JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

copyright 2010, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 52, summer 2010

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]

Even more disturbing than the one-dimensionality of the conversation about Office Killer is the conspicuous lack of dialogue about the film, at all. It’s as though there has been a collective decision not only not to talk about the movie, but also not to talk about the photographs through the film. If we start to think about Sherman as an artist transfixed by the materiality of the body, rather than the more typical cliché of the feminine image as projected by the male gaze, if we start to pick up on the aggression inherent in the photographs, the lack of pin-up glamour, the steely solitude, how does that re-invent the Film Stills, the Centerfolds, the Fashion series?

If the movie, like her photos, twists and parodies horror, fashion, and melodrama, if both are seen to focus on a general, conceptual exploration of the individual’s portrayal or role within society, rather than on a specific individuality, why is the film fundamentally upsetting? Why do her photographs continue to impact on such a personal, intimate level despite dealing with abstract issues? Why do I see myself in her archetypes? What is it we are reacting to in a movie so completely fake we laugh at the most violent and grotesque moments? If all horror, as a genre, is built on a familiarity of what will happen next (girl alone, wanders to look for the monster, dies), how does Sherman push the boundaries, keeping us continually surprised within a construct which feels inexplicably familiar?

Much as her images work off layers of reference, the film itself is not structured along the lines of a conventional narrative. In contrast to other similar office dramas, like Working Girl (1988) or Wall Street (1987), our protagonist does not learn from a superior and then come into her own by defying the same superior, at least not in a typical way. In fact, no one learns anything from anyone else in this movie. The only character with the responsibility of teaching others, Daniel (Michael Imperioli), doesn’t provide any real instruction, at least not in front of the camera. He sets up Dorine’s computer and suggests that she play around with it, check out the manuals herself, do the tutorials, and that there will be a class in the future, which of course never happens. The only character who undergoes any sort of evolution in the film is Dorine, and it is not as a result of external instruction, least of all from Daniel. She promotes herself from copyeditor to office manager. She teaches herself the life lessons she needs to progress in life and in the workplace. Dorine does all this, reaching her own levels of success, while still remaining resolutely the oddball.

Kim and Norah, the two most charismatic and polished women in the film, are played by well-known actresses Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn. If we didn’t know better, we’d start to think the movie was about them—or at least about glittering and glowing Ringwald, the best dressed employee of Constant Consumer magazine, even if we never find out exactly what she does there—but it’s not. Ringwald’s Kim is the character most at ease in the film, and she walks through the magazine’s office as if she belongs there. Despite the fact that she is the only one in the film who seems like a believable person—someone we could imagine existing in our own off-screen reality, someone who voices the concerns and questions we hear in our heads—she is only there to propel things along. The movie is not about her or about Tripplehorn’s Norah. Neither has any character development. This story is about Dorine Douglas, a quirky loner with bad makeup, even worse fashion taste, and a propensity for accumulating bodies in her basement.

So if we don’t have a typical narrative or a conventional heroine, what do we have? We have a movement through genres, with layers of reference to horror, melodrama, and contemporary culture, and the opportunity to fill in the blanks ourselves. In terms of a storyline, Office Killer is structured by the order of the killings, each successive murder another notch in Dorine’s development. The sequence of the movie is best outlined in terms of deaths: Mr. Michaels, Virginia, the Mail Boy, Daniel and Norah—possibly even beginning with Dorine’s first intentional execution, that of her father. We think we know what to expect when we see certain scenarios play out. And Sherman plays on those expectations, using them to build her story, while also defying them in surprising ways. The use of a predominantly female cast, with tensions built on typical female-to-female conflict—notions of female aggression, competition, role-play, beauty—while echoing films like The Women (1939), is amped up to nightmarish levels. This film is far from a typical horror vehicle and not only because the killer is a woman. What’s relevant is not that the bodies accumulate, but what Dorine does to the bodies after they’re dead—and the very fact that she doesn’t see the bodies as dead.

When Dorine Douglas' job as copyeditor for Constant Consumer magazine is turned into an at-home position during a downsizing, she doesn't know how to cope. When an accidental electrocution does away with the office sleaze, Dorine realizes she can just move the office home with her. The bodies at home begin to pile up as, one by one, she picks off her former colleagues, intentionally targeting those who, for whatever reason, have offended her. Sherman soon reveals to us, via flashback, that Dorine’s father also died by her hand following his own inappropriate behavior. Don’t think that these bodies are brought up and merely dumped! The camp horror comes in as Dorine tends for them, taping over the gaping holes and decomposition, spraying glass cleaner as a general disinfectant, neatly arranging the bodies so they can all watch television together. Only when her work is done, when the appropriate victims have met their fate, does Dorine drive off into the sunset, ready to find other work and other friends in a new city.

Not only do we have a film that isn’t purely horror/comedy/melodrama/noir, both none and all of the above, but also the film had its marketing odds further stacked against it by Sherman’s choice of Carol Kane as Dorine. Molly Ringwald, as the female lead of the eighties, would have been sure to get more press, if not more box office dollars; even Jeanne Tripplehorn would have been more commercially safe. When Miramax set up focus groups to watch early screenings of the film, they selected young males who had seen Kids, I Shot Andy Warhol, Basquiat and suburbia, young males who universally demanded “More Molly Ringwald,” both in terms of more screen time, and literally, as in more of her body.[4] These kids obviously didn’t get it, and neither did Miramax, who had the rights to Office Killer for a year before deciding not to try releasing it.

Strand Releasing picked it up, gave it a very select distribution in a handful of art houses nationwide, before sending it to the grave of the VHS/DVD bin, a difficulty which Christine Vachon, the film’s producer, briefly alludes to in her book, Shooting to Kill. Despite the fact that Office Killer was clearly an inspiration to the name of her production company (Killer Films), Vachon’s discussion of the film is almost non-existent, dwarfed by conversation about her other movies, like Velvet Goldmine, Safe, and I Shot Andy Warhol. The book’s longest segment about Office Killer deals with the test screenings that doomed the film.

Another problem of marketability for the film is the aforementioned fact that, at first glance, it doesn’t easily fit with the rest of Sherman’s work, and not only because the pictures move and have a title. There’s so much going on in Office Killer, so much that has nothing to do with what came before or after in her enormous body of work, that it’s hard to talk about, harder to pick apart. So we snuggle comfortably against the Untitled Film Stills and try to make sense of the madness, using Laura Mulvey or Rosalind Krauss to present us with a framework for discussion.[5] Out of the articles that Metro Pictures, Sherman’s New York gallery, lists as coming out in 1997 about Sherman, fewer than half deal with the movie. Roberta Smith, in her review of Office Killer for the New York Times, devotes the first three paragraphs to the movie before returning to the familiar terrain of the photographs for the next four. Smith does go back to the movie eventually, to discuss the problems entailed in Sherman making one, before skipping ahead to review the current Sherman (photographic) retrospective. By the time she ties it all together, it is with the succinct statement,

“The movie itself is almost a Sherman retrospective.”[6]

Once again, another critic looks at the movie through the eyes of the photographs, missing the opportunity to use the film as a vehicle for gaining a richer appreciation of the photographs. Especially telling is the assigning of Roberta Smith, an art critic, to review Office Killer, a film.

