Was it the essence of the star -as diplayed on the face of the star -that the audience fell in love with? Or was it the face itself? And if the face itself was succumbing to the forces of nature, did you still want to watch it? According to Catherine Merveille, the answer was oui: the audience wanted to watch her real face as a conduit of her authentic self. Of course this was not the ruling aesthetic...My own tastes for a "canonical age" skew older than 28. I think the mid 30s are the most beautiful age for Hollywood stars ...and probably people in general for that matter. Faces might have started that shift but they are finally wholly representing the person underneath them.
Estelle had stopped working at the age of twenty-eight; thus she was immortalized in celluloid at what Paul Veyne once called "the canonical age," the age at which one has achieved full maturity, but before time has altered the facial features.
I've found that the most fulfilling times in the careers of actresses (for the audience I mean) is the mid 30s. Charlize Theron, who keeps on impressing (note: I didn't see Hancock) turns 33 today and I find myself anxious to see what the next few years hold. What does this South African superstar have in store for us?
I know a lot of people think she'll never top Monster but for me --and I'm a complete Oscar contrarian in this particular way -- career peaks only very rarely involve roles in which the actor or actress is plainer than usual or made to look unlike themselves (i.e. biopics). To my way of thinking, career peaks for movie stars --both men and women -- generally happen when the thespian's big beauty and big talent fuse together in the service of a role that either a) fits them like a glove or b) reveals them anew in a startling and fresh way.
Consider the following actresses / performances (ages are approximate to when the film debuted): Michelle Pfeiffer (@31) Fabulous Baker Boys (the beauty!), Kathleen Turner (@32) Peggy Sue Got Married, Judy Garland (@32) A Star is Born, Audrey Hepburn (@32) Breakfast at Tiffany's, Penelope Cruz (@32) Volver, Faye Dunaway (@33) Chinatown, Meryl Streep (@33) Sophie's Choice, Elizabeth Taylor (@33) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf --the exception to the rule in that the greatest work and greatest role is actually within a deglam situation, Marilyn Monroe (@ 34) Some Like it Hot (previous post), Nicole Kidman (@34) Moulin Rouge! (retro bliss), Michelle Pfeiffer again (@34) Batman Returns, Cate Blanchett (@35) The Aviator, Julianne Moore (@37) Boogie Nights, Greer Garson (@38) Mrs Miniver.
This isn't to say that there aren't other triumphs both earlier and later. Actresses can and do deliver great work at every age (if they have the talent and Hollywood gives them the chance). It's just that the 30s are the common time frame for these magic roles that end up truly defining (at least the women --with men I'm guessing it's more early 40s). Some of this has to do with Hollywood's casting biases but some of it is also, I believe, this moment in life when fully adult beauty meets the explosion of confidence that comes when talent has matured, too. Talent and beauty both in full bloom? Be still my beating movie-loving heart.
What does Charlize's future hold? Take a guess in the comments.