In the current issue, Robert B. Ray explains movie stardom as a perplexity in Hollywood’s attempt to mechanize its productions according to “Taylorist-Fordist models of rationalized production”:
When Garbo was contemplating a comeback, cameraman James Wong Howe was hired to do a screen test. When the actress arrived for the session, he was disappointed by how ordinary she looked, and surprised that she had brought with her neither make-up man nor hairdresser. “I had never photographed her,” Howe recalled, “I was frightened. This great lady!” What followed amounts to the crucial lesson:
When the camera started to turn…she listened to the grinding sound and her face changed, her expression, her whole emotional mood came to life and transformed her completely. It was incredible, wonderful…. She was like a horse on a track: nothing, and then the bell goes, and something happens. When the shot was over, she said simply, “Have you got enough?” And I said “Yes,” and very matter-of-factly she remarked, “Okay, I go home.” She did. And she was nothing again. (Charles Higham, Hollywood Cameramen, 92.)
Precisely because movie-star performance does not involve Taylor’s notion of skill, it cannot be standardized, and its “workers” cannot be easily replaced. Movie stardom amounts to a highly unusual task, unimagined by Taylor and unlike almost any other job in the world.