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The Films of Greta GarboReview & Appreciation Thread


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#46 miliosr

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:04 PM

In his book, Mark Vieira has a funny story about the hysteria that ensued after the release of Anna Christie and Garbo's reaction to it:

Riding one day in [a friend's] secondhand Buick convertible, Garbo saw Joan Crawford drive by in her chauffeur-driven limousine. Garbo turned to [her friend] and laughed: "I read last night that I was the queen of the movies, and look at me now, riding around in this old car. Gott! What a funny joke!"

#47 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:14 PM

Cute story.

Dressler was hugely popular for a time and although I don't know off the top of my head it would not surprise me if she was the most popular actress then. I do remember reading that somewhere.

Not a bad performance by any stretch but an uneven one.


Nerves, perhaps? It was a very tense time and the actors had to get used to a completely different way of filming.

#48 miliosr

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:15 PM

Anna Christie would be a turning-point for Dressler who would go on (until her death in 1934) to become the biggest female star in America.

Do you mean in terms of box office? There were Garbo herself, and Dietrich was setting the woods on fire, Joan Crawford was also just in from silents, I don't know how famous Bette Davis was yet, from that amusing role as the Southern girl who'd 'kiss ya, but I just washed my hair'. There was also Jean Harlow and even Loretta Young (although not of great interest to me, and I don't know if she was box office or not), and certainly Claudette Colbert. Iguess Mae west didn't really get started till 1933, with 'She Done Him Wrong', and Barbara Stanwyck was already working, but not a household word. So you'd be saying that a character actress was the 'biggest female star in America'. I guess that's possible, I never thought about it, so I'm just asking. I didn't know anybody but old-movie buffs knew who Dressler was, although I agree she's good, esp. in 'Dinner at Eight'.

Most of the actresses you cited hit their box office stride around the time Dressler took ill and died. But between, say, 1931 to 1933, Dressler was HUGE. She's semi-forgotten now but, back then, movies like Min and Bill were major box office. (Dressler was no longer a character actress per se in these.) I specified "America" in my original post because I do believe Garbo was much bigger in the foreign box office.

#49 papeetepatrick

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:15 PM

"In an era of Harlow, Garbo and Crawford, it was homely old Marie Dressler that won the coveted exhibitor's poll as the most popular actress for three consecutive years"

That was what was on IMDb. I don't know what 'the exhibitor's poll' is, though.

#50 miliosr

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:21 PM

I like seeing the remnants of the earlier style,

But this is what puzzles me. In the earlier films I've seen and reviewed -- The Temptress, Flesh and the Devil and The Mysterious Lady -- I didn't see Garbo utilize silent film acting conventions. And yet they show up here . . .

#51 dirac

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 05:32 PM

I don't remember the break between the conventions of silent film acting and young Garbo's as being quite that stark. Not that she isn't plainly different from the eye-poppers and most natural within the style of the time, but still within the style. I haven't seen Anna Christie for many moons, my impression being much the same as yours, miliosr, but given the transition underway at the time Garbo's falling back on certain stock gestures would not be surprising.

#52 papeetepatrick

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 06:17 PM

I had watched 'Romance' maybe 8 years ago, and then recently watched it several times. It comes between the two 'Anna Christies', and I noticed none of the gestures associated with silent films anywhere in the performance, which is pretty talky (in the modern sense of the word) anyway. So I had thought it was a later film, maybe even 1935. Was very surprised to look at the list and find it coming immediately after this first AC. Her leading man in 'Romance', Gavin Gordon, is pretty stolid and not glamorous, but as a cleric who falls in love with an opera singer, he comes off okay. Never heard from him again, though (although I see he did do a lot of things, ending up with 'Petticoat Junction' and the like. I like this film a lot, and has marvelous costumes that befit an opera singer--and, although you never see her dubbed singing, you hear the 'operatic voice', and I can never picture her as actually singing. That's a flaw, or at least they should have tried to show her singing/dubbed, they could have probably done it (in 'grand hotel', you never see her a the ballerina, but she does seem like a Russian ballerina in some of her walks through the hotel, etc.)

#53 miliosr

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 04:12 AM

The German-language version of Anna Christie is on the flip side of the English-language DVD. Since Romance is not included in the box set, the German-language version is next up in the cue. I'm curious to see how the movies -- and Garbo's performances -- compare.

#54 bart

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 07:03 AM

Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying this thread and learning from it.

Whatever Happened to Mystery?

Brantley begins with an homage to Garbo's style.

