"She has sex, but no particular gender."
-Marlene Dietrich on Greta Garbo
Sometimes I'll be watching a film or TV show that doesn't have much to do with anything in particular, but suddenly I'll come across a line or a situation that makes me laugh out loud with recognition. Such was the case when I was watching Ninotchka yesterday, a film from 1939 starring, yes, Greta again. She plays the title character, a very stony and serious Soviet envoy sent to Paris on some official business; while there, she meets Count Leon, a freewheeling party boy who, strangely, seems to be American. Anyway, they first meet when Ninotchka is stranded on a traffic island, with a map. She asks Leon for directions. And here's the part that made me laugh. I can't possibly do it justice with a transcription, but here you go. Just imagine Garbo being as stern as humanly possible, and then some:
Ninotchka: I'm interested only in the shortest distance between two points. Must you flirt?
Leon: I don't have to, but I find it natural.
Ninotchka: Suppress it.
Leon: I'll try.
Of course, the two of them fall madly in love. I know that in old movies, this tends to happen rather quickly. However, the speed and complete lack of reality with which Ninotchka and Leon fall in love is absolutely mind-boggling, completely surpassing any other old movie I've seen. I blame my modern sensibilities, but I was a wee bit worried for them.
Even so, it's a terrific movie; go and rent it this weekend. Garbo is just amazing. In an industry (film), that has always tried to promote the most manly men and womanly women, Garbo's sexual ambiguity makes her that much more intriguing to watch. I've also retrieved another quote from Wikipedia, of course:
Garbo's biographer Barry Paris notes that she was "technically bisexual, predominantly lesbian, and increasingly asexual as the years went by." It has been indicated that Garbo struggled greatly with her sexuality, only becoming involved with other women in affairs that she could control.
Well now, how about that! We may not be able to claim her for the A-Team, but struggling greatly with your sexuality earns anyone a few free boxes of Crackerjack. And being one of the best actors I've ever watched earns Garbo a few more spaces on my Netflix queue.
And, total non-sequitor: It's National Coming Out Day!
Kind of like National Talk Like a Pirate Day, except you get to come out to people.
"Yarr, matey, I'm asexual! But why is the rum gone?"
You've got a few more hours to come out (as whatever you'd like), so get crackin'!