Mario Garcia Torres

Mario Garcia Torres discusses his work at the Hammer Museum

Mario Garcia Torres, I Am Not a Flopper, n.d., HD video, color, sound, 29 minutes.

The work of Mexico City–based artist Mario Garcia Torres addresses the ways in which art and information are constructed over time. Here he discusses I Am Not a Flopper, n.d., which is on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, from September 13, 2014 to January 4, 2015. New pieces by Garcia Torres are also included in a joint exhibition with Cildo Meireles, “Que Coisa É? A Conversation,” at Pivô, São Paulo, which runs until November 1, 2014.

I AM NOT A FLOPPER is a new delivery of a stage monologue I cowrote with philosopher Aaron Schuster a number of years ago. In this thirty-minute one-act play, an actor assumes the role of Alan Smithee—a pseudonym that filmmakers use whenever they want to withdraw their directing credit from one of their films. By personifying such a pseudonym, the piece brings to the forefront issues surrounding established notions of creation and invention.

Alan Smithee was first used and approved by the Directors Guild of America in 1967. While the specific reasons why a director didn’t want their name attached to a film were not always clear, we can surmise that they were probably unhappy with the studio-edited result, that it didn’t represent their original intention. We also don’t really know why the credit was given that particular name. One hypothesis is that Alan Smithee is an anagram for “the alias man.” Another is that the name comes from Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report) (1955), which includes a character who acquires amnesia and at one point entertains the notion that his own name might be Smithee. Regardless, directors have actively used Alan Smithee since its inception, attributing to it more than seventy projects to date. These include famous titles, such as Catchfire (1990), a film that was actually directed by Dennis Hopper, as well as a lot of bad movies with insane titles you may have never heard of, like Le Zombi de Cap-Rouge (1997) and Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991).

In I Am Not a Flopper, Smithee expresses that the content in these films is not important; what is vital is the fact that each of his projects occupies a time slot. Though his films might not have been successful in theaters, many of them were subsequently shown on television and thus seen by a broader audience. For him, the film’s function was not to entertain but to fill the airtime. The audience may not know his name, but they have most likely seen one of his works. If achievement is based on circulation, then Alan Smithee has certainly made it.

Among other subjects discussed in the piece is Smithee’s “self ready-madeness,” a term he uses to describe someone whose work is automatically built as the result of an involuntary process. But if we look closer, what appears is truly an artist who is creating work, yet at the same time is not producing anything physically at all. Smithee reasons that he doesn’t want to produce films because there are so many out there already; what he wants is to change their authorship, and by doing so challenge ideas about film production.

For example, Smithee’s filmography is built randomly. Though Smithee was born in 1967, his earliest film is from 1955. Inversely, though he could have made a film in 1983, it could have only been attributed to him in 2014. The production of his work is constantly shifting backward and forward in time because of the politics of the withdrawal/crediting process. His output is never consecutive, which brings into question why artists need to create chronologically. I stopped dating my own work some time ago because of that very argument; a work I produced today might be more related to one I made ten years ago rather than one I made yesterday.

When I debuted I Am Not a Flopper on a stage in London, the live performance was an integral part of the work. For the work at the Hammer, Los Angeles becomes a better context to have this discussion. We hired a new actor and recorded him in a television studio, inserting him in the medium in which Smithee had acquired the most visibility. With this second iteration, the character is no longer fixed to one image. I’m actually looking forward to having even more faces associated with the project by doing three or four more versions with different actors reading the same script. At this point, I’m considering playing Alan Smithee myself.