“The Faces of Garbo”: Construction of a Global Star Image/ ENS Lyon, March 12-13 2020

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 “The Faces of Garbo”:

the construction, circulation and appropriations

of a global star image


ENS Lyon, March 12-13 2020






Following two major roles in European films – Gösta Berlings saga (Mauritz Stiller, 1924, Sweden) and Die freudlose Gasse (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1925, Germany), Greta Garbo crossed the Atlantic and starred in Torrent (Monta Bell, 1926) produced by MGM, a studio she remained loyal to right up to her last screen role in Two-Faced Woman (George Cukor, 1941). Her career in Hollywood made the Swedish actress a huge international star, reaching a variety of audiences from different national, social and cultural backgrounds. However, until now, only limited attention has been paid to the numerous ways in which diverse audiences engaged with and appropriated her star persona.


Beyond the fascination that “Garbo’s face” inspired, which Roland Barthes compared to a “Platonic idea” in a famous passage from Mythologies (1957), this symposium wishes to study the different faces of Garbo, embedding her screen performances as well as the extra-filmic material which helped build her star persona within a range of social and cultural contexts. Contributions will address both the construction of her image (comparing, for instance, the promotional discourse surrounding her in different countries) and its reception, be it by critics or “ordinary” filmgoers.


Through the Garbo case study, this symposium wishes to highlight the rich articulation of historical and cultural studies, star studies and reception studies, paying close attention to the diversity of contexts in which star images circulate on a global level. Additionally, interaction between specialists from different fields will contribute to the scholarship on one of the biggest stars in the history of the cinema. Indeed, a number of studies have focused on Garbo’s acting (Affron 1977, Juan 2016), on the importance of her status as a foreign star in defining her image in the United States (Lunde 2004, Horak 2014), and on the gender and sexuality dimensions of her persona, examined from psychoanalytical (Matthews 19, as well as historical and cultural (Dhommée 2000, Fischer 2001, Horak 2014, Banner 2016) perspectives. Less has been written, however, on the diverse processes of construction and appropriation of her image, especially in relation to specific communities (Weiss 1991), or outside the US context (Coutel 2014).


Papers may focus on the construction of Garbo’s star persona in a national or subcultural context, concentrating on certain aspects of her image (androgyny, aura of mystery, acting, etc.) or on one or more cultural facets of her reception (gender, nationality, sexuality, race, class, etc.). They may focus on a particular film, on a period or key moment of her career (her arrival in Hollywood, crossover to talkies, retirement, etc.), and address filmic and/or extra-filmic material (photographs, articles in popular film magazines, fan mail, etc.). Comparative approaches are welcome: Garbo’s persona and its reception could thus be compared with those of another star, or several different stars, in the manner of Alexander Doty (2011) who contrasts Garbo and Dietrich; comparisons can also be made between different national contexts (Garbo’s reception in the US and the UK for example).


Organizers: Évelyne Coutel, Esther Halle, Myriam Juan and Jules Sandeau


This symposium is sponsored by the IRHIM, LASLAR, and RIRRA21, in partnership with the GREPs.


300-word proposals, along with a short biography, should be sent by 15th October, 2019 to evelyne.coutel@ens-lyon.fr, esther.halle@ens-lyon.fr, myriam.juan@unicaen.fr and sandeau.jules@gmail.com. Answers will be sent on November 1st.

Papers can be in English or French.

A publication of peer-reviewed texts will be proposed by the organizers.