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older film stars versus today's stars


timothywolf12
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People are a product of the times they live in. If you could magically bring those 5 stars into the present day they couldn't make the same kind of films they once did. I think the whole film making environment has changed (not for the better in my opinion) more than the people have.

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plus they were of their era. were people saying that in the 60's and 70's, when they had their own stars, like Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, etc? I do think that every era has its own stars, but all eras are different from each other, because the movies are different, the acting is different and so on.

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I think it also has to do with the type of performers that are typically cast in films these days as well.  Sure you have the established stars like Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, etc. that started with small roles in films until they got their "breakout" role and became A-list celebrities; but then you also have your "star of the moment" (in some cases, "star" is used very loosely) who is repeatedly cast in films because they're popular in a different medium, i.e. television, or they're just prominent tabloid fodder, i.e. Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.  Popular television stars, Jennifer Aniston comes to mind, are cast in movie roles because it is believed that fans of "Friends," for example, will want to see Aniston in a film-- even if she's not particularly suited for big screen roles.  I think nowadays, actors are being cast not because they're particularly "right" for the role, but because their name will potentially bring in business.  Not that studios back in the day didn't cast people because they thought their name would bring in business; but typically roles were written with particular actors in mind.  Especially in the studio system, when basically the same crop of actors were available for each movie produced by the studio. 

 

I think the tabloid industry is also partially to blame for the stars these days.  The paparazzi, in my opinion, are so completely out of control and horrible.  What's worse are "stars" (who aren't even stars; but more like personalities) who purposely bait the paparazzi into photographing them in order to stay relevant in the tabloids (the Kardashians come to mind).  Some movie companies will even cast these people in their films, thinking that it will lure the public in to watch their movie.  Kim Kardashian appeared in I think a Tyler Perry movie (I'm not sure, I have never seen one of his movies) and apparently was horrible and everyone made fun of her.  It probably wasn't what the movie makers were going for; but it probably brought people into the movie, so it probably accomplished their goal in the end.  No publicity is bad publicity right?

 

Back during the "Golden Age," actors were "discovered" or they came to the studio applying for work.  Lucille Ball, for example, was discovered modeling in New York City and was asked by a talent scout if she wanted to come out to Hollywood to be a Goldwyn Girl.  She came out to Hollywood and appeared in "Roman Scandals" with Eddie Cantor.  After that, she took any role she was offered, which in the beginning were uncredited bit parts or walk-on roles.  She eventually worked her way up to small talking roles, to supporting roles, to actual starring roles.  She was willing to sacrifice glamour for comedy or what not and ended up being known as a reliable comedic actress.  Unless you were particularly lucky and either were cast as an unknown in a leading part (Leslie Caron in "An American in Paris" comes to mind) or just happened to have your first small part be your breakout role, then you had to work your way up as an actor.  The studios also took more time and care in grooming their stars.  Granted, often times, this "grooming" included elocution classes to help foreign actors lose accents, or American actors lose regional dialects, and cosmetic work to help remove any signs of ethnicity other than White (Rita Hayworth comes to mind).  The point being though, the studios invested a lot of resources into their stars and I think that's part of the reason why so many of the stars of yesteryear are so revered and held up as the ideal vision of Hollywood.  There are very few actors these days that should even be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Katharine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart. 

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Every time I try to make up a top 10 list of my favorite actors, there's always a mix of the classic era, golden era, and the more recent years. For my money Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino can hold their own with anyone from the studio era, and on average their movies are far superior in terms of plot and character development.  As much as I love the old time films, I've yet to see many performances that can top (for example) Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.  Too many of Hollywood's best actors back in the day got too easily typecast into the same constricted roles over and over again, with formulaic sword fights and fist fights that differ from today's pathetic high tech "action" movies only in their cruder technology.  The stars had plenty of personality but not too much subtlety, and their films all too often seemed to end in the same way every time.

 

The problem with too many movies of the Breen era is that the censors greatly restricted the range of their scripts.  I wish that I had a dollar for every marriage proposal scene before about 1960 that took place in the last two minutes of the movie, because if I could arrange for such a payoff, I'd be a very rich man.  Once in a while, it's nice and sentimental, but when you can set your watch to it, it becomes a bit much.

 

OTOH when it comes to actresses, I'll have to agree that the studio era and silent era women win hands down.  There was a vivacity to their performances that suggested a sort of sex appeal and personality that even Joe Breen's Victorian code book couldn't squash.  Barbara Stanwyck, Roz Russell, Ida Lupino, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Clara Bow,  Louise Brooks in her two G.W. Pabst films----With the possible exception of Judy Davis, there's no one remotely comparable to them on today's big screen.  They were infinitely more interesting and far more appealing.

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Every time I try to make up a top 10 list of my favorite actors, there's always a mix of the classic era, golden era, and the more recent years. For my money Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino can hold their own with anyone from the studio era, and on average their movies are far superior in terms of plot and character development.  As much as I love the old time films, I've yet to see many performances that can top (for example) Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.  Too many of Hollywood's best actors back in the day got too easily typecast into the same constricted roles over and over again, with formulaic sword fights and fist fights that differ from today's pathetic high tech "action" movies only in their cruder technology.  The stars had plenty of personality but not too much subtlety, and their films all too often seemed to end in the same way every time.

 

The problem with too many movies of the Breen era is that the censors greatly restricted the range of their scripts.  I wish that I had a dollar for every marriage proposal scene before about 1960 that took place in the last two minutes of the movie, because if I could arrange for such a payoff, I'd be a very rich man.  Once in a while, it's nice and sentimental, but when you can set your watch to it, it becomes a bit much.

 

OTOH when it comes to actresses, I'll have to agree that the studio era and silent era women win hands down.  There was a vivacity to their performances that suggested a sort of sex appeal and personality that even Joe Breen's Victorian code book couldn't squash.  Barbara Stanwyck, Roz Russell, Ida Lupino, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Clara Bow,  Louise Brooks in her two G.W. Pabst films----With the possible exception of Judy Davis, there's no one remotely comparable to them on today's big screen.  They were infinitely more interesting and far more appealing.

True, Day-Lewis, DeNiro and Pacino could do well in the Golden Age, but they have a few years of experienced and paid their dues, but some of the others forget it.  And I agree about the actresses of the studio and silent eras were better.

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I agree with AndyM's assessment that actors back then were typically stereotyped into a specific type role.  It seems that once studios figured out what type of role best suited their actor, then it seems that is the only type of role that actor was cast in.  The studios worked hard cultivating and testing their actor in different genres until they found their "niche." Often times, if an actor appeared in a role outside their typical image, audiences reacted negatively.  Errol Flynn, for example, was beloved by audiences as an action star-- whether he was armed with a bow and arrow, sword or gun, he was always the good guy and always won in the end.  When he tried to break out of those roles and appeared in comedic roles or dramatic ones, the films failed because audiences wanted to see him wielding some sort of weaponry. Actors like Humphrey Bogart, for example, tired of playing the gangster/bad guy roles all the time, finally got the role of Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" and that was his breakthrough part.  After that, he seemed like he almost took on a new stereotype as the tough good guy but one that is a bit of a softie. 

 

I feel like actresses were almost more successful at breaking out of a stereotype.  Either the studio was more willing to give them different roles or the actresses fought harder? I'm not sure.  Maybe it was purely a financial aspect, perhaps the male actors made more money for the studio so the executives were more invested in their roles? 

 

In one way, these actors were so identified with specific personalities and skills that it seems difficult to even conceive of someone else in their iconic roles (who else could portray Rick Blaine in "Casablanca" ? Margo Channing in "All About Eve" ? Robin Hood in "The Adventures of Robin Hood.")  I would think that as an actor, it would be nice to be forever etched in the public's mind, unless of course, it was a role you loathed, then it might be bittersweet.  On the other hand, I could see it being frustrating for performers who want to be seen as artists and not being able to take on the projects you desire or not having the public accept you as anything else.

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The biggest difference I notice between modern film actors and classic era film actors is their personalities.

You take a few mentioned: Cagney, Bogie, Kate Hepburn, Bette Davis.....etc.....and compare them to any handful of actors now, and you'll notice the stars of yesteryear had BIG unique personalities and today's stars are like bland 'every day' people. 

 

An indication of this is the fact you'd be hard pressed to imitate any one of today's stars and have anyone recognise what you are doing. Even the worst mimic could imitate Bette Davis' clipped gestures or Cary Grant's speech cadence.

