We have been perplexed for some time now about the star status of a certain actress by the name of Greta Garbo. Try as we may, we just cannot understand the appeal of her, not now, not then. Once in a while we tune in for one of her films, in the hopes that this will be the one to help explain it all, and each time we only become more mystified. To start, there are her looks, not in any way beautiful, though we see where attempts were made to sway us with photography. Soft focus, specific angles and heavy contouring to help widen the eyes and narrow the nose. But it never works for us. All we see is a rather large, squarish head, scandinavian coldness and a sluggish carriage that bespeaks of the awkwardness expected of a much taller woman, someone not quite accustomed to her physique.
Garbo is shockingly androgynous, unfeminine, not glamorous in a way that is particularly startling considering the era in which she was a star. The 1920s and 30s were the time of Louise Brooks, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Bette Davis. All were actresses who made me love this era, the fashion, the glamour, the decadence of being a woman. We cannot understand how during a time of hyper femininity, a woman of Garbo’s rather dour constitution could have broken through to become a star.
Our confusion was only furthered upon seeing Garbo’s performance in Anna Karenina. Having first seen Vivien Leigh, it would naturally be difficult to have enthusiasm for another Anna – though the most recent Keira Knightley version was worth being made for the dance sequence with Count Vronsky alone. Vivien’s Anna conveyed vulnerability, softness, charm and glamour, making it obvious why Vronsky would fall for her over Kitty. Garbo lacked all these things and from the beginning conveyed only the sad, defeated side of Anna. We never felt the levity, the flirtation, the thrill of the lovers’ early meetings. We were never sold on any great passion, though granted, Fredric March was an awful choice for Vronsky.
The tragic, grand love, damsel in distress aspects of Anna Karenina were intended for a lady, a soft, gentle woman, everything we find that Garbo is not. It makes it rather difficult for us to see her even as a good actress as there is no movement, no dimension, no fluidity to her. Thus what we have learned is that we do not accept the appeal of Garbo as a star. We will no longer make the effort to see her films, in fact we’re rather inclined to avoid them. We re-learned that it is okay to go against the tide. We never liked ‘Moulin Rouge’, we never approved of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar win for ‘Shakespeare in Love’, we do not find Nobu to be the best sushi, we do not care for the Marc Jacobs line of clothes.
How satisfying to trust again in one’s own tastes…
Images via Wikipedia, Biography, The Guardian