In its “Spotlight” column, Vanity Fair featured two actresses of a certain age who seemed to look better over time. Charlotte Rampling was one of them, a woman whose name has become a verb: To rample — meaning “to render a male helpless with a kind of coldly elusive sensuality.” (“Spotlight,” Vanity Fair, pg. 270)
The entertainment world is replete with women who bare their cleavage or wear dresses so tight they appear to have been applied with a spray gun. But few women have a presence that is sexy and strong simultaneously without overt advertising. Come to think of it, most of them are dead: Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Vivian Leigh or Lena Horne. Of those living, Susan Sarandon or Sharon Stone fit the bill. Meryl Streep and Glenn Close exude power but they might not make a man go weak at the knees.
The combination of sex and power can be dangerous for a woman. The film Zorba the Greek offers a brutal example. Irene Papas’ character was a rampler. She ended up being stoned to death by men who took their revenge upon her for provoking their unfulfilled desires. The scene is one not easily forgotten.
In western societies, rampling woman are getting new respect. Those who partner with younger men are no longer frowned upon, for example. The cosmetic industry has taken notice of them too. Diane Keaton, Audie Macdowell, Jessica Lange and Lauren Hutton are the faces of new lines of cosmetics targeted to the older woman. We are entering a new phase of women’s liberation where being worldly wise isn’t a detriment. As the French say, “Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves.”