Cinema is not only art and entertainment, but also a powerful conductor of ideology, whether it be the standards of family values or the relationship of man with the cosmos. The visual nature of cinema has made the human appearance one of the most important artistic tools, and the popularity of this art has turned beauty into a fetish and an effective propaganda weapon. Women's beauty, as it appears on the screen, remains the subject of serious debate: the images created by the "dream factory" not only changed over time, but also changed it. We figure out how (and why) movie heroines of different eras looked and how we came to the relative diversity of female appearance on the screen.
The first silent film actresses got into it primarily due to their appearance, which meets very clear requirements. This had little effect on men: there were initially more varied roles for them, which means that a variety of types were also welcomed. It turned out to be easier with actresses, the most cinematic type of appearance was determined quickly. This is a young woman with large eyes, thin lips accentuated with dark lipstick, expressive facial contours and lush hair.
The birth of such an ideal was facilitated by both fashion and the specificity of cinema, which requires bright and accurate, but not theatrical, facial expressions from the performer. Women in the cinema were needed, of course, to interact with men - they are characterized by lonely helplessness, fragile beauty of the face and body. At that time, both dramatic and comic actresses appear like this: everyone, from Mabel Normand, partner of Fatty Arbuckle, to D.W.Griffith's muse Lillian Gish, approaches the type described above. This was quite consistent with the audience's request: men are looking at an innocent and touching heroine, women want to be like her.
Before the appearance of the first movie stars, viewers did not bother themselves with knowing the names of the actors, and they were attracted not by the features of individual performers, but by the stereotyped characters that they embodied on the screen. In addition, cinema inherited from literature and theater a not too wide range of plots and stories in which women participated. Melodramas became the territory in which women steadily settled. This genre, which uses stories of fairytale love and reveals the secret of female happiness, was popular among spectators. The first film stars appeared in melodramas, role models. Cinema helped to dream.
Women actresses, especially those who managed to build a successful career, somehow became hostages of images that did not go beyond strictly defined boundaries. The most striking example is Mary Pickford, who for a long time remained the eternal "girl with golden curls". Behind the scenes, the actress Pickford was that very strong woman: she grew up in a poor family, ended up at Biograph Studios, where she starred without interruption, did not hesitate to demand higher fees, was actively involved in the studio business, and at the peak of her fame she found roles for herself and selected a film crew.
Nevertheless, in the titles of her paintings, the word "little" flashes almost every other time: the audience coolly greeted those films in which the actress acted in age roles. Then one day Mary cut her famous curls as a sign of farewell to her childish image, and the news of this incident spread throughout the secular chronicle. The ending of this story, alas, can be called predictable: the public refused to accept an adult lady who did not cause either emotion or desire to protect her. In 1933, after several obvious failures, America's favorite stopped acting altogether. And this is not the tragedy of one legend, but the end of a career quite ordinary for Hollywood. Until the 1970s, this is how the creative path of a woman who decided to connect her life with the screen will look like.
One way or another, images of bold, decisive and strong women appeared. But the most important driving force behind the film, in which the protagonist is a woman, was her beauty. One of the brightest achievements of the heroine Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind" is credited with a magnificent dress made of curtains. Marlene Dietrich was perceived primarily as an unearthly erotic object, and she approached psychologically rich roles that did not require sexual coloring at a very mature age. Marilyn Monroe played the same seductive beauty until the end of her short life. In her penultimate film, John Huston's cool and sad cowboy drama The Misfits, she is mainly concerned with thrilling the viewer's eye. Unless she dances and sings as usual.
Studios still believed that women were needed to be loved by men: almost any female plot is based on the story of Cinderella, languishing in anticipation of a prince. To create slightly more active characters, women were assigned historical films, but under the same conditions. Catherine II, embodied by Marlene Dietrich, is mostly worried about her relationship with Count Razumovsky. In the finale, however, he is completely disappointed in people in general and men in particular, which is difficult to interpret as a victory over patriarchal views. Viewers will understand that an excessive love of freedom makes a woman unhappy and lonely. Maria Stuart is served with the same sauce in John Ford's Mary of Scotland. Katharine Hepburn is wearing stunning costumes in every scene, and the love story in the film is much more weighty than historical.
