August 9, 2015

Greta Garbo, Anna Christie


It's stark raving mad that the Academy would decide to acknowledge both of Greta Garbo's Anna Christie and Rita Cavallini in the same year. This is because they're both so different--the latter is vacant and banal with Greta Garbo essentially phoning in the entire performance, offering nothing spectacular whatsoever, whereas Garbo's Anna Christie by comparison is loaded with actressing potential, and Garbo is more than up for the challenge such that you can see and feel it. I was taken by her (and this doesn't happen often, mind you) from the very second she first appears in the film. She is stripped of all glamour, not accustomed to any dated posing and smizing, and overall it's just refreshing to find that she isn't trying to attract your attention with her beauty. It's that very lack of beauty that is key. Garbo's only here to relay the pain that Anna has endured over the course of her life, and it's a much deeper performance than I remembered it to be when I first watched it years ago. The way Garbo reverberates Anna's struggles through her expressions and delivery is wonderfully done (if not a smidgen uncomfortable), and I found myself connecting with her character on a deeper level than most of her other characters; whether discussing her past with an excellently drunk Marie Dressler, internally shielding her secrets from Charles Bickford, or lashing out at both boyfriend and father in the last act, there's substance here that makes it all interesting and worthwhile. Her acting, as capable as it is, does have a tendency to veer into awkwardness; she doesn't have the fluidity and naturalness with the dialogue as a more Western actress might, often sounding a little clumsy with the lines, but it's still above and beyond anything that she accomplishes in Romance. Most importantly, one can tell she actually cared about trying this time around, that she cared about the story, about the character and doing her best with it. It's funny what Garbo can accomplish when she's invested.

1 comment:

  1. Garbo had starred in the very last silent film MGM released, The Kiss, and became their last major star to finally speak on screen. (Shearer had been their first in the successful Trial Of Mary Dugan.) Holding off and carefully waiting for a suitable project was obviously the smart move. Anna Christie holds up rather well for an 85 year old movie, helped in no small measure by the divine Dressler. After Garbo, only Chaplin remained "eloquent and mute," and the reception for City Lights didn't urge him to hurry.

    There are many who hold that Garbo should have gotten this one over Shearer, but even to some degree in those days, politicking and lobbying held some sway (as Pickford surely demonstrated). In contrast to Norma's always cordial availability to the press, Garbo's aloofness was already legendary, and in a few quarters, resented.