The first session of the film course is designed to help us work out exactly what defines a “star”? Hmmm, an easy task I thought, but as the group I was hauled into began to discuss the matter different interpretations developed and contradicted my first thoughts.
A “shout out your answer” session created a set of definitions which included: immediate recognition, glamorous (the camera loves them) the box office earning power (the “opener”), that they appeal to men and women, they were “built” by a studio, they are aspirational, charismatic, notorious (both public and private) and talented. The notoriety choice was one of mine, based on the comeback of 80’s bad lad Mickey Rourke – barely an actor and yet a “star” in his own right.
So having defined a “star”, who better to deconstruct than scientology-loving-sofa-leaping-three-times-married star of screen, Tom Cruise. Love him or loathe him, he is undeniably a star. But how? Maybe it’s the size of his face.
Look at the design aesthetics of any of his film posters from the last 20 or so years see how much presence and dominance he has in them. His chiselled profile takes up a staggering 80% of the poster space, quite often taking precedent over the film title. There is little visual references to co-stars or even imagery to suggest what the film might be about (check out Vanilla Sky, Jerry McQuire for examples).
There are, however, two distinct exceptions. The Colour of Money (with Paul Newman) and Rain Man (with Dustin Hoffman) either self-consciously or a decision taken by the studios, Cruise is portrayed as an equal. This is interesting to note, as both these films were a showcase for Cruise's credibility as an actor, of which he did receive critical acclaim.
So how do star’s maintain their stardom?