 

These- and many other- stars brought their own unique personality to each role, look at SZ Sakall for example. Today, that style of acting is only acceptable for live performances, if someone acted that way in a film they'd be labeled "over-the-top" like Jim Carey.

 

Impressionist entertainers like Rich Little are a thing of the past. You can't do impressions of Tom Hanks or Kate Winslett.

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The biggest difference I notice between modern film actors and classic era film actors is their personalities.

You take a few mentioned: Cagney, Bogie, Kate Hepburn, Bette Davis.....etc.....and compare them to any handful of actors now, and you'll notice the stars of yesteryear had BIG unique personalities and today's stars are like bland 'every day' people. 

 

An indication of this is the fact you'd be hard pressed to imitate any one of today's stars and have anyone recognise what you are doing. Even the worst mimic could imitate Bette Davis' clipped gestures or Cary Grant's speech cadence.

 

These- and many other- stars brought their own unique personality to each role, look at SZ Sakall for example. Today, that style of acting is only acceptable for live performances, if someone acted that way in a film they'd be labeled "over-the-top" like Jim Carey.

 

Impressionist entertainers like Rich Little are a thing of the past. You can't do impressions of Tom Hanks or Kate Winslett.

Exactly, the other facet that is missing are the vast stable of unique and familiar character actors in the supporting casts. Whats really missing is that cinematic memory that used to link all the films together. Say in a Film Noir, you used to have the familiar character actors populating a city either as cabbies, news stand owners, barkeeps, etc., etc. and say a John Alton or a Nicholas Musuraca an many talented others lighting & photographing them in that noir style on familiar sets. The same with Westerns character actors were type cast for Westerns were shot on back lots, and they made that Western genre a familiar world, watching a Western was like slipping into an old pair of shoes.

 

Today everything almost has to recreated from scratch, unless its set in contemporary times with actors that are hardly distinguishable from one another. 

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Exactly, the other facet that is missing are the vast stable of unique and familiar character actors in the supporting casts. Whats really missing is that cinematic memory that used to link all the films together. Say in a Film Noir, you used to have the familiar character actors populating a city either as cabbies, news stand owners, barkeeps, etc., etc. and say a John Alton or a Nicholas Musuraca an many talented others lighting & photographing them in that noir style on familiar sets. The same with Westerns character actors were type cast for Westerns were shot on back lots, and they made that Western genre a familiar world, watching a Western was like slipping into an old pair of shoes.

 

Today everything almost has to recreated from scratch, unless its set in contemporary times with actors that are hardly distinguishable from one another. 

In the old days, actors were supposed to be bigger than life, with personalities that took filmgoers away from their supposedly difficult, humdrum existences. Now, filmgoers want actors who remind them of themselves.. From this, it sounds as if I prefer current films. But I don't.

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The biggest difference I notice between modern film actors and classic era film actors is their personalities.

You take a few mentioned: Cagney, Bogie, Kate Hepburn, Bette Davis.....etc.....and compare them to any handful of actors now, and you'll notice the stars of yesteryear had BIG unique personalities and today's stars are like bland 'every day' people. 

 

An indication of this is the fact you'd be hard pressed to imitate any one of today's stars and have anyone recognise what you are doing. Even the worst mimic could imitate Bette Davis' clipped gestures or Cary Grant's speech cadence.

 

These- and many other- stars brought their own unique personality to each role, look at SZ Sakall for example. Today, that style of acting is only acceptable for live performances, if someone acted that way in a film they'd be labeled "over-the-top" like Jim Carey.

 

Impressionist entertainers like Rich Little are a thing of the past. You can't do impressions of Tom Hanks or Kate Winslett.

 

That's kind of what I was trying to say, yesterday's stars had much bigger personalities. Whether or not these personalities were theirs, or one crafted by the studio, is another story; but the stars were unique.  Katharine Hepburn was in no way interchangeable with Audrey Hepburn.  You couldn't sub Bette Davis into an Elizabeth Taylor part.  A lot of today's stars are so unremarkable, that you could probably line up at least 10 other similar stars to fill the part and nobody would even know the difference.  Back in the day, if another actor were cast in a part envisioned for someone else, oftentimes, the script and/or characters would need to be tweaked in order to accomodate the new personality. 

