March 5, 2013 – FILM LECTURE
Today’s Topic: Stardom
Richard Dyer = first to study stardom. He claimed that the director was not the sole
author. Stars, as the public face of the film, affect how the film is viewed and perceived.
Stars are constructed phenomena. The attributes, meanings, identities and values
that the name “Brad Pitt” connotes, for example, are derived more from a persona,
a constructed entity rather than a person.
Dyer says a star is constructed through a combination of textual, intertextual
(largely determined by the character traits, gestures, acts that reoccur) and
extratextual material. For example, James Dean was seen as Jim Stark and Jim
Stark was seen as James Dean. Mary Pickford, also, played a lot of characters that
were innocent, but got things done. She played young girls and teenagers even
into her 30s. When she cut her hair and tried new roles (more mature), there was a
backlash against her. Stars are also constructed by extra textual material like fan
magazines, fan clubs, news stories on shows like Entertainment Tonight and
interviews given to journalists and talk show hosts.
We will emphasize the intertextual in the construction of a persona. It is usually the roles
an actor plays that form the backbone of a star’s persona. An actor’s film performances
complete the star image created. However, sometimes extratextual material overwhelms
the textual and intertextual. For example, Jane Fonda’s political activism in the Vietnam
War overrode her roles. Today, the extratextual is always in danger of overwhelming
everything else (with the internet and youtube, the extratextual is much more readily
available). For ex, when we think about Charlie Sheen or Mel Gibson, we think about
their problems with the law. Also, Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton became famous for
playing themselves, not other people in dramas. Hollywood cultivates star power. The
American Cinema is also indelibly connected to genre, so the study on genre focuses on
Hollywood cinema (this happens for stardom as well). We will be studying Bette David.
While actors are laborers, stars are commodities. When the novelty of moving picture
wore off, producers realized it was to their benefit to incorporate the names of the actors
into the publicity of the films. After this, actors helped exhibit the films to audiences. The
actors were sold, as the public bought tickets so as to consume the star with their eyes for
a certain period of time. The public was very concerned with WHO was moving on the
screen. Following this, the close-up started to be used. As the Hollywood studios took
shape over the course of the 1930s, they relied heavily on stars to sell their products.
Therefore, they wanted to come up with the most appealing stars possible. With the
studio star, the goal on the part of those producing publicity was three fold:
The star had to be constructed as an upright member of society, as righteous (In
the 1920s, there were many scandals involving stars, and these scandals led
people to believe that Hollywood was a breeding ground for loose morals.
Petitions asked Hollywood to chang