Kathy: Why, it’s just an empty stage.
Don: At first glance, yes. But wait a second. A beautiful sunset. Mist from the distant mountains. Coloured lights in a garden. Flooded with moonlight. We add 500,000 kilowatts of stardust. A soft summer breeze…
The empty sound stage is an empty world, a vacuum ready to be populated by sets, props and characters that constitute a universe – like the sets of Artaud and Trecartin whose surrealist vibrancy is designed to provoke production, the sets of Hollywood consist of a vacuum, an immersive emptiness that is the pre-condition of production. Hollywood operates as meta-universe, within which all other worlds can co-exist in spatio-temporal adjacency, and a model for a post-digital relational space of production.
The formation of the film studio lot offers a diagram for a physical shared universe. Parallel sound stages act as host voids for the construction of immersive set-worlds. Often in the case of contemporary film production, the set is also mostly a void of chroma key green screen, the immersive world building taking place on the shared desktop of Adobe After Effects. Still, the physical studio formation persists, of sound stages side-by-side hosting parallel worlds and bodies, mirrored in the multiplex cinema with its corridor of screens, each a door leading to a different world, and the streaming platform in which content is positioned more-or-less horizontally. These worlds intersect as characters, actors, props and crew members interchange between stages. Proximity begets contingency, and thus Hollywood constitutes a meta-universe, occasionally crossing over to become the subject of film in itself.
An early example of the meta-universe as fictional world is Singin’ in the Rain (1952), which takes the techniques and technologies of filmmaking as its subject matter, specifically the transition from silent film to talking pictures in the late 1920’s, and the tribulations for the studio system that this shift engendered. Whilst the characters and productions the film focuses on are fictional, it makes reference to real-life releases including Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer (1927), thus positioning itself on the periphery of the Real. The character of Lina Lamont is a nod toward silent film actress Clara Bow, who, with the advent of ‘talkies’ surprised audiences with her thick Brooklyn accent: “I hate talkies … they’re stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there’s no chance for action, and action is the most important thing to me.”
Singin’ therefore charts the same moment of transition outlined by Deleuze’s Cinema I (1983) and Cinema II (1985): from the pre-war movement-image to the post-war time-image, in which Bow’s call for ‘action’ (i.e. movement) is superseded by the time-binding effects of language and sound. Deleuze identifies Gene Kelly’s movement and dancing in Singin’ as a response to the ‘sensory-motor situation’ (the rain-drenched street) that calls for a ‘movement of world that the dance will outline’, in the case of the iconic titular routine this is described as a ‘dance which seems to have its origin in the unevenness of the pavement.’ The sensory-motor situation, then has much to do with Artaud’s idea of the setting as the ‘starting point for theatrical creation’, but what of the empty stage, the empty world?
On a number of occasions, Singin’ utilises the soundstages and equipment of filmmaking as a location whose very emptiness provides the sensory-motor stimulus for these ‘movements of world’. Protagonist Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) uses a vacant stage to woo his love interest Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) through the song ‘You Were Meant For Me’. The emptiness of the stage becomes Lockwood’s material with which to produce the required affect of romance as he manipulates light, smoke and wind, (along with ‘500,000 kilowatts of stardust’) to produce a simulacra of the natural world before launching into song. The empty stage is an exemplification of Marc Augé’s ‘Non-Place’, and its adaptation by Deleuze as the ‘any-space-whatever’: a ‘space of virtual conjunction, grasped as pure locus of the possible,’ in which song and dance routines might spontaneously erupt at any given moment in a flow of continuity that is at odds with the Brechtian use of song as an alienating interruption.
The effect is replicated in the sequence for the song ‘Make em Laugh’, which begins with Lockwood and Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) walking across a soundstage, moving between a series of adjacent set-worlds and their film crews; a jungle scene, a western, a sports stadium, a hotel lobby. The latter becomes the setting for Brown’s acrobatic dance routine which utilises the half-constructed set to comic effect, opening a door that leads onto a brick wall, running up leaning planks in a series of gravity-defying stunts. Meanwhile set dressers and stage hands continue their work in the background seemingly oblivious or indifferent to Brown’s moment of pure motor-sensory abandon.
