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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

What makes a movie star a movie star? (QOTW)

To Cath a Thief Grace Kelly Cary Grant

Film critic Stephen Witty explores the differences between movie stars and actors this weekend at NJ.com. A taste:

[B]eing an actor, and being a star, are different jobs, requiring different skill sets. And if very few people can truly master one, it’s even harder to find someone who can handle both.

Actors find the character inside themselves; stars find themselves in the character. Actors work within a genre; a star is their own genre.

And Hollywood relies on this. People don’t say they’re going to see an action movie; they say they’re going to see “the new Tom Cruise picture.” Stars are brand names. They are marketing.

They are also, for many of us, a kind of code for describing ourselves and deciphering others. Is your idea of masculinity Bogie or the Duke? Is your idea of comedy Tina Fey or Adam Sandler? Friendships – and marriages – have foundered on less.

There’s a lot more, and well worth a read. But I want to talk even more broadly:

What makes a movie star a movie star?

What are the ineffably qualities that create stardom or extend it? Is it about fantasy — This beautiful person is more than human — or is it about connection: This person somehow represents all of us? What are the most appealing qualities of the biggest and best movie stars? And who is your ultimate movie star?

Have fun!

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)



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  • RogerBW

    I think that a lot of star- and celebrity-appreciation is a two-stage process: the real person is converted to a media image, and that media image is then anthropomorphised by the audience into someone they feel positively about (like, lust after, care about, whatever). This sort of thing has to stay vague and uncontentious to be generally applicable, and I think this is one reason for celbrity decay: as people find out more about their idols and the image is contradicted by fact, they feel let down and look for a new one.

  • Patrick

    Success + Personality (Talent is optional).

  • Judy

    This is an interesting question, especially since I feel like we’ve been watching the very deliberate transformation of Benedict Cumberbatch from “actor” to “star”; and the shifting of David Tennant from on the way to “star” back to “actor”. I have never had the awareness to be able to observe the process before, so I am finding it fascinating. DT has always said that he has never had a plan for his career. And I think that is clear in his career trajectory. BC clearly has a plan, and is following it with absolute fealty. He has said that he looked at Clooney, Pitt and others and thought they had a good model to follow. Becoming a star nowadays appears to be an unrelenting marketing job — along with being a great and appealing talent — and being willing to do whatever it takes to make the “product” (the star) a success. Just like being an entrepreneur building a successful company. I don’t mean to imply any judgement here — both are good choices, just different.

  • MisterAntrobus

    I think Nicholas Meyer, director of the two best Star Trek movies, provided the most succinct and elegant distinction between actor and star: “An actor is someone who pretends to be somebody else. A movie star is somebody who pretends that somebody else is them (sic).”

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