Love from London: A City of Stars at Getty Images Gallery

By Alex Hopkins | 22 September 2010
Exhibition: Love from London, A City of Stars, Getty Images Gallery, London, until October 9 2010

Coveting film stars has always been a part of British culture. It hardly matters that our own film industry has always seemed to pale in relation to the one across the pond – we are all too happy to lap up the glamour and indefinable mystery of our American cousins.

As London finds itself in the grip of film fever with the 54th London Film Festival, a new exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery allows us to bask unapologetically in the glory of some of the world’s most iconic actors as they pose against some of our city’s most famous backdrops.

This small yet invigorating show captures familiar figures from Hollywood’s golden age on their visits to the capital. Everyone who is anyone is here. Elizabeth Taylor sits comfortably alongside Alfred Hitchcock and Audrey Hepburn, while Harrison Ford poses in close proximity to Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier.

Candid black and white prints depict stars in often-unusual locations. Sometimes they have been snapped while on set or arriving in the city. There are the customary publicity shots, but for the most part the scenes are natural and refreshingly humdrum. There is a real contrast between the ordinary, grey London streets and the electrifying personas that fleetingly light them up.

Travel plays a pivotal role in this exhibition and there are numerous shots of stars arriving at the airport or in transit. A coy Catherine Deneuve disembarks from a plane without a hair out of place, and the ever-debonair Frank Sinatra strolls coolly down a street with the omnipresent Rat Pack.

While many of the subjects exhibit a refreshing nonchalance, tragedy haunts the deadened eyes of a bloated Judy Garland as she firmly grasps her hat against the wind. Not far along the wall is a similar photograph of Audrey Hepburn posing in Kew Gardens. Like Garland, her hand holds on to her head in an effort to battle the elements. Her smile, however, is utterly joyous and playful and hints at the different coping mechanisms our most recognised celebrities have for dealing with the harsh realities of fame.

The real surprises come when the stars are captured outside of the public personas that the Hollywood publicity machine has so cunningly created. Taylor is pictured in Trafalgar Square being attacked by five pigeons that claw at her mass of dark brown hair. Her face is lit up in a mixture of joie de vivre and near hysterical shock, adding a uniquely human quality to a beauty who has so often been depicted as being remote and glacial.

Likewise, Marilyn Monroe sits demurely at a press conference in The Savoy holding a tea cup. Her homely stance is the antithesis of the provocative show girl we have come to adore.

The one down side of this show is perhaps a lack of variety. There are, for example, numerous images of French actress Brigitte Bardot. After the third one these become a little tiresome and offer us very little insight into one of cinema’s most engaging characters beyond her propensity for troubled contemplation.

If vaguely sinister shots of Alfred Hitchcock play rather predictably on the master of suspense’s dark public image, there are undeniably some real gems here. A photograph of a young Barbara Windsor on a ride in Battersea Park is perhaps the highlight. With her skirt blowing in the wind, Windsor is utterly natural and charming. Unlike some of the glorious stars pictured here she seems to fit most appropriately with the unpretentious surroundings.

It is a beautifully spontaneous shot that perfectly captures the pride Londoners should have in a city that is too often not recognised for producing enduring homegrown talent.

Open 10am-5.30pm (12pm-5.30pm Saturday, closed Sunday). Closed 12pm-2pm on September 23 and October 5-6. Opens 1pm on October 7.

Getty Images Gallery, Eastcastle Street, London. Visit
the gallery online or call 020 7291 5380.
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