Mata Hari

Hollywood, always a major impetus in dictating style, has exerted tremendous influence on the industry of “haute couture.” The Clara Bow look, Lauren Bacall look, Annie Hall look.... Countless times the “presence” projected by Hollywood's leading ladies has been seized by moguls of fashion and transformed into distinct, marketable “looks.” When MGM released Mata Hari in 1932, the collaborative efforts of Adrian-as-designer and Garbo-as-type merged to captivate fashion-conscious imaginations everywhere.

“For years now, rakishness, bold angularity (in visible bone and posture), mock insolence (the kind with a Mona Lisa smile), and the insinuation of an apparently uncontrollable pelvis, have been the fashion model's stock-in-trade.... The negligently slung hip, the air of pseudo-helplessness (assumed to ‘fetch' a man), the cocked elbow and the space-straddle were all Garbo's.... They were hers as ‘originals,' not as copies.... The streaming, unkempt, shoulder-length hair went with the flat feet, the stride, the scalped eyelids. The reduction of the eyebrow to a minimum presence and the lifting of the lid and eyelash to a maximum presence was first a Garbo trait.... The studio crimped her hair too much... till a few tries at smoothing it down and pinning behind her ears showed how well she responded to the severe.
“Adrian, her ingenious costumer, took advantage of the opportunity in Mata Hari to give her headgear that were luxurious versions of the skull-cap.... No star was ever more obviously dressed up in the clothes-horse sense, or less obviously so in the social sense. If the metallic pants she wore in Mata Hari - ‘fitted,' of course, but worn under an open skirt - didn't cramp her style, nothing ever could have.” (“The Films of Greta Garbo,” Conway et al.)

In 1917 the French government ordered that Margaret Zelle MacLeod be executed for collaborating with the Russians as a spy. This Dutch-born Javanese dancer and courtesan is probably more familiar to audiences as the infamous Mata Hari. George Fitzmaurice's visually compelling film of the same name is a fictionalized realization of Mata Hari's last days. A seductress extraordinaire, she dazzled and outraged the distinguished echelons of Parisian society with her flamboyant penchant for independence and her multiple amorous liaisons.
Although the film's narrative more closely approximates a highly stylized romanticized interpretation than a straightforward recapitulation of Mata Hari's exploits, trial, and execution, there remains enough truth in the plot to successfully carry the melodramatic element. Visually, “Mata Hari... remains a constant pleasure to watch because William Daniels' subtly caressing lighting provides an incandescent framework for Garbo's talent for... enigmatically amused looks..., while Fitzmaurice's discreetly mobile camera ensures that the film does not grind to a standstill in the meantime.” -Monthly Film Bulletin, Sept. 1978

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