Poet Karen Rigby’s “Norma Desmond Descending the Staircase as Salome” inspired The Straddler to rewatch the final scene of Sunset Boulevard, in which Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond, as Salome, lost in fantasy, descends the stairs for the close-up she is famously “ready for.” Mistaking the surrounding news cameras and crew for a Hollywood set, she plays her part, delivers a monologue, and nearing the camera, fades to white.
While we tend to regard delusion as an enemy to be assiduously fought, this, the second issue of The Straddler, makes efforts to position itself on both sides of the camera(s), as we take a close-up look at the ways in which documents—broadly defined—are made and, at the same time, produce them ourselves. What should it mean that Norma Desmond believes herself to be a participant in one reality in which she seeks to produce meaning, when in fact she takes part in (at the very least) three? The washed-up silent film actress plays her moment at once for De Mille, news cameras and neighbors, and for the viewers she imagines will be watching the movie she is, in fact, not making. Gloria Swanson, the actress playing Norma Desmond, performs this moment for the audience of Sunset Boulevard, but must also be aware, in playing it, that in order for it to have its full impact—in order for it to produce all of its meanings for us—she must consider a number of artificial and actual contexts.
Let Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond as Salome, in a scene in which she descends the staircase for Cecil B. De Mille in a movie directed by Billy Wilder, be a stand-in for what we mean to convey by the term document, and by our interest in documents whose contexts are often multiple and always evolving. And let us position ourselves on both sides of every side of every camera in that famous scene: the real cameras of the news crews, the imagined cameras of the Cecille B. De Mille film Norma Desmond thinks she’s starring in, and the actual camera through which film passed in order to produce the document we know as Sunset Boulevard.
Lest any of this seem at all involuted, it is a sort of clarity we seek in the documents and texts that follow in this issue. Ah, ever straddling.