of the word “rumor” opposes it to knowledge as such. Perhaps all we can posit is what rumors
do. The Latin proverb rumor volat points to the contagious soaring velocity of rumors as they
infect a listening populace. Its related in that way to fama. But fama concerns itself with actual
deeds—with rumor there’s always a gap. In the gap, hearers of the rumor are forced to make
inferences, and, naturally, many of them are errors.
As I watched nearly every film Parker Posey has ever appeared in, I kept writing in my
notebook, “she’s a rumor in film!” Now yes, I was high. But what did I mean?
For many, of course, Posey’s work is literally a rumor. Even for the “queen of the indies,” an
epithet one hopes Posey secretly or even vocally hates, her face appears to most American as
familiar but difficult to pin down. Not that there’s no pleasure to be found therein. Posey is
quintessential illustration of the “I liked this band before anybody knew who they were” trope,
and Poseyphilia remains a cipher of sublime obscure cool for a whole generation.
It’s not that her appearance in blockbusters is forgettable, but audiences of Superman Returns,
for instance, may not have the same access to the steady development of her hypothesis as an
actor. That hypothesis is a robust blurring of the lines between authenticity and performance—it
is shaped like the structure of rumor. Still, they may intuit something is up in You’ve Got Mail
when she whines about a critic her and her boyfriend met at a party, “He’s always talking about
Heidegger and Foucault.” Who?
In both her indie and mainstream work, she is typecast. As if her hypothesis can only be read
as threatening established codes, the almost all-male roster of her directors have required her
to portray what Americans call a bitch. I regretfully use the word here—but she is not typecast
as a “strong woman battling patriarchy.” She does that all the time in her roles, but it is not often
the obvious prerogative of the guys who make the films she’s in.
When she appears, she can be sharp, humiliating, frozen. These affects emerge casually,
eliding whatever effort or artifice she uses to make her affect manifest. This affect in practice is
principally directed at her male co-stars. In Laws of Attraction, she refers matter-of-factly to her
ex, “My lawyer’s going to cut Thorn’s balls off and give them back as earrings.” The line could
be uttered, with minute variation, by any number of on-screen tough guys. In Posey’s
sophisticated Valley-Girl-of-Mississippi accent, it's uncanny but still believable. And who can
forget the scene in The Doom Generation when she promises to kill Xavier Red. Placing a
sword on his cock, she warns, “I’m gonna lop his dick off…like a chicken head.”
“Off screen” her public performance is the opposite. She seems open, sympathetic, warm.
Reading interviews with her I’m struck by one gesture which I find extremely endearing. In
almost all of her interviews, she’ll respond to questions with an answer and a follow-up question.
Are you a vegetarian Parker? How’s your love life? She’ll answer these questions at length
and in detail, we all want to talk about what we eat. But she’ll finish by doing what you almost
never read in celebrity interviews. “How about you? What do you eat? Are you seeing
someone?” Of course, there’s no certainty that she’s not fucking with the interviewer, our
A feature of all her appearances is the consistency of her accent—Posey has a transcendent
way of pronouncing vowels, they always threaten to linger too long. Maybe this is due to the
four distinct shapes she has to make to say her own name: par ker po sey. There’s a rumor that
her name is fake. It seems too perfect to be real, but it is. She’s faking it, all the time, or is she?
Maybe her diction is her truth. The one major exception to this vocal consistency is of course
her performance in Waiting for Guffman. In Guffman, Posey plays Libby Mae Brown, who quits
her job at the Dairy Queen to join the disastrous townie crew of a small Missouri town’s annual
Posey gives Brown an affected drawl, a little too pronounced for that part of the state, extra
emphatic by the rare deviation from her insistently homogenous speech. Ironically, Posey is the
only of the leading cast members to actually come from the South. She’s from Laurel,
Mississippi. This makes me feel closer to her, as if we know each other deep down. In any
event, the drawl she adopts is thus “natural” in the sense that she mimics the rural atmosphere
of her childhood, and deeply artificial.
When you immerse yourself in Parker Posey studies, you find frequent reference to a scene
which is also a kind of rumor. It’s often simply referred to as “the monologue.” It cannot be
found on the Internet, rumor’s favored habitat. It’s only home is on the outtakes of the Guffman
DVD. In Guffman, a thorough sequence shows various townies auditioning for the play. Posey
as Brown delivers a memorable rendition of Teacher’s Pet. “I wanna be teacher’s pet,” she
sings next door to key, “I wanna be huddled / and cuddled / close to you as I can get!”
But on the outtakes, there’s another take. Posey herself wrote the scene and sent it to
Christopher Guest by fax. “It seems she’s got a different sense of time as anyone else,” says
Guest, pointing to the true temporal niche of gossip, which obeys no convention of
She is a volcano of negative affect in this take. In a seamless incorporation of pathos and
camp, Posey plays Susan, a rich widow addressing her catatonically insane brother Billy via a
doll they had played with as a child. In a caustic speech alluding to sexual abuse and deep
childhood trauma, Susan taunts Billy with her own flourishing. It’s discomfiting, sad, hilarious,
absurd. No one can say all it achieves.
Being a rumor in film, occupying a different sense of time as anyone else, twisting and turning,
the proof is how her presence distorts chronology. Watching Coneheads, you don’t see her for
a long time. Then just a big red beret, a drooped angular head, cheering when Connie
Conehead dives cone-first into a pool without the slightest splash. But now we know she’s
there, her appearance becomes a rumor affixed to every scene. The only persistent question
one asks watching Coneheads in 2014 is, will Parker appear?
One night, high as a happy roving satellite, I wrote in my notebook, “Parker Posey...she’s a
tum!” I appreciate the exclamation point, but I honestly cannot remember what I meant, at all.
A “tum?” I could say that “tum” was a momentary blunted shorthand for “rumor,” but that would
finally be me telling you gossip about myself. It’s appropriate I guess. Predicating Posey with
certainty is almost always a matter of struggling to arrive at a consensus, even with oneself. It
never works. She’s moving too fast. She’s moving in her unique sense of time.
When Parker Posey appears for the first time in a film, she’s almost always in a hurry. Where
has she come from? We will never know. “I think I’m an existentialist, I do,” she complains in
Party Girl. Rumors long to escape us just as much as we long to expose our holes and let them
in. Come fill us up with information. What we’re left with is longing for more of such a tum. I
can say with certainty this at least: Parker Posey…she’s a tum!