Part One: A Woman’s Face.
When a celebrity’s mask pops off and clatters to the floor, all of fandom loses its religion.
At the “Women in Hollywood” event hosted by Elle Magazine on October 20th, Renée Zellweger performed the equivalent of a Chinese Face-Changer trick when she offered up her new face to the paparazzi cameras that swarmed the event. It had the dramatic effect on the viewer of a Bian Lian artist switching his face from green to blue, except that in Zellweger’s case her fans didn’t applaud the magician. The other critical difference being that the flesh-and-blood actress achieved total stranger-hood just by changing one feature. It’s the one that in a police Identi-Kit will give you a completely different perp on the blotter. She changed her eyes, erasing the trademark squint and thereby ‘disappearing’ the beloved Bridget Jones… That’s really why her fans were crying blue murder.
A Hollywood film for all its crass predictability is a sophisticated delivery system for classic narratives. Human and narrative are practically synonymous, so it’s no surprise that film’s complex auditory and visual stimuli get to us, entraining our neurological and emotional equipment. A Bridget Jones film makes it hard not to identify with the sly wit of the tart-with-a-bruised-heart, especially when the extreme closeup demands it of the viewer– and all of his happily firing mirror neurons.
Of course, Zellweger the actor clinches the deal with her audience through the use of a particular skill set. When I studied theatre, the actor was taught to cultivate a detachment from her ‘equipment’, given that the actor’s medium is her face and body. In a giant film close-up, Zellweger is probably so hyper aware of her equipment that she’s got a mental map of her face running continually, tracking every micro-movement like a 3-D wire frame model. She knows, as Garbo knew with her famous “I’m tired of making faces” exit line, that she wears a mask. But she underestimated her public’s attachment to Bridget’s squint and all that it signified. The sidelong glance of the sexually knowing, the upward glance of the flirt, these were permanently inscribed in her flesh, telling her character even when her face was still. I would speculate that this ultra-feminine characterization no longer fit the actor; she might have wanted to escape the stifling heat inside the Theda Bara shaped sarcophagus, and play roles that allowed for maturity, complexity and range.
If this was indeed her plan, she was kidding herself. The world loved to consume her sly glance, to inhabit Bridgit’s photon body and bask forever in the soothing, shimmering light that is the Rom-Com Girl.
Next: A Man’s Face.