341 Week 7 #1

December 13, 2010

Like the director in Auteur Theory, the star image is a text, that comes to represent certain sets of ideas. The image is a series of stories, and pieces of information put together to create a public persona. They are very carefully constructed. The star is an image, distinct from an actual person. For example, we don’t know Brad Pitt, the flesh and blood man who lives his day-to-day life, what we know is a series of stories constructed about him. When we look the star image we examine how it’s been structured by studios or publicists and how it has been interpreted by critics and audiences. This is why Allen is interested in Joan Crawford. Dyer said the stars are structured from a group of signs. The fact that they are structured means that the elements that make them up take precedence. A star has multiple of stories, and what makes someone like Marilyn Monroe, or Rudolf Valentino an iconic star is that many of those stories contradict on another or do not make sense by themselves. This helps to make them all things to all people. The Star image of Valentino, for example, meant something very different to men than it did for women.
Stars tell us about societies values, and this makes the stories of their texts more interesting to people. In this way the star image is ideological. Dyer says that stars function to make something that is artificial become common sense or seem natural. As products of their times, stars images contain the ideological contradictions of a society’s value system. Stars reconcile opposites and contradictions in the ideological values of a society.
Stars are a paradox. Dyer notes that stars are intriguing to us because they have no actual political power, yet the manage to be very influential in our society. Just like Marilyn Monroe crafter her own star image around being sexual, because she thought that her society in the 1950s was too sexually repressed, and revolutionized the way people viewed sex. She gets away with it by adding another persona to character, one that was innocent and naïve. Dyer says that stars are like us but not like us. They are talented but not famous for their talent; they are famous for being on screen. They have to embody the success myth because it has to be believable that anyone can be a get discovered and become famous. Stars are a text for society to discuss issues and value deemed important in society. Marilyn Monroe becomes a discussion of sexuality and women’s roles in the 1950s. In one sense she is traditional because she is defined by her looks, and in another sense she is untraditional because she is willing to be sexual. The contradictions that she embodies are that she is simultaneously very traditional, and very modern, very sexual and very childlike. Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino, allow us to focus on issues beyond their movies, that have a greater meaning in our society. Through irreconcilable opposites, the image of Joan Crawford tells audiences about the American success myth and the role of women and their struggle to be independent.
Dyer outlines four categories that are used to construct a star’s image. Promotion is deliberately produced by studios to create the star persona. This include things like magazine photos and movie posters. Joan Crawford is an important example of this. Because her real name was too ethnic sounding, Columbia studios decided to change it to fit an image of an all American girl. There was a magazine contest, to name the new star, and the winning selection was Joan Crawford. This form of promotion was deliberately designed by the studio. Joan Crawford is the star image in a nutshell. She is essentially just an image that wasn’t even a real person. Her persona was intentionally created by a studio that wanted to promote someone popular, made from the raw material of the life of the real person, Lucille Fay LeSueur. This image was carefully constructed the studio according to the times. Publicity is distinct from promotion because it the PR that doesn’t appear to be produced by the studio, but really is, like articles in magazines and newspapers. Interviews in magazines and newspapers with stars are cafefully controlled by the publicists. In the past, studios would pass on stories to gossip columns that would enhance the star’s image. Maybe they would make up a story about Joan Crawford and another one of their actors being spotted on a date when they really had never even met. Publicity made Joan Crawford’s image one that said she was a self-made success. There would be all these interviews in magazines about her tough childhood, how her father abandoned her when she was young, how she came from nothing, and how she was sick and wasn’t able to walk for a while. This might all be fabricated by the studio. Columbia had an idea for a kind of image they wanted to create and when they picked Joan Crawford, because she had the look they were going for, and more or less the right personal story or background. Her personal background enforced her star persona as she kept appearing in movies about people who came from nothing and made themselves successful. This relates to dyer’s idea of contradictions because she while she is a creation of the studio system, she is supposedly self made. This reflects the contradictions of capitalist society that says anyone can be a success if the work hard and play by the rules, when the fact remains that you need a lot of help and luck. Like all stars, she became famous because of star making machinery.
Stars are about the myth of American success. There are four components to this myth: the star is ordinary, talent and ability are rewarded, luck matters but anyone can get lucky, and hard work and devotion to you craft are necessary. Any star profile will probably address some or part of these components. This purveys the ideology of our society in that it reflects the idea that anyone can succeed by working hard and playing by the rules, and that success is governed by the individual. The star machinery was all about picking films for the stars very carefully and the studios picked the ones with the stories that supported the image of what the star was. This is why Joan Crawford only plays self-made independent women to reinforce the myth that Columbia invented for her.
Criticism and commentary by fans and critics was one layer of the star image that was not generated by the studios. Because Joan Crawdford only appeared in Melodramas, the general opinion of critics was that she wasn’t a very good actress. The studio had to change this opinion of her to justify the contract they gave her so they rallied for her to win an Oscar for Mildren Pierce. The studio and her manager, agent, and publicist generated the publicity campaign and the Oscar buzz to get her that award. When she one the Oscar, the public perception was that she was finally being rewarded for all her hard work and talent.
Films used to be called star vehicles called star vehicles because they were often tailored for the star. That’s why it often appears that they play the same roles. Stars always play at type and sometimes they are cast against type to prove their acting chops.

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