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May 4, 2011

150. Office Killer (Cindy Sherman 1997 USA)

Filed under: film,rené veenstra — ABRAXAS @ 4:15 pm

Another kind of monster:
Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer

by Dahlia Schweitzer

“Sherman does not consider Office Killer to be part of her own body of art, since she was more of a hired gun to direct the picture,” writes Catherine Morris in The Essential Cindy Sherman.[1] [open endnotes in new window]However, Sherman was not simply a “hired gun.” In the June 1997 issue of Art in America, Sherman herself acknowledges that the general idea for the story was hers, that she was involved in preproduction, that she gave specific instructions to the cinematographer and the actors about what she wanted, and that she played a direct role in the editing. She is officially credited in the film’s titles for the story idea and her role as director. Then the movie bombed,[2] and everyone, including Sherman, stopped talking about it.

Part of the problem is that the movie isn’t really a horror film, or even a send-up of a horror film. It’s more of a dark “chick pic,” drawing on the tradition of The Women (1939), combined with elements of camp and satire. The relationships between the women (all the main characters are female) echo a Joan Crawford-led women’s picture from an earlier era, where the films—from The Women to Mildred Pierce (1945) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)—explored the complicated interpersonal dynamics between women and their struggles for men, power, and independence, the roles of the men often an afterthought in the narrative. There are numerous thematic and atmospheric parallels between Office Killer and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, another mix of horror and melodrama from three decades before.

The intensity of some of the scenes and the relationship between Dorine, the protagonist, and her mother support the film’s placement in the category of melodrama, whereas the lighting in many of the scenes is reminiscent of film noir, and the high strung absurdity is comedic. The killings and decay are horrific. It’s as if Sherman took all the cinematic elements that inspired her photographs and rolled them into one film, which could be why everyone keeps trying to tie the film to her pictures.[3]

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