There is no question that it is fun to watch the movie with an eye for Sherman’s style and technique, but it’s still a movie, and by virtue of being a movie, much of its meaning and significance is fundamentally different than a photograph. If we accept this fact, that this is Sherman’s only work with sound, motion, a title, and involving other people besides herself, we have to wonder why most critics only discuss the film in terms of the photographs, when they bother to talk about the film at all. The film is almost completely ignored in discussions of Sherman’s work post-1997. Critics tend to flatten the differences in her work, to fuse the various photographic series together as continuations of the Untitled Film Stills, to interpret every work in relation to what came before. This could be because of the narrative quality that builds when the individual photographs are organized in a row, since alone each might seem fragmentary, speaking merely in notation. But such an approach also creates a dangerously limited, one-dimensional perspective, prohibiting any real complex understanding of her work. Each series of Sherman’s photographs, while obviously coming from the mind of the same woman, engages with different issues in various ways, and it’s essential to judge each series on its own, as well as part of a body of work.

Corporate shift

Office Killer is about life in 1997, ten years after Working Girl, two years before The Matrix, three years before American Psycho (the movie), and six years after American Psycho (the book). Two years before Office Space. Corporate USA was shifting, people were changing. Cubicles would never be the same again.

“You’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, you pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage.”—The Matrix (1999)

“I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around nine, that would be great, mmmkay? Oh…oh…and I almost forgot: Ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and also come in on Sunday, too, mmmkay?”—Office Space (1999)

The worklife in the United States in the late nineties was no longer confined to the eight-hour day. Technology was supposed to make life easier. It was supposed to enable us to make money off Ebay while sunbathing, but instead it became domain of the cubicle, sales of which rose to $3.4 billion in 1997.[7] The late 1990s workplace was lean and mean, opting for smaller and less private spaces and more powerful, versatile technology. In the late nineties, we became slaves to our apparatuses, we became our jobs because we were always working. Technology became a non-negotiable part of the workspace, as the boundaries between home and office shifted forever—the computer becoming, in the words of Daniel, the “lifeline to the office,” as if we needed to be umbilically connected to the office when we weren’t there, via a life-line. At the same time, technology allowed the underdog, the techno-nerd, the tongue-tied and the awkward, to achieve a new kind of power through the creation of a very different type of power, communication, and infrastructure.

Office Killer begins with a corporate downsizing, many of the employees converted to part-time status and sent home to do their work via email. This technological shift mirrored the then current economic and work situation, which was emptying the workplace, making it more common to email someone rather than talk to them. People were literally and metaphorically disappearing, which made it even easier for Dorine’s actions to go unnoticed. This anonymity combined with a lack of individuality is emphasized when Dorine is identified by an employee number on her pink slip, like a prisoner in a jail or concentration camp, just another piece of machinery. Much like in American Psycho (2000), the killings that will happen could happen because it wasn’t clear what people did at work or where in the corporate structure they belonged. Both Dorine and Patrick Bateman are constantly mistaken for other people. They are just cogs in the apparatus, one no different than the next, despite their differences in social status. Office Space (1999) is also built around this new world of indirect communication, even more acute two years later, of staring at terminals, unclear job responsibilities, and no job security. There is a constant fear of being downsized. “Oh no, they’re not in today, they’re working from home,” became a common explanation for empty desks. No one knew where anyone belonged anymore.

These vagaries of office politics also helped set the stage for a rise in white collar crime—just a couple dollars here and there, no one will notice. No one notices anything, anyway. Spam literalizes mail that comes from no one, email originating from a vacuum. “Did you get the memo?” replaces real dialogue. Or, as Daniel tells Dorine, “Some people like [email] so much, they stop talking to people in person.” Avoiding confrontation or conversation whenever possible has become the rule of the game. Dorine’s actions are in retaliation for the disappearance of the corporeal.

In this way, Dorine’s killing spree can be seen as a reaction to the devaluing of the body. However communication has been facilitated by technology, it has also rendered it more abstract and anonymous. As the bodies in her basement disintegrate, we are reminded of the oozing organs at the other end of these email accounts. Dorine makes bodies real again. Office Space and Office Killer both end with primal bonfires, in the former the actual office building, while in the latter the improvised “new” office, Dorine’s home, going up in smoke.

While Office Killer is not a science-fiction cyberpunk film, and it borrows far more heavily from Halloween than anything by William Gibson, it also emphasizes our current society’s turn to the technological and virtual versus our search for authentic self—leaking bodies, leaking self, leaking information contrasted to technology’s clean efficiency. As the offices of Constant Consumer magazine grow more computer-reliant and more sterile, the messiness of person-to-person contact eradicated by the prophylactic of the keyboard, Dorine wages a one woman campaign to remind us of the superficiality of that pursuit. The sterility is barely skin-deep, computer cables providing no escape from the inevitable decomposition and failures of our insides and the uncertainty of our souls. We consume identities like we consume new cars, we transform ourselves with everything from plastic surgery to vitamin pills, but we don’t come any closer to knowing who we are or to postponing the betrayal of our still death-prone bodies. We need to be bigger, better, faster while we understand ourselves less.

Technology does not necessarily supersede an understanding of self. “In the beginning, I was spooked by all the gadgets...but now the computer is my best friend,” explains Dorine Douglas, but even though she says she was spooked, it’s obvious that Dorine understands technology immediately, and that it helps her understand herself. She sends emails with as much skill as she distinguishes between “which” and “that,” head copyeditor for a staff who clearly don’t know any better. She isn’t frightened by technology, she knows how to use it to her advantage, and she allows it to empower rather than depersonalize her. Not everyone in her office feels the same way.

The conflict between old school and new school manifests itself in the first scene of the movie, as Virginia (the boss, representative of the old guard) and Norah (the office manager, aka the new guard) bicker over the significance of technology. Norah says her technological savvy is the only thing keeping the magazine out of the Stone Age and bankruptcy. Virginia retorts that knowing about computers doesn’t mean you know anything about running a company. Virginia, tellingly, is wearing black, and Norah is wearing a soft pink. Virginia is classic old school femme fatale, Norah is Chanel. Neither woman seems likeable. Neither woman seems happy. Neither type appealing.

