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Celebrity Couples Conference

Published: 7 December 2012Origin: Film
Prof. Linda Ruth Williams keynote

On Saturday 24th November Southampton hosted a one-day conference examining the cultural politics of the celebrity couple phenomenon, exploring how celebrity couplings can enhance the star power of those involved and influence wider cultural understandings of coupledom and kinship.

This successful event, organised by Southampton’s Dr Shelley Cobb and Dr Neil Ewen (SCAFM, University of Portsmouth), was framed by three keynote addresses from prominent scholars in Film and Cultural Studies. Southampton’s Prof. Linda Williams opened the conference with an analysis of how Jane Fonda’s marriages, particularly her most recent with media mogul Ted Turner, have reflected her evolution and self-actualising narrative as a long-standing female star in Hollywood. Prof. Sarah Churchwell (UEA) gave a new insight into the relationship of one of history’s most famous celebrity couples Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the artfulness of the couple’s construction of their own media narrative as ‘careless people’.

The conference also featured papers from Southampton’s Dr Michael Williams and Dr Mike Hammond who examined celebrity couples in the silent film era, considering the couplings of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, respectively. Southampton historian Prof. Adrian Smith, meanwhile, spoke about the Mountbattens as a ‘Golden Couple’ in search of power and responsibility. PhD student in Film, Victoria Kearley, also chaired a panel and presented a paper on the evolving celebrity relationship of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. The conference was concluded with a final keynote address from Prof. Diane Negra (University College Dublin), who provided a timely discussion of the young celebrity couple Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart and shifting media and fan perceptions of their relationship.

The range of celebrity couples considered at the conference was diverse with considerations of reality television celebrities, performers in the adult film industry, historical lords and ladies and political couplings. The conference also featured discussions of couplings beyond romantic pairings, such as the Smith family brand, the onscreen female friendship of presenters Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby and the incestual overtones of the father/daughter relationship of Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. A publication is planned to draw together the proceedings.

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