Glamour of the Gods Hollywood Portraits National Portrait Gallery

Put together from the archive of the John Kobal Foundation, this exhibition features over 70 photographs of many of Hollywood’s best known actors and actresses. It spans over four decades, 20´s to 50´s, ranging from film icons such as Charlie Chaplin to the London born actress Joan Collins.

As the title states, there certainly is no lack of glamour to the show, with Joan Collins, jewellery and large hair in accompaniment, actually opening the exhibition. Audrey Hepburn, Maralyn Munroe, and many others involved in this world of dazzle, all strike a pose for the camera, in what is for the most part a generic affair. Indeed, you may feel as though you have seen it all before; such is the nature of Hollywood photography. The lighting, more than often, is largely false and the picture highly contrived. But is that not part of the fun with classic Hollywood?

If anything, the photographs will bring you back to an era that might seem something of a long lost relic to us now; one where long filters, overly stretched eye-lashes and excess were all something to strive towards. The chronological dividing into decades of the exhibition also means that it would be possible to attempt to compare and contrast the different periods of Hollywood, perhaps taking into account external factors such as World War II. However, the leitmotif of the exhibition, based upon an industry that was so intent on keeping its image firmly entrenched in prestige, renders the task quasi impossible. There is, in many ways, a sense that these ‘Gods’ were somewhat untouchable.

One photograph, however, of Ronald Reagan back in his acting days, does portray him in a more down to earth light than others. His American football kit on, a big cheesy grin and proud stature make him look like he might actually be a mere mortal – heaven forbid!

For all big classic Hollywood movie fans out there, this is probably something not to be missed. For all the rest of us, we might content ourselves to merely rent a Munroe classic and marvel at how wonderfully charming but outdated it is to see a ‘gal’ sing about diamonds.  Max Costly ©2011

Glamour of the Gods – Hollywood Portraits National Portrait Gallery

7 July 2011 to 23 October 2011

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