Movie Stars: Approaches, Concepts, Theories

Research in Progress: April 27, 2021.

There are different approaches to the study of movie stardom as a socio-cultural phenomenon and to movie stars as individual figures:

Parker Tyler takes both a mythological and psychoanalytic approach to stardom.

He believes that movie stars are “the gods and goddesses of Hollywood, the vestiges of the old Greek divinities.”

“Stars gratify our deepest sexual needs and respond to our deepest psychic needs, in wats that modern religions fail to do.”

Raymond Durgnat claims that “the social history of a nation can be written in terms of its film stars,” and that “stars are a reflection in which the public studies and adjusts its own image of itself.”

(Films and Feelings, pp. 137-8)

Molly Haskell believes that women, far more than men were “the vessels of men’s and women’s fantasies and the barometers of changing fashions.”

She claims that “Like two-way mirrors linking the immediate present with the immediate future, women in the movies reflected, perpetuated, and in some respects offered innovations on the roles of women in society.”

(From Reverence to Rape, p. 12)

J. P. Mayer states: Take Robert Taylor, Boyer, Laurence Olivier, and Durbin. Garson and Davis and a few more  film actors and actresses, and you may be able to arrive at a complete anthropological typology of which La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, and Jung could ever dream.”

(Sociology of Film, p. 262)

Alexander Walker holds that “stars are the direct or indirect reflection of the needs, drives, and dreams of American society.”

(Stardom, p. xi)

Stardom is a characteristic of many film industries all over the world, but It has defined and dominated Hollywood and American movies more than those of any other country.

In the early part of the twentieth century–in the silent movie era–movie stars laid the basis of the Hollywood film industry.

Thus, it is important to study those stars who have had the biggest impact on their art, industry, audiences, and society at large.

Stars should therefore be examined in relation not only to their industry and culture, but also vis a vis their screen roles and personalities (both on screen and off).

In contrast, European cinema have always had a tradition of expressing the visions and views of their major individual directors (the filmmaker, not the actor, was king).

This may derive from the prominence of the auteur theory, which stated that it’s the director who shapes and stamps  their work (film).

Critics have raised the question of to what extent in the American cinema–especially during the studio system–it was actors (more than directors) who were the auteurs of their work and careers.

Movie stars embody a particular lifestyle–they are charismatic figures, vivid and unforgettable.

Movie stars are also more general figures–types–embodying in their screen image a set of values, attitudes, and qualities that are the projections  of their viewers’ wishes, dreams and desires.