Until the end of the 60s, the film industry, in cooperation with advertising and the growing beauty industry, formed the image of the ideal woman. The very style of the Hollywood image with its abundance of artificial light makes the human appearance statuesque, unrealistically improved. The appearance of a young, beautiful, smiling movie star should also be maintained in a life into which newspapers and television are getting more and more intrusive. Someone, like Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich, are more fortunate, and they remain in demand for a long time.
At the same time, the cult of youth and beauty locked the aging Greta Garbo in the house and took part in the onset of depression in Marilyn Monroe. Among the successful Hollywood actresses, it is very difficult to find a woman with an appearance that clearly deviates from the canon. If you look at Billy Wilder's classic comedy "There are only girls in jazz" from today, the situation will seem ambiguous: Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon have enough makeup, wigs and generalized feminine antics to completely reincarnate into creatures of the opposite sex. But in the circumstances of a world in which the appearance of women is unified to the limit, the drag queen plot looks organic and does not raise any questions.
During the development of independent cinema, the attitude towards the person in the frame begins to change. John Cassavetes was the first to show interest in the individual human face. In the debut film "Shadows", an abundance of close-ups, unusual for American cinema, brought the characters of the film closer to those who were looking at them. Cassavetes closely monitors emotions, trying to capture their reflections. Released in 1968, the film "Faces", if you look at it over the plot, is about how what happens to its owner manifests itself on a person's face. The story of lonely people who decide to stay the night together and are disappointed is only support for these detailed film portraits.
This is a small revolution: wrinkles not hidden by make-up, disheveled hair, streaks of mascara and non-theatrical looks did not fit well with the sterility of Hollywood cinema. Actress Gina Rowlands, wife and de facto co-creator of Cassavetes, has never played the classic beauties. Her heroines in "Faces" and "Minnie and Moscovitz" were exhausted and tired, in "Woman under the Influence" and "Premiere" - frankly broken.Cassavetes, by the way, did not deserve the love of the masses in his homeland. New Hollywood figures continued to develop similar ideas. They basically abandoned the exploitation of beauty - or interpreted it in a completely new way.
There are not very many female outlets in the history of New Hollywood - it was the world of boys rebelling against the industry - but they are all remarkable. In 1967, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde came out. The movie was a hit, and it was a really big blow to Hollywood polish. In Golden Hollywood, every simpleton always hid a lady who was supposed to appear in all her glory by the final. The authors of "Bonnie and Clyde" do not write out any awards for their heroes due to the signs of youth and beauty. Their courage and energy are poured into criminal activity - of course, this is romanticization, but not transcendental. The story is traditionally led by a man, but Bonnie in her iconic beret is one of the first American film heroines who received the right not to strive for decency and eat with her hands. And most importantly, her beauty has no direct impact on the development of her history. And does not stop the bullets.
The sexual revolution made it possible to end the search for the incomprehensible ideal of femininity. Sam Peckinpah deliberately makes Amy, the heroine of Straw Dogs, extremely relaxed. All the more terrifying: yesterday this classic blonde was worshiped, today she is being raped. Beauty is no longer a protection and an advantage, but in the radical case of this film, it becomes a curse at all, awakening beasts in the abnormal neighbors of a married couple.
Immediately there appeared the first attempts to comprehend the life of an ordinary woman in cinema, "Rachel, Rachel" by Paul Newman, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" by Martin Scorsese and "A Woman Under the Influence" of the same Cassavetes. Actresses are filmed practically without makeup, their costumes do not perform a decorative function, all the heroines look exactly at their average age. Ellen Burstyn ("Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore") and Joan Woodward ("Rachel, Rachel") are already very large dramatic actresses at that time, their names were a weighty recommendation for viewing. Burstyn herself initiated the filming of Alice and eventually won her only Oscar for Best Actress.
These films are emphatically dramatic, everyday difficulties merge with existential ones, and the heroines in modest dresses look unusual. Not surprisingly, before that, such heroines - that is, similar to real women - simply did not exist in Hollywood films. A request for a detailed study of women's issues was thus opened. In addition, in the 70s, feminist criticism intensified, not without reason accusing Hollywood cinema of using patriarchal optics. Hollywood, which not so long ago did not count on a female audience at all, is bad at parting with habits. But a start was made.
