Thursday, November 6, 2008

Greta Garbo Image Elements

This is the second of three postings on Greta Garbo Image Elements.
Keller gives naming guidelines (p 147) that include being easy to spell and pronounce, being familiar, different and distinctive. Greta Garbo as a name is all of these as well as an alliteration, has consonance, is a slant rhyme and is composed of the plosives b,g,t, which according to Keller (p 152) makes names more easily recognized. Finally, I contend that her name taps into “existing knowledge systems.” Keller believes (p 149) this makes them easier to recognize and remember.

The word Garbo is what I call a compositional homonym. Greta Gustafson (her birth name) and Mimi Pollak (her college friend) derived the name Garbo based on first and last name elements they researched. I have no reference that they intentionally based it on Clara Bow, but the word Garbo would tap into knowledge already existing for Clara Bow. In Sweden, Clara would be pronounced KLAR-a. Garbo would be distinct from Clara Bow but is close enough phonetically to have a familiar ring to a world that already knew Clara Bow. Clara Bow was a talented and rising star in the film world in the early to mid-20s.

Keller (p 143) lists four aspects of style. For Garbo, the complexity aspect of her style is minimal rather than ornamental. Her representation is realistic not abstract. Her acting is subtle, and understated when everyone else of that era used exaggeration in movement and gesture. She acted from inside out (see Paris, 1994, p 33), realistic but not the stark social realism that is as equally contrived as the vaudeville drama of the American studios and more pretentious. Her perceived movement was still, while her potency, to juxtapose Keller, was soft and strong.

Her theme was an application of her style to a formula and look. Her formula was the new woman in an love triangle. This woman was ahead of the other two in the triangle and ultimately drove its resolution. Greta Garbo refused helpless or dizzy female roles. Anymore, the interest in her today is the independence and acumen of her female characters. The theme has proved adaptable over time.

An additional thematic element is her look: languorous eyes, outdoorsy physique, graceful and athletic movement, and the Rembrandt lighting. Her wardrobe on set was done by top designers of her choice and created expressly for the film and the times, elegant in the 20s and plainer in the depression of the 30s. The Rembrandt lighting technique (see Guardian) was distinctive from the North-Lite approach used for her competition (see Cinematographers )

A set of slogans, such as The Swedish Sphinx underscored her need for privacy, her avoidance of Hollywood parties, premiers and other events, and her mysterious power of attraction. According to Keller (pp 159-60), slogans reinforce brand positioning through descriptive or persuasive information about the star, and the desired points of difference. Unlike most of Hollywood, she was not a party animal who burned brightly then burned out.

Keller, K (2008). Strategic Brand Management. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.
Paris, Barry (1994). Garbo. University of Minnesota Press.

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