Beauty manufactured?

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It is impossible to watch a silent movie and not be in awe of those silent screen actresses with perfect make-up, perfect hair and perfect attitude towards the camera. They did have faces back then, but they had something much more than that. They had everything else hidden from their audience. They were merely an apparition on the screen and one could not know what was there behind the performance of the actor.


Take Theda Bara for instance. Unfortunately most of her films have been lost, but this only adds to the mystery surrounding her persona. She was two different people: Theda Bara, born in the Sahara under strange circumstances, possessing supernatural powers, and Theodosia Burr Goodman, born in Ohio, from a Cincinnati tailor. Known as “the vamp” ¬†for her roles as a ¬†beautiful temptress, she was probably the first femme fatale in the history of cinema. Many say there has never been anyone like her on the silver screen and they wouldn’t be wrong; given the few films of hers remaining, it is very hard to argue with this statement.

This was a time where film viewers found it hard to distinguish between the actor and the character on screen, so Theda Bara, and many other actors at the time, was identified with the characters she was portraying. As a consequence, she was viewed as a villain and disliked, and actresses like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish were seen as “America’s sweethearts”.

These were the very first movie stars and even if they may have not been much different from the ordinary people, they were hailed as gods and goddesses because their faces could bring many emotions to the audience, they could transport them outside their own world and into their make-believe one.