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Gabbard, G.O. Gabbard, K. (1984). Vicissitudes of Narcissism in the Cinematic Autobiography. Psychoanal. Rev., 71(2):319-328.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Review, 71(2):319-328

Films

Vicissitudes of Narcissism in the Cinematic Autobiography

Review by:
Glen O. Gabbard

Krin Gabbard

Early in Bob Fosse's film All That Jazz a budding actress tells director Joe Gideon: “I want so to be a movie star. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to see my face on the screen, forty feet wide.” This comment is whispered into the ear of Gideon as she is in the process of seducing him in exchange for his casting her in his Broadway show. The exchange between them is a microcosmic glimpse of the narcissistic culture in which we live. Lasch (1979) has compellingly described this culture as one in which there is a worship of celebrity, a fascination and obsession with electronic images produced by the media, a ruthless pursuit of being “visible” and “recognized,” despite the fact that there may be no substantive content beneath the image. Moreover, the value system of the narcissistic society is a corrupt one, where there is a disillusionment with the supremacy and security of intimate interpersonal relationships and where exploitation of others for one's own ends is the rule of the day.

One of the unique characteristics of our self-absorbed contemporary culture is a pervasive kind of “stage fright,” that is, an acute sense of self-consciousness related to a fantasy of a ubiquitous audience (Gabbard, 1979, 1983). As Lasch (1979) puts it, “All of us, actors and spectators alike, live surrounded by mirrors. In them, we seek reassurance of our capacity to captivate or impress others, anxiously searching out blemishes that might detract from the appearance that we intend to project” (p. 2). This sense of always being “on,” always performing, always trying to impress has led to an intense self-scrutiny which has resulted in a rapidly increasing flow of confessional writing. Autobiographical statements now come not just from the great writers and famous actors but from show business personalities such as Hildegarde Knef and Susan Strasberg, who are hardly household names.

An even more recent phenomenon is the cinematic autobiography. The medium of film lends itself to narcissistic self-display even better than the novel or the play.

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