Sunday, January 25, 2009

Before and After Garbo

I have a very huge spot at the bottom of my heart for Greta Garbo.  No, she may not be the greatest actress but she is definitely a personality to be reckoned with.

Katharine Hepburn with all her Oscars admired Garbo’s work.  Joan Crawford preyed for the moment until Garbo leaves the business so she can pounce on that vacant position. Bette Davis herself admits that she cannot compare to Garbo.

Of all the silent stars to transition into talkies, Garbo’s, with her “Gimme A Vhiskey” line, is the most monumental. It seemed to me that the other actresses were watching her lead.  Here was a woman with a “star quality” and talent, matched with skills, to back it up.

For me, film acting changed significantly after the arrival of this divine woman.  Before Garbo, we had Gloria Swanson and Alla Nazimova flaying their arms theatrically or Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford batting their eyelashes. Sure, Garbo displayed this kind of acting in Flesh and the Devil (1926), but she held a restraint that was rare in acting at the time.  She managed to display a subtext into her performance all the while inviting us the audience into a voyeuristic experience: peering up close upon the face of a woman.  I mean, in real life, would you dare to stare at a person’s face in such a moment of great emotion? In real life, we would probably either be too shy or that person we are staring at would probably turn away in embarrassment.  Not Greta Garbo.  She bares her face to the movie going audience.

It seems to me that after Garbo’s arrival in Hollywood, the way we perceived an actress and a star changed forever.


The Maiden said...

Garbo was the actress that made me interested in Silent Films. She was so great at displaying emotions, and she had that knock-out sensuality which made her perfect for the roles she played.

I think my favorite silent film with her, is probably The Mysterious Lady (1928)...

Nik said...

I love that movie too Maiden!

I totally agree that Garbo and Chaplin are the stars that helped me transition from talkies to silent film.

I apreciate your feed back!