WHERE have all the sphinxes gone? There’s not a person on this planet today who could make my heart stop as it did when I saw Greta Garbo on Madison Avenue. It was the last day of 1985, on an afternoon steeped in that merciless brightness you associate with early winter in the city, and, suddenly, there she was: a bulky fur coat, a knitted watch cap and an unpainted face, as closed as a fist, behind big sunglasses that had no aspiration to trendiness.

If you didn’t know who she was, she was nothing special. She didn’t look chic, not even rich, amid the well-buffed, well-tailored women with big shopping bags and little dogs. But Miss Garbo had on something none of those ladies could afford: She was wearing six decades’ worth of well-documented silence. And that made her the most glamorous creature I had ever set eyes on.

I love those last two sentences, which I have put in boldface. I also appreciate the way Brantley goes on to puncture the balloon he has just released into the air.

Garbo couldn’t exist in the 21st century. I mean Garbo the lady of mystery, not the rather dull, stingy woman who is reported to have resided behind the persona.



#55 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 07:57 AM

Thanks, bart, I linked that yesterday on the thread, but I can say a bit more now. I don't care for the article because, of course, there can be no 'movie star goddess' mystery like Garbo anymore, but as for 'mystery vanishing', that's false. Mystery always changes 'location', and it's still just as discoverable, including in other human beings, as it ever was. Maybe there's not a 'person on this planet who could make his heart stop the way Garbo did on Madison Avenue', but there are plenty who could excite me much more than the one sighting I had of Garbo just over from the Met Museum in her old scruffy winter coat. Of course, it's her very refusal to keep working and continue being an actress that gave her even more 'aura' than Dietrich or K. Hepburn, who did, but for many people, that's considered the dissipation of her talent. It's fine with me what she did with her life, and she had already left a unique contribution with her films, but mystery and charisma go elsewhere once they're worn out from one form or period. There aren't movie stars like that anymore, but there aren't ballet stars in the same sense as Nureyev anymore either (even if they're just as attractive and maybe, in some cases, even greater dancers).

He's calling the 'six decades of well-documented silence' as making her 'the most glamorous creature he'd ever laid eyes on'. This is pure hyperbolic nonsense as far as I'm concerned. She was not even beautiful (I hate to say this) when I saw her a few years before he did. But, while I admit her stubborn silence is an interesting phenomenon and makes her unique, it also means she may have liked the 'goddess' part of the persona more than the Thespian. K. Hepburn was much less unreachable, but kept on turning out work. Edith Evans is far more distinguished as an actress (nevermind it's not in movies), although she's not as glamorous.

Brantley's just a big Garbo junkie. I'm a big fan too, but there are other film actresses I like at least as well, although probably none from the Hollywood Golden Age--those being Catherine Deneuve and Delphine Seyrig. The former is far more naturally glamorous, despite being extroverted, than Garbo, and has delivered many performances I find comparable to Garbo's and to sometimes surpass them. Seyrig is extremely mysterious, and starred in two Resnais masterpieces, ' Last Year at Marienbad' and 'Muriel'. Either of these films is far greater than any film of Garbo's IMO--and Seyrig is even a better actress than Garbo, and just as luminous onscreen (more than Deneuve, which you see when the two are together in scenes of 'La Peau d'Ane'). I like to watch Garbo because she is such a singular performer, and I do think a great ACTRESS. I really don't find her very interesting roaming the East Side and exuding mystique all over the place, especially since she did not look good when I did see her.

Here's the real meaning of the article, and the article is about Brantley, not Garbo, or Diana or Jackie:

"When we first fall in love with people, they always seem remote, unattainable. Holding on to love after you’ve crossed the divide between you and the object of your desire is a chapter in achieving maturity; it’s what marriage is supposed to be. But there’s a part of us that needs to keep falling in love with the girl in the mists in the distance or the boy riding away on a horse. You’ve been there, I’m sure, and you know what happens when these dream girls and boys open their mouths or scratch themselves. The mystery dissolves like fog at sunrise."

I think that's one of the silliest things I've ever read, it does no such thing necessarily, and sounds very much like a cognate of unrequited love. When these 'dream girls and boys' 'open their mouths or scratch themselves', they often become even more enhanced and attractive than they were before. God forbid they should let us know their humanity and that they're even available and accessible to some people who aren't concerned about pedestal vigilance.

Not all of us live vicariously through these pristine idealized figures. As unattainable, it would follow that they could never be real objects of adult sexuality, which itself contains a lot of mystery, and to some of us is considerably more alluring than some eccentric silence, as it were. In any case, there are planty of books that prove she was anything but silent in private.

