The Vamp

edwardian ladies, picture spam, silent films, theda bara, vamps

I’m always fascinated, and maybe a little bit sexually confused, by how much Theda Bara looks like Marc Bolan (or perhaps the other way around, if you insist). It’s easy to see why she was the poster girl, alongside Dietrich and Garbo, for the early-Seventies retro look. Wildly over-the-top, she seems a ridiculous sex symbol to modern eyes, and doubtless has done ever since her heyday. But you can’t deny her impact, embodying the concept of The Vamp[ire] in A Fool There Was and setting a template for Femmes Fatale down the decades.

In my opinion, she’s a more authentic example of exotic sexuality and vampishness because she was a creation from scratch, in a period where women struggled to be viewed as sexually powerful. The look has been refined, cleaned-up, “feminised” and inflated to almost grotesque proportions over the past century. The look has been defined and moulded by men, to be acceptable to men. Theda Bara was otherworldly and confusing to her audiences, and remains so to this day. More a true vamp than any modern equivalent could ever hope to be.

A fool there was and he made his prayer

(Even as you and I!)

To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair

(We called her the woman who did not care),

But the fool he called her his lady fair

(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste

And the work of our head and hand,

Belong to the woman who did not know

(And now we know that she never could know)

And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent

(Even as you and I!)

Honor and faith and a sure intent

But a fool must follow his natural bent

(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),

(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost

And the excellent things we planned,

Belong to the woman who didn’t know why

(And now we know she never knew why)

And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide

(Even as you and I!)

Which she might have seen when she threw him aside —

(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)

So some of him lived but the most of him died —

(Even as you and I!)

And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame

That stings like a white hot brand.

It’s coming to know that she never knew why

(Seeing at last she could never know why)

And never could understand.

The Vampire, Rudyard Kipling