Produced by The New York Times Magazine and directed by Alex Prager, Touch of Evil is a fun series of video portraits of ‘the best performers from the year in film’ channelling icons of cinematic villainy; Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) impersonates Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, Viola Davis (The Help) dons the eerily pristine uniform of Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) portrays the psychopathic Alex from A Clockwork Orange, alongside Gary Oldman, Ryan Gosling and others.
The Touch of Evil gallery follows a recent spread in Harper’s Bazaar in which a handful of actors who have worked with director Martin Scorsese recreated memorable scenes from his iconic films. The most talked about was Chloe Moretz (Hugo) taking on the role of the teenage prostitute made famous by Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.
Peter Bogdanovich, director of The Last Picture Show and champion of old Hollywood, lamented the vanished studio system in an interview with the Guardian. There are no stars any longer in Hollywood, he complained. What about Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks? asked the interviewer. Bogdanovich replied ‘They don’t have personalities, so they can’t be stars. Do me a Tom Cruise impression, do me a Tom Hanks impression.’ Bogdanovich was comparing this generation of stars, unfavourably, with ‘golden age’ actors like Cary Grant and John Wayne who had the same persona from one role to the next, making no attempt to be ‘chameleonic’. They were true icons.
But could you go even further and say that our current crop of movie stars lack the iconic status of actors from even thirty years ago? They’re playing dress-up, recreating iconic roles, basking in the refracted glow of old movies and old stars. Time will tell. It is quite possible that in thirty years a new breed of actors will be impersonating Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood or Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network or whatever roles and films have lasted, passing into the pantheon.