Both women contain elements of Sigourney Weaver’s bitchy brunette Katharine Parker from Working Girl, a film which shares several other amusing parallels with Office Killer.[8] The women are a complement to fellow magazine matriarchs Martha Stewart, Helen Gurley Brown, and Bonnie Fuller. Ultra-skinny and ultra-chic Helen Gurley Brown, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Barbara Sukowa’s Virginia, became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan in 1965, turning the failing magazine into an icon, before being replaced by will-do-anything-for-a-story Bonnie Fuller in 1996, described by former employees and maligned celebrities as "the devil"[9] and by New York gossip columnist Cindy Adams as "Fuehrer-in-Chief." Fuller, however, had the golden touch, as newsstand sales of the magazine grew 18%, from 1.6 to 1.9 million, in her first year. Martha Stewart, in contrast, was NY Magazine’s “definitive American woman of our time” in their May 1995 issue. Her version of corporatized domesticity infiltrated the publishing world in 1990, when she signed with Time Publishing Ventures to develop a new magazine, Martha Stewart Living, for which she served as editor in chief. Virginia and Norah share elements of all these women, a blend of unquestionable femininity with ambition and a thirst for consumption, but in a much more confined and claustrophobic way.

Good witch/wicked witch

In the male business world, fashion makes men look the same, matching clones in mono-chromatic suits and ties. In American Psycho (book 1991, movie 2000) and Wall Street (1987), the determining factors are the maker of the suit or white shirt (Ralph Lauren vs. Bill Blass). Such differences, miniscule and unnoticeable to anyone but those with the most practiced eye, are the splitting point between employment/unemployment, life/death, queer/straight, establishing the break between dressing and posing, between Patrick Bateman and the hookers he hires, the men he works with and the man who comes onto him. In contrast, for the women of Office Killer, dress is loaded with metaphor and personality on a much broader, more conspicuous scale. If you want to look different (and why wouldn’t you?) what you wear is how you define yourself and separate yourself from others. In typical Sherman fashion, the personalities of the women in Office Killer, much like the narrative, are built on implication and reference, with a dose of satire. Much like in Sherman’s photographs, the women of the film represent character types conveyed by the language of mannerism and costume—translated through codes of stereotype, all of which makes sense, in part, because it’s a melodrama. It is Virginia’s black leather which helps set her apart from pink-suited Norah, Kim’s vibrant fashion which separates her from the otherwise muddy brown pack, and Dorine’s dowdiness which makes her outsider status visible. The same theory applies to another women-in-business movie, Working Girl (1988)—it’s Tess McGill’s growing fashion sense which gives graphic metaphor to the changes occurring within her mind, representing her grasp on the corporate ladder, starting both with her ability to put on her boss’ clothes and morphing into her ability to present and sell herself. Dorine’s lipstick, at the end of the film, combined with cigarette and new hairstyle, are all we need to see to know she’s come a long way, baby.

Norah and Virginia are, auspiciously, the two symbols of power in a company of browned-out, beaten-down employees, at least until we realize that Dorine is actually the one with power over them. However, before we realize Dorine’s hidden dominant tendencies, we see Norah and Virginia as company dictators, one issuing the pink slips, the other delivering them, one bitching out fellow employees while the other embezzles funds. They are obviously both women, and very feminine, with their slick suits and long hair, but also aggressively so, one very pink, in contrast to the other’s long black nails, echoing a witch’s talons.

Are we being set up to think Good Witch, Wicked Witch? The two women’s power struggle leaves no room for any male hero, either in the office or in the film, and it would be impossible to see Daniel or Mr. Landau playing a leading role. This is a movie about women, while also remaining inherently misogynist in the sense that there are no real likeable, admirable, sane female characters. The plot establishes the conflict of power between the “Good Witch,” resplendent in pink, and the “Wicked Witch,” resplendent in black leather and cigarette smoke, both eventually replaced by Dorine, as the Dorothy surrogate. Much like in the filmic rendition of The Wizard of Oz, the Good Witch is a “trilling pain in the neck,” while the Wicked Witch is “lean and mean,” their clothes “frilly pink versus slimline black.” Salman Rushdie even points out the wimpyness of Glinda, while Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch,

“seizes hold of the film from her very first, green-faced snarl.”[10]

Sound familiar? Virginia’s proclivity towards putting down her female co-workers (echoed also in the ease with which Norah and Kim call each other names) references Glinda’s speed to criticize her Witch sisters. This, combined with her sniffling, sneezing, and obviousness selfish greed, all make Virginia a not-so-good Good Witch. While Norah initially appears nice, and she is the only one making a show of trying to befriend Dorine, her embezzlement also leads to the downsizing of Dorine’s job, among many other company employees. There is something childlike and blank about her, with her neat, razor-sharp bangs, and her Jackie O suit. Her eyes are a little too wide, looking somewhere between lost and vacant. We never get a sense of who she is or what she cares about; even the embezzling seems just a ruse to give her a character. Despite the pink, she exudes a coldness, a lack of warmth, to her friends, her co-workers, and her boyfriend, another parallel to her Jackie O counterpart, a First Lady who was also always impeccably and femininely dressed but still seemed devoid of real tenderness. It is appropriate that she is the one who “returns to life” in the basement, since she’s been most zombie-like in the rest of the film. She is fresh-faced and ineffectual in front of Virginia, her brown eyes wide and blinking, just another useless pretty face. Norah thinks there is no difference between technology now and technology of several years ago, and she also obviously does not recognize the danger of Dorine. Glinda, like Norah, is hopelessly naïve: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” she asks Dorothy. She is vacant and bubbly, literally floating down in her little orb of soap suds. Glinda gives Dorothy the ruby slippers which help enable her personal transformation; Norah gives Dorine her old clothes, which help enable her transformation.

In The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch is mean and angry, but it is an understandable anger, since her sister has just been killed, and she is curiously helpless, frightened by the notion that a house might fall on her, too. While the munchkins joyously proclaim their liberation from their witch, Munchkinland seems so delightful and colorful just moments after her death, it’s hard to imagine that she was such a terrible ruler, which, by proxy, makes one wonder how bad her sister could be. In addition to the evil cackle, long black nails, and bitchy demeanor Virginia shares with Margaret Hamilton’s witch—we hear “I’ll get you, my pretty,” when Virginia spits out, “Now listen, sweetie”—she, too, is propelled by a righteous rage. After all, Gary hasn’t turned in his article at deadline and is nowhere to be found. She is wed to her magazine and shares no other solidarities, exhibiting also a peculiar frailness in her fear of germs. Again, Rushdie:

“It’s true that Glinda does exude a sort of raddled motherly safeness, while the Witch of the West looks…curiously frail and impotent, obliged to mouth empty threats—I’ll bide my time. But you just try and keep out my way—but just as feminism has sought to rehabilitate pejorative old words, such as hag, crone, witch, so the Wicked Witch of the West could be said to represent the more positive of the two images of powerful womanhood on offer here.”[11]

If we replace Glinda with Norah, and the Witch with Virginia, a strangely frail, cigarette-ridden, asthma inhaler-reliant, technology-ignorant supervisor, the same applies. It makes the viewer wonder if Dorine brings Virginia home to care for her, to take her under her wing, to protect her, as well as the magazine, from Norah, the not-so-nice Witch in pink? Dorine seems almost maternal during the moment when she removes Virginia’s fake nails, humanizing Virginia as well as herself, as she murmurs that Virginia will find it much more comfortable to type without them—while also releasing Virginia from the confines of typical feminine molds. Suddenly, there is tenderness for Virginia, and one more way of looking at Dorine/Dorothy.

