When Garbo's on the screen, I can't look away. She had one of those faces that the audience could literally drown in. Those eyes were like deep pools of brooding ocean, always gazing at you from the screen, daring you to look away. Okay okay I'll stop now. I realize I must sound like a wannabe poet who's trying too hard, but seriously people. It's Greta Garbo we're talking about and the amount of people in 2015 who are still obsessed with her just goes to show you how much of a lasting impact she's had on the silver screen and all of our lives.
Garbo was a thing of beauty; amazingly attractive, yes, but so much more than just "pretty." She was aloof when it mattered, dangerous when the situation called for it, and downright seductive when she cast her eye on a man (or woman) who impressed her. She was a cold, slithering snake one minute and a hot-blooded Swede the next - practically in the blink of an eye!
Garbo's power onscreen was practically unrivaled in the late 1920s and early '30s. I think I was in my early teens when I started watching her films - surprisingly I knew very little about her at that age. Sure, I had seen her name listed here and there but I had never sought out details of her personal life or career before. I think you have to be of a certain age and/or maturity to appreciate Garbo in full. She's almost like a fine wine that would be wasted on someone who knew about or cared very little for liquor and alcoholic beverages.
She ended up purchasing a cheaply-produced Garbo double feature on VHS and if I remember correctly, it featured two of her very first films: THE SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING (1924) and THE TEMPTRESS (1926). One thing I noticed when I watched these two silents was that Garbo was different, more raw than she appeared in her later MGM films. She was bigger, more curvy, and her eyebrows weren't as sculpted as they appeared in films like GRAND HOTEL and MATA HARI (1931). Her eyes hadn't been lined with black liner yet and her cheekbones weren't as chiseled. I think that once the MGM makeup department got their hands on her and really devoted their time to perfecting the "Garbo look," she would morph into the majestic creature we identify her as today.
One can't have too many books on Garbo! My classic film book collection proves this. Every time there's a new release, it gets added to my wishlist quicker than you can say John Gilbert and Greta Garbo were the best-looking couple ever in the history of the world! From biographies, retrospectives, and (my personal favourite) coffee table books, there is quite a lot of published material out there for the new or diehard Garbo fan to enjoy. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Conversations With Greta Garbo by Sven Broman
- Garbo by Barry Paris
- Garbo: Portraits From Her Private Collection by Scott Reisfield and Robert Dance
- Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy by Mark A. Vieira
- Greta Garbo: A Life Apart by Karen Swenson
Aside from her being absolutely gorgeous and having a wonderfully electric onscreen presence, the thing I like most about Garbo is the fact that she was so private and elusive in real life. Me being an introvert, I can totally appreciate that about her. I don't blame her for shunning the spotlight and I certainly couldn't fault her for choosing to retire at the height of her career for a life spent on her own with no one to answer to. I'd love it! Actually, at thirty-two, that's the kind of life I strive for every day! I want to be left alone, I want peace and quiet, and I don't want to have to answer to anybody. I want to do what I please when I please, and if anyone dares to mess that up, I'd be a very unhappy camper. Just leave me to my own devices (and a few hours' worth of TCM programming) and I'm as happy as a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae!
Click here to read my original Greta Garbo Appreciation Post!