The twilight of the movie star?
The best working definition of a movie star was advanced in 1957 by Edgar Morin, the French philosopher, in his book Les Stars. This is translated from the French, so cut M. Morin some slack:
“The star is a star because the technical system of film develops and excites a projection/identification that culminates in divinization precisely when focusing on what man knows to be the most affecting thing in the world: A beautiful human face.” In other words, as the beholder projects her own feelings upon an actor while identifying with the actor’s character, there is a moment of crystallization — perhaps like beatification of a saint? — where the actor becomes a divine.
This process was born about a century ago, when the close-up on faces projected larger-than-life dazzled viewers at the nickelodeons. But when so many watch films on laptops and other devices that make the figures smaller-than-life, are audiences still transported by stars? That’s the question posed by Ty Burr in his book, Gods Like Us. (You can read my review in the NY Times here.)
One of Burr’s more provocative observations is about Sandra Bullock. No sooner did the popular comedienne reboot her image as a serious actress in The Blind Side, which earned her an Oscar, than the news about her husband’s infidelities hit the tabloids. Despite three movies, two hits and an Oscar to her credit that year, she had successfully scaled Hollywood’s Olympus. But when it was revealed that her husband had been serially cheating on her,” observes Mr. Burr, “Bullock no longer functioned in the public fan sphere as a movie star, but a reality star.”
Is old-school stardom possible in the age of Twitter and TMZ? I’d argue yes, in the rare cases of figures, Justin Timberlake, say, whose faces are not on the covers of supermarket tabloids. You say?