Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits


It’s always unwise to judge a book by it’s cover, but the title of the exhibition ‘Glamour of the Gods’ seems to promise a lot. Therefore I am slightly wary of a coming disappointment when I enter the National Portrait Gallery, escaping out of the unseasonal August heat wave.

The exhibition is a celebration of Hollywood photography from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and the name ‘Glamour of the Gods’ is drawing upon the idea of the idolatry that these stars garnered in their Hollywood career. Indeed as I walk through the four rooms of black and white images it’s hard not to be drawn to the allure of Tinsel Town.

‘Oh Vivien Leigh, isn’t she amazing?’ an elderly woman comments to her friend as they stop at the shot of Leigh in Gone with the Wind, a film that won her an Oscar and affirmed her star status; indeed these sentiments are echoed by various people around the room who also appear to be discussing various stars and their personal and public achievements. There is none of the Hello! Or Heat tackiness in photographs and each and every one carries with it the mystique of ‘La La land’ in an bygone era of Hepburns and Bogarts.

The exhibition whilst small, shows the crucial role that photography played in transforming a person from flesh and blood to starry idol. Whilst I initially thought that the title ‘Glamour of the Gods’ was pretentious, I realise that is most likely the point. Hollywood famously thrives on pretentiousness, selling itself to a market ready to swallow all its mystique…and indeed pausing at the images of Elizabeth Taylor sat on a beach in ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and Audrey Hepburn in ‘Funny Face’ it is easy to see how such stars could become silver screen gods and accumulate an adoring audience ready to worship them. Cinephile or not this exhibition is truly an interesting look into Hollywood portraiture and definitely worth a visit if you’re in London…in spite of the slightly dramatic title.

National Portrait Gallery 7th July – 23rd October £6/5 –  Concession


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