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When you think about Cinema and its theme’s in general one
of the first things that will you will think about is that of the Actors and
Celebrities who star in the films. But what most people don’t realise is that
the reason these people are famous and classed as celebrities, within the film
industry has been manufactured for financial gain by the Studios and
institutions who work behind the scenes. At least that is according to the Star
Theory by Richard Dyer. Within this essay I will be looking at the Star Theory as
a theory and the ways in which it influenced the ways people within media
studies analysed the way we look at Films and the celebrity but also the
conversation and discussion this opened up relating to the study of stardom as
a subject of its own. I will then use what I have researched to discuss whether
I feel the Theory is correct or has some truth behind it as a whole.

Richard Dyers, Star theory revolves around the understanding
that the Celebrity image we all know is in fact manufactured by the
Institutions and studios within the film industry. Dyer claims that the Stars
are constructed to represent so called ‘real people’ who experience ‘real
emotions’ the same as the audience, which allows them to see themselves within
the characters portrayed on screen. Dyer then claims that once the audience
buys into this lie, then it’s easier for the studios to make money out of the
audience, through ticket sales and merchandise. The theory states that this
manufacturing of celebrities is what remains central in the production,
distribution and exhibition of films becoming successful.

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When studying Dyers Star Theory it is important to
understand the history of filmmaking and the ways films were marketed before
Dyers publication. In 1991 Richard de Cordova, published Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America, in
it he covered the ways in which stardom developed in early American cinema
specifically the period of 1909 to 1912.

In the early days of American cinema the ways in which films
were marketed was very different to the Star System we know of today, the performers
were not identified within films. There are 2 main reasons for this, the first
being that from the actor’s perspective, they were trained in the theatre, and were
often embarrassed to be working within film and feared it would ruin their
reputation. In the eyes of many, Silent film was seen as mere pantomime and was
seen as only a step above appearing in carnivals and freak shows that wouldn’t
last. Secondly, from the more money driven perspective of the early film
producers, they feared that if the actors were named, it would gain them more
prestige and power and eventually demand more money for their work. This is
what’s known as ‘the picture personality’, in which the name of a performer
begins to circulate, this was what started to happen around 1909, however the
fully developed use of the term ‘star’ didn’t start to appear until around
1914, this is what De Cordova and many more agree, indicates the start of the
Star System within the American film industry.

De Cordova’s description of the film stardom is his emphasis
on the idea that the stars are an economic side product of the profit driven
system. And the only reason that they need the stars is down to the audience
and their ‘desire to have more of a product which they had previously enjoyed’
(de Cordova. R, 1991) for example a specific actor. Eventually the cinema
industry recognised the importance of stars, especially their way of attracting
and retaining an audience. This idea is explored in detail by the author John
Ellis in his book, Visible Fictions
where he talks about how film stars  can
be categorised as a genre, and the film producers will be able to recreate
certain qualities of Actors in a relatively formulaic manner and still draw in
their desired audience.

 

In his book Hollywood
Cinema, Richard Maltby’s chapter on the star system defines stars as a commodities
the movie studios, ‘the commodities that consistently drew audiences to the
movies.’ (Maltby,2003) By referring to
the stars in this way he is demonstrating how the Studios were able to manufacture
and effectively retail the stars as products. The studios famously used long
and restrictive contracts that allowed them to hold control over their stars,
the contracts often contained morality clauses written into them, these
contracts even took control of the actors lives away from the camera’s with the
male stars expected to be seen in public as gentlemen and their female
counterparts expected to behave like ladies, and were never to leave the house
without makeup and stylish clothes. As their new star image often attracted the
attention of the Press and media so they must always appear to be perfect in every
way, and maintain this heavily falsified persona. ‘Actors develop a persona or
portrait of themselves out of the personalities of various characters they have
played over the course of their careers and out of elements of their personal
lives that have become public knowledge.’ (Belton, 2005,).

This false persona covers the basic attributes that make the
star, at least on the surface appealing to their audiences, One such example of
this is Rita Hayworth, who thanks to the studio system altering and controlling
her appearance led her to become one of the top glamour pin-up girls throughout
the 1940s. Hayworth was always seen in her movies as well kept, in clothing
that showed off her figure. The studio system would often work to maintain
these qualities throughout not only the actors featured filmography but also
their various appearances within the wider media, ‘stars as images are
constructed in all kinds of media texts other than films, but none the less, films
remain privileged instances of the star’s image.’ (Dyer R, 1998)

These other kinds of media texts might include; newspaper
and radio interviews, fan magazines, posters, and personal appearances. To put
it simply, if it involved the star in any shape of form the studio would aim to
strictly maintain and control the consistency of the star’s false persona. A
perfect example of this false persona is when we look at the star image that
was created for the American actor, Rock Hudson, who was shown as a charming
and conventionally heterosexual leading man when in reality he was homosexual,
A factor that was seen as so damaging to his star image and therefore their
profits, the studio managed to keep it hidden completely and out of the public
sphere for twenty years.

