There is a striking moment about two-thirds of the way through Jordan Peele’s satirical horror film Get Out (2016). While visiting his white girlfriend’s family estate for the weekend, the film’s black protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is approached by one of the family’s African-American servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel). At this point in the film, the audience is aware that Washington has been uneasy about the visit since before the couple arrived, in large part because his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) had not disclosed his race to her family before their visit. As a black man surrounded by the white family and their mostly white friends, Washington’s discomfort increases despite the reassurances of his girlfriend. In this brief exchange with Georgina, he attempts to find some commonality in his discomfort. Structured as a series of slowly tightening counter-shots between the two characters, the sequence depicts Georgina approaching Chris to explain why she has unplugged his cell phone (repeatedly). When he confesses to her that “When there are too many white people, I get nervous,” Georgina responds with a repeated, “No. No. No.” It’s a phrase intended as comfort, but the moment instead conveys a sense of the uncanny that is, indeed, the key to understanding the film as a whole. It is also a moment deeply indebted to the interwoven histories of acting and media in modernism.
On May 24, 1925, Elisabeth (“Li”) Zielesch reported for Berliner Volks Zeitung on a dress rehearsal of the first Black revue to tour interwar Europe, The Chocolate Kiddies, as they prepared for a sold-out residency at Berlin’s Admiralpalast (fig. 1). The performance astounded her. It was a full sensory experience, featuring almost fifty performers. Divided into four sections, the program reflected the temporal and geographic movement of Black American life and culture: “Plantation at sundown,” “Harlem in New York—negro life,” Sam Wooding’s Specialty Concert, and “Harlem cabaret.” The cast included veteran performers from Harlem stages, including the Colonial, the Plantation, and the 63rd Street Theater. The singers Lottie Gee and Adelaide Hall had been leads in the premier of Shuffle Along, and Charles Davis had been one of its choreographers. Wooding, the revue’s bandleader, was a talented stride pianist in New York’s jazz scene, previously working in cabarets in Atlantic City and Newark, New Jersey before the First World War, and playing in some of the most recognized clubs and cabarets in Harlem, including the Nest, Club Alabam, and Barron Wilkins’ Exclusive Club. These clubs and theaters were an important training ground for Black talent to prove their skill and learn to work within the racist gaze of white audiences.
In the late 1950s, well before his association with Werner Herzog had made him the most internationally recognizable German screen actor of his generation, Klaus Kinski was a phenomenon. Between 1957 and 1962, his concert-style recitations and studio recordings of work by François Villon, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Gerhart Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht, and a range of other canonical figures, held out the possibility that literature—a literature associated with sexual and political transgression, moreover—might find its place in a commercially driven culture industry.
So, there I was: an art history doctoral candidate on a Fulbright-Hays fellowship lying naked at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow—an activity neither proposed in my fellowship application nor predicted upon my arrival in Russia. This is one way of introducing the story of an art historian participating in reperformances at Marina Abramović’s The Artist Is Present exhibition in Moscow in 2011—a sensationally effective but superficial way
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of ballets entered the classical repertory that featured marionettes and activated dolls. Arlequinada (1900), Die Puppenfee (1903), Petrouchka (1911), and the immediate parent of these productions, Coppélia (1870), all focus on the imitation of living people through the movements of automatized figures. Coppélia, the first of these pieces, opened during a prolonged period of malaise—stretching back to the 1850s—in European ballet, in which dancing veered more toward repetitive athletic feats than expressive movement.