Best of Fall #4: Grace Kelly gets the royal treatment at a TIFF Lightbox exhibit
What you notice first is the skin, often described as pearlescent. Then, perhaps, the sapphire eyes. Then the hair, a perfect golden wave. However, what sets Grace Kelly apart from decades of comparable Hollywood beauties is the regal bearing in which these features are set. She was a “snow-covered volcano,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous, panting phrase, scaled finally by Prince Rainier. But long before she became part of the Monaco monarchy, she exuded a majestic, preternatural poise. Like James Dean, Kelly’s abiding charisma owes much to the fact that she made only 11 movies, and that so many of them are so great. She is most famous for her roles in three classic Hitchcock pictures of the ’50s: Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. The first two are like handcrafted jewel boxes, with Kelly—intelligent, vaguely aloof, radiant—at their centre. To Catch a Thief, in which she starred with Cary Grant, is a sunnier confection set on the French Riviera, but it revealed Kelly’s comedic gifts and a simmering sensuality. (The volcano doesn’t exactly erupt, but there are orgasmic fireworks.) Who knows the depths Hitch would have plumbed had Kelly not walked away from movies at the age of 26? But as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, such depths were disguised even further. She mutated into something more—and less—than a woman or an actress: pure style. Even as she did good works—she was president of Monaco’s Red Cross—it was her fashion choices that were relentlessly scrutinized and imitated. Clothing was a way to talk about her body and soul, perhaps, without being able to grasp either. Her ivory wedding dress was another costume, a transitional one, created by the same designer who dressed her in High Society. A large Hermès handbag, later rechristened the Kelly bag, was used to mask her first pregnancy. She was criticized for wearing a flying saucer–shaped hat that hid too much of her perfect face. She almost always wore white gloves. Kelly’s untimely death at the age of 52, in a car crash, was a predictable guarantor of enduring allure. But by that point, as far as the public was concerned, she had long ceased to exist as a person. The starring role in a fairy tale that she had created, “The Commoner Becomes the Princess,” no matter how many times we would later revisit it, would always be hers.
Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess
Nov. 4 to Jan. 22
TIFF Bell Lightbox