AIDS/disease

Office Killer, like Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix, plays on the rupture that occurs when things slip, when fantasy and reality come up against each other, one exposing the limits of the other, when what’s inside and private conflicts with what’s outside and public. All Dorine really wants is to re-create the family tableau, to construct the ideal workplace on her own terms, in her own basement. “This is just like old times,” she tells her bodies as they snuggle on the couch in front of the flickering TV screen. “I put mother to bed early so we can stay up as late as we want.” She’s in control, she’s created a situation that she produces and maintains. And in order to “preserve” her bodies, to keep them in tip-top shape, Dorine does not shirk from her cleaning responsibilities, sealing up gaping holes with scotch tape and spraying Windex over exposed intestines. There is a literalization of the body as a material thing that demands upkeep. Her bodies, with their flaws and messiness but consummate personalities, have become her assembled diorama. In many ways, it is the high point of the film to see all the figures decaying in the basement, and watching television with her new friends is clearly the high point for Dorine. There is even a gleefulness in her voice at being able to stay up as late as they want, forcing one to question, is it television or death which is bringing them all together?

The importance of television to the death equation is clear when the basement scene featuring all the bodies artfully arranged begins not with a shot of any of the bodies, or Dorine herself, but with a close-up of the flickering blue screen. Only after lingering here for a moment do we cut to Virginia’s fingers, which are being stripped of their excessive fake talons before being methodically arranged on the typewriter keyboard. The next shot is of two little girl visitors, carefully positioned so as to look like Siamese twins, two heads coming out of the same body, while Dorine carefully pours them one glass of juice—the assumption being that twins can share. Continuing her nurse-like rounds, Dorine next crouches down to “touch up” the Mail Boy, who is no longer feeling “fresh as a daisy.” With the same dark wit, Dorine tells the Mail Boy that his hands will get a little rest as we cut to a shot of his bloody and dismembered hands, resting on a pile of Constant Consumer magazines, the connection between his hands and consumption clear for the world to see, the dark comic tone pervading even the goriest moments. The same wit, staging, and satire which permeates most of Sherman’s photographs can be found throughout Office Killer, especially in the basement scenes.

Mr. Michaels’ maintenance requires some aggressive scotch tape and Windex, the only background sound a fly buzzing around his body. The television, despite being on, isn’t tuned to anything other than the flickering blue screen, and it’s still tuned there when we next visit the basement, after Norah has ended up down there, begging the question if television is the domestic act for the dead or if watching television makes you dead? And, if the act of tv viewing is so important, why is there nothing on? It is clear that the point of the basement assembly is to emphasize its disconnect from the world upstairs. Dorine is arranging her trophies to be her private dollhouse, arranging them in ways similar to how Sherman must have arranged both herself and the body parts she has used in her photographs. A connection to the world at large would defeat Dorine’s purpose, would detract from the assemblage she has worked so hard to create. The insular environment of the basement, with the dim lighting and the flashlight spotlight, is her playroom. Sherman herself said that the movie is, more than anything else, about

“what this woman does with the bodies after they're dead… She doesn't even notice the bodies are rotting.”[12]

It is again and again “the ostensible opposition between humanity and technology, the driving apart of private interiors and public spaces…governed by a deepening intimacy with machines”[13] that not only defines the 20th century but also is an essential component of a certain species of horror film. In Office Killer, however, it’s not just about the driving apart of private and public, it’s about the sickness that happens when they intermingle. It’s especially crucial to note that the bodies are killed at work, and then doctored and collected at home, that the recreated workplace is in the basement, that the falling apart bodies are cared for in order to maintain a working environment in the home. The only death in the film which causes real grief is that of Dorine’s mother, who dies organically and naturally, in her bed, and whose body we never see after death. Why is this? Primarily because the other bodies aren’t really dead in Dorine’s mind. Because the other bodies are different. Because they’re still being cared for. Because no one notices they’re gone.

Safe, a film written and directed by Todd Haynes, who also worked on the script for Office Killer, came out in 1995, two years before Office Killer. It also looks at our inability to communicate with other people, especially those with whom we are supposedly close, combined with the difficulties of defining ourselves outside of the home—or, in Norman Bates’ case, outside of the home/hotel. Carol White, our protagonist as played by Julianne Moore, seems incapable of having any but the most superficial conversations with her husband and girlfriends. No one even wants to touch each other; the first time Carol is hugged, the film is two thirds over, and she has gone to a special “safe space” to heal.

Safe (1995) opens with Julianne Moore’s Carol White sneezing in her garage. Office Killer’s first scene establishes that everyone has a cold. Everyone is sneezing and blowing their nose. Norah is sick for the whole film, telling Kim that she has caught Kim’s cold. Kim retorts that it is Gary’s cold. Mr. Landau tells Gary, “Don’t kiss anyone, half the office has your cold, including myself.” “That asthmatic bitch Virginia,” as Gary describes her, spends most of her scenes either dripping Echinacea/Goldenseal onto her tongue, shoving an inhaler into her mouth, or lighting up cigarettes. Is her name an intentional reference to the similarly lanky cigarette icon, Virginia Slims? Her desk is covered with pill bottles. Gary’s desk has a pill bottle front and center. Dorine’s mother requires constant care, confined to her wheelchair and bed. This is clearly not a movie full of healthy people.

In 1997, the Center for Disease Control declared a total of 641,086 AIDS cases had been reported in the United States for 1996 and 1997. At the same time, they also cite a report by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, which declared an unprecedented decline in AIDS deaths. Death rates from HIV fell 47 percent from 1996 to 1997.[14] Fewer people were dying, which meant more were living—with the disease. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) literally called attention to the vulnerability of our immune systems, in addition to creating a whole culture of managing health, of preserving an existence based on regular medicinal cocktails, constant maintenance, and heightened caution. Being sent home to work could be seen as little more than a death sentence—you need to be out of the office, you need to be away from other people, because your clock is ticking. Or, the flip side: by being sent home, you are spared having to show up at the germ hotbed of the workplace. Regardless of the motivation, isolation is the result.

