This is all about one of my favorite actresses: the infinitely mysterious and intriguingly unknowable Greta Garbo. For years I only knew her through "Ninotchka" and "Queen Christina," which are fine films, but are not the ones you want to see if you want to understand the famous Garbo mystique.
If you want to understand the mystique, if you want to know why she was the subject of so many caricatures and parodies, you'll have to dig deeper than Ninotchka.
Garbo was one of a kind, but she wasn't always like that. When she started she was just another pretty face who could act a little. When she came to Hollywood from Sweden she paniced because she realized the studios were loaded to the gills with pretty faces, who would all be obsolete the day they flashed their first wrinkle.
A documentary I saw credited her manager with the breakthrough idea that she should separate herself from the pack by carving a niche for herself as a mysterious vamp. I think a manager might have helped Marylin Monroe to create her identity. Boy, the right manager is worth his weight in gold!
She began to dress differently than the other girls, even differently than the other vamps. She picked a hair style that would emphasize her big forehead, rather than compensate for it.
Early on she developed the idea that she looked good in aspirational poses, and she liked to be photographed looking up, into the light.
Somewhere along the line she got the idea that she looked good when brooding, so she brooded and brooded. She brooded so much that whole of Sweden started to brood in imitation. The Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman made a career out of brooding. Now everybody expects Swedes to brood, and are disappointed when they discover they're mostly happy.
The idea is that life is pointless and horrific, and can only be answered with silent anguish. Garbo raised brooding to an art form.
Her look seemed to say, "How shallow happy people are! Look at them all, running around and laughing!! If they had any brains, if they realized how stupid the world really is, they'd brood just like I do!"
Actually she wasn't quite as one-dimensional as I portray her here. Her films are full of exquisitely happy moments too, even if the happiness is always crushed.
Sometimes her brooding made her look sickly. Maybe that's what got her cast in the ultimate sickly film...
..."Camille!" Camille is a film about a dying woman who heroically declines to tell her fiance about her condition, for fear of depressing him.
No matter how many times she dropped her food and fell like a rag doll to the floor, he thought it was because she was being refined and lady-like. Her boyfriend wasn't the brightest bulb in the box.
Sickly and heroic: stars love roles like that! As Jennifer said in the comments, this is a flawed film that's only good when Garbo is in it. Even then, she was a little too restrained, a little too reluctant to take it over the top. I'll bet that was the director's doing. I like the film because I can easily imagine the performance that might have been, and because the plot is one of the funniest I've ever seen. I'd love to do a short cartoon parody of this!
Garbo also experimented with roles where the girls were too existential, too serious to dally with the silly men who pursued them.
At first Garbo preferred that her leading men take her in their arms and give her "The Look." Eventually she decided that it was better if she took them in her arms, and gave them the look!
Yes, Garbo picked her men! Unfortunately as she neared retirement she started to lose her confidence in the persona she'd so carefully cultivated, and attempted to play more conventional, less over-the-top roles. Peter Lorre did the same thing. I wonder what it is about age that makes actors do that?
I NEED A REST, SO THIS IS MY LAST POST FOR A FEW DAYS. I'LL BE BACK FRIDAY NIGHT! SEE YOU THEN!!!!