How Stella (Schnabel) Lost Her Groove

November 19, 2013 • Culture

“Burn the rich.”

That was my friend’s response to a recent video I forwarded her (accompanied by my email subject header “WTF I DO NOT UNDERSTAND”) of Stella Schnabel, daughter of multi-millionaire multi-hyphenate art man Julian Schnabel, dancing half-naked against a green wall, shot by another downtown darling in her own right, photographer Rachel Chandler. It had all the elements of everything I hate: white girl dance hall vibes, bad lingerie, and wealth masquerading at creativity. I wrote my editors, prepared to rip this sucker – and everyone involved – a new one. Rich bitches, feel my wrath!

The video opens with Schnabel staring straight at camera in close up, adjusting her hair before moving through a cycle of unprovoked emotions as she appears to busy herself with some unseen task below. Perhaps she is painting? Folding socks? Playing Candy Crush? Who knows. Her facial expressions travel from thoughtful, to humored, to briefly repulsed, and then back to thoughtful again. She, the actress, is both contemptuous of the attention and enraptured by it. I was immediately taken back to a memory of acting class in Los Angeles, standing alone onstage while I proceeded to chop vegetables with varying degrees of vicious intensity as I rehashed the memory of some c*#t in high school who told my brother I was pregnant or something. This exercise was called a “behavioral.”

After Schnabel sufficiently proves herself capable of a wide spectrum of feelings, the film goes to black, opening again on Schnabel, still in close up, dancing against the aforementioned green wall. The cut that proves to be the most traumatic is the next one, when the camera pulls back to reveal Schnabel in all her zaftig, sheer lingerie glory, shaking her booty into a backbend to the tune of a song reminiscent of the Brat Pack glory days. The contemplative ‘80s synth track continues while Schnabel twerks, jerks, and writhes in a way that feels far too intimate, given the lack of makeup, the revealing lighting, and the dedicated focus on the clumps of mesh clinging to her navel, her breasts, her largely exposed ass. I found myself staring at the screen, eyes wide in confusion, living in both admiration of Schnabel’s brazenness and irritated by the assumption there was an audience for this. My own little spectrum of feelings, as it were.

In an introduction, Nowness christened the short film “hypnotic,” describing it as the result of a “five-hour dance-athon” that took place at Stella’s dad’s Hampton’s studio. Nowness readers, however, were not similarly impressed. Comments included digs like “Hilarious,” “Haha. Delusional,” and “Not the bonniest lass is she?” Having quickly discovered comrades in kneejerk contempt, I – obnoxious contrarian that I am — found myself wanting to distance myself from the hate herd immediately.

And so I watched it again.

And I did a little research.

And I stopped hating it so much.

Damn it! What the hell was I supposed to write about now?! I had just buzz killed my buzz kill, left myself to do something droll and boring like, I don’t know, praise. Ignorance is bliss, my friends. Especially when you want to just hate something straight out the gate.

Though the film is Rachel Chandler’s first, she has been a working photographer for the last few years, shooting for the likes of Vogue.com, Dazed Digital, and Purple Diary. Her subjects include all the boldface names in the book — Daphne Guinness, Olivier Zahm, Lily Donaldson, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne – with locations ranging from Versace fashion shows to horse-laden English countrysides and their accompanying manors. Like the video, Chandler’s photographs are off in a way that is very now, each image infused with a calculated imperfection, a sense of moneyed macabre. Chandler is one of those young and beautiful It Girls who, in a very Capote-esque way, has been granted access into this world and found a way to document it intimately, with – whether or not this is the case – an outsider’s eye.

And Schnabel, though it would be easy to write her off as a talentless trust fund kid with a sparsely populated IMDB page that includes credits like “girl with fish,” was, as recently as 2010, lumped in with the likes of Lena Dunham as one of NYC’s “downtown auteurs.” More recently, Schnabel, along with eleven others, secured herself an executive producer credit on Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Whatever you’re opinion of the film was, it’s still Harmony Korine, not Michael Bay. Sure, Schnabel’s got more money to throw around then your average Joe, but at least she’s not throwing it at something like Transformers 14.

Arguably, there’s still the content of the video to contend with. Chandler herself says that the genesis for the film was a desire to simply shoot Schnabel dancing, having been inspired by seeing her out at night for years while she was still DJing. Snooze! Try again, Chandler.

Grossly unsatisfied with this as an answer for the video’s greater meaning, I, in the tradition of all the art critics who have come before me, started making up shit. Was it about feminism? The role of the woman in the context of the 21st century? An unretouched rebuttal against the hyper-sexuality of our modern pop stars, so toned and glossy and hairless they con us into thinking what they’re doing is absolutely not simulating fucking to sell records? Was that what Stella, as she backed her ass towards the camera, the tag of her underwear still visible, trying to teach me? Was it? WAS IT?

After hours of analysis, my relationship with this video remains a complicated one. In trying to understand, I realized I understood nothing. Probably should have just stuck with the whole “burn the rich” thing and saved myself an afternoon.

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