In Safe, we see the disconnect that contemporary culture has wrought upon our lives and the direct result of AIDS on interpersonal relationships in the mid-nineties. We see the disconnect that happens during sex, how we have lost the ability to be properly intimate, emotionally or physically. We are reminded of our body’s ability to malfunction as Carol White doesn’t sweat, is allergic to milk, her body literally betraying her as it collapses under the stress of living, as well as our inability to do anything with these malfunctions but learn to live with them. We see the pervasiveness of contaminants and pollutants, carcinogenic and otherwise (perfumes, exhaust, perms, hairspray), combined with the general sterility and lack of genuine warmth with which society dictates we surround ourselves. On one hand, our immunities are evaporating, broken down by the constant siege of modern living, while, on the other hand, we are fundamentally detached and disassociated, unable to touch or connect with each other. The timing of the AIDS crisis is intrinsically tied to the moment when the Internet exploded, to the normalizing of a form of neutered communication where no physical contact is not only normal, but preferred.

Office Killer deals with many of these same issues, not only commenting on the irony of ineffective band-aid solutions, as Virginia offers Norah more Echinacea to kill her germs before lighting up another cigarette, but also dealing with the lack of physical contact and constant threat of potential contagion, such as when Norah tells Dorine to wipe the copy machine ink off her face. “It’s probably toxic,” she says, and she herself won’t touch it. She won’t actually help Dorine. Dorine has been contaminated. She’s probably inhaled toner, toner that has exploded in a Wicked Witch-like puff of black smoke across her body and neat sweater. No one wants to touch her, then, before, or after. We even see this scene transpire from such a distance—far outside the building, peering in across the alley—that it’s as though Sherman herself didn’t want to get too close. The ink is toxic because it can be inhaled. The very air itself has become deadly. The toner literally tones, covering Dorine’s face with a fine black dust, literalizing people’s inability to see her, to recognize her, concealing her identity behind that of the contagion. She is a victim. She is toxic, too. Communication is also frequently ineffective between the various characters, as everyone consciously maintains a “healthy” distance, and no one’s bodies (other than Dorine’s) seem strong enough to withstand anything from colds to decomposition.

Conclusions

Sherman’s women are characters of curious strength and aggression, both in Office Killer and in her photographs. This is not a world in which men have the upper hand. They are even conspicuously absent. These women may be alone, their space may be confined by the boundaries of the frame, but they are also in control of that space. Even Sherman’s Fashion series photographs are aggressive, her women’s refusal to mimic conventions of femininity and expected glamour, a sign of latent aggression bordering on hostility.

In Sherman’s Untitled #122, the blonde wig is willfully unbrushed, one eye barely peeking out, but still looking directly at us, a rare moment of one-to-one confrontation, the fists clenched resolutely on either side of her hips. This is a woman who doesn’t give a fuck, and she doesn’t give a fuck in couture. She’s not going to play by your rules, she’s not going to toe the line, and she’s got no interest in being touched. Despite the minx appeal of some of Sherman’s images, there is not one coquettish, come-hither glance. It’s impossible not to see a pre-vulnerable Virginia behind the 80s power suit and the thick hair, the tension and aggression. Both Virginia and Untitled #122 are clenched figures, women whose strength is in marked defiance to the cut of their skirt. Their femininity is grimly hostile.

If a woman builds her career on pictures, what happens when she makes a movie? Is the movie different for having come after photographs? Are the photographs different for having been followed by a movie? It is impossible for anything to exist in a vacuum. Everything is a corollary to what has come before, during, and after. Most critics are guilty of looking at Sherman’s photographs without even mentioning the film, or of looking at the film only through the lens of the photographs rather than vice versa. Even Johanna Burton, in her essay “A Body Slate,” cites Rosalind Krauss and Norman Bryson, who both conclude that “reading Sherman’s various photographic series retrospectively, one will find traces of her later work gestating in the earliest.” She even quotes Bryson as observing

“an atmosphere of dread, off-screen and at the fringes of the representation, a fear for and of the body at the very moment of its sublimation or disappearance.”[15]

Yet, despite the additional perspective to be gained by inserting Office Killer into this dialogue, it’s not mentioned. When it’s inconvenient, which it often is, Office Killer is simply excised from Sherman’s body of work. It’s as if the discourse on Sherman was established with her Untitled Film Stills and all we have done since then is expand on the same ideas, continually relying on an

“urge to posit Sherman’s characters…as passive and preyed upon: in danger of (or in process of) being consumed variously by the (media-produced) male gaze, by culture at large, even by space itself.”[16]

There is a noticeable absence of the movie from the critical discussion of her work, despite the fact that her images and the film have so much in common that a productive dialogue could grow organically. Why has Office Killer been ignored? It’s not simply that Molly Ringwald wasn’t the lead, or that the movie met the curse of a female film director, of which there is also a lack in Hollywood and beyond. It can’t even be blamed on the studio’s poor distribution, since the film is available enough for art historians, if they chose to watch it. Strangely, no one watches it or chooses to discuss it.

When I wrote to Sherman, asking her to tell me what to do with my life, I was actually asking for her to tell me what to do with my body, what to do with the physical limbs and parts that compose the me I want to become, or am struggling to decipher. Sherman’s photographs are an encyclopedia of body language, but it is not so simple. The language is not based on realism. Her photographs are never snapshots. They are always performed and elaborately arranged. Each gesture, each object, is loaded with meaning. She communicates via posing, but this is not an index to living. She makes you question stereotype and learned behavior through her compositions and subjects, through the diorama-like environments she creates for each scenario. She exposes the ruptures under the surface by taking every day life and shifting it off kilter. Her photographs work for the attention they bring to that which does not fit, to the exact point of the tear, and to the isolation inherent to that moment. In her photographs, Sherman is always alone. Her work is a reference manual to body language with a solo subject. The rest of the world is merely implied, if not conspicuously absent.

While Sherman is not in Office Killer, she has said that Dorine is “a stand-in” for herself.[17] Even though there are other characters in the film, unlike in Sherman’s photographs, it is a small group, a group as strangely disassociated from any larger world as the main subject of her photographs, and a small group who is strangely disassociated from itself. There is minimal physical contact in the movie, at least between living beings. The characters cannot connect with each other on any real level, their lives just intersecting with each other without any real synergy, bodies seeping and dripping but never merging. The film is a literalization of the body’s solitude as depicted in Sherman’s photographs. It is a literalization of the body’s inability to be touched by others, of the body as a prophylactic, protecting internal organs from germs and disease, of the various potentials of body arrangement without real exposure, connection, or contamination. Dorine can place a leg here, an arm there, but her body is still hers, their bodies are still theirs. We are each alone, together. Even when present, we are fundamentally absent, a core sense of isolation running through our lives and Sherman’s work.

