Brigitte Bardot turns 80 today and, as Agnès Poirier noted recently in the Observer, she’s “never ceased to be a controversial figure.” At 15—the year was 1950—Bardot “appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, and the Earth’s axis shifted…. In 1957, age 23, she made cinematic history in And God Created Woman, her husband Roger Vadim’s seminal film” and “when the film was released in America, it provoked outrage on a continental scale…. ‘Ban Bardot!’ advocated the morality leagues as if she were some kind of illegal drug…. In a study of Bardot published in 1959, the other French woman who lived her life outside bourgeois conventions, Simone de Beauvoir, had recognized in Bardot ‘absolute freedom.’ Her lifestyle, for many admirers, amounted to a philosophical manifesto.”
“Before Bardot, a woman who changed lover at the slightest whim was called a bitch, a salope,” BB biographer Marie-Dominique Lelièvre tells Poirier. “After Bardot, such a woman was simply seen as libérée.” And Poirier notes, too: “Unlike other screen goddesses of the time such as Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren…, Brigitte Bardot was not a working-class lass. She came from a very bourgeois, pious Catholic family, living in a seven-bedroom apartment in the plush 16th arrondissement of Paris.” Today, “all is not well in Bardotland. Having lived for decades as a recluse in her two properties in St. Tropez, unable to go out without being harassed by fans and paparazzi, she has developed, says her biographer, ‘a rather distorted view of the world.'”
“With age, Bardot has lurched to the far-right, increasingly prone to illiberal remarks on gays, Muslims and immigrants that have led to five convictions for inciting racial hatred,” writes the AFP’s Benedicte Rey. “At 80, she keeps herself busy with her animal rights activism through high-profile campaigns to save seals, elephants or stray dogs. She described retirement as ‘dreadful’ in a recent interview. ‘One gets bored stiff. That is why people die of boredom,’ she said. But Bardot’s modern-day persona belies her fame as an icon for a free-thinking, free-loving, young generation.”
Phillip Lopate in 1998 on Contempt (1963): “Despite Godard’s claim that he took Bardot as ‘a package deal,’ and that he ‘did not try to make Bardot into Camille, but Camille into Bardot,’ he actually tampered with the BB persona in several ways. First he toyed with having her play the entire film in a brunette wig—depriving her of her trademark blondeness—but eventually settled for using the dark wig as a significant prop. More crucial was Godard’s intuition to suppress the sex kitten of And God Created Woman or Mamzelle Striptease, and to draw on a more modest, prudishly French-bourgeois side of Bardot for the character of Camille. In her proper matching blue sweater and headband, she seems a solemn, reticent, provincial type, not entirely at ease with the shock of her beauty.”
No subtitles, but as you’ll see, none are necessary
“In 1973, Bardot decided to bring her acting career to an end and begin a second life,” wrote Henry-Jean Servat in a 2012 profile for Vanity Fair. “Her screen image would henceforward be preserved in amber at a certain age, as it had been for Garbo and Monroe. ‘I was really sick of it,’ Bardot says. ‘Good thing I stopped, because what happened to Marilyn Monroe and Romy Schneider would have happened to me.'”
In 2010, Kim Morgan revisited one of BB’s last films, Vadim’s Don Juan (or if Don Juan were a woman) (1973), arguing that “Bardot, the woman and star, was the true auteur of the picture. And Vadim, smart, savvy and woman-loving man that he was, absolutely allowed this.” Further in:
As Vadim noted, “It was probably her last chance to keep making movies because she’d grown too old to continue playing Brigitte Bardot. But she understood that too. That’s why she stopped making movies.” She did. Which may seem wrong or ageist towards herself and even undermining her acting ability, but again, BB was probably just sick of making movies. And so she let herself age, and without surgery. And now she’s frequently deemed a controversial nutter. Some even recoil at her face (the ultimate sun loving sex kitten is a hag!), even though it was that very lifestyle men so desired—bikini on the beach, ciggies, wine, sex and song, that helped line it so. Again, this is a feminist—not Naomi Wolf and her tedious “Beauty Myth” … BB’s face says, fuck you, this is me. She may not be a supple young thing anymore, and most of us prefer to look at and remember iconic BB, but she handles it.
Photo galleries: The Guardian and Vanity Fair.
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