January 30, 2014

Greta Garbo, Anna Karenina

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Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress
I have an issue with Greta Garbo, and I hope I'm not the only one who feels this way...But I don't get her. I want to like her, really I do, but after watching her in a handful of films, I've found myself consistently underwhelmed. It's gotten to a point where I sort of bemoan the thought of having to sit through another Garbo picture because they're all so homogenous and unexciting. Garbo won the very first Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 1935 for her work in Anna Karenina, and it is noted in Inside Oscar that her eventual Oscar snub proved to be a big surprise that year, with people jokingly surmising that she was ignored because AMPAs knew she wouldn't show up to the ceremony anyways. So I sat through Anna Karenina, hoping that maybe this would be the time Garbo would finally prove me wrong.

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 photo ScreenShot2014-01-26at15548AM.jpgI think that Garbo is more of a movie star than an actress. She demanded huge paychecks and drew huge audiences back in her heyday, and I think people flocked to see her pictures because of her celebrity more than anything. I mean this is the woman whose film advertising would point out if she's talking or laughing for crying out loud. She's very stunning to look at--that legendary face of hers is peculiar and fascinating all at once. But judging from what I've seen from her, I don't think she had much range. Much of her acting involves her gazing off at things--and I don't know if she's doing much acting per se, but rather it's her unique and dramatic facial structure and features that are conning us into believing that she's doing more work than she actually is. And maybe it's her very star persona that ruins everything for me--she is after all, an actress who avoided publicity like the plague, and thus there's so much that we don't know about her...and for that she's always come off as cold and distant. She's frigid onscreen, and I find that I don't ever bond with her characters. This really complicates things as her characters are always in turmoil--how does one feel sorry for Garbo if one doesn't connect with her to begin with? Anna Karenina herself is a complicated and tragic character. She falls hard for a Vronsky and leaves her husband and son for him, she's subsequently disgraced by practically everyone who knows her, and then she has her heart broken by Vronsky--it'd only work if we feel for her, and in this case I did not. Maybe it's her spacey line deliveries that sounds like she's always a little breathless. Maybe it's her face, which either stares off and seems to say "that looks interesting", or stares offs with a little furrow in her brow that seems to say "what is that?" But I just didn't feel like she was ever emoting, not from her face, not in her voice, not from the heart. I think Garbo's movies were windows of opportunity for fans to see her for an hour and a half because she herself is an event worth looking at, but I've yet to actually think she has much talent in the craft of acting.

1 comment:

  1. In this last year that David O. Selznick was with MGM, and according to Garbo biographer Richard Corliss, he urged her to accept Dark Victory, a meaty, contemporary role that would have helped her enormously at the moment (and certainly 'Americanized' her better than the ill-fated Two Faced Woman. It was the star herself who instead insisted on a talking remake of Karenina. "The decision hurt Garbo, but not Bette Davis, who scored a triumph in the role at Warners in 1939."