Touching, as we see in Office Killer, leads to disaster. Touching, as we see in Sherman’s photographs, is to be avoided. In her Untitled Film Stills, through to her most recent work, in every image in which we see Sherman, she is alone. In similar work, by other photographers, there is always the implied duality of the photographer and the subject, but, in her case, Sherman is the photographer, and the subject, and the assistant. Sherman famously works alone. She is both the gazer and the subject of the gaze. In almost all of the Untitled Film Stills, she looks outward, beyond the camera, outside of the frame. In Untitled Film Still #3, the one which most closely echoes the scene in Mrs. Michaels’ kitchen, the character’s head is cropped off, one eye cut off by the top of the image, the other eye just millimeters from sharing the same fate, both eyes staring above and beyond. But we know no one is there. Just like no one is ever there. She cannot even connect with us, her viewer. We stare at her, but she is forever out of reach.

Nowhere is this absentee status used more ironically than in her Centerfold series. Centerfolds, by nature, are sexual, come-hither, very tape-me-to-your-locker-room-door. Not for Sherman. In the famous series she prepared for ArtForum, she made her first set of horizontal images, only these were not blond bimbettes. In fact, in her own notes for the series, she listed various lying down positions: “sleeping, fallen or thrown, unable to walk, lounging.”[18] Nowhere is there a reference to sex. Fallen or thrown? One would be hard pressed to image a Pamela Anderson centerfold where she is fallen or thrown. None of Sherman’s centerfolds are “done.” The hair is often sweaty and mussed, the faces glistening and shiny—and it’s the kind of shiny that would never make it into the pages of Playboy. This isn’t the shine of a light orgasmic mist. This is the shine of sweat, of fear, of humidity. If it’s to be found erotic, it’s not the erotic of airbrushed Playmates. This is the shine of women without a compact, without a stylist, without a makeup artist. Her centerfolds are alone, and none of them beckon you to come closer. Even in her other images, some of which have a coquettish appeal, Sherman never suggests that you touch her. In photographs where her character is more conventionally attractive, like in Untitled Film Still #3, the essence of the pose is so mannequin-like, there is still a detached artificially which enhances the separation between viewer and model.

In Untitled #90, Sherman’s centerfold has a telephone, but the telephone cord isn’t wrapped seductively around a bulging breast or a curvaceous midsection. In fact, we barely see her body at all. Sherman’s centerfold is dressed to the very base of her neck, wrapped up in what appears to be lavender flannel or cotton. There is no beguiling gaze, she isn’t even looking at us at all. Her eyes, in the shadow of her mousy brown hair, are looking downward, at the base of the telephone perched beside her on the couch. She is not happy about waiting for a phone call. She, in fact, looks as though she might have just received a phone call from a dying mother, from a cheating suitor, or from a mortgage company revoking a loan. If Sherman hadn’t told us this was the Centerfold series, we’d never make that conclusion. Centerfolds, by their very come-hither nature, want to connect with us. Pamela is asking us to come closer, to lick her, to taste her flesh, to bite her lips, to tug on her bra strap. Sherman asks us to kindly keep away.

Nevertheless, both Sherman’s and Pamela’s images share the same emphasis on construction, arrangement, and inaccessibility, however disparate their execution and intention. Pamela’s gender performance is artificial as a Sherman, just with a different vernacular. Pamela gives us the impression that she wants to be touched, but what we touch can never be Pamela, or the fantasy breaks down. It’s why airbrushing is an integral part of porn, or any kind of glamour photography. Pamela is just as unavailable to us as she is to Borat.[19] Pamela’s persona, built on her visual image, is, like Sherman’s images, the opposite of a Nan Goldin, the antithesis to the snapshot.

While Goldin aims at the anti-performative, at the “real,” the premise of Pamela’s image, and centerfolds in general, is their availability as communicated through conspicuously artificial arrangement. Exposure equals accessibility. Even though Sherman’s work is constructed around the notion of the unavailable, it, too, is built on the notion of the performance as communicated via arrangement. It’s the vernacular of body parts, of body language.

Learning how to manipulate the marketplace, learning how to arrange, is both the lexicon of these images and of consumerism. Sherman’s work deals with the body in a very particularized way, a way of presentation with very specific attention paid to manifest content versus latent content, where the latent content is almost more conspicuous for its latency. This is always accompanied by an awareness of stereotype that borders on opposition. Sherman’s understanding of the language of stereotype is so thorough that she is able to turn it inside out, playing both with the stereotypes themselves while willfully contradicting and complicating them. Throughout it all, there is an intense curiosity about this lack of intimacy, an isolation in the sense that her figures are always solitary, but also an isolation that stems from her treatment of the body as if it were a doll. She is even isolated from herself, a puppeteer of her own limbs and expressions. She arranges herself in such a way that concepts of beauty and horror are not relevant—it’s what comes out of them that is interesting.

“The world is so drawn toward beauty that I became interested in things that are normally considered grotesque or ugly, seeing them as more fascinating and beautiful…It seems boring to me to pursue the typical idea of beauty, because that is the easiest or the most obvious way to see the world.”[20]

She sees herself from the outside in, watching what happens when she picks herself apart. The character of Dorine is a stand-in for Sherman because they both share this intense aura of non-intimacy and voyeurism, while also being captivated by notions of arrangement. Both Dorine and Sherman are interested in observing what happens when they create scenarios and assemble bodies. When Dorine brings the bodies home, she is bringing them into her studio, switching her role from that of detached voyeur to puppeteer in the dead womb of her house. These are her children, her figurines. Dorine isn’t interested in having adult-like relationships with these people. Instead, she creates little boy and girl situations, like a makeshift tea party, but always with a sense of isolation and detachment. After all, her friends are dead. She is an arranger of things that don’t talk back—either words and grammar, at work, or bodies and limbs, at home. The plot allows Dorine, like Sherman, to be the voyeur, to be the puppeteer, and this only gets stronger as the movie progresses.

Maybe Sherman’s work is not about the mask, or the feminine gaze. Maybe, instead, it is about arrangement, about revealing what is exposed and communicated when you arrange something in a particular way, exploring the ramifications of the relationship between arrangement and the body in contemporary culture. It’s not a commentary about the female, but about the body, on what happens between body and clothing, objects and space, about the code and language of the body. There is a sense of wanting to be invisible, much like the puppeteer is invisible, in order to be able to see the results of your actions and arrangements.

If life is a script, it is the copyeditor who makes the changes. It is the role of the woman (or the gay man) to arrange since it is a feminine responsibility to adjust and alter. Copyeditors arrange and cut. Dorine literalizes this with her bodies. Photographers and copyeditors arrange what and how you see. Sherman is always playing with the dead in her images—what makes it bearable is that the figure is her. Dorine’s transformation makes her a Sherman woman. The other characters become a piece of her diorama after they die. They have to be killed in order to be dressed up. It’s Dorine that makes the Shermans. Everyone else is an extra. The next best thing to working alone is using people who are dead.

