Friday, April 1, 2011

Now I Understand Garbo

"I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 
'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference." Greta Garbo

I started a new film class at Stanford last night entitled "Classic Actresses and Their Signature Roles."  It is again taught by Mick LaSalle, a film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the author of several books about actresses and actors of the 1930's.  He began the course with Greta Garbo, one of the most iconic faces and names of 20th Century cinema.  I have to admit that I have never understood the appeal of Garbo.  I, of course, can see her beauty, but she has always appeared so cold and stoic in my eyes.  I also have to admit that the only film of hers I've ever seen is "Grand Hotel."  The film Mr. LaSalle chose to show us last night was a silent film of hers titled "The Mysterious Lady" from 1928, when she was just 22.  The film itself is rather melodramatic and the male actors are very comical, without meaning to be, but Garbo... now I get it.  She was the shining light in the film, despite it being in black and white, that lit up every room and she seemed as if she truly was "Tania" without being overly dramatic.  She floated through the part and I truly could not take my eyes off of her.  Almost the entire story was told through her face, which is an amazing talent especially for someone so young.  Mr. LaSalle also showed us clips from several of her other silent films, most notably from "A Woman of Affairs" from 1929, which also starred John Gilbert (one of my mom's many favorite actors.)  In this film she is a woman trapped in a love triangle that ends very badly for her, and the depth and range of emotions that play across her face are truly extraordinary.  She draws you into her pain and suffering and you come away feeling as if you lived through the experience with her.  A talent like that is not made, it is simply there.  And Garbo was filled with it.  She filled the screen with beauty and emotion, and I can only imagine how the young men of the 1920's and 30's must have felt the first time they saw her.  If you've never seen her, please give her silent films a try.  You will not regret it.   

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