A movie star can be defined as a ‘celebrity who is well-known, or famous, for his or her starring, or leading, roles in motion pictures’. It also defines an actor or actress who is ‘recognized as a marketable commodity and whose name is used to promote a film in trailers and posters.’ (Wikipedia, June 2008). Therefore, there is a clear difference between a star and an actress. An actress must be a well-recognized name – like a brand in its own. This brand is then used as a quality seal on movies to ensure their success.
The sheer amount of movies that Hollywood and other movie industries have produced in the past decade have led to the decline in the charm of movie stars. Whereas Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Jackie Chan are people well-respected and well-remembered by people, modern movie stars fade off as quickly as they enter the business. A large number of actresses make a splash with a few pictures, become the latest sensation and then disappear. Only real actors and actresses are able to make a lasting impact on audiences.
Isabel Madown, a famous Mexican actress, contradicts this view. She believes that fate somehow plays its role in making an actress into a movie star. According to Madow, ‘fame is a relational phenomenon, something that is conferred by others. A person can, within the limits of his natural talents, make himself strong or swift or learned. But he cannot, in this same sense, make himself famous, any more than he can make himself loved.’ Madow also said that ‘fame is often conferred or withheld, just as love is, for reasons and on grounds other than merit.’
Therefore, every talented actress can act, but every talented actress cannot acclaim fame. Good acting and hard work does not ensure that people will appreciate one’s work. Sometimes, this fame comes as a result of corrupt methods. Manipulating public opinion through methods that have nothing to do with the talents of the actress can often lead to audiences falling in love with the actress and hailing them to the status of a star. It is often more difficult for a woman to prove herself as a talented actress because in one way or the other, we are still stuck in the past where women were objects of pleasure. We have seen that only glamorous women like Shu Qui and Michelle Yeoh have managed to climb up the ladder to fame. Many talented women lag behind because they do not have a lot to offer in their looks.
Real actresses are sometimes forced to pose in erotic films at the beginning of their careers. This is exactly how Shu Qui started off. Sensation, a website on Asian entertainment, explains why it is so difficult for movie stars to become real actresses: ‘For a movie star to cross over from (soft) porn to mainstream is extremely difficult – and nearly unheard of in Hong Kong. For any actress anywhere to get good female roles with meat on them is very hard as well. When you see a good role – grab it fast’ (Sensation, 2008). The whole process of becoming a movie star actually is the first barrier for an actress in displaying her talents. The concentration is on the body and the face, not on the talent.
However, Paskin explains that even that glitter is wearing off. Willa Paskin, in her article “Who killed the movie start?”, explores the history of film and its association and dependence on movie stars: ‘Since 1907, when audiences first fell in love with the Biograph Girl, an anonymous silent-picture sensation, the film biz has been dependent on stars—a charmed circle of mythic beings, who, by virtue of their beauty and panache, charm and cheekbones (and, in some cases, talent), could be relied upon to pack movie houses. For most of the century since, having the right name on the marquee—be it Chaplin, Garbo, Grant, McQueen, Schwarzenegger, or Hanks—has been the most crucial predictor of a film’s success.’ As producers realized the power of the movie star, the “anonymous” Biograph Girl became Florence Lawrence and “Little Mary” became Mary Pickford.
Paskin also talks about how previously, the casting of a “star” was sure to bring the movie success. ‘We’re in a cycle where stars aren’t as important to a film’s success as they used to be,’ said a popular critic while explaining the situation to Paskin. Producers now feel that the old charm of stardom is wearing off. This could be due to the huge number of films available in the market and the large supply of “stars” who are unable to sell themselves on anything more than their superficial glitter. Richard Carter muses over the beauty of the female actresses of the old days. He says there was more glitter in the old days than there is today. Marc Voyer talks about Jean Harlow of the 1930s who was popular among the young crowd as the “blond bombshell”. Richard Carter displays a disappointment in the recent movie stars who are not even ‘half as glamorous’ as those of the past.
It seems as if the idea of hailing movie stars to the position of youth idols is becoming an old one. The wild scandals and public scams that the movie stars of today get into have disillusioned the crowd. It makes the famous seem more realistic and less godly. People look for more qualities in an actress than just her ability to act sexy in the face of a camera. More and more people are becoming cultured and their tastes in films have matured. Moreover, women’s issues are under the spotlight and activists despise how women are portrayed in films. This has led to a cynical appreciation of film stars, and the focus on their work rather than their made-up faces.