When the flash bulb goes off, is rigor mortis that different from striking a pose? Bodies frozen in unnatural movements. “Hold that shot.” For any kind of representation, a violence has to occur, a ripping from original content/context, a recreation on different terms, however contrived and artificial. Something must be changed, held longer, space shifted and altered, a self-consciousness inherent in any representation. Dorine echoes the violence inherent in both representation and teaching, as she leaves dead bodies behind in her quest to create the ideal scenario, to both learn from it herself and to teach Norah. This is what happens when you send us home to do our work, Dorine tells her.

Dorine’s visible actions are

“linked to the inner, mental imaginings of the puppeteer.”[21]

In both Johnny Mnemonic and Office Killer, Barbara Sukowa (Virginia) plays very German, very staged, very posed characters, but she is not the only one. To varying degrees, all the other characters are merely puppets, as evidenced by their lack of progress or evolution, devices in the narrative arc of Dorine’s journey. Johnny Mnemonic (1995), directed by Sherman’s longtime friend and former boyfriend Robert Longo, was released two years before Office Killer. While painting a very different picture from the one Sherman creates in Office Killer, it, too deals with issues of arrangement, of puppetry, of a lack of consciousness, all while struggling to find a certain kind of independence, a journey to slice the umbilical cord from that which controls, and the concurrent failure of the human body.[22]

This notion of being controlled and arranged, marionette-style, pervaded several other films during the mid to late nineties. The Truman Show (1998) exposes a man’s universe as actually a soundstage, and his unknowing role as the world’s most famous television star. In Dark City (1998), John Murdoch discovers that his city is being controlled by aliens who want to take control of his mind and destroy him. In The Matrix (1999), the crucial narrative stems from the protagonist’s revelation that life on Earth may be nothing more than an elaborate simulation created by a malevolent cyber-intelligence, while in Being John Malkovich (1999), a puppeteer discovers a door in his office that allows him to enter the mind and life of John Malkovich for 15 minutes each time. Even the basic notions of posing and arrangement started becoming important in fashion and music scenes during the late 1970s to early 1980s and continued in the artwork of Richard Prince and Robert Longo, friends and significant others of Sherman, or even through the fashion world, via the work of Guy Bourdin whose fashion images often featured women arranged in doll-like poses and situations.[23]

At the same time as this filmic trend, people were literally and metaphorically disappearing as a result of AIDS, technological developments, and shifts in the workplace. No one knew where anyone belonged anymore. They stopped talking to each other in person. Communication became abstract and anonymous, when it happened at all. A pervasive sense of isolation began to spread, both in real-life interactions and also in Sherman’s work. This isolation was coupled with an aggression, a refusal to age (or do anything) gracefully, to play by anyone’s rules of how women (or people) should behave. There is strength in the steely solitude of Sherman’s solitary figures. They are alone because they chose to be, because their bodies are prophylactics from a world of disease, contagion, and weakness. Even in couture fashion, Sherman’s women dare to look away, to leave their hair uncombed, to apply their makeup badly if they apply it at all. There is a duality in her images, much like there is a duality to her subjects, always two ways of looking and being looked at. Is Mistress Untitled #122 clenching her fists because she is a victim of female hysteria? Or is she clenching her fists because she is preparing to kill? Are her centerfolds ready for bed (an assumption inherent in Sherman’s titling of the series) or are they resolutely alone and unavailable? Is our housewife of Untitled Film Still #3 frilly or domestic? There are two ways of looking, each equally important, and Sherman is in the middle, creating both, defying definition, exactly as a woman in the 21st century must do. I must reposition myself in relation to the image, pulling at the tension between the artificial and the real, the performative and the self. Her work isn’t simply about stereotypes, but about aesthetic explorations of image, woman, genre, bodies, and space, about complicating the code with which we live our lives.

Notes

1. Morris, Catherine. The Essential Cindy Sherman. New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 2001. 104. [return to essay]

2. Miramax had no idea what to do with it, its release was limited to say the least, and the domestic gross was only $37,446.

3. Roberta Smith, in her review of Office Killer for the New York Times, November 30, 1997, writes: “To people familiar with her career as an artist, Office Killer is a fascinating if lumpish bit of Shermaniana, especially when considered in conjunction with the Los Angeles retrospective.”

4. Fuku, Noriko. “A Woman of Parts,” Art in America 85 (June 1997). 74.

5. A typical Sherman criticism: “The lure of voyeurism turns around like a trap, and the viewer ends up aware that Sherman, the artist, has set up a machine for making the gaze materialize uncomfortably in alliance with Sherman, the model.” Laura Mulvey.
“Cosmetics and Abjection.” Cindy Sherman, The October Files. Ed. Johanna Burton. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. 69.

6. Smith, Roberta. “A Horror Movie, Complete With Zombies.” New York Times, November 30, 1997.

7. Fuchs, Dale. “Cubicle Culture.” In-Forum. 14 Sept. 1997.
<http://www.inforum.com/archive/purchases/
?page=view&type=archive&id=180501
>.

8. Not only does Melanie Griffith’s character, Tess McGill undergo a “cleaning up” and “feminization” throughout the film, a la Dorine’s similar journey, but her boyfriend cheats on her with a character named Doreen DiMucci. Katharine also tries to befriend Tess in a manner similar to Norah’s attempts at friendship with Dorine. Both brunettes are untrustworthy and ruthless.

9. Also see the Anna Wintour-inspired character from The Devil Wears Prada.

10. Rushdie, Salman. The Wizard of Oz. London: BFI Publishing, 1992. 42.

11. Rushdie 43.

12. Fuku, Noriko. “A Woman of Parts,” Art in America 85 (June 1997). 74.

13. Seltzer 262.

14. Center for Disease Control
<http://www.cdc.gov>.

15. Johanna Burton, “A Body Slate,” Cindy Sherman, The October Files. Ed. Johanna Burton. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. 195.

16. Burton 198.

17. “Cindy Sherman: Office Killer.” 50th Locarno International Film Festival, August 1997
<http://www.pardo.ch/1997/filmprg/r004.html>.

18. Cindy Sherman Retrospective. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997. 100.

19. In Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), Borat, a character played by Sacha Baron Cohen, tries to kidnap Pamela Anderson in a gunny sack to take her back to Eastern Europe to get married. He fails.

20. Fuku, Noriko. “A Woman of Parts,” Art in America 85 (June 1997). 74.

21. De Man, Paul. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press. 208.

22. Johnny Mnemonic tells the tale of a man, played by Keanu Reeves, who delivers information that has been downloaded into his brain. His memory has been “augmented” to provide him with more than twice the normal gigabytes of the ordinary individual. In his book on The Matrix, Joshua Clover emphasizes the significance of the fact that Johnny “has no conscious access to the digital data he carries; he’s perfectly alienated labor of the digital era.” The film deals with both the alienation enacted by technological advances and the interconnectedness the internet provides, an interconnectedness based on isolation, which Johnny makes literal when he dons gloves and a mask to enter, literally, cyberspace, a touchable environment complete with animated “physical” objects with which he interacts, all while he is fundamentally alone and disengaged. Clover, Joshua. The Matrix. London: British Film Institute, 2004. 21

23. His fashion editorial and advertising was published principally in French Vogue from the mid-1950s through to the late 1980s, where it had its greatest impact in the decade of the 1970s.

