Free online reading
Stars - The creation of an image. What is the relation ship between audience and movie star?
Everybody knows movie stars. Most people seem to admire and envy a star. Each generation and each trend seems generate an idol. Events such as the Oscars display the vital status that stars have in our society. Millions are being spend to purchase a piece of an idolized figure's look or lifestyle: the image. There seems to be a natural demand for stars in our culture. But what are stars? Is there anything real about them? And if there is, what makes people so special to become stars, to become idols? Are they gifted and born as stars or just produced at the right place and time? Beliefs vary. All of these questions ad to the mystery surrounding stars. It is therefore very interesting to take a closer look at this phenomenon to get an idea of how the fascination with a movie star comes into being. My paper is mainly concerned with movie stars and I use the example of a movie star with Bette Davis. Nevertheless I believe that there is a strong correspondence with the phenomenon of celebrities (and as I believe with all people in public) in general. Aspects of this paper might therefore be also brought into consideration with media personalities, pop stars, sport stars, politicians and in my generation even with cyber stars such as Lara Croft and Webbie Tookay.
Samuel Godwyn once said: `God makes the stars. It's up to the producers to find them'1. With this statement he represents the opinion that people who are stars are gifted in some way or another. This statement includes the belief that a star cannot be completely produced. However he acknowledges the role of the producer to recognize and `publish' the star.
People's ideas about why a certain person grows into a star status differ. The discussion is probably most lively between a fan and a non-fan. Many believe that most stars (especially in the time of mass media) are above all produced and ride on the wave of a social-cultural trend or contest to generate profit. This does not require a lot of unique skills. `The people of the movies [come] before us first of all as people, and only secondarily as actors - artists - if at all'.2 In this belief stars are only profiting of being at the right place at the right time. Marilyn Monroe's career for example undoubtedly benefited from the public debate about the feminine sexuality during the 50's. Worthy of note in this regard is furthermore the term `trend setter'. A star is called a trendsetter when he `creates' the environment for a new fashion, style, look or attitude. It is remarkable that not only the public seems to respond to this `variation' but that the trend setter also seems to prepare grounds for stars with similar expertise. Ricky Martin's breakthrough in the music business for instance set loose (or revived) the `Latino Wave', which was exploited by Latino artists like Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Jody Bernall.
Nevertheless it is quite apparent that not everybody is capable of becoming a movie star. Certain conditions seem essential. However these conditions cannot be pinpointed for all times because they are noticeably changing with socio-cultural values. The Sociologist I.C. Jarvie believes to be able to reveal some `talents' that seem to stand central in correlation with movie stardom in our culture: `striking photogenic looks, acting ability, presence on camera, charm and personality, sex-appeal, attractive voice and bearing'3. Others point out charisma as the main skill that distinguishes stars. Max Weber writes about the charismatic person:
`A certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he [sic] is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least superficially exceptional qualities'4
This definition hints at the idea that stars are unique mainly because of what we make out of them. It is our believe, our interpretation of the image that sets them apart. The relation of the stars and the audience is furthermore expressed in a publication from Richard Dyer:
`That charismatic appeal is effective especially when the social order is uncertain, unstable and ambiguous and when the charismatic figure or group offers a value, order or stability to counterpoise this.' (Richard Dyer, Stars p.31)
Dyer also draws the attention to the concept that the response to a star also depends on the perceiver's socio-cultural context. The question of how stars develop becomes a question of culture and ideology5.
1.2 Contrasting values - Interpretability
The broad range of success of a star might be due to his interpretability. Movie stars embody a wide range of opposing values (Richard Dyer, Stars and Heavenly Bodies):
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
These opposing values provide a wide range of interpretation. What the perceiver reads out of them is regarding post-modernistic believes depending his on social-cultural surrounding6.
Fan clubs and magazines give an idea of how well people respond to stars. The fascination with stars may lie in the confirmation of values through representation. The media mirrors what the society is concerned with and offers the possibility of identification and inspiration7. Especially minorities that are underrepresented in the media seem to act in response to `their' star because they feel acknowledged through him8. Andrew Tudor suggests several types of the stars/audience relation:
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Tudor names four manners of the star/audience relationship that are distinguished in this demonstration:
- Emotional affinity: `the audience feels a loose attachment to a particular protagonist deriving jointly from star, narrative and the individual personality of the audience member: a standard sense of involvement'.