But extreme fans are extreme fans. That's how I see Brantley. I think Garbo's long act after she retired was impressive, but nowhere nearly as impressive as he does, obviously. We do not all need to be 'denied entry' to find someone or something pristine, mysterious, or irresistible. But that is not uncommon. Obviously, there are some who really are turned on by this sort inaccessibility (in itself, I mean. It's obviously a starting place, but lots of people who do manage to get to know their idols do not love them any the less--we have some on this very board who prove that with their constant excitement about certain 'ballet divas'.)

Edited to add: I also don't like that he refers to Garbo as 'dull and stingy'. She could be tightfisted sometimes, but was also generous, but she certainly was not dull, and even the very persona he worships nullifies that characterization.

#56 Quiggin

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 12:06 PM

papeetepatrick:

God forbid they should let us know their humanity ...


I don't agree that it's bad piece -- actually it's not really an article and such things are often about the author -- but I do agree that "dull and stingy" is stingy of him and a cliche, a bit of paint splashed on his idol. "Distance is the soul of beauty" Simone Weil said, maybe about history and bigger things, but there are figures who appear in people's lives they've never gotten over and who become romantic images of inaccessibly, but having this happen time and again is probably not a good thing. And I agree that there's already lots of intriguing silence and "heathy unattainability" in adult relationships. The Brantley part about the beloved first speaking is comic and patronizing -- it's falling in love with the person and leaving the person out.

But the thing with Garbo that places her above all others -- whether by design or accident -- is that she didn't "sell out" her aura or our good faith in her talent when every formerly elegant star was doing some little postwar homespun television series set in the suburbs (real movies were urban) -- though Ninotchka did come close.


miliosr:

The direction (like the movie itself) is horribly static and made this viewer feel like he was watching a filmed version of a stage performance.


Clarence Brown was a fairly dull director but add to that the radical change of technology, a slide definite backwards of a decade or so. Camera movements that had been so free and fluid -- think of Murnau or Fritz Lang "M" with its famous tracking shots -- were suddenly grounded with huge blimps to muffle the sound. Sound technology itself was very primitive with probably a very narrow range -- like AM radio -- in the first years, deep voices were probably more effective, like Tugboat Annie Marie Dressler's. European films were always dubbed in afterwards perhaps because of this. Rene Clair was able to maintain moving camera shots well into the sound era, paving the way for Ruben Mamoulian's experiments.

As an example, microphones were hidden in flower arrangements in the first talkies until Dorothy Azner fabricated the traveling boom for Clara Bow.

#57 dirac

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 09:02 PM

The limited mobility necessitated by the new sound equipment and the flower arrangements were the subject of some of 'Singin' in the Rain's better gags ("I CAN'T make love to a BUSH!").

Brantley's "dull and stingy" is no more than a concise way of putting what seems to be close enough to the truth, although as papeetepatrick points out there is some evidence in the opposite direction. Garbo was fortunate in that by good luck, good management, and canny friendships she did not have to work or else there's every possibility we might have seen her in less exalted formats. A fair number of stars got gypped out of their earnings; some of their less dignified appearances might be called "selling out," but people have to eat. Others simply wanted to go on performing, and female stars couldn't go on for decades without heavier compromises than aging male stars had to make. Like all performers some of them went on too long, but that's not "selling out," either, merely poor judgment.


Here's the real meaning of the article, and the article is about Brantley


Any writer reveals something of himself in such an article. There were a lot of people who got the same thrill he did from a Garbo sighting. You didn't share it, but we're all different. I daresay we give away about as much ourselves in these little forum posts of ours. :) I do find articles of this kind interesting although not necessarily in the way the writers intend.



#58 papeetepatrick

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 09:44 PM

Of course it wasn't the same thrill, nor would it be possible for anyone to find the same thrill of anything someone else did. I did think it was exciting just to see her, I just was surprised I didn't find her beautiful--and I usually do find people I thought once were incredibly beautiful (and I do think Garbo was, esp. in 'Anna Karenina') usually so when they get older as well. She looked morose and sour, and I didn't find the scruffy clothes 'quaint and charming', just ill-fitting and boxy. Of course, she didn't care. Just sticking to Hollywood stars I've seen in real life, and not other celebs, I've seen several who were visually stunning even if I thought there talents were vastly inferior--or even their basic endowment of beauty as I perceive it: to see Lana Turner in person at 62 was a Work of Art, a near-hallucination of superbly lurid and original exoticism way beyond any look I ever saw her project onscreen. I don't know how much this has to do with 'cameras loving people' etc., as is supposed to be the case with Marilyn and others. Ann-Margret was also beautiful in person, and Burt Lancaster was magnificent with no effort at all, same with Liam Neesson. To take one non-showbiz celeb who is at least as famous as Garbo, the queen of England was gorgeous in public (1976), although she never ever photographs as well as that.