In the 60s, the musical is experiencing a rebirth, the most successful examples of the genre are traditionally filmed. From there, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli get into the cinema, who do not have a sufficiently sophisticated or seductive appearance for Hollywood. On Broadway, the artists breathed more freely - the professional control of their body and voice was appreciated there above the sensual lips. Film adaptations of musicals almost always brought commercial success, and filmmakers tried hard, invited original performers. It is unlikely that the audience would want to see other actresses in "Funny Girl" and "Cabaret".
The popularity of Barbra and Lisa only grew, but it is significant that after another crop failure in the field of musical films in the late 70s, both began to appear less and less. Streisand managed to work with Peter Bogdanovich and Sidney Pollack, received two Oscars and earned critical acclaim as a director. Still, she was not allowed further than the comedy genre.Producers and studio owners still believed that attractive actresses made more money at the box office.
From the end of the 70s, the emancipation march began, which peaked in the 90s. In dramas, melodramas and comedies, which have never been a forbidden genre for women, issues of family and marriage were raised, which seemed to not require discussion before. More precisely, marriage has always been the happy ending of any women's story, a guarantee of eternal happiness, received as a reward for beauty and prudence. The film "Unmarried Woman" by Paul Mazursky begins with a nightmare: the heroine's husband finds a younger love for himself and leaves his wife. She grieves a little, until she realizes that she has not lived for a long time in a world where the end of marriage means the end of life. And in "Kramer v. Kramer" for the first time showed a woman who is sick of being the keeper of the hearth; her line in the film is a continuous goodbye to illusions about family life.
In the faces of Jill Clayburgh and Meryl Streep, an ordinary white American is finally entering the masses. It took Hollywood almost 80 years to decide on this step. In the appearance of these heroines, the authors try to guess the representatives of the audience: neat, well-groomed, memorable, not claiming to be a sex bomb. What they look like is determined by what they do. Gradually, the eternal evening make-up, which had adhered to them at the dawn of cinematography, disappears from women's faces, which must emphasize all the best at once and fit any face a little closer to the canonical mask.
At the same time, the filmmakers, sensing where the wind was blowing, began to break the last bastions of resistance. Female protagonists appeared in genres that were considered "masculine" by default. Fiction was the first to surrender. This genre was fruitful for the open exploitation of sexual images: women appeared in the images of alien Amazons or princesses, wore tight futuristic outfits and makeup, which was declared fashionable on planet Earth only in 2013. And everyone, without exception, dreams of sex.
All the crazy (and best) features of these films have gathered in the Franco-Italian "Barbarella", starring American Jane Fonda. The Americans themselves suddenly had problems with the adaptation of comics with female heroines. Since 1967, there have been three attempts to film the Wonder Woman story, all of which have failed due to complete inconclusiveness. This type of heroine simply did not exist in the cinema: it turned out to be a difficult task to combine exaggerated femininity with superhuman strength in one character, and then also make a living person portray this character.
And in 1979, Ridley Scott's first Alien was released. Ellen Ripley was fundamentally different from all women who have ever appeared in space-themed films. First, she wore a uniform - really a uniform, not an erotic parody of her. Secondly, almost nothing is known about her personal life, while most of the female characters were revealed in search of love. Thirdly, the character image of Sigourney Weaver was not discordant with the circumstances of the film. Athletic physique, concentrated facial expression, lack of obvious attributes of femininity; in the third part, she will completely lose her hair, which makes her almost androgynous. Initially, as conceived by the film's writers, any hint of the characters' gender was eliminated in order to focus on their professional relationship. Ridley Scott nevertheless stripped Ripley before his last meeting with the alien, for which he was repeatedly criticized. But the fans thank you from the bottom of their hearts.
In the 90s, this type of heroine is common: Jordan O'Neill in "Soldier Jane", Sarah Connor in "Terminator". In an era when even Disney princesses were leaning towards feminism, it was found that no collapse would happen if a woman was endowed with character traits and tasks previously attributed only to men.However, the problem was in the most pronounced sexual division of roles, genres and characters. The sexless experiment of "Alien" was not picked up, but the athletic and courageous heroines quickly passed into the category of new sexy.
