Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (Brown, 1929)

     Mordant Hall writing in 1929, recounts his purported assignation with the 'Hollywood Hermit', "Soon the door of Miss Garbo's apartment was flung open and the sinuous figure of the alluring actress appeared as if from a ray of sunlight. In a low-toned voice that suited her beauty, she greeted the caller, whose eyes fell from her face to a bouquet of flowers on a table, and then to a carpet. 'Won't you sit down?', she asked." He continues to describe her pink, silk sweater and black velvet skirt, claiming that of all her films, 'A Woman of Affairs' was Greta Garbo's favorite. She evidently recounted preparing for a role on the Stockholm stage and having had studied the part, but later having decided against appearing in the theater. "She repeated, 'Delighted to have met you.'"
Biographer Rita Page Palmborg, author of The Private Life of Greta Garbo, wrote,”Garbo was anxious to make ‘A Woman’s of Affairs’. It was to be her first portrayal of a modern American girl. While the story had romance running through it, it was not filled with the passionate, exotic type of love-making that had been seen all through her other pictures. Garbo and Gilbert had several scenes heavy with romance. But the fact that their own relations were in a perpetual state of turmoil seemed to detract from the glamour of their love-making. The public seemed to sense that the Garbo-Gilbert romance was coming to an end. Hollywood could not keep track of the affair.It was a case of ‘off-again, on-again’.”

