Cate Blanchett- just like a woman
Behind the photo of Blanchett in the Economist's Intelligent Life supplement.
“This is not a film star,” reads the caption next to the portrait of Cate Blanchett, 42, who is seen here − extraordinarily, and contrary to all conventions relating to images of movie stars − without airbrushing. Wrinkles are visible on her cheeks, where the skin has softened, and also around her forceful eyes. Maybe the wrinkles look particularly deep because we never see wrinkles on the faces of stars her age (Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston) or on her compatriots from the sun-struck continent down under (Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, who are two years older than Blanchett). As in the caption − “This is not a pipe” − on Rene Magritte’s famous 1929 work “The Treachery of Images,” this caption on the cover of The Economist’s culture magazine, Intelligent Life, also tries to shock, amuse, provoke thought, enchant and impress.
Indeed, there is no more fitting cultural reference to describe this calculated, manipulative and − let’s admit it − somewhat pretentious cover. Obviously Blanchett is still a movie star. Using the same dramatic genius with which she played one of the Bob Dylan figures in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” she is playing a role in this photograph, too: that of a woman who works very hard (she and her husband, Andrew Upton, are the artistic directors and CEOs of the Sydney Theatre Company) and has no interest in taking part in Hollywood’s glamour games. But she’s on the cover, right? So she’s taking part in something.
Blanchett, who appears in quality films, could, if she wanted to, undergo any treatment − from chemical peeling to hyaluronic acid − to “rejuvenate” her look (as Kidman and Lopez did; or Meryl Streep, who had such treatments done so that they remain almost unnoticed). With this photograph, Blanchett is declaring that she prefers to grow older as she is. The message is important to women, but mainly to men, who are flooded, immersed and drowned in commercial images of women without wrinkles.
Blanchett is not the only one to be photographed “as is.” In an image bordering on the perverse, the German photographer Juergen Teller − whose dirty realism, interfused with artistic pretensions, has become very hot stuff in advertising − photographed 65-year-old Helen Mirren in a white bathtub for New York magazine in June 2010. What stands out in the Mirren image is not so much her blunt nudity, but the surprising rare visibility of her chest skin. There is hardly a realistic shot of women of her age in which the cleavage wrinkles can be seen (check out Meryl Streep’s clear, smooth cleavage in her gold dress at this year’s Oscars ceremony). The popular culture of beauty might be capable somehow of accommodating a face that is not entirely smooth, but not under any circumstances the skin of the whole aging body. As if women lose their bodies with age. Teller’s shot goes a step further, toward the realm of fetish: the more apparent the signs of age on Mirren are, the deeper the wrinkles, the more electric is the erotic storm she foments in the photo.
But what does Blanchett show in the image here? She shows that women and men grow older as time passes, and that it is boring. We cannot ignore her contribution to expanding the restrictive and deforming concepts of how women should look, but she also does the opposite here. Is it true that from the moment a woman is worthy of being photographed under the heading “intelligent life,” or lives her life like that, she can no longer be called a “film star”? In this sense, the forthright caption that could have changed, reconstructed and deepened the concept of beauty should have been: “Yes, this is a film star!”
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