Monday, September 15, 2008

Shooting Stars

While enjoying a slideshow of portraits from Vanity Fair, The Portraits: A Century of Iconic Portraits, I thought it would be interesting to create a Tarot deck comprised of images of Hollywood movie stars. These legendary actors, particularly the ones who shot to fame during the studio era spanning the early to mid-twentieth century, have become quasi-mythical beings whose well defined images and personae lend them an archetypal quality that is larger than life.

Turns out there already is such a deck, the Hollywood Tarot, which is the creation of Melanie Bacon. It's fun to see which performers she chose to represent the different cards, and the reasons behind her selection. When I saw this beautiful portrait of Jean Harlow by photographer George Hurrell, I immediately thought of the Moon card. At first blush it might seem like an odd choice, given that Harlow became renowned as a comedic actor and sex symbol. While she sparkles in such films as Dinner At Eight and Bombshell, I absolutely adore her in the classic James Cagney flick The Public Enemy. She displayed an open, unapologetic sexuality that was very modern and American, yet tempered by a sweetness and vulnerability that elevated her above being merely another one dimensional film hottie. Her untimely death of uremic poisoning at age 26 adds a poignancy to her image as fun loving Blonde Bombshell.

In this portrait Harlow shimmers. Like the moon, she in darkness, and like the moon she is lit up by a light off to the side which allows her to glow in all her platinum glory. She does not look into the camera; rather, she gazes off to the side, as if in a reverie, a dreamy look upon her face. Her body is relaxed, languid; the folds of her gauzy dress reinforce a sense of softness. Harlow seems detached, out of reach of the viewer, and utterly alluring. The overall quality of the portrait is mysterious, feminine, and enchanting. In this portrait Harlow embodies an old school Hollywood glamour that seduces, not by dazzling the viewer with a solar, aggressive sexuality, but rather beckoning with a subdued yet potent lunar beauty.


Eccentric Scholar said...

Beautiful discussion! You know what my first Tarot impression of that photo was? "Strength." Your note about the direction of her gaze is an important point. In terms of Strength, she isn't confronting in an aggressive, eye-to-eye attitude. She has tamed the snarling beast through the power of her femininity (the apparent vulnerability betrayed by her victorious mounting of the wild animal).

Tamara said...

Your point about the Lady taming the Beast is excellent. I hadn't thought about that angle at all, since her demeanor in the photo is so relaxed, and I tend to associate the Strength card with a more active kind of force.

Thanks for your insights!