When studying Dyer’s Star system, he adopts a system where
the film stars can be assigned as either: ‘The Good Joe’, ‘The Tough Guy’ or
‘The Pin-up’. At first glance on the surface of things it would appear that
these ‘types’ are designed to operate as a form of cataloguing device, in order
to separate different actors into to title that best fits them, For example, as
Dyer suggests John Wayne would fall under the banner of the Tough Guy and Rita
Hayworth would be classed as a Pin-up,. However, this isn’t strictly the case
Dyer’s intentions go much further than simply providing a system for
cataloguing types of stars. Dyer is concerned with the nature of this blatant ideology
within society and how it has manifested itself within popular culture. Hollywood
films which are popular and a commercial success are often seen as accurate and
ideological views of American society, mainly the capitalism, patriarchy and strong
representation of heterosexuality. It then makes sense that when we again look
at Dyer’s 3 main values that they fit in with this ideological and manufactured
point of view. However Dyer offers a further two alternative types. These being
‘The Rebel’ and ‘the independent Women’. These serve the purpose of allowing
the audience to still feel as though they fit in somewhere within this ideological
society, even if they have overall feelings of dissatisfaction with the three
original values.

As with any Academic resource, new theories and research is
being explored, Richard Dyer’s Stars was republished in 1998 with an additional
chapter by Paul McDonald. This chapter reflects the changes that occurred in
the study of film stardom since the original publication of Dyer’s book. Dyer’s
study tends to define stars in terms of fixed notions of representation and
ideology, whereas alternatively McDonald points to the fact that the viewpoint
can be different depending on the context you are studying them, particularly
in relation to historical context. McDonald refers to Dyer’s approach and
identifies that perhaps Dyer’s theory is a little outdated and should move star
studies towards a more historically orientated basis. One of the immediate
difficulties of using Dyer’s model in a real world example, is the extremely
restricted nature of the theory as a whole. Especially when we attempt to
relate it to modern day examples and the film industry post the 1960’s.

Whilst the model of stars and their use as commercial
products is particularly useful in understanding certain aspects of how the studio
system operated within its heyday, it would be wrong to not briefly discuss the
changes within the industry since the 1960s, when the studio system collapsed in
on itself, this event had a drastic change of the film stars and how the
production process affected them. Most notably, the collapse meant that the
long term, restrictive contracts the actors had to sign were a thing of the
past and no more were the Stars ‘owned’ by the studios. The way in which the
Stars and the media interact also went through some rather drastic changes,
where during the ‘Classical’ era, the studios had some power over the media and
what they could and could not print/publish when it involved the stars, the collapse
brought with it and so many stars had their ‘safety net’ removed from under
them and they were subject to whatever media storm came their way, having to
adapt to much more intrusive coverage that focused more on their private lives,
rather than more career driven.  

When Dyer first published his theory in 1998, the number of
Media texts and organisations that existed was significantly less than we have
today, the sheer number of different outlets that have occurred over the past
20 years is outstanding, even though Dyer did recognise that stars are
constructed through a number of different media sources outside of films, the
massive range and complexity however means it’s much more difficult to apply
the theory. A star’s ‘persona’ is now constructed over a large number of
different outlets from the traditional print media, such as newspapers and
magazines, to radio and television programmes, to the behemoth that is the
number of websites on the internet. With the Latter especially changing what
happens when we try to apply the theory today. When you try to gain an insight
into a stars persona in the age of the internet and social media, we find that
we get a much more fragmented and contradictory image, this being down the vast
number of different and diverse sources that quite often contradict each other.
If a star however manages to overcome this hurdle and craft themselves a
persona that the general audiences recognise, it is now much harder for them to
attempt to maintain this image of themselves, we also find that with the rise
of platforms such as YouTube the very idea of ‘film stardom’ itself is being challenged.
No longer do you have to be a professionally trained performer who auditions
for various projects in the hopes one day you will be a success. YouTube has
had a number of Stars rise up through its platform and challenge the
traditional media of what can be classed as a star, this variation on stardom has
led to a more contemporary style that we refer to as ‘celebrity’ status rather
than stardom. Dyer states that one of the defining characteristics within film
stardom is ‘charisma’, and that this quality is what differentiates Stars from the
ordinary members of the audience as with charisma, the stars are ‘special’. However
this notion of contemporary celebrity in which literally anyone can have their
15 minutes of fame, effectively blurs and weakens Dyer’s definition of stardom,
and if anyone can become a ‘Star’, it removes any and all connotations that
originally made it special in the first place.

I feel that Richard Dyers Star Theory has opened up a new discussion
in the way we look at the early days of cinema, especially when its compared to
the way in which media is created in today’s world, I feel however that it can
be linked heavily to some of the problems we are facing today especially in
terms of representation and spectatorship. Whereas in the past an Actors image
and lifestyle was controlled by the studio, the downfall of this strict regime in
the 1960’s I feel led to the industry changing to where the film stars and influences
felt they could effectively ‘do anything’ and its only now that some other
things they became so used to doing with nobody shutting them down and stopping
them has led to a climate where we seem to be hearing a new story every week
about an unforgivable act committed by a star that plunges these so called
Stars into a state of disrepute.

I feel I now understand more the relationship between cinema
and its audience but also the huge impact film stars had throughout the process.
And throughout everything, they have somehow managed to remain the industry’s
primary marketing tool and one of the main reasons for audience’s attendance.
Considering the enormous financial, social and cultural impact that film stars
have had on the success of cinema it is very surprising that before Dyer
published his theory that many mainstream academic scholars rarely discussed
the impact that Stars had on the industry. 

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