Watching Grand Hotel today, I realised just how much Greta Garbo’s acting style relied on placement of her body, on her deliberate construction of specific poses for each reaction, emotion. The editing, rarely seamless in those earlier days of cinema, was noticably clunky in her scenes. For example, she would go from just leaning upwards in bed to being completely upright and stiff. Not too smooth.
But, like I said, this was just a (slightly unfortunate) side effect of her ability to affect expressions and poses to communicate emotion. She does have an amazing face, which draws attention, and obsession, whenever on screen – and afterwards, in our memories.
And although it is there, and just as wonderful, in everything, nothing has touched me more than her heartbreaking expression in that final amazing sequence of Anna Karenina. Here, she is able to convey desperation, the gradual decision to commit suicide, overwhelming love for her son and knowledge of the pain she will cause, all in just a few frames before she jumps under the train.
I remained stunned for days after I first saw that.
Joan Crawford publicity shot
Despite her brilliance, though, Grand Hotel really is Joan Crawford’s film. Her amazing cheekbones are brought out by chiaroscuro lighting, which also has the shadow of her hat fall in just the right places. Dark, thick and even eyeliner above her eyes, but not below, and her beautiful light skin allow her face to be even more catching than Garbo’s. Plus, she doesn’t dance with strangers but gives in and dances with a Baron in a great scene, especially for a 1932 studio picture.
This time, it has been Crawford’s face that has my obsession.