Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

15

STARS AND GENRE

Andrew Britton

One of the major limitations of Richard Dyer's monograph Stars (London, British Film Institute, 1979) arises from his discussion of the relation between stars and genre. Consider, for example, his account of the star 'vehicle'.

The vehicle might provide (a) a character of the type associated with the star (e.g. Monroe's 'dumb blonde' roles, Garbo's melancholic romantic roles), (b) a situation, setting or generic context associated with the star (e.g. Garbo in relationships with married men, Wayne in Westerns…); or (c) opportunities for the star to do her/his thing (most obviously in the case of musical stars…but also, for instance, opportunities to display Monroe's body and wiggle walk, scenes of action in Wayne's films). Vehicles are important as much for what conventions they set up as for how they develop them, for their ingredients as for their realisation. In certain respects a set of star vehicles is rather like a film genre such as the Western, the musical, the gangster film. As with genres proper, one can discern across a star's vehicles continuities of iconography…visual style… and structure. Of course, not all films made by the star are vehicles, but looking at their films in terms of vehicles draws attention to those films that do not fit, that constitute inflections, exceptions to, subversions of the vehicle pattern and the star image. (Dyer, Stars, 70-1)

The fundamental error here is the proposition that 'a set of star vehicles' is in any way 'like' a genre. On the contrary, the existence of a genre, and of a relation between the genres, is a prior condition of the vehicle: vehicles constitute a distinct sub-set, more or less highly individuated, of conventional relations which always precede the star. It is thus extremely misleading to reduce 'generic context' to something as loose and vague as a 'situation or setting', for 'generic contexts' are inseparable from narrative determinations. Quite apart from the fact that Garbo is not primarily associated with 'relationships with married men', but with the 'Anna

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Stardom: Industry of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The System 1
  • 1 - Seeing Stars 3
  • 2 - The Emergence of the Star System in America 17
  • 3 - The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window 30
  • 4 - The Building of Popular Images 40
  • 5 - Fatal Beauties 45
  • Part II - Stars and Society 55
  • 6 - Charisma 57
  • 7 - Shirley Temple and the House of Rockefeller 60
  • 8 - 'Puffed Sleeves Before Tea-Time' 74
  • 9 - The Return of Jimmy Stewart 92
  • 10 - Three Indian Film Stars 107
  • 11 - A Star is Born and the Construction of Authenticity 132
  • 12 - Feminine Fascinations 141
  • Part III - Performers and Signs 165
  • 13 - Articulating Stardom 167
  • 14 - Screen Acting and the Commutation Test 183
  • 15 - Stars and Genre 198
  • 16 - Signs of Melodrama 207
  • Part IV - Desire, Meaning and Politics 231
  • 17 - In Defence of Violence 233
  • 18 - The Politics of 'Jane Fonda' 237
  • 19 - The Glut of the Personality 251
  • 20 - Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification 259
  • 21 - 'A Queer Feeling When I Look at You' 283
  • 22 - Monster Metaphors 300
  • Select Bibliography 317
  • Index 332
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