In addition, in the 1990s, there was another rise in independent cinema, and large studios were more willing to agree to risky projects. The filmmakers of the new generation were very different from their older colleagues; they came to the cinema with new themes, and, accordingly, with new characters. An avalanche of iconic female characters hit the screens - a variety that Hollywood has never seen before.
A woman with a "non-feminine" profession is in the order of things: Clarissa Starling and Agent Scully. They could well be found in real life, both wear squares and decent suits. Both work for the FBI and regularly deal with things that require strength from the psyche. Many heroines of this decade look like they entered the frame without getting ready. Chloe Sevigny makes her debut in Harmony Corin and Larry Clark's "Babies", eventually becoming an independent film actress. Chloe's appearance does not fit any type (or fits any of them), so it is difficult to treat her heroine in advance with affection, pity or disgust.
She can be considered surprisingly beautiful or completely unattractive. But, due to the actress' lack of the obligatory traits of a movie star, her immersion in a dreary teenage life does not feel like a game. She is too similar to a person, and everything that happens to her concerns us directly. Many actresses, whose career began in the 90s, are distinguished by such genuineness: Uma Thurman, Kirsten Dunst, Christina Ricci. Only David Lynch in Twin Peaks really needed retro faces to contrast with the surrounding chaos.
In the most extreme way, the femme fatale was rethought at the request of the times. Somewhere at the intersection of heroin chic and old Hollywood, Marla Singer, Lisa from Girl, Interrupted, Amy from Generation DOOM appeared. Pale skin, sensual lips, heavy makeup, overall tired look. Beauty a second before death. These women are busy destroying themselves and everyone around them: drugs, violence, insanity. The beauty as Baudelaire saw her.
In the 2000s, the gates of hell were supposedly slammed shut, and Hollywood, having waited out a short riot, began to return to proven schemes. Advances in technology have prompted the abandonment of the messy and uneven visual style of the 90s. Historical films, costumed biopics, assembly-line production of films based on comics - all this required the actors to match the ideal form as much as possible. All "non-Hollywood correct" go back to independent films, TV series and comedies. Not a trace remains of recent advances.
At this time, all the work on the women's issue was conducted by "Sex and the City". The legendary TV series was the brainchild of the 90s and still let us be ourselves in a relaxed way. In 2004, debutante Patty Jenkins' "Monster" was released with the blonde beauty Charlize Theron, tired of the role, the one in which she mutilated herself as best she could through the efforts of eclairs and make-up artists. Theron received her first weighty "Oscar", and, more importantly, this experience simply allowed her not to turn into an actress in one role. In the opposite direction, the pressure of standards also works.
By the end of the 2000s, something had happened. In 2010, the Oscar nominees featured the film Treasure, a low-budget drama about the life of a ghetto black schoolgirl who dreams of a normal life. Preshes has an almost normal girlish life inside with stage fantasies and falling in love with a teacher. But she is expecting a second child from her own father and is making every effort to get out of the hole. The picture became an event, but not only because of the issues raised in it. The main role was played by Gaburi Sidibe, who was still unknown to anyone at that time and very complete. The film was discussed for a long time, a lot and in different ways. He definitely has one great achievement - he showed that the performer's appearance cannot be directly related to his dramatic potential.
While there are discussions about whether to execute or pardon plus-size, new names are appearing in film and television. All these women participate in the formation of the principles of approach to oneself. All the roles of Greta Gerwig, invented and written by her in collaboration with Noah Baumbach, are stupid charming girls doing something incomprehensible and waiting for something incomprehensible. Her heroines are not burdened with the severity of success or at least some definite life situation, but from this they do not lose their main advantages. Amy Schumer shows that a woman can do and say whatever she wants, and that only gets better from it. Lena Dunham is not afraid to make mistakes and sincerely shares her experience. The most promising young actress in the United States, Jennifer Lawrence, constantly reminds us that the person on the screen is also a person. Beauty is harmony with oneself, everything else is no longer so important.
Hollywood is unlikely to ever completely get rid of outward discrimination - after all, this is the easiest type of casting. But we no longer need “ideal heroines” to follow: the art that inspires us is created by living people. And we are more alike with them than it seems.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Groundswell Productions, Columbia Pictures, Faces International Films