Glamour vs. Death

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Glamour vs. Death

Why do I think I want to go watch silent movies? Karma. I was raised in the shadow of Hollywood by a bohemian mom who'd spent her youth pining over 1930s stars she'd bumped into at sneak previews in Westwood. She forcefed me star lore, which I found fascinating.

I loved old movies.

I still remember the first time I skipped school to be initiated into the cult of Greta Garbo via the relatively impoverished medium of TV. A local channel was showing Grand Hotel (1932), one of the greatest of the great ensemble films made at the glossiest huge studio, MGM, with its roster of gorgeous talents clothed by the great designer Adrian. My mother wanted me to adore Garbo and it wasn't hard. Garbo is great and has only to be seen to be worshipped.

Greta Garbo as a suicidal prima ballerina, plus John Barrymore's profile, 1932.

I was home-schooled, before that concept existed, in the marvels of movies. My mother was a born-again Aesthete of the Oscar Wilde School, utterly art-for-art's-sake. There was no arts education in grammar school and hardly any in high school. Mom was my very own precocious PhD program, inculcating me in opera, operetta, ballet, modern dance, theater, vaudeville, painting, drawing, poetry, design. Try putting that on a résumé.

As I sat in the balcony at the lustrous Castro Theater, on Castro Street, at the head of San Francisco's fabled Castro District, on the opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, or SFSFF, I wondered why I thought I had to watch Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Vélez in The Gaucho (1927). I mean, why did I feel the moral imperative not to consume, not merely to enjoy, but to observe, to witness this film as if it were a life-altering event? Not my life, maybe, but Lupe Vélez's, certainly, since it launched her career, and who knows how many fans' habit of sashaying around, hands on hips, or hyperventilating as if they were going to explode. The history of movies, not as an academic subject, but a living cult, I was, am, and will be, maybe forever, called upon to communicate.

Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez, the sex symbols of 1927.

The history of art. The history of glamour, beauty, gesture, costume, song, all those creations that make human life attractive, scintillating, desirable. The fashioning out of flesh and passion an image of the human monster as artificial as divine. Cultural constructs inspiring us to speak, walk, look like creatures of fancy, as the mesmerizing stars of the silver screen had demonstrated we could and should. My mother made me do it.

Luckily, when I sashayed up to the Press table, the guy there handed me an all-access pass, good for the opening night party, awash in Argentinian Malbec in honor of The Gaucho, plus tango by Odile Lavault on the bandoneon and Marco Casasola on keyboard. Luckily, I had time to dash over to Marcello's for a combination slice that cost less than a small bag of popcorn. Luckily, Douglas Fairbanks is possibly the most insanely charmismatic man ever to grace a movie screen. I mean... the range of talents defies this blog. There's nobody like him since, well, since him.

Lupe Vélez suicided at 35 in 1944. That's a fact that makes me want to cry, scream, faint, hyperventillate. I want a moment of silence for her. Now, since, rather thoughtlessly, we didn't do it at the Castro. As the featured star of the festival, she ripped her way through the closing Lady of the Pavements (1929), filmed when she was 19. Why would such vibrancy extinguish itself? The program note says "...pregnant. Knowing an illegitimate child would end her career, Vélez took an overdose of sleeping pills and died at her Beverly Hills home..."

The flipside of glamour is... reality. Reality involves awful people making awful rules that sometimes succeed in dragging down the glamourous, sometimes as punishment for their much revered, imitated, and/or resented glamour. Reality involves bad choices. Reality involves karma.

Sashay, Rosebuds, while ye may.

Requiem in Pace, Lupe Vélez

Comments [17]

camomileroses's picture

Glamour or Death is sometimes

Glamour or Death is sometimes glamour in death.  Occasionally when a star dies an unnatural death it is as if time has stopped.  They are perpetually young and vibrant.  Ironically, death creates immortality. The birth of Marilyn Monroe took place 83 years ago on June 1 yet her beautiful, vulnerable youthful image ensures that she will always remain, well, Marilyn, timeless.

"there will never be a technology more advanced than the human mind - fully engaged in the divine process of being. technology is a tool not a destination." me.

camomileroses's picture

Your new picture is adorable.

Your new picture is adorable.  

"there will never be a technology more advanced than the human mind - fully engaged in the divine process of being. technology is a tool not a destination." me.

Grace Moon's picture

speaking of Glamour...

nice headshot Blackster

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Not2Taem's picture

Movie Star

Not bad yourself, Moon. Got a little star quality going on there.

The new Gayborhood isn't lookin' too trashy, either. Can't wait to explore.

To all who made it happen, thanks for hangin in there through so many frustrations with all of us ingrates peering over your shoulders.

Erin Blackwell's picture

head shot

how do you get your wings to do that?

Not2Taem's picture

Magic of flight

Cum fly with me, and I'll teach you the magic. Wink

Your new pic is so cutely befuddled! I just want to muss your hair and take you out for ice cream.

Erin Blackwell's picture


i'm deep in serious thought!

ok, please explain the urge to tousle hair

Not2Taem's picture

Its a general habit of mine

Its a general habit of mine when I see someone in an adorably childish state. In this case the look happens to remind me of a student I had years back, given to serious pouting when misunderstood. Which was a great deal of the time. Smile

Erin Blackwell's picture

adorably childish

there's practically nothing i love more than hair-tousling, i think because my brain gives me so much trouble. haven't been tousled in... too long.

K I T's picture

your pic reminded me of

the thinker - rodin


minniesota's picture

Lupe Vélez

I thought I knew quite a bit about the silent film period because I used to pour over books about early Hollywood when I was a kid. But I don't remember learning about Lupe Vélez. Maybe my memory is faulty because it seems I should have come across her. Gracias for your blog.

Gaucho mio, Minnie



Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Erin Blackwell's picture

lupe vélez

after i wrote the blog i kept looking for lupe on youtube and when you watch the progression of her career, no wonder she commit suicide! she's stereotyped as "the mexican spitfire" which she undoubtedly was, but the glamour of those early starring roles is trod in the racist mud of 40s hollywood. all very sotomayer. sad. sad how we waste people's time and talent.

yonks's picture

I think i have an overdose of

I think i have an overdose of reality

Isn't the formule is "requiescat in pace"?

Edit: WOW we can edit Laughing out loud

edit: hey the smilies are gone Sad

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Erin Blackwell's picture

le pew

could you recrop stinky so we can see you better?

Not2Taem's picture

Size Matters

You know that you can change the size of the view with the +A   A   -A boxes on the top tool bar, right? Maybe Pepe already did something, but looks sniffy-spiffy on my screen.

Hey, when you were talking about my wings, were they on the blue cartoon one that was only on for a while, or the new one with the green background? And were they animating, because I couldn't get them to do that on the old site.

Erin Blackwell's picture

they're *your* wings!

pea soup bg, inaminate wings... inaNiMate

pepe could crop about 20% off the left and top margins, we'd never miss it, her nose would be bigger. sorry, nez

Not2Taem's picture

Perfect 3s

But now it fall perfectly into the rule of thirds.

You-are-a-hoot! Smile