By Edelstein, Jillian
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 131, No. 4599
When I met Eve Arnold on the eve of her 90th birthday she said: "Some people told me that I was a better writer than I was a photographer." This remark was made in the light of the publication of Film Journal, a photographic collection and memoir of her time behind the scenes in Hollywood. Whatever-bringing together a great body of work and many wonderful anecdotes, the journal is a treat.
The photographs were taken mainly during the Fifties and Sixties when the sun was setting on the heyday of glamour and mystique of the Hollywood studio system. The television era had begun, and by early 1960 the film studio monopoly had started to collapse. The studios were no longer allowed to exhibit as well as produce and distribute films. They had to get rid of their movie houses --and thus lose much of their control. This in turn affected the actors' relationship with the media. It was only when Ronald Reagan became president that the law was changed and they were again allowed to own cinemas.
Eve Arnold was prolific during that transitional era. At this time, the studio lights became less "dazzling", the trend for the overlit studio portrait declined, and there was a call for a more documentary feel and a move towards greater realism by using ambient (available) light.
The journal begins with a photographic session with Marlene Dietrich in 1952 and ends with shots of the (at the time) lesser-known actors in White Nights in 1984, Isabella Rossellini, Gregory Hines, Helen Mirren and Mikhail Baryshnikov. In the interim, Eve Arnold covered over 40 films starring Hollywood greats such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Charlie Cha plin, Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando and Shirley MacLaine.
Celebrity was different than. a star might give a photographer time and trust. Eve Arnold had integrity She was a strong and interesting personality in her own right, and friendships developed with her subjects as they trusted and confided in her. Using these privileges to her advantage, she produced a compelling series of intimate portraits; usually fluid, grainy, black and white images that showed the actors as they really were. Nowadays, "stardom" is about negotiating privacy in the wake of spoiled confidences and snooping lenses.
There is a lovely anecdote about Marlene Dietrich telling a friend how she had been "followed" by Arnold during an all-night rehearsal and recording session. …