By being a film about film-making, also a mise-en-abyme (‘Singin’ in the Rain’ becomes the title of the film they are making, as well as the film we are watching) the film somewhat dissolves the fourth wall of the Hollywood studio, but only to a degree that will enhance the immersion and entertainment of its audience. Rather than the alienating provocation of Brecht, Singin’s dissolutions serve to enhance immersion through a contract of understanding with the post-war audience, in which recognition of their pre-war selves and the sound stage sites of production positions the film adjacent to lived reality. The film addresses its audience knowing them to be Fans, privy to a knowledge of Hollywood stars of a previous era. The character of Kathy Seldon is also a Fan, her avid readership of the ‘fan magazines’ (such as Photoplay (1911-1980), Motion Picture Magazine (1911-1977) and Modern Screen (1930-1985)) is a source of embarrassment she seeks to conceal. Fandom here is not a productive force, it’s only outlet being enraptured spectatorship at a movie premiere or mobbing and tearing the clothing of stars encountered on the street.
Golden era Hollywood’s disregard for its fans perhaps rebounded in the form of Kenneth Anger’s ostensibly non-fiction account of the era Hollywood Babylon (1959), in which Anger took the gossip impulse of the fan magazine and its celebrity personae as characters for a series of libelous debauched episodes, the content of which was accessed by “mental telepathy, mostly,” in keeping with his status as a practitioner of Thelemic magick. Anger’s merging of the Hollywood milieu and occult practice follows Artauld’s suspicion that ‘the cinema reveals a whole occult life with which it puts us directly into contact. But we must know how to divine this occult life.’ It is precisely the occluded aspects of the studio system, the sound stages and equipment, the processes and techniques of film-making, which if done correctly will remain occluded and serve only to enhance immersion.
Anger’s writing is the form of frustrated fan theory-fiction that Hollywood engendered, the literary equivalent of rending a star’s garments in the street. The same impulse is present in J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), in which Princess Margaret, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, become the cast of Ballard’s surgical-erotic vignettes. Ballard’s own specific locale in West London, surrounded by the film studios of Shepperton and Pinewood offers a twin, more prosaic milieu to that of Anger’s Hollywood. Where Ballard’s writing is clearly a neurologically admixed version of the mid-1960’s mediascape, Anger positions his writing within the real by claiming the work is non-fiction, the apparatus of a Hollywood non-place providing the motor-sensory impetus for his visions. Anger closes the book with a description of the emptiness of the Columbia studios soundstages rendered permanently vacant by the increasing popularity of on-location filming in that era, invoking an image of ancient Egyptian tombs: ‘hulking, obsolete sound stages like secretive mastabas.’ For Anger the emptiness of the sound stage is the emptiness of Hollywood, a vessel ready to contain whatever worlds can be conjured from its immersive vacuity.
With the increasing dominance of chroma key (colloquially ‘green screen’, often blue screen) filming in mainstream cinema, Hollywood (particularly the cinema of genre fiction and superhero comic adaptation which is particularly reliant on such technologies), once again requires voids to produce its immersions, with actors expected to respond with the minimum of possible motor-sensory stimulus. The actor must perform within a vacuum, alienated from fictive imagination and deprived of motor-sensory stimulus, producing alongside flattened body-voids waiting to be populated by avatars. As jolting to the actor as the door that opens onto a brick wall, the chroma key screen becomes a zone of limitless possibility for the production of immersive images in digital space, the exemplification of Auge’s indifferent non-place. The alienations of the empty soundstage, the empty green screen, enable the building of new worlds; echoing Laboria Cuboniks once again, ‘Alienation is the labour of freedom’s construction.’
 Singin’ in the Rain, Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan, Beverly Hills: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.
 Elisabeth Goldbeck “The Real Clara Bow,” Motion Picture Classic, September 1930. Quoted in Annabel Lagasse, “An Exploration Of The Creative Challenges In Representing Human Movement In Digital Animation” (PhD diss., Nottingham Trent and Southampton Solent University, 2015), 85.
 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema II:The Time Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Bloomsbury Revelations, 2013), 63.
 Deleuze, Cinema II, 62.
 Deleuze, Cinema II, 62.
 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I:The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Bloomsbury Revelations, 2013), 123.
 Kevin Brownlow, “Foreword,” in Laura Balogh, Karl Dane: A biography and filmography (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2009), 1.
 Antonin Artaud, “Witchcraft and the Cinema,” in Antonin Artaud Collected Works Volume Three, trans. Alastair Hamilton (London: Calder & Boyars, 1972), 66.
 Kenneth Anger, Hollywood Babylon (New York: Dell Publishing, 1975), 418.
 Laboria Cuboniks, “Xenofeminism.”