August 8, 2015

Greta Garbo, Romance


Anyone who has followed this blog in the slightest knows that I am not and have not been a big fan of Greta Garbo. How she appealed to the masses in her heyday is lost upon me, because with a few exceptions, I have found her to be a vacant, detached presence in much of her filmography, acting more as a specimen to which production can make up and light to look like a goddess as opposed to being a fully capable, multifaceted actress. So coming out of this second viewing of Romance, I was left with a few questions: What the hell is the point of this film? and What the hell is Garbo doing here? A short answer to the latter question is: nothing. Romance is an abhorrently dull film (no wonder it's so hard to locate a copy of) led by an abhorrently numb Garbo. She is lit to the Gods in this film, and yet so obviously bored. Any charm she might bring is depleted by it being obvious that she is still trying to master the English language here, throwing in some pseudo-Italian essence onto her already thick accent, but what's worse is that she doesn't speak with any sort of fluency; she kind of just prances through the lines in a most awkward way ("Hold me cloe-ss", "Oh, KEN you Tohm?", "Thank you...for having loved me" are some examples of her many uncomfortable line deliveries), and she doesn't ever look as though she's feeling the words, instead just trying her best to push through and get everything over with. Ironic that she plays an opera singer when her speaking voice is so bland and deadened. With this she peppers the performance with elements of silent screen acting that come off as unnecessarily theatric; looking up when she talks, gesturing and posing...What's more, a completely uninterested Garbo is made all the worse by a non-existent plot that drags on and never really gets anywhere. In short, this film and performance is the perfect example of why I don't like Greta Garbo. Just an utterly dull experience through and through.


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  2. Richard Curtis wrote that Garbo's output from the start of sound, up through 1934's The Painted View was some of the worst dreck MGM ever inflicted on a major star. (Exceptions of course, for Grand Hotel, Mata Hari and Queen Christina.) "But before we defile Thalberg's grave or at least boycott the screen version of The Last Tycoon, we should admit that Garbo needed MGM. It offered a motherly bosom to this least secure of superstars. And while Garbo once went on strike until her material was upgraded from Sudermann to Tolstoy, she apparently found her later pablum congenial enough not to make a fuss over."

    "Thalberg's foremost entrees in the Great Lady sweepstakes were Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. While Shearer was indeed Thalberg's wife, Garbo was, in effect, his European mistress. Both shared the studio's tonier projects. Garbo played Napoleon's mistress one year, Shearer played Marie Antoinette the next. But Garbo, because she had so much more to give, had more to lose by being stuffed in one tale of antiquated nobility after another."

    1. No, I'm not gonna delete another one. I meant, of course Time's esteemed Richard Corliss above, not 'Curtis'. Oops.

  3. You know we disagree about Greta Garbo, but I understand your point (mostly in Romance), she has a very odd screen presence.

  4. I've never been a fan of Garbo, so I'm surprised that I actually liked her in this. The film is a bunch of hooey and Garbo is no more believable as an opera singer than she was as a ballerina in 'Grand Hotel' but she brings a playfulness to her flirtations with Gavin Gordon early on that's nice to see for a change and there's no denying that the camera loves her. The story itself is the antiquated melodrama so beloved by early 20th century audiences, so it helps if you can just forget its creakiness (or Garbo's Italian-by-way-of-Stockholm accent) and just watch Garbo do her thing. She definitely had a knack for investing substandard material with more dramatic flair than it merited. I can certainly appreciate the cinematic shortcomings of 'Romance' and yet, surprised as I am, I must admit I enjoyed Garbo's performance here much more than I'd anticipated.