Greatest careers arise from affairs

RICHARD SWAINSON
Last updated 08:00 13/08/2012
ACTING COY: Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders aren’t the only actress and director to have got it on.
REUTERS
ACTING COY: Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders aren’t the only actress and director to have got it on.

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Richard Swainson

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It has been a good year for the women's magazines and gossip bloggers. No sooner did the excitement surrounding the divorce of Tom and Katie begin to subside than the Twilight fanbase was set aflutter by news that their stone-faced goddess Kristen Stewart had been unfaithful to franchise beau Robert Pattinson.

Caught in flagrante delicto with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders - a married father of two, 19 years her senior - all three of Stewart's expressions have been gracing websites and serious papers of record the world over.

What is the war in Syria next to this headline-grabbing cuckoldery? How could New Zealand casualties in Afghanistan, the Olympics or the Black Caps' humiliation in the West Indies hope to compete with reportage of the Pattinson heartbreak?

Members of Team Edward are rumoured to be close to suicide.

Amid the public apologies and faux moralising from outraged entertainment editors, something of the affair's historical context has been lost. When up in Auckland for the last night of the International Film Festival, a thought struck me about Stewart and Sanders. Watching a beautiful new print of the 1917 Charlie Chaplin short Easy Street, I marvelled at the naturalistic rapport between the pantomime master and his leading lady. Chaplin had carnal knowledge of Edna Purviance and likewise enjoyed the intimate company of later co-stars Georgia Hale, Merna Kennedy and Paulette Goddard. In other words, directors sleeping with their actors is hardly anything new. In most cases it advantages both careers. If the audience is extra lucky it might even improve the quality of the end product.

With regard to Snow White and the Huntsman I cannot speak from firsthand experience. Some things are beyond the call of duty for even the most dedicated of journalists. However, there are plenty of earlier examples of across-the-camera-line romance that demonstrate the point.

The greatest career to arise out of an affair was that of Marlene Dietrich. Prior to meeting director Josef Von Sternberg, Dietrich had enjoyed only bit parts. Von Sternberg didn't just make her a star with The Blue Angel, he lay the foundations for an enduring myth. Neither before nor since has a woman been photographed with such attention to lighting and aesthetic detail as in the seven films of the Dietrich-Von Sternberg collaboration. While their romance was but a small part of the pair's artistic partnership - the actress had a voracious appetite and soon moved on to Gary Cooper once in Hollywood - it was sufficient to bring the director's marriage to an end.

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If anything, sleeping with her svengali enhanced Dietrich's public reputation. It was a natural fit with her sensual on-screen image.

This was not the case when it came to Ingrid Bergman's scandalous liaison with Italian neorealist Roberto Rossellini. Bergman had just played a nun in one movie and Joan of Arc in another when she wrote to Rossellini offering her professional services. Falling in love with the director while filming Stromboli, the married Bergman also "fell" pregnant to him. This was too much for early 1950s United States. The actress was denounced for her immorality on the floor of Congress and that bastion of middle America, Ed Sullivan, refused to let her guest on his television show.

At least three of the five films Bergman made with Rossellini are now considered classics, with 1953's Journey to Italy recently making Sight and Sound magazine's top 50 of all time. Though the relationship was short lived it also served to give the world a movie star of a succeeding generation. Given Isabella Rossellini's own marriage to Martin Scorsese and affair with David Lynch, the apple clearly did not fall far from the tree.

Another high profile romance by a director and actress, whose issue is effectively royalty, was that of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland. As a director, Minnelli took Garland to new dramatic heights, easing her passage from child performer to adult star in the coming-of-age masterpiece Meet Me in St Louis. As a spouse he sired a legend. Without that affair the casting of Sex and the City 2, some 6 decades later, would have proved impossible. Who else but Liza could have so sensitively played the celebrant at the gay wedding, performing such a nuanced cover version of the song Single Ladies that it put Beyonce's original in the shade?

I fear that whatever the publicity, the Stewart-Sanders shenanigans cannot measure up to these vintage passions. Let's not even think about the possibility of children.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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