Von Sternberg, Josef
Josef von Sternberg 1894–1969
(Born Jonas Sternberg) Austrian-born American director and actor.
Sternberg is best known for his series of erotic films featuring Marlene Dietrich as the definitive femme fatale. Ultimately, her exotic character consumed him, and his last films served only as a vehicle for her. Sternberg reveled in artificial atmosphere; he is considered a fine pictorial craftsman and his imagery supersedes plot.
Sternberg's career commenced as a film patcher in Hollywood. Later positions as an editor and writer led to his first feature film, The Salvation Hunters, which he wrote, produced, and directed. Reflecting a sensitive brand of realism and an emphasis upon sordid atmosphere, it displays the formal pictorial style that was to become Sternberg's trademark. His next projects proved abortive, and his lack of popular success made him an "untouchable." However, his work as an assistant director was so successful that his studio invited him to direct Underworld. In this film, Sternberg combined eroticism with an interest in exotic locales, elements also found in the films which followed. The Docks of New York is considered Sternberg's greatest silent film, similar in feeling to The Salvation Hunters.
The Blue Angel became the turning point of his career. Based on Heinrich Mann's novel, Professor Unrath, it tells the story of a professor led astray by a heartless music-hall girl. Most importantly, though, it introduced Sternberg's new star, Marlene Dietrich, with whom he developed a Pygmalion-Galatea relationship. She provided his films with a sensual languor that, complemented by Sternberg's taste for the exotic, displayed woman as the sexual arbiter. At the same time she became an obsession for Sternberg. Abandoning the everyday themes which had dominated his previous work, Sternberg depicts a femme fatale using men as helpless puppets. The Blue Angel acts as much more than an elegant vehicle for women's guiles, however; it criticizes social conditions in Germany and displays some of the most original sets ever produced up to that time.
Morocco and Shanghai Express are beautiful celebrations of romance which express the belief that sentimental attachment will be the victor over reason. The Scarlet Empress and The Devil Is a Woman were unsuccessful commercially and mark the end of Sternberg's relationship with Dietrich. Audiences tired of his highly stylized work and superficial characters. However, some feel that his sentimental romanticism is misunderstood and regard him as one of cinema's greatest stylists, combining elements of formal cinema with nineteenth-century decadence. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
National Board Of Review Magazine
Underworld is just about the best underworld picture that has come along. Melodrama it is, but melodrama that is human, that keeps its actors people while unraveling a plot developed through the interplay of human temperaments, passions, feelings. Cinematically it is modern, in the stride of the art. Imaginatively it is frequently of the first rank, a finely visualized selection of touches that reveal not only the fabric of the characters but as well the predicament of their lives, intensified as they are by the decent instincts that urge them upward despite the dragging impulses that are the result of their conditioning in society's darker strata…. [It] brings a director, Josef Von Sternberg, very definitely into his own as among the real creators for the screen, thus fulfilling a prophesy more than hinted by The Salvation Hunters….
[Underworld] is that rare thing on the screen, a film wrought on the iron of truth, on a framework of understanding visualized in telling, conclusive movement that is the target reached by all good art, and seldom reached, at least so unerringly, in motion pictures. And for its moral values …, they are coursing in the very veins of the story picture; fortunately, neither skin deep nor washed on with a smirk. It is the story picture of a man coming from darkness into light, surrendering at the last gasp the kingdom of his world to gain the kingdom of himself. As the film travels,...
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National Board Of Review Magazine
A story of mother love would, at first sight, seem strange material for Joseph von Sternberg's directorial genius. The director of The Salvation Hunters, Underworld and The Last Command has a record of achievement which would hardly qualify him to glorify motherhood in the exaggerated, hysterical manner which has been so much the mode on the screen….
So it was at least to be expected that von Sternberg would treat the motherhood theme with a difference, would divorce it from the obvious and perhaps even point it up with a touch of irony.
These expectations The Case of Lena Smith largely fulfills. (p. 11)
[The plot] is not altogether proof against criticism. The concealment of the marriage until almost the end, does seem a little tricky though it is effective in confounding our moral snooper. Also, parts of the court proceedings seem somewhat arbitrary. On the one hand it is news to us that a woman in Lena's position would have been deprived of the custody of her child simply because it was illegitimate, and on the other hand it would have been immediately restored to her after she waved her marriage certificate. Nor is the conviction on the contempt charge convincing….
Von Sternberg directs with his usual insight and his feeling for the scene, giving, in particular, a believable picture of Vienna. But sometimes he hurdles over difficulties somewhat too...
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National Board Of Review Magazine
[In Morocco] like all motion pictures of the front rank, the material is that of the screen alone, the narrative thread an exceedingly simple one. It amounts to the way it is embroidered. And here the result is [a cinematic pattern that is] brilliant, profuse, subtle, and at almost every turn inventive.
Morocco sets its sound in the background. Its speech is purely that of pictures, except where the pictures can be told more effectively by sound. (pp. 4-5)
[When] a character speaks it is merely in substantiation of the thing the action has made you see and know. The artist gives his engagement supper to his friends. All is sumptuous, splendid, covered with light, gaiety and tender feeling. The tragic past of his fiancee is gone. Then the drums of the returning Legionnaires are faintly heard. You get the sensation of the stirring city in the warm night outside…. One could go on finding in this film a text book and finding in the firm and sinewy grasp of its director the resolve to bring the motion picture, with the new powers that science has given it, back to its own….
As a study of the attraction that a man and woman of a certain type may have for one another—that can tear a woman from whatever of safety and pleasure her existence holds—Morocco is not unsubtle in its psychological reading. And this it is, perhaps, that leaves us feeling that we have seen something true...
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National Board Of Review Magazine
The Blue Angel is surely one of the outstanding pictures of this season's screen offerings. Strictly speaking this is a foreign picture. For it was made in Berlin. But it is a foreign picture with English speech, