Fans and Fandom


Fans and fandom have been subjected to moral surveillance, and a powerfully moralizing gaze, throughout film history. In common-sense terms, the fan audience (whether socially organized into fandom or not) has typically been represented as a bit weird, excessively emotional in relation to favored stars, too interested in the trivia of films' production and the miniscule details of close reading, or too obsessed with the world of film to live successfully in the real world. Film fans sometimes have to defend themselves against accusations that they are losers or maladjusted geeks. Even the notion that film is an art with its own visionary auteurs has not been enough to dispel the image of the pathological movie fan, and neither has the term cinephilia , with its high-cultural overtones. For example, the US documentary Cinemania (2002) portrays a group of self-professed cinephiles as variously dysfunctional: unable to hold down jobs or have sex lives, instead they obsessively devote their time to attending art-house cinemas in New York. Movie fandom is an object of ridicule in such media portrayals, however affectionate or highbrow they are. It is against this background of negative stereotyping of fans as losers and geeks that much scholarly work on fans and fandom has sought to positively reevaluate fandom as instead indicating participation in a like-minded community and involving healthy audience creativity.

The importance of stardom within film culture also has led to fans being morally devalued and stereotypically represented as hysterical obsessives. Analyzing the beginnings of movie fan culture from the 1910s onward, as regional variations in film exhibition were supplanted by a national popular culture through a wide range of films, books, plays, and popular songs from the early twentieth century, movie fans were depicted as celebrity-obsessed female daydreamers, the archetypal image of the fan being that of a hysterical, starstruck teenage girl (see Fuller, p. 116). This feminizing of film fans—including males—was powerfully reinforced by the film industry in the wake of the development of the star system. Once the star system began to take hold, and stars' names were promoted and publicized, it then became possible for fans to be represented as feminized, celebrity-obsessed consumers.

Academic work on movie fans has sometimes assumed that their fandom can be equated with being a fan of a specific celebrity. Jackie Stacey offers a sensitive study of female fans that challenges negative stereotypes surrounding the subject and argues that fans do not simply "identify" with film stars (that is, perceive stars as sharing qualities with themselves, or wish to "be like them") or desire them as idealized fantasy figures. Instead, the ways in which fans—and organized fandoms—relate to film stars are far more complicated, involving a range of cinematic and extracinematic practices. Again, fans and fandom are linked to activities that go beyond just watching a star's movies. Stacey analyzes fans' feelings of devotion, worship, and even transcendence: appreciating a particular film star allows them to tune out everyday worries, disappointments, and stresses (p. 145). Stacey highlights a range of fan practices that occur outside the moment of film viewing, such as self-consciously pretending to be a favorite star or otherwise imitating and copying them. These imitations do not mean that such fans have "lost touch with reality," nor that they really want to be someone else; instead, their fandom is merely expressed and displayed through specific cultural activities (p. 171).

Other work on star–fan relationships has stressed the role of organized fandom in communally shaping audiences' reactions to, and appreciations of, movie stars. For example, Richard Dyer observes how Judy Garland became an icon for gay audiences, who interpreted her career and personal struggles as "representing the situation and experience of being gay in a homophobic society" (p. 153). It can be argued that Garland's star text still is widely perceived as the special province of a gay male fandom. Other types of subcultural fandom may also be linked to the revaluation of particular stars. For example, fans of classic horror may especially appreciate movie stars from the silent era, such as Conrad Veidt (1893–1943), whose appearances in films such as Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari ( The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , 1920) and Orlacs Hände ( The Hands of Orlac , 1924) linked him to stylized acting performances and representations of the sinister. Far from being a mainstream "leading man," Veidt nevertheless has become a focal point for a specific horror fan and cinephile community who can interpret his "monstrous" and marginal characters in relation to the antimainstream difference of their own fan culture. Rather than suggesting that particular types of fandom may be especially linked to certain stars, the case of gay male fandom shows that mainstream male stars such as Keanu Reeves can also be revalued or reinterpreted, especially stars whose publicity images represent their sexuality in an ambiguous manner.

b. Potsdam, Germany, 22 January 1893, d. 3 April 1943

Conrad Veidt appeared in such classic German expressionist films as Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari ( The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , 1920), in which he played somnambulist Cesare; Orlacs Hände ( The Hands of Orlac , 1924); and Der Student von Prag ( The Student of Prague , 1926). In Caligari , Veidt's androgynous sleepwalker elicits fear and dread from everyone else in the film while being both the instrument and victim of Dr. Caligari (Emil Jannings). Some have seen Veidt as a forerunner of later movie monsters that elicit some degree of sympathy, such as Boris Karloff's creature in Frankenstein (1933).

A star of silent film who was strongly linked to the German expressionist movement in the initial phases of his career, Veidt went on to play evil Nazi characters in later sound films such as Escape (1940). He was typecast in sinister, creepy, or just plain monstrous roles, often representing the "bad German" partly as a result of the historical and cultural context in which he was working, and partly because of his own looks and acting style. The role of Major Strasser in the classic cult film Casablanca (1942) was one of Veidt's final Hollywood roles, coming after he had taken a break from working in the United States to act in Britain from 1932 to 1940. Veidt's performances were frequently highly stylized, in line with the calculated distortions typical of German expressionism.

Being an unusual star, and given his appearances in classic and cult films such as Casablanca and Caligari , Veidt himself has been embraced as a cult icon, particularly by cinephiles who have an awareness of film history. The Conrad Veidt Society was formed in 1990 by James Rathlesberger, and its members commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Veidt's death (and the one hundredth anniversary of his birth) in 1993. According to its Internet homepage, the society is dedicated to promoting "classic" films, working to place "Veidt in the context of his times—Germany during the fame of the Expressionist film, England after the rise of Hitler, and America gearing up to fight WWII." Its members particularly value Veidt for his anti-Nazi humanism and his career-long fight against intolerance and prejudice. Onscreen, though, Veidt ended his career playing a Nazi in the escapist Above Suspicion (1943), his last film.


Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari ( The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , 1920), Orlacs Hände ( The Hands of Orlac , 1924), Der Student von Prag ( The Student of Prague , 1926), The Man Who Laughs (1928), Jew Süss (1934), Under the Red Robe (1937), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), All Through the Night (1942), Casablanca (1942)


Allen, Jerry C. Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca. Revised ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Boxwood, 1993.

Brosnan, John. The Horror People . New York: St. Martin's Press, and London: MacDonald and Jane's, 1976.

Budd, Mike, ed. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Texts, Contexts, Histories . New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Conrad Veidt Society Official Home Page, available online at .

Telotte, J. P. "Beyond All Reason: The Nature of the Cult." In The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason , edited by J. P. Telotte, 5–17. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

Matt Hills

Conrad Veidt.

Organized fandom can thus sustain different readings of ubiquitous star images as well as especially valuing certain stars as a badge of distinction and marker of distance from "the mainstream."

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