Office Killer credits

Office Killer

USA
1997

82 minutes

Director
Cindy Sherman

Executive Producers
Tom Carouso
John Hart
Ted Hope

Producers
Pamela Koffler
James Schamus
Christine Vachon

Writing Credits
(in alphabetical order)
Todd Haynes, additional dialogue (uncredited)
Tom Kalin, writer
Elise MacAdam, writer
Cindy Sherman, story

Original Music by
Evan Lurie

Cinematography by
Russell Lee Fine

Film Editing by
Merril Stern

Production Design by
Kevin Thompson

Art Direction by
Ford Wheeler

Set Decoration by
Amy Beth Silver

Costume Design by
Todd Thomas

Hair and Makeup by
Evelyn Ortman

Production Management
Blair Breard, unit production manager
John J. Leonard, post-production supervisor

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Cindy Craig, second assistant director                        
Jude Gorjanc, first assistant director
Victoria Robinson, second second assistant director

Art Department
Andrea Stanley, construction coordinator

Sound Department
Evan T. Chen, assistant sound editor
Neil Danziger, sound mixer
Mick Gormany, sound editor
George A. Lara, foley mixer
Adam Lerner, apprentice sound editor
Jennifer Martinez, boom operator
Sylvia Menno, sound editor
David Novack, sound re-recording mixer
Eliza Paley, sound
Paul P. Soucek, co-supervising sound editor
Brian Vancho, foley artist

Editorial Department
Myron I. Kerstein, assistant editor
Jessica Levin, assistant editor
Yvette Mattern, assistant editor
Hilary Peabody, assistant editor (as Hillary Peabody)
Nelson Ryland, assistant editor (as Hillary Peabody)
Damon Skinner, assistant editor (as Hillary Peabody)
Patricia Sztaba, negative matcher
Stan Sztaba, negative matcher

Music Department
Randall Poster, music supervisor

Other crew
Andy Clark, location manager
John J. Leonard, production coordinator
Sandra Isabelle Muller, script supervisor
Gayle Vangrofsky, assistant location manager
Marlene McCarty, title designer (uncredited)

Special Effects by
Rob Benevides, special effects makeup
Drew Jiritano, special effects coordinator
Rodney Sterbenz, special effects makeup assistant

Stunts
Victor Chan, stunts
John Copeman, stunts
David S. Lomax, stunts (as David Lomax)
Steve Mack, stunts
David Shumbris, stunts
Manny Siverio, stunts
          
Camera and Electrical Department
Lloyd Handwerker, assistant camera
Teri Kennedy, second second assistant camera
Kristy Tully, gaffer

Costume and Wardrobe Department
Lisa Dorr, wardrobe assistant
Andrea Swistak, wardrobe supervisor  

Cast

Carol Kane
Dorine Douglas
Molly Ringwald
Kim Poole
Jeanne Tripplehorn
Norah Reed
Barbara Sukowa
Virginia Wingate
Michael Imperioli
Daniel Birch
David Thornton
Gary Michaels
Mike Hodge
Mr. Landau
Alice Drummond
Carlotta Douglas
Florina Rodov
Receptionist
Jason Brill
Delivery Man
Eddie Malavarca
Brian
Doug Barron
Ted
Linda Powell
Naomi
Albert Macklin
Brad
Michelle Hurst
Kate

Paula Cale
Paula
Harley Kaplan
Steve
Marla Sucharetza
Mrs. Gary Michaels
Marceline Hugot
Young Carlotta Douglas
Wayne Maxwell
Jimmy the Homeless Man
Julia McIlvaine
Linda, Girl Scout #1
Cleopatra St. John
Girl Scout #2
Danny Morgenstern
Ted's Secretary
Timothy Stickney
Paramedic #1 (as Timothy D. Stickney)
Christopher Tracy
Paramedic #2
Rachel Aviva
Young Dorine Douglas (uncredited)
John D. Bair
Office Delivery Man (uncredited)
Eric Bogosian
Peter Douglas (uncredited)

 

Bibliography

*Texts which contain a discussion of Office Killer.

Avgikos, Jan. “Cindy Sherman, Metro Pictures.” ArtForum, September 2004.

Burton, Johanna, ed. Cindy Sherman, The October Files. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.

Cindy Sherman. Basel, Switzerland: Kunsthalle; Munich, Germany:
Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst; London, England: Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Cindy Sherman. London, England: Serpentine Gallery, 2003

Cindy Sherman. New York, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1987.

*“Cindy Sherman: Office Killer.” 50th Locarno International Film Festival, August 1997
<http://www.pardo.ch/1997/filmprg/r004.html>.

Cindy Sherman Retrospective. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Cindy Sherman: Transformations. Dir. Paul Tschinkel. New York Inner-Tube Video, 2002.

Cindy Sherman: Working Girl. St. Louis, Missouri: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2005.

Clover, Joshua. The Matrix. London: British Film Institute, 2004.

De Man, Paul. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derry, Charles. Dark Dreams. Cranbury: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc. 1977.

Foster, Jennifer Ann. “Hiding Out Beauty: A Study of Making Horror.”
Master’s Thesis, Art Center, 1999.

*Frankel, David. “Cindy Sherman Talks to David Frankel.”ArtForum, March 2003.

Friedman, Martin. Close Reading: Chuck Close and the
Artist Portrait
. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005.

Fuchs, Dale. “Cubicle Culture.” In-Forum. 14 Sept. 1997
<http://www.inforum.com/archive/purchases/
?page=view&type=archive&id=180501>.

*Fuku, Noriko. “A Woman of Parts,” Art in America 85 (June 1997).

*Geffner, David. “First Things First.” Filmmaker Magazine, Fall 1997
<http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/
fall1997/firstthingsfirst.php>.

Koestenbaum, Wayne. “Fall Gals.” ArtForum, September 2000.

Krauss, Rosalind. Cindy Sherman, 1975-1993.
New York: Rizzoli Press, 1993.

Morris, Catherine. The Essential Cindy Sherman.
New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 2001.

Nobody’s Here But Me: Cindy Sherman. Dir. Mark Stokes.
Arena and Cinecontact Production for BBC and the
Arts Council of Great Britain. BBC2. 1994.

*Plagens, Peter. “The Odd Allure Of Movies Never Made:
"Cindy Sherman's `Film Stills' Will Make A Neat Exhibition.
Her Flick Is Another Story.” Newsweek Jun 30, 1997.

*Rickels, Laurence A. “American Psychos: The End of
Art Cinema in the 90s.” Art/Text Jan. 2000.

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