Friday, July 2, 2010
Rodolfo, Rodolfo... Would "Valentino" by any other name have smelled so sweet? "Guglielmi" doesn't have quite as nice a ring to it, but that most beloved of all silver screen faces still retains his dear perfection nonetheless. Pardon the poetic waxings, but that is the Valentino effect, isn't it? Despite his 80+ years of absence, Valentino and the romance surrounding him remain just as contagious, scintillating, and provocative as ever. He seems a fitting choice for July, as our temperatures start to rise with the escalating summer weather. What is it about this guy that will not fade away? What it is about us that refuses to let him???
Perhaps more than any other star of his era, Rudy represents the majesty and poetry of the silent screen. Despite the fact that his career and life were cut short after a mere 31 years, despite the number of flops he made and the way he was personally attacked by the scrutinizing public, he remains more famous and familiar than most of his contemporaries. Garbo and Chaplin are two other survivors, but their hefty careers and iconic personae serve as explanation. Rudy had only a handful of hits, yet his name and face will spark a look of recognition in almost anyone's eyes. While even greats like Gloria Swanson and Thomas Meighan leave many scratching their heads, Rudy is an answer before there's even a question. His "stamina" is partly the result of chance. Rudy burst onto the scene and established the dark, male hero during the roaring twenties when people were finally ready for change. The first film star of his kind-- ethnic, Italian, dangerous-- he paved the way for the others who were to follow, but maintained his notoriety as the first. This is a fact that many forget today, and for which Rudy, who had to suffer his share of prejudice and bigotry, should be respected for.
With good pal Nita Naldi in Blood and Sand
But there is much more to it than that. That is purely circumstantial. The meat of the matter is that Rudy had a special and romantic quality that made him and his performances infinitely palpable and intensely poignant. Audiences couldn't help but be effected. This emotional and adventuress young man developed into a sensitive and dedicated actor, whose success was a product of the fact that he wasn't afraid to feel and feel deeply. Whether suffering the pangs of love, incensed with anger, or indulging in a boyish joviality, the screen radiated his depth and warmth, and the world lavished in it. So powerful was his effect that in addition to pulling throngs of women to him like moths to a flame, so too did he attract the unmitigated rage of the male populace. The jealousy of the male ego spawned a plethora of negative public attacks on Rudy and his masculinity, so that over time he would be falsely remembered as a "sissy" and a "pink powder puff." I guess guys can be just as catty as girls...
The truth is, Rudy-- despite rumor of his sexuality and whatever side of that argument you choose to take-- was "all man" as they say. Rudy was an overachiever, feeling and doing all things at 100%, whether it was sculpting his body, evoking powerful emotions, or eating his famous spaghetti. He was an athlete and an aesthete, a stallion and an artist. It only makes sense then that in his death, he should be remembered in all of these different ways, whether adored or abhorred. His refusal in life to be just one thing or settle into one definite role left us with a catalog of faces and identities to grapple with. In his death, we still argue over who Rudy was, and the controversies surrounding him-- his sexuality, his marriages, his sordid past-- only add to the mystery about him. His enigmatic nature and confounding persona echo throughout our past and present and indefinitely will do so in the future. But who would want to live in a world without him?
Valentino is love: love's avenger, love's captor, love's captive, and love's martyr. Yet we are the ones still held prisoner. The sheik, the toreador, the bandit, and the eternal romantic hero, he lives forever in a world of silent beauty. Fittingly, the silent era died right after he did. After all, no kingdom can survive without its King.