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Straight From Europe: The Next Great Hollywood Beauty

Posted August 11, 2010 to photo album "Straight From Europe: The Next Great Hollywood Beauty"

Anton Corbijn’s The American will give Americans the chance to discover two European actress: Italy’s Violante Placido and Dutch actress Thekla Reuten. They are only the latest in string of European discoveries.

Slide 1: Introduction
Slide 2: Greta Garbo - The Swedish Goddess
Slide 3: Alla Nazimova - The Passionate Russian
Slide 4: Marlene Dietrich - The Tough German
Slide 5: Ingrid Bergman - The Natural Swede
Slide 6: Alida Valli - The Italian
Slide 7: Sophia Loren - The Italian Scandal
Slide 8: Catherine Deneuve - The Cool French Beauty
Slide 9: Penelope Cruz - The Dark Iberian Vision
Slide 10: Audrey Tatou - The Fresh French Face
Slide 11: Monica Bellucci - The Exotic Italian
Slide 12: Thekla Reuten & Violante Placido - The New Wave
Slide 2: Greta Garbo - The Swedish Goddess

Slide 2: Greta Garbo - The Swedish Goddess

When the astonishingly beautiful Swedish-born Greta Garbo was introduced to American audiences by MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, it was in silent films like Flesh and the Devil, and Love — American films set in Europe and Russia. Garbo became a huge international star in the process, and the mystery of her accented speaking voice became a marketing hook when it came time to transition her to “talkies.” Throughout her career in America, Garbo’s appeal derived precisely from the fact that her performances registered differently than those of Hollywood actresses. Wrote the New York Times in 1927, “In the film called Love, which is based on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Greta Garbo, the Swedish actress, gives a portrait that soars far above the usual Hollywood conception of a characterization. Her elusive appearance is undoubtedly appealing, and she enhances this gracious effect by her talented acting and her evident unwillingness to emulate other performers. Her style is all the more pleasing because of her restraint and her understanding of the part she plays…. Miss Garbo may lift her head the fraction of an inch and it means more than John Gilbert’s artificial smile or his wide-eyed expression.”

The 1930 Eugene O’Neill adaptation Anna Christie was Garbo’s first role in spoken English on film. (Funnily, she would also go on to star in the 1931 German version of the same movie, also made by MGM.) Several films followed, including Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 comedy Ninotchka, for which Garbo was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of a Russian envoy who falls in love with the West. Throughout her career, Garbo would use her Swedish identity as both a psychological lifeline and as a negotiating tool. “I think I’ll go back to Sweden,” was her famous retort to studio heads during negotiation time. After one final film, Garbo famously retired to her apartment in New York City where she was the object of fan speculation and worship for decades to come.

At some point, though, Garbo became less a real person and more a personification of a lost cinematic ideal. Wrote the French critic Roland Barthes in an essay entitled “The Face of Garbo,” “Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still 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.”