Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Garbo and (her) silents

Silent films have a particular language of their own. It’s a language that I don’t always like. Having seen some of the acknowledged exponents of the period (“Greed”, “The Crowd”, “Metropolis”, etc.) I have only truly enjoyed one film – “A Woman of Affairs” with Greta Garbo, made in 1928 and one of her last silent films. I had the luck of catching it about six weeks ago.

In it she plays a woman prevented from marrying the love of her life, decides to have some fun, and proceeds to marry the guy her brother seems to be interested in, who then mysteriously kills himself on their wedding night. After this she is ostracised by polite society, who blame her… Despite the potential for disaster from this plotline the film is very well constructed, with strong performances from the leads, especially Garbo here during her “femme fatale” phase.

It wasn’t my first Garbo silent – I have the DVD collection with “Flesh and the Devil”, “The Temptress” and “Mysterious Woman”, but except for the first 30 minutes or so of “Flesh…” they were all quite uninteresting. However, they made quite clear to me why she was such a huge star during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Comparing her with all her co-stars, she emanates an effective quietness. With her less is definitely more. She almost seems out of place. Later, this would turn again in one of her best performances, in “Camille”. She is far more modern than most people are aware, and far from being a symbol of a bygone era, she should be recognised as someone who changed the art of screen acting.

I wish more of her silents were available, especially “A Woman of Affairs”. I probably won’t like them, but I really want to see them – and who knows, I might even fall in love with another.

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