Brantley's "dull and stingy" is no more than a concise way of putting what seems to be close enough to the truth, although as papeetepatrick points out there is some evidence in the opposite direction.


The 'evidence to the contrary' would have to do with disagreement that she was 'stingy', there's really no question that she was dull--this was rendered impossible by all the things she did do to refuse what quiggin pointed out in 'not selling out her aura'--if she was solipsistic, lazy and demanding, these not particularly admirable (in themselves) qualities still served 'the act'. Since she did continue to do this full-time, that's either something one decides is dull or not. Brantley could make up his mind about that, but I don't care whether he does or not.

I wouldn't agree quite with quiggin's assessment of all 'formerly elegant stars' having done some 'suburban television series', or a version thereof. Dietrich had her shows on B'way, even after the years of working with Burt Bacharach, and Kate Hepburn continued to have a singular niche as an aging star (didn't ever do the horror Gothics like Davis and Crawford), although it 'Ninotchka' comes close to corn (and I agree it does, I don't like it), then certainly 'On Golden Pond' does.

Barbra Streisand is really the one who has held herself above her public from the very beginning: There were never any appearances on the Tonight Show or other TV till much much later, when she got friendlier. But she didn't have to do any more of what she didn't want to than Garbo did, and I think she's the only one comparable that way in terms of sheer power. The difference is that she does like to work sometimes, of course, and is not so withdrawn. Of course, by 'Meet the Fockers', she'd gone straight to the sewer, but it happens to everybody at some point, and she always knows how to get right out of crud and do another incredible concert.

This: "Diana, Princess of Wales, had it, too, and weren’t we lucky that the royal family kept her from talking for as long as it did?" was, I thought, the most absurd thing in the piece: we weren't 'lucky' even if they had kept her shutup, her banal utterances were there from the very beginning, and continued to the end. But they didn't keep her shutup, she was always saying something tiresome like 'I wish there were more huggers', etc., and blah and blah and blah. That doesn't mean I didn't think she was a beauty, and her charisma for many was obvious, I just didn't find her very interesting, but who cares.

#59 sidwich

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 10:31 PM

Of course it wasn't the same thrill, nor would it be possible for anyone to find the same thrill of anything someone else did. I did think it was exciting just to see her, I just was surprised I didn't find her beautiful--and I usually do find people I thought once were incredibly beautiful (and I do think Garbo was, esp. in 'Anna Karenina') usually so when they get older as well. She looked morose and sour, and I didn't find the scruffy clothes 'quaint and charming', just ill-fitting and boxy. Of course, she didn't care. Just sticking to Hollywood stars I've seen in real life, and not other celebs, I've seen several who were visually stunning even if I thought there talents were vastly inferior--or even their basic endowment of beauty as I perceive it: to see Lana Turner in person at 62 was a Work of Art, a near-hallucination of superbly lurid exoticism way beyond any look I ever saw her project onscreen. I don't know how much this has to do with 'cameras loving people' etc., as is supposed to be the case with Marilyn and others. Ann-Margret was also beautiful in person, and Burt Lancaster was magnificent with no effort at all, same with Liam Neesson. To take one non-showbiz celeb who is at least as famous as Garbo, the queen of England was gorgeous in public (1976), although she never ever photographs as well as that.


I think it's harder to hold people in awe when you see them on a regular basis, even if it's just standing in line at the grocery checkout next to the tabloid stands. I frequent the Hollywood YMCA, and quite a few working and successful actors use the facilities. There's nothing to dampen the awe like seeing a big-name actor sweating beside you on the treadmill. :sweatingbullets:

Yes, the stories of Lana Turner's beauty have been legendary since she was a teenager. Until she passed, Miss Turner lived in the penthouse apartment of the building my grandparents lived in, and she was always magnificent (although I'm pretty sure not unenhanced)in person.

#60 canbelto

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 09:39 AM

I'd actually say that what Brantley is talking about (Garbo's famous aloofness and mystique) is what gives her films a slightly dated quality, whereas the movies of, say, Carole Lombard or Barbara Stanwyck still crackle with vitality. Garbo in most of her movies is sort of static, and always seems like Garbo Playing Christina, or Garbo Playing Marguerite, etc. Her screen persona was based on the idea that in real life, you'd never see someone that beautiful and mysterious. It's like a mannequin came to life. It works well, but there is a distancing effect.
I wonder what directors like Alfred Hitchcock might have been able to do with Garbo, since Hitchcock wrote the mystery and aloofness into his movies.


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