- Self-identification: ` involvement has reached the point at which the audiencemember places himself [sic] in the same situation and persona of the star'.
- Imitation: `the star acting as some sort of model for the audience'.
- Projection: Imitation becomes projection `at the point at which the process becomes more than a simple mimicking of clothing, hairstyle, kissing and the like'.
The amount of credibility you give to your star determines how much you believe in his image and how much you let yourself be influenced by it.
In order to relate to stars we seemingly to need to have the impression that the star is or believes in what he pretends to be. Typecasting10 often is the key to success. Star biographies, photos and interviews give quite an explicit impression of how this `reality' is created. When taking an objective closer look at such publications one can easily spot the attempt that is being made. It is tried to create the right sphere around the star's pirate life in order to match the image that he creates on the screen. In the desire to be able to believe in stars, authenticity seems to play such a big part that people tent to be very forgiving to contradictions in the stars `stories'.
Fans actually seem to be longing for a scene in a film where they can `recognize' a bit of their stars real life: Jeah, you could see that he really hit his knee when shooting this scene. In this regard Jacky Chan films regularly reward the audience. At the end they show scenes from the shoot when something went wrong and the `real' Jacky Chan was revealed. Of course these scenes are arranged as well to add to the stars image. Maybe one should consider if this need for authentication is possibly intensified by the growing distrust in media and the universal conspiracy theory11. Audiences are looking for the `truth' and the confirmation of witnessing the `real' thing. Paparazzi definitely are profiting from this trend. Documentaries such as
Don't look Back (D. Pennebaker, 1967) and In Bed with Madonna (A. Keshishian, 1991) serve this demand as well. Legitimacy is important even if it is faked. Madonna said in an Article of the Philadelphia Inquirer in this regard12:
`Yes, I show what I want to show. Therefore you could say that I select what I want to be shown. However you can also say that what I select to be shown is revealing'.
It is obvious that it is difficult to draw the line between fact and fiction. Real persons and images mix. Everything that is publicly show of a famous person either on or of screen adds to the image he carries. Audiences distinguish the star and the works of a star with this image.
1.5 Economic value
The image (look and lifestyle) of the star carries the possibility to give audience the opportunity to identify and differentiate a product in the movie business. This is a great advantage when putting a product on the market. A star virtually works as an index for the viewer in the overwhelming accumulation of product releases. Studios that can afford it use this capability with gratefulness. A movie with a star in it does not need to be recommended by friends or family. The name of the star alone indicates what the film will be about. The star generates an expectation. This expectation can be about the films genre or just about the quality or the expenditure with which it was made. As a result a star can stabilize the markets demand (audiences respond) and prevent to some degree the loss of investment. Richard Caves puts it in a nutshell: `product differentiation establishes a preordained consumer market for a product by creating distinguishing which the consumer can recognize'13. The star image is also interesting for marketing on secondary markets in method of `everything connects'. Here the image is attached to products such as cloth. Samuel L. Jackson for example uses his Shaft image to sell `cool' outfits for Reebok. Richard Dyer uses four terms to describe the function of stars in the economics of Hollywood14:
- Capital: the unique abilities of the star become the studio's capital with a contract.
- Investment: stars were a guarantee, or promise, against loss on investment and even of profit on it.
- Outlay: stars were a major portion of films budget - hence their handling, in filmic terms, had to be careful and correct.
- The market: Stars (and their image) were used to sell films, to organize the market.
The star sells the product and the product sells the star. However, only as long as the audience responds to the stars image. Because the stars economic functions is so vital it is apparent that producers of media texts will always have to react to changing audience's response and the rules of economics. Therefore, since a star is not only a unique in talent but also produced, it means that the image of a star might be adjusted or a new star is being born to catch the audience's attention in order to fulfill the economic function.
