Monday, March 31, 2008

Babeblogging: Ingrid Bergman

Sunday night, my wife and I watched Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious, Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 spy thriller. An excellent film. An excellent hottie.

Bergman is, of course, one of the all-time great beauties of film history, perhaps excelled only by the immortal Grace Kelly.

In Notorious, the close-ups of Bergman were all shot in gauzy soft-focus, as if Hitchcock were trying to hide any evidence of aging. Bergman was 31 by then, and perhaps too old for her role as the dissolute daughter of a Nazi traitor. But on the other hand, she's playing the apex of a love triangle with Cary Grant (42) and Claude Rains (55), so it's rather odd that Hitchcock would insist on portraying Bergman as an ingenue.

Such disconcerting thoughts aside, Bergman is babelicious in Notorious, which I heartily recommend.

UPDATE: Jimmie at The Sundries Shack tries to name two contemporary Ingrid-class babes:
I’d be hard pressed to think of three actresses in the past twenty years who combined strong acting chops with such arresting loveliness.
I can get as far as two: Diane Lane and Charlize Theron.
Not to diss either of those two, but I think the pursuit is fruitless, for several reasons:
  • The collapse of the studio system -- Old Hollywood had its problems, but the studios were able to exercise discipline. There was an assembly-line quality to the work, and a level of professionalism was expected. The studios sought out talented actors, invested time and money developing and promoting them as stars, and required them in return to meet high standards. Nowadays, there is no development system, and every actor is a free agent, picking his or her own films, with the result that there are fewer actresses who appear in one great film after another, the way Bergman did in the '40s and '50s.
  • Quick-cut editing -- Over the past 20 years, movies have more and more been shot in the quick-cut style first developed by the directors of TV commercials and popularized in the '80s by MTV music videos. Good-bye to the long, lingering close-ups that etched into American minds the beauty of Bergman, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor.
  • The fitness/thinness craze -- If you've seen swimsuit photos of the famous actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age, you know that many of them (e.g. Marilyn Monroe) would be considered "fat" by today's standards. Ingrid Bergman might have gotten a fair amount of exercise -- playing tennis, swimming, dancing -- but she didn't run a mile a day, she didn't spend hours on a Stairmaster, she didn't work out at a gym, she didn't have a "personal trainer." Pressured to look "buff," today's actresses inevitably alter not only their bodies but their faces as well. There's less subcutaneous fat on their faces, and thus you seldom see a top movie actress today who has that soft, feminine quality that makes Bergman's face so appealing.
  • The blockbuster syndrome -- It's hard to find a glamorous role for a beauty queen if every film is about monsters, robots, explosions and CGI-enhanced fight sequences. Let's face it, if Hollywood remade Notorious today, the Cary Grant part would go to Brad Pitt, who'd appear shirtless in at least half the movie, including the climactic 15-minute gun battle with the Claude Rains character (played by Vin Diesel), during which there would be at least two fiery helicopter crashes. In today's computer-animated comic book fantasies, a movie star is someone who occasional utters a one-liner and otherwise does fight scenes in front of a green screen. There's just no use for an Ingrid Bergman in such stuff.
  • Feminism -- Even in the occasional romantic film where the glamour of an Ingrid Bergman might be suitable, the conventions of contemporary Hollywood require that the lead female role go to an ugly woman. Perfect example of this is Elizabeth: The Golden Age. A wonderful movie, but Cate Blanchett is no beauty queen. I've never seen any critic write about this trend toward the "homely heroine," but it's real -- witness the inexplicably successful career of Meryl Streep -- and I can think of no other cause but feminism. In a culture where it is unacceptable to treat women as "sex objects," then it's "discriminaton" to deny ugly women careers as movie stars. So for at least 25 years, Hollywood seems to have operated on the principle that "serious" movies require ugly leading ladies. Thus ugly women like Streep and Blanchett, who would have been playing supporting roles in the '40s, are elevated to Oscar-winners.
So there are many factors that explain why we don't see Hollywood today producing anything like great screen beauties of the Golden Age. Of course, a beauty like Bergman is rare in any age, but it isn't like they've become extinct. They're just not starring in major Hollywood pictures anymore.

1 comment:

  1. I lived in Sweden in 2004 and dated a lovely Swedish girl. I can tell you Bergman beauty is alive and well, in Sweden, and really all over Europe. Hollywood, on the other hand, is the land of "coke snorting fashionistas" and other morons who think energy bars are food.