Today for my spotlight on a performer, I'd like to discuss Rudolph Valentino. Now, I'd like to make a brief disclaimer before I write this post: I am not an expert on Rudolph Valentino. I went through a period where I read up on him via Wikipedia and IMDb, but that is the extent of my education. Therefore, if I get any of my facts wrong, please, please let me know! Oh, and if you know of any good biographies, I'd love to know about them!
Ever since I discovered him last year, Valentino has completely fascinated me. There is something so appealing about him. It's not just his movies, although those are interesting too, there's something about his stardom that I find intriguing.
When I watched The Sheik (1921), I didn't like it. I thought the girl was weak (after she promised to be so strong and independent too!) and the guy was pretty despicable. Yet, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I went for days afterwards, just contemplating the film, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. So, I rewatched it and was surprised to find that I enjoyed a great deal more the second time around. I think the movie, and its sequel, The Son of the Sheik (1926), are odd to have been so popular. Why do we cheer on the man who captures a woman and keeps her by force? Why are we relieved when they fall in love at the end? I think it's strange that the film enjoyed such popularity. I mean, in the 1920's, women had just earned the right to vote, a milestone in female independence, and here were female audiences falling love with a man who completely takes a woman's rights away (a fiercely independent woman at that). From the scene where Ahmed secretly takes the bullets out of Diana's gun, to her capture, the idea that he has control over her is evident. Not only that, but she falls in love with him after all he's done to her!
I've heard that The Son of the Sheik is considered the better of the two films, which is interesting. I haven't decided yet whether or not I agree. I've also heard that Valentino's costumes in The Son of the Sheik belonged to him, which is pretty neat. Oh, and at the beginning of the film, there's a card that says Agnes Ayres reprised her role as a favor to Rudolph Valentino - how cool is that?
Okay, so, movie aside. Now to discuss Valentino's stardom, which was pretty significant. I just read a blog post recently which explained that the questioning of Valentino's masculinity didn't actually begin until the 1960's. Again, I really don't know because I'm a very recent viewer. I just think it's interesting that he was the first male Hollywood sex icon - women adored him, but he couldn't enjoy his popularity without (apparently) some controversy. I read that a journalist blamed the decline of American masculinity on Valentino and that the movie star challenged the journalist to a duel and then to a boxing match. Apparently, (the story went on) another journalist accepted Valentino's boxing challenge and Valentino won. I really don't know if the story is true but it's a pretty great story whether or not it holds water.
I really just wanted to write a post discussing Rudolph Valentino, his appeal, his popularity. I think he's a fascinating character. From his film roles to his iconic status to his marriages, he is full of intrigue and mystery. He's sexy but I go back and forth as to whether or not I think he's actually attractive.
Thank you for letting me talk myself into circles about this! The sad part is, I've just barely scratched the surface of my fascination. I haven't even talked about the films' use of the term, "savage," which is racist at best. (I've heard that Valentino was very irked by the negative depiction - which, if true, is really cool!) See? I could keep on going, but I'll spare you. If you have any thoughts, facts, recommendations, or anything regarding Rudolph Valentino, do comment! I'd love to hear it! Oh, and if I've piqued your interest at all (I do hope I have!) you can actually watch the entirety of The Sheik on IMDb. If I've made you at all wary (I sincerely hope not) then I apologize and I do hope you'll check out his films anyway. They're fascinating to watch.
P.S. I'm including here at the bottom two photos that show the duality of the Sheik character (in both films, really). He goes back and forth between being a passionate and tender lover to the tyrannical "savage" who forces women into submission, both are from The Son of the Sheik with Vilma Banky. I do apologize for going so overboard with the photos. As I said before, I went through a major Rudy phase for about a month and I've been wanting to share these photos with somebody!!