Forget Julia. The heck with Angelina Jolie. Modern-day Hollywood may boast its fair share of sculptured and big-lipped babes with personality to spare, but these girls don't know the meaning of glamour. And if the film world is given to comic-book views, so are its actresses: Rather than appearing larger than life on screen, their portrayals can be dreadfully one-dimensional.
So it's the perfect time, opines Denver Art Museum Film Series curator Tom Delapa, to re-examine Hollywood's bona fide female stars of the '30s and '40s -- glorious mystiques, thick skins and all. To that end, Delapa will introduce Screen Divas: The Hollywood "Woman's Film," Tuesday night at the Acoma Center, a gamut-covering block of weekly screenings commencing with Lillian Gish in True Heart Susie.
Though apologetic for actresses he had to leave out of the mix -- Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn, for instance -- Delapa says he decided to focus on films that specifically fit the "woman's film" genre and generally feature such powerful names-in-lights as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford or Bette Davis. "People today have no idea now how immensely popular actresses like Crawford or Garbo were," he notes, and each had her own unique star-making qualities. Garbo was the exotic, elusive, mysterious icon. "Then there's Joan Crawford, the American-born star par excellence, the working girl who turned herself into this glamorous Hollywood figure," Delapa adds. "And Bette Davis had such an incredible range of acting ability.
"Female audiences really did relate to these roles and actresses in a heartfelt and inspiring way. These were their heroes," he continues. "The women suffered a lot in these movies; they died for love, suffered for love. Sometimes you just have to step back and look at these as transcendent films" - a healthy exercise in a time when cynical Hollywood has forsaken the old-fashioned melodramatic "weepie" as too old-fashioned. The industry no longer plays up to lonely working girls and housewives in darkened theaters. Most of today's melodramas are for males, anyway, Delapa contends.
"Die Hard," he says, "is the great male weepie. Today, women will go to the guys' films, but the guys won't go to the women's films. I truly hope the wives drag along their men to these movies."
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