Cindy Sherman had the last laugh – of course. When the chameleonic, role-playing visual artist and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center co-founder released “Office Killer,” her lone feature film as a director in 1997, it was greeted by withering reviews. (And that was pre-Twitter.) “Some of this is insulting, all of it is tedious,” opined future New York Times’ critic Manohla Dargis, capturing the dominant critical response.
Meanwhile, the Times could barely hide its glee over a film it said “has been an object of rumors and eye-rolling in the movie world for nearly a year.” Finally released after Miramax, in typical Weinstein fashion, sat on it for several months, the Times declared that “the murky 79-minute horror flick with which Sherman is making her directorial debut … feels more like a primer about her artistic development and working process than an actual movie.”
Nearly two decades later, Sherman’s acidic quasi-horror thriller about a downsized corporate drone-turned murderer is rightfully hailed as a sharp-tongued gem, and is undergoing a critical reappraisal. (It is streaming on Netflix, and a bare-bones DVD is available.) It even has inspired a recent book-length analysis, cleverly subtitled “Another Kind of Monster.” “Office Killer’s” current status as an unfairly judged creation is surely cemented by now, and fittingly, the film is set to screen at the very place that started the artist on her path to international stardom: Hallwalls.
“Office Killer” screens at 7 p.m. April 24 in Hallwalls, in conjunction with the exhibit “Western New York Collects: Cindy Sherman” in Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum. The film, starring Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn, is preceded by a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. (The exhibit runs through June 28.)
“Office Killer” did no lasting damage to Sherman’s career; the same cannot be said for the duds directed by Hallwalls co-founder Robert Longo (“Johnny Mnemonic”) and contemporary David Salle (“Search and Destroy”). And it seems Sherman emerged emboldened by the experience, telling Interview magazine that the compromises involved in directing a film played a role in the work that followed: “I’d never even thought about compromise when I worked in my studio. ... I wouldn’t want to make another film if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted it to be, and couldn’t be faithful to that vision.”
She never did, and perhaps never will. But we can now better appreciate the film’s place in the Sherman canon – and ponder how the heck Kane and Ringwald ended up in a thriller helmed by Sherman and written by Sherman, Todd “Far From Heaven” Haynes and Tom “Swoon” Kalin. Because … wow. That’s an intriguing bunch.
– Christopher Schobert