Alain Delon was once asked about a decade ago why it was that movie stars no longer have the glamour that they used to. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Well, maybe it’s that the world just got banal.”
But the world of this year’s Retrospective, Dream Girls: Movie Stars of the ’50s promises a world that is anything but. The term itself, Dream Girls, conjures up visions of fantasy and sexuality and, of course, the movie star as an iconic figure. And, somewhere in there, a woman.
The head of the retrospective, Hans Helmut Prinzler, revealed a little of his own connection to the subject: “Personally, this theme had a big significance to me because this is my last retro before I retire. Dieter Kosslick told me I could choose whatever I wanted and the ’50s, as a decade, was the time when I discovered movies — I was 12 when they began, and 22 at the end, and that was the real beginning of my experience of cinema.”
And your image of women also?
“Yes, from puberty to the point where one has a little bit of personal experience.”
But does Prinzler think this image of women influenced by the movies affected your idea of women later?
“I’d say so. One remembers various phases, and the ’50s were certainly memorable. And now it’s 50 years later and this game of remembering was a motive to do this retro.”
These Dream Girls are displayed in all sort of roles, in all sorts of genres, whether it’s romance where Deborah Kerr (“An Affair to Remember”) or Maria Schell (“Le Notti Bianche”) are called to choose between lovers, or melodrama where Susan Hayward (“I Want to Live”) and Brigitte Bardot (“Le Verite”) are called to judgment for their moral behavior.
Struggles between love and career are observed in comedy — Doris Day in “Pillow Talk” — or drama — Lana Turner in “Imitation of Life.”
“Older woman” like Bette Davis (“All About Eve”) and Anna Magnani (“Wild Is the Wind”) assert their sexuality, while teenagers Harriet Andersson (“Summer of Monica”) or Annekathrin Burger (“Eine berliner Romance”) discover theirs.
Even the very idea of icon itself, and a woman’s struggle with just that role is very much on display through movie stars Ava Gardner (“The Barefoot Contessa”) and Judy Garland (“A Star Is Born”) portraying movie stars, or even with princess Audrey Hepburn (“Roman Holiday”), yearning to be a real girl, if just for a day.
Just thinking about Dream Girls immediately suggests sexuality, and even though the ’50s were supposed to be so repressive, there certainly seems to be a lot of sex going on — not just the obvious like Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Woman,” but Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief” or Barbara Stanwyck, the so-called “woman with a whip” in “40 Guns.”
It’s all pretty spicy.
“Absolutely. These things had to be decoded. There were many things that were forbidden, and these films are full of subtext, ellipses or some particular feeling that the actress communicates with a look or body language,” says Prinzler. “Everything was codified and ritualized, things going on between people that are completely banned from the screen, and the whole game of imagination can be played out in my mind if I make the right connections.”
To quote Jean-Luc Godard, “The history of cinema is the history of boys photographing girls.” That sort of voyeurism must play a role.
“I think it’s a direct component of the whole thing,” says Prinzler. ” As an audience, we are viewers. We are looking. And of course, the films were written by men, directed by men and photographed by men. So the story, the viewpoint and the presentation all comes from a male fixation.
“But the Dream Girls are not only objects of my desires, I am also looking at how these woman are portrayed, what kind of emancipation do we see, what self confidence, or, conversely, the traditional willingness to accept sacrifices. Also how she deals with other men and women, how she exercises her will, how she develops self awareness — or doesn’t. It’s all there to see in these films.”