1.6 History of Stardom
During the time of 1895-1910 the interest in film productions was solely focused on the techniques that were used. Actors were not important. They were merely employees of the production companies. Product differentiation mainly took place trough the producer as trademark. If an actor became known at all than only in relation to their production company. One example is Florence Turner who just became known as the `Vitagraph Girl'15. After 1910 more and more memorabilia of actors began to circulate. `In 1911, Motion Picture Story (note the emphasis on story, not stars), one of the earliest fan magazines, asked its readers to choose their favorite film stories. Instead of the expected answers, the magazine was deluged with inquiries about favorite players'16. The subject of public interest clearly shifted towards the actors. Viewers started to recognize actors in different productions.
The term `Star' first appeared in the article `Loree Starr-Photoplay Idol: A fascinating serial story presenting a new type of hero' in the magazine Photoplay in September 191417. It is quite remarkable that the article ends with the question: `Is your reel hero a real hero?'. This shows how much attention was focused on the public image of the star from the beginning on. With the use of credit lists from 1914 on actors became a trademark. The film industry discovered the economic value of the film star:
`Star differentiation dovetailed nicely with the standard industry practice of basing film rentals for future releases on the box office success of previous productions. Accordingly, if a star could generate and fix demand, then star differentiation offered a method of standardizing and predicting success and consequently stabilizing the price paid for such films'18.
2. Bette Davis - Creation of the Vamp
The movie industry has created several ways of producing a star in order to have a trademark for their products. The example of Bette Davis' career in the 30s and 40s is a good study case to observe how public response shapes the stars. Her career displays a drastic change of course in the development of her character. This happened directly under the control of Warner at the time of Hollywood's prime vertical integration before the Paramount Decree.
Actors were only contract workers and were not in the position to take career decisions themselves. The example of Bette Davis gives you an idea about the complex mechanism of the star-system. 'Wag the dog' is once more the underlying principle.
Bette Davis first became known in 1932 with a very feminine role in Cabin in the Cotton. Because of her success she was cast again for the sexy blond in Ex-Lady in 1933. This movie was supposed to be the `vehicle'19 for her breakthrough in the movie business. Warner's publicity department was busy trying to establish her as a star through scriptwriting, publicity and advertisement strategies. They were therefore looking for the right narrative match: A screen-character for Bette Davis that the audience reacted best to. However Ex-Lady was not successful at all. In the following year Bette Davis was loaned to RKO to play a feature role in Of Human Bondage20. This movie was a success and her role was described by Variety as something new: the vamp21. Molly Haskell wrote a definition of what a vamp is:
`A woman who while exceedingly feminine and flirtatious is too ambitious and intelligent for the docile role society has decreed she play. (...). She remains within traditional society, but having no worthwhile project for her creative energies, turns them onto the only available material - the people around her - with demonic results'22.
This role seemed to be the right narrative match for Davis. The audience's response was great and the film was successful at the box office. Warner put all efforts in exploiting the public's attention. Tino Balino refers to an article in Variety from 1935:
`In fact, the fusion was so perfect that when Davis failed to receive an Academy Award nomination, Warner initiated a write-in campaign on her behalf. Although the campaign failed, it was responsible for changing the write in procedures of additional nominees by the membership.23
Warner took the opportunity and gave Davis the part of a vamp in one of their own productions. Warner's production schedule as published in Variety shows that `Although Bordertown appeared on Warner's production schedule in June 1934, prior to the release of Of Human Bondage, it is significant that Davis was not cast as Marie until after her triumph'. Dangerous was the next vamp movie for Davis. It did not appear on Warner's production schedule 1934-35 at all before the success of Of Human Bondage.24 Additionally, Warner's publicity department was working on authenticating their star. They were trying to match
Bette Davis private image with that of the screen. In her case of course it also meant a change since she was admired as a sexy blond because of Cabin in the Cotton and Ex-Lady . `To begin, the department manufactured an authorized biography of the star's personal life based in large on the successful narrative roles of the star's pictures.(...). Finally the department had glamour photographs taken that fixed the important physical and emotional traits of the star in the proper image.'25
Today, after the Paramount decree the work of publicity departments is mainly done by Talent Agencies such as the United Talent Agency (Jim Carrey) and the William Morrison Agency (Bruce Willis). These agencies advise their stars (of course not out of selflessness) in forming a successful image.
A movie star's rise and fall is determined by the audience's approval. He his a product of our culture and has to react to changes in interest or value if he wants maintain his status. The society and its values indirectly decide who will be doing well. Certain `talents' seem favorable to the rise to stardom. However success cannot be guaranteed but only challenged. Changing socio-cultural circumstances are decisive. A star holds many social and economic functions. He is an idol and a guidepost in our culture. How we read or react to a star is up to the individual. The audience designs its movie stars.
Balino, Tino. The American film industry, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Caves, Richard. American industry: Structure, conduct and performance. Donald, Gerald Mc. "Origin of the star system". Films in review, no. 4. Nov. 1953. Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: British Film Institute, 1992.
Elsaesser, Thomas. "Un train peut en cacher un autre". Hollywood op straat. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
Griffith. The movie stars.
Haskel, Molly. From reverence to rape. New York: Penguin Books, 1974.
Hesselberth, Pepita. "Wat niet weet deert wel". ". Hollywood op straat. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
"Insider - Vocabular". Cinema, nr. 12/00. Dec. 2000. Hamburg: Kino Verlag Gmbh, 2000. Jarvie, I.C. Towards a Sociology of the cinema.
Lewis, Howard. The motion picture industry. New York: Van Nostrand, 1933. "Of human bondage review". Variety. July 3, 1934.
Pisters, Patricia. "In het spiegelpaleis van de roem". Hollywood op straat. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
Reesink, Maarten. "Over smaak valt niet te twisten". Hollywood op straat. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
Tudor, Andrew. Image and influence.
Weber, Max. On Charisma and institution building.
 Griffith. The movie stars, p.25.
 Griffith. The movie stars, p.13.
 Jarvie, I.C. Towards a Sociology of the cinema, p.149.
 Weber, Max. On Charisma and institution building, p. 329
 +6 Reesink, Maarten. "Over smaak valt niet te twisten". Hollywood op straat. Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000
 Elsaesser, Thomas. "Un train peut en cacher un autre". Hollywood op straat, p. 149-150 . Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
 Pisters, Patricia. "In het spiegelpaleis van de roem". Hollywood op straat, p.211-212 . Amsterdam: Vossiuspers, 2000.
 Tudor, Andrew. Image and influence, p. 80-82.
 Further information in: Pisters, Patricia. "In het spiegelpaleis van de roem". Hollywood op straat, p.207. And in: Dyer, Richard. Stars, p. 47ff. London: British Film Institute, 1992.
 Hesselberth, Pepita. "Wat niet weet deert wel". ". Hollywood op straat, p.173 .
 As quoted in: Pisters, Patricia. "In het spiegelpaleis van de roem". Hollywood op straat, p. 209.
 Caves, Richard. American industry: Structure, conduct and performance.
 Dyer, Richard. Stars, p. 10-11. London: Britisch Film Institute, 1992.
 Balino, Tino. The American film industry, p. 353. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
 Donald, Gerald Mc. "Origin of the star system". Films in review, no. 4. Nov. 1953.
 As quoted in: Pisters, Patricia. "In het spiegelpaleis van de roem". Hollywood op straat, p. 197.
 Lewis, Howard. The motion picture industry, pp. 119+188. New York: Van Nostrand, .
 "Insider - Vocabular". Cinema, no. 12/00. Dec. 2000. Hamburg: Kino Verlag Gmbh, 2000.
 Balino, Tino. The American film industry. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
 "Of human bondage review". Variety. July 3, 1934.
 Haskel, Molly. From reverence to rape, p. 214. New York: Penguin Books, 1974.
 As quoted in: Balino, Tino. The American film industry, p. 357. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
 Balino, Tino. The American film industry, p. 357. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
 Balino, Tino. The American film industry, p. 361. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Quote paper
- Anonymous, 2000, Stars - The creation of an image. What is the relation ship between audience and movie star?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/100155