unabashed contemporary specificity of its references to texting and asses, Ally’s music is located firmly in the now and suffers for it. With her ferocious energy and frankness, she’s altogether too eager to be considered a cultivated artist in the film’s world. By contrast, Maine’s lyrical output is caught up in the vague speak of nostalgia, ruminating on the “old ways” and being “too far gone.” He manages to generate sympathy for a character that has likely never existed — the grizzled country music male with broad crossover appeal, from drag bars to festival stages. It helps that his backstory exists in the untethered language of hero myth: his mother died in childbirth and his father was an absent drinker. Ally is in turn yoked to her father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay), a man with his own Sinatra-centric beliefs about old-world artistic authenticity.

In another film, this dynamic could operate as a thoughtful meta-commentary on aloof machismo in artmaking. In Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, no such critique occurs. As Ally rises to fame under the watchful eye of an effete, loafer-wearing manager (Rafi Gavron), her romantic partner grows increasingly alarmed by the updating of her wardrobe and the louche sensuality of her songwriting. For a man so engaged in the exercise of looking, the fact that he can’t bring himself to watch Ally’s performance of the charming confection “Why Did You Do That?” on Saturday Night Live is a revealing moment. Complicit in Maine’s gaze, the audience is encouraged to concede that this dry-humping sellout is “not the real Ally” and to long for her “old ways” — the ones that were introduced to us an hour earlier.

But Ally’s commercial identity is not nearly as manipulated as we’re encouraged to believe. She remains largely in command of her musical output, expressing clear pleasure at her professional direction even as it straddles the chasm between acoustic country and electronic pop. Those are her lyrics, as she so forcefully protests from the bathtub. “You’re just fuckin’ ugly,” Maine eventually retorts, after months spent imploring his wife to ignore such insecurities. It’s the typical defensive reflex of his gaze, riding high on all the joyful qualities of the lowbrow before rejecting them with derision. It’s a wonderful joke that the two finest songs in the film are also, within its own estimation, the worst. The anatomical reverie “Hair Body Face” and Diane Warren-penned “Why Did You Do That?” happen to be the most authentic cuts on the soundtrack, wholly embracing their pop pleasures as opposed to the truly shallow posturing of a track like “Maybe It’s Time.” See: “Nobody speaks to God these days / Well, I’ve seen hell in Reno / And this world’s one big ol’ Catherine wheel.”

Distinct from the more openly envious male leads of the story’s previous iterations — Fredric March’s peevish 1937 interpretation in particular — Maine is here brought low by his own righteous belief that Ally is squandering her potential. Her closing rendition of “I’ll Never Love Again” is a mawkish mea culpa from the now-brunette-again star that assures both the late Maine and intimated viewer that her time spent dabbling in evocative choreography and tangerine coiffure has come to an end. In name alone, the track — composed by Maine and bequeathed to Ally with that familiar, caveat-rich generosity — consecrates an ongoing commitment between partners, a promise that she will remain defined in his image even beyond his undoing.

It’s fitting, then, that her performance has all the trappings of a swan song: a harsh spotlight, Celine Dion-lite balladeering, and a recital hall gown. With no more love to give, it might as well be her final set. Fitting too that the film ends with Ally staring directly into camera, recalling her very first glance at Jackson while splayed across the drag bar countertop. As she raises her eyes to meet the audience, we are made to understand that emotional turmoil has elevated her work to a more fully realized realm of authenticity. A star has been born at the fading of another. In fact, she stares beyond us, seeking the ever-adjudicating gaze of Jackson Maine and, by extension, Bradley Cooper. The show is over. Now what did he make of it?

Joe Brennan is a Sydney-based writer and photographer.

Movie Night is a column exploring film semiotics and thoughts about moviegoing in general.

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