Film stars
From icons to role models
Saturday 27 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2 Can Films Change the World?

Iconic film stars like Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and James Dean were admired and imitated by entire generations who wanted to be just as sexy, suave and rebellious. These actors were seen as fascinating and glamorous and seemed to inhabit a separate universe; otherworldliness was intrinsic to the celebrity culture of their time. It is hard to think of an actor today who will come to define our era and become an eternal icon.

While the demise of the film icon means a decline in glamour and the ‘magic of the movies’, it can also be seen as a sign of maturity on behalf of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, today, another form of celebrity culture prevails; more and more film stars step off the cinema screen and into the real world to head social campaigns, from George Clooney taking up the humanitarian crisis in Darfur to Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and a host of others backing Al Gore’s Live Earth crusade.

Do today’s actors have what it takes to become monumental, awe-inspiring icons or has the earnest role model replaced the larger than life idol? Is the loss of the glamorous film star even regrettable? And do we really need celebrities to be role models who are ‘in touch’ with the world? Should actors really be spouting politics rather than rehearsing lines?


Professor Sarah Churchwell
chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities; Professor of American literature, School of Advanced study, University of London
Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
Patrick Marmion
writer and critic; convenor, Soap Box debating forum
Peter Whittle
culture spokesman, UKIP; director, New Culture Forum
Helen Birtwistle
history and politics teacher, South London school

 Produced by

Nathalie Rothschild freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school
Dr Wendy Earle impact development officer, Birkbeck, University of London; convenor, Academy of Ideas Arts and Society Forum

Film stars: from icons to role models, Nathalie Rothschild

 Recommended readings

The American Queen
The "heroines" in our rom-coms are not bright, spiky, acerbic: they are neurotic, desperate, usually inarticulate and sometimes comatose. Where are the Katherine Hepburn's of modern cinema?
Sarah Churchwell, Guardian, 13 May 2007

Hollywood's generation gap
Anyone can be a movie star-heck, Adam Sandler is a movie star- but true screen icons are blessed with an ethereal sparkle beyond time that earns them a permanent place in the cultural firmament, and our imaginations
Renee Graham, Boston Globe, 12 July 2004

Just a pretty face will do
The iconic face is radiant with the incorporation of the ideal. Its owner can be as dumb as they come and have no acting talent at all, yet somehow the fearful symmetry comes shining out
Clive James, BBC Magazine, 16 August 2007

Siren Song
From the tough sexy females of the war-time to the eunuchs of post-war era, icons of the big screen are a product of their time
Germaine Greer, Guardian, 29 December 2006

Catch a fallen star, if you can
Best known for drinking, 'hillbilly heroin' and bad boyfriends Hollywood's favourite wildchild turns to victim
Gaby Wood, Guardian, 2 June 2007

recommended by spiked

When celebrities rule the Earth
Mick Hume, 23 October 2006

'The Greeks were art house, the Romans were multiplex'
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The Hollywood Actor's Burden
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spiked film reviews

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