The titles of movies that Greta Garbo had signed under contract to appear in were subject to change during the end of the the silent era. On March 31, 1928, Exhibitor's Herald World ran an announcement titled, "Clarence Brown's Next To be Greta Garbo Production", which read, "Clarence Brown will again direct Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. The picture that brings the two together again is 'The Sun of St. Moritz' by Oskar Houeker."
 Photoplay Magazine announced, "Rumor has it that Clarence Brown and Dorothy Sebastian are married." Of her playing against Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs, Sebastian was thought to "present an interpretation, brief but classic." It reviewed the performance of John Gilbert as having played, "the difficult role of lover with dramatic repression." It went on, "Miss Garbo's interpretation is all the greater because she puts it all over without a single clinging dress or a single Garbo slink." Of the intertitles, or subtitles, Photoplay Magazine was exact in its estimation of their "devastating effect" as continuity- "When Miss Cummings wants to think of something sweet for John to murmur to Greta, she orders up a flock of chocolate sodas from the studio lunchroom. Miss Cummings wrote the titles for A Woman of Affairs and there wasn't a spoonful of ice cream left in Southern California." The magazine later reviewed the film with, "Why waste space urging you to drop everything to see this one." Film Daily credits Bess Meredyth as having written the scenario and Mariona Ainslee and Ruth Cunningham as having provided the titles, "Greta Garbo does her best work of her career in a part that all women will rave over. John Gilbert has a very secondary role....Director Clarence Brown has done a masterly job. He cunningly dodged the censor stuff by treating the many-lover episodes as a series of photos taken from a newspaper's files...Synchronized sound effects." Motion Picture Classic magazine favorably reviewed the film, "The picture has been carefully plotted, so much so that it is filled with subtle asides in its scenes and titles. This procedure was necessary to pass muster. But the original meaning is incorporated in the central ideas and it is fully emphasized by Garbo's finely shaded performance. There are some gorgeous settings. The atmosphere gives it quality, too...It is Greta Garbo's work that makes it enjoyable. John Gilbert is nothing much more than a figure-head here." Motion Picture magazine reviewed the film by viewing Garbo and Gilbert, "Perhaps I'm getting old. Or perhaps it is just that Jack Gilbert finds a full dress suit happening to his style of lovemaking. At any rate, something was missing in the high-powered scenes where he and Greta Garbo show what sex can be at its best...the tempo of the picture is decidedly slow and episodic."
Author Richard Corliss looked at the directing of the film, "Faced with a plot as convoluted and predestined as a Chinese ballet, what can Clarence Brown do but direct actors like traffic. He simply discards the flamboyant eroticism of Flesh and the Devil and concentrates as much as possible on elaborately paired shots, some half a film apart, which suddenly reinforce, or undedrcut, the story's plodding ironies." He, maybe importantly to the study of the photoplay, notes that one character dies "at the exact moment" when Greta Garbo and John Gilbert are consummating their love affair, illustrating the effect of pacing the action and timing in plot exposition during the photoplay- in fiction, in classical narrative, not only can plotlines structured on character development intersect and intertangle, as counterpunctal or counterpoint, but they can occur simultaneously, editing to serve a delineating purpose of narrative structure. Screenland Magazine offered to its readers Greta Garbo's neglgee, or her "boudoir gown" rather, which would be given to the contestant who wrote the best letter on the tragic roles of the actress. The Garbo Nile robe worn in A Woman of Affairs was to be sent to the writer of the most interesting letter along with a Christmas greeting from the actress herself. Screenland asked, "How do you feel after a sad ending?" It also, two pages earlier had offered to its readers John Gilbert's Gruen Swiss wristwatch for the most intelligent letter. "Write your opinion. Does a picturesque costume add to the glamour of romantic roles or is there more interest in a modern lover? Why?" It claimed, "The watch which John Gilbert has offerred for your Christmas is an exact duplicate of the one he wore in the scenes with Greta Garbo. We asked for his watch but he said he had given it very hard wear and the winner should have a new one."
During the first run of the film appeared the article "There is a Style Trend Inspired by the Graceful Garbo. Can Every Woman Follow". The article was subtitle, "What the Garbo Girl should Wear", but the writer, Gilbert Adrian, as well as having included three costume sketches and an exclusive photograph of himself with Greta Garbo during a fashion conference, also added how the Garbo Girls present during 1928 in the circulation of Screenland Magazine should wear their hair, and should not wear their hair being a Garbo Girl type. Adrian wrote, "In following Miss Garbo, one realizes that simplicity is the key note to her smartness, as it should be of all women of taste. her natural aloofness and manner of bearing make it possible for her to put meaning into simple clothes. The girl who feels she is the Garbo type should be truthful and analyze her nature to find out whether the appearance is only skin deep, or if her mental qualities and manner can carry, with the same dignity and charm, the simplicity that Garbo knows how to handle. Garbo's flair for and understanding of drama is coupled closely with the clothes she wears...without being clothes conscious, the most conscious kind of clothes..The girl of the Garbo type should wear pajama ensembles; geometric designs in vivid colors; scarfs wrapped around the head...should NOT wear negligees of taffeta with ruffles or hand-made flowers, dainty pinks or blues, or bandea with ribbon streamers...I remember that I designed a two-piece sports costume in Boi de rose duvet even, made with a sleeveless jacket and a short skirt with roomy kick pleats for Miss Garbo to wear in A Woman of Affairs. A tucked in blouse with boyish collar and leather belt, further carried out the athletic type of costume in this instance. Topping this was a trench coat of the same material finished with a bright plaid tuxedo collar...One of Miss Garbo's favorite costumes is a two piece dress of dark green camel's hair jersey."
As soon as 1930, A Woman of Affairs was reported in hardcover as a film on which dramatic and thematic limitations were imposed. The volume Censored, The Private Life of the Movies directed it's scrutiny on the film and went so far as to imply there was a cutting of the film before release "in order to avoid showing a scene intimating that mePn and women love out of wedlock and cited other films that contained "information and dialouge infinitely more suggestive than the dropping of a ring from the hand of Greta Garbo" and yet it still went on to note that the aegis of the time period would only release the film, as with a rating, if the director was to "shorten to flash of five feet scene of Diana and Holderness on couch, embracing and kissing and eliminate view of Diana's hand except after she has dropped the ring." Close Up magazine during 1928 also referred to the film's reputation and the publicity that had preceded it, "Michael Arlen's The Greet Hat, done in celluloid, under the direction of Clarence Brown is M.G.M.'s latest vehicle for Greta Garbo. to placate the moralists who have registered objections to the screening of the story, the picture will be released under another name- A Woman of Affairs. This simple device will no doubt prove effective here as it did with the protested Rain, which under the film info into of Sadie Thompson, successfully satisfied the American puritanical conscience." Motion Picture News during 1928 addressed the quickly growing reputation of the film, as though there were something more sinister in the new sexuality of Garbo, rather than a young woman only immoral due the the inexperience of a vamp, or its new incarnation, vamping flapper, "A Woman of Affairs illustrates the fallacy of official bans on stage plays that are regarded in stage form as too daring or immoral for screen production. A Woman of Affairs proves that questionable or objectionable things in stage plays can be treated from other angles without the least offence to decency or good taste...A Woman of Affairs hasn't the slightest offensive situation."
The Film Spectator objected to the film. It’s reviewer thought to explicitly describe the mechanics of the licentious kissing of Greta Garbo and John Gilbert onscreen. “They could not call it ‘The Green Hat’ for it is supposed to be an immoral book, but they put things in the picture more filthy and disgusting than Arlen ever dreamed of.”
     Recently, Scholar Carmen Guiralt, writing in Film History, an International Journal, has added what may be an important source to the distinctions of diegetic and non-diegetic discourse and of textural and extra-textural discourse involved in the thematic and metaphorical rendering of content within context and its exhibition in the public sphere, almost to where we might revisit the theory of a cinema of attractions and reconsider it within a pre-code public sphere. The author looks at the censored image with discourse- particularly when those images are used to transpose the discourse of the novel during its adaptation. The central premise of the paper Self-Censorship in Hollywood during the Silent Era : A Woman of Affairs (1928), is almost too direct to not be stunning. An abstract reads," This article studies, from a historical view as well as an aesthetic point of view, the constraints placed... On the production and on Clarence Brown's use of visual images to convey the full content of the novel. As a result, A Woman of Affairs presents two contradictory story lines, the narrative revealed by the images and the difficult speech supervised by the censors and featured in the intertitles of the film." The film had been vastly altered by the censors in regard to its screenplay and a corresponding new plot had to be devised.

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