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I don't know if you can "blame" anyone or thing in particular.  Certainly not the actors.  In days gone by, the studios made movies THEY thought people would like.  Today, they have pencil **** geeks studying "demographics".  And they try to make movies that might attract certain types of percieved audiences.

 

The telling thing to me, in a way, was discovered in a recent article in my local paper about "movie length".  It seems, for some reason, that a two hour movie is "TOO LONG" for many people to sit through!  Let alone take time to develope plot and characters.  Audiences today( TARGET audiences that is, usually anyone UNDER 30 ) want instant gratification.  Today's young crop of actors are stuck in this maisma, and have little choice if they wish to remain working.  Not too many( if any) movies lately are plot, story or character driven, as much as "image" driven.  Some excellent films slip through some cracks on occaision, but they're far and few between.

 

Given all this, I think it's no small wonder today's actors and actresses haven't had the impact on society that they had in the past.

 

I think the actors who show potential high talent, in spite of everything, and some of them have fallen into the "typecast" well are:

 

Paul Rudd

Johnny Depp

Leonardo deCaprio

Jake Gyllenhal(sp)

Shia Lebouf

Ryan Reynolds

Adam Goldberg

Dane Clark

Anne Hathaway

Sandra Bullock

John Cusak

Gerard Butler

D.J. Qualls( or, is it JD? )

Jamie Foxx

 

There are a few others whose names don't come to me now.  But given the proper chance, many of these would give performances that would blow our socks off.  But in a world where most of American movie goers can't understand why the BIGGEST MONEYMAKER doesn't get a "best picture" nomination, it well may never happen.

 

Sepiatone

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Excellent thoughts here, Sepia. And perhaps add to your "Typecast" thought the idea that today's movie audiences probably in general aren't as much enticed go to see a particular movie starring a particular star anymore as their primary reason for doing so, and as they once did in earlier times, and thus maybe because of this have allowed modern stars the "leeway" to broaden or "stretch" and which was often not the case with many of the biggest of studio era stars.

 

And so, and as it seems you imply here, this seeming present dearth of "good" movie stars and them not having the charisma or "chops" of the stars of yore, stems not from some inabilities of theirs but perhaps more from some lack in the quantity of scripts which contain roles they can really "sink their teeth into".

 

(...though I might add that at least in Johnny Depp's case, my wife and I are personally slightly more enticed to go see one of "his movies", and primarily because he quite often will bring to a role some very "interesting" and surprising aspects to his characters, and which while some may admittedly "not work" or are "way out there", are still often somewhat fun to watch)

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Excellent thoughts here, Sepia. And perhaps add to your "Typecast" thought the idea that today's movie audiences probably in general aren't as much enticed go to see a particular movie starring a particular star anymore as their primary reason for doing so, and as they once did in earlier times, and thus maybe because of this have allowed modern stars the "leeway" to broaden or "stretch" and which was often not the case with many of the biggest of studio era stars.

 

And so, and as it seems you imply here, this seeming present dearth of "good" movie stars and them not having the charisma or "chops" of the stars of yore, stems not from some inabilities of theirs but perhaps more from some lack in the quantity of scripts which contain roles they can really "sink their teeth into".

 

(...though I might add that at least in Johnny Depp's case, my wife and I are personally slightly more enticed to go see one of "his movies", and primarily because he quite often will bring to a role some very "interesting" and surprising aspects to his characters, and which while some may admittedly "not work" or are "way out there", are still often somewhat fun to watch)

Nowadays, there are so much more sohisticated special effects, which take the audience away from being interested in particular actors.

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here's a list of the people who I would say qualify as "today's stars," and by that I don't mean they're as good as the golden age stars, but i do think they'll be remembered as the really big ones from this particular era:

 

Leonardo Dicaprio

Brad Pitt

George Clooney

Johnny Depp

Angelina Jolie

Robert Downey Jr.

Sandra Bullock (she's also a big 90's star but there are few female stars as famous and popular as she is today)

 

I hesitated to include Jennifer Lawrence because she's so new, but I do think she may be worth mentioning as the most recent emergence of a really huge star who's probably going to be around a while.

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