Saturday, September 6, 2008

They didn't need dialogue. They had faces

An interesting, effusive article in yesterday's Guardian (UK) newspaper concerning the history of the cinematic gesture of the close-up on a woman's face mentions Louise Brooks.

Louise Brooks's black bobbed hair framing her pale kittenish face in GW Pabst's Pandora's Box (1928) and The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) burns itself into the mind. It was Pabst who gave the 20-year-old Greta Garbo her first real chance to emote as a woman on the brink of prostitution in Joyless Street (1925), the role that led to her Hollywood career, prompting Roland Barthes to write in 1957: "Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced."

Marlene Dietrich's career only began to bloom with the coming of sound and her meeting with Josef Von Sternberg, who created her iconographic figure as the eternal femme fatale in various guises, conjured up by makeup, costumes and the subtle play of light and shadow on her face in close-up. Dietrich's face became an erogenous zone in Sternberg's pictures.

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