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The brightest star

SO is this the moment when Brangelina comes crashing down? Will the Jolie-Pitt union survive the latest revelations in Andrew Morton's new biography, just published in America? This week Jolie, voted the most powerful female celebrity in the world by Forbes magazine, may be holding her breath. Then again, she may not.

The nature of a true star is how they handle adversity. And it's telling that just at the height of the scandal caused by Angelina: An Unauthorized Biography, American critics are raving about the 35-year-old's performance in the new action thriller Salt.

She's being dubbed the female Bond. In Salt she gets shot at, beaten, thrown off trains and planes, and leaps precariously from one tall building to another. The role was written for a man (Tom Cruise), but we've never seen a woman on screen like Evelyn Salt before.

It's easy to forget that Jolie is an actress. Fulfilling Hollywood's love affair with bad girls, she has laid out her life for us to examine like the best sort of performance art. We already knew about the bisexuality, the self-harm and the knives. After winning an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, she checked herself into a psychiatric institution. Are there any more dark secrets?

Well, Morton -- who has also written controversial biographies of Cruise and Princess Diana -- focuses in lingering detail on Jolie's past heroin addiction, on S&M parties, and includes sexy photos of Jolie's "shady past". In one she has black tape over her nipples and a dog leash around her neck.

The tabloids are speculating Jolie's five-year relationship with Brad Pitt may not survive. Even before she "stole" Pitt from Jennifer Aniston, Morton claims Jolie had targeted married or attached men such as Ethan Hawke, Ralph Fiennes and Mick Jagger. Star magazine quotes a "source" as saying: "For Brad, this could be the final straw."

I doubt it. Jolie is the queen of reinvention. Protean, brilliant, unstable, she really is a very different form of female celebrity. She has played every role going in her own life (mother, action hero, madwoman), let alone on screen. She can shoot guns and fly a plane. She runs her own production company. She's a humanitarian on close terms with Bill and Kofi.

Men regard her as a sexual fantasy figure, but women like her, too. She's the ultimate girl crush. Partly it's because she's an equal opportunities flirt.

But we also like the way she's reinvented the landscape for women. According to Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth: "She has created a life narrative that is not just personal. Rather, it is archetypal. And the archetype is one that really, for the first time in modern culture, brings together almost every aspect of female empowerment and liberation."

Most of us only get to play a few carefully selected roles in our lives. Career woman. Mother. Lover. Friend. You have to choose. No woman can have it all, as Emma Thompson claimed with considerable feeling this week.

But Angelina breaks those rules. She's been a home-wrecker and a single mother. She's slept with women and advocated casual sex.

She's made mistakes in public. And yet she still got her fairytale romance -- with the ultimate movie star. She has adopted children and proved she can have them biologically. For a woman who has battled addiction and eating disorders, she is the emblem of fertility.

To be honest, Jolie has always been an erratic actress. It takes a strong director to coax a performance like Girl, Interrupted or A Mighty Heart from her. Often we can't get beyond that extraordinary physiognomy.

In 2008's Changeling, where she gives an almost unrecognisable performance as a mother whose child goes missing, it's hard to concentrate because of those erotic red lips. And her role as Colin Farrell's mother in Alexander was an exercise in unintentional camp.

Jolie, now a mother of six, says she read the script for Salt just after giving birth to her twins. "I was at home in my nightgown feeling very soft and maternal, and I flipped through the script and it was all about getting out there and attacking and being very physical and I did feel really funny, in my nightgown in my bedroom, thinking, 'If I can do this, it would be a nice balance'. You know, from being soft and mommy and then going back to work and doing this hard, physical role."

Angelina has mystique in spades, with her sexuality, beauty and family (her father is the actor Jon Voight, her mother, the late actress Marcheline Bertrand). She's an arch manipulator, great at her own PR and endlessly fascinating.

She's a slate onto which we project our own fears and desires. But there's something else that endears us to Jolie -- makes us hope she will outwit the tabloid hounds pursuing her. She is self-invented after a nightmare childhood.

Hardly surprising then if the adult Jolie, with her abandonment issues, has a healthy disrespect for the traditional nuclear family. Arguably, that rainbow family is her greatest creation.

Female stars tend to get punished for being human. Angelina proves you can literally be too much. Admit what you want -- and take it unapologetically. And we, dear reader, get to live that huge operatic life by proxy. Because let's be honest, no one actually wants to be Angelina -- too many screaming babies, too many hotel rooms. Just as no sane woman really wants to look like Angelina. That slender form -- head too big for her body, mad goddess hair -- doesn't look exactly healthy.

Jolie is always threatening to retire young. But I'd argue that she can afford to get old on screen. I can't wait to see what she's like at 40, 50, even 70. Humanitarian, mother, deranged daughter, gender-defying actress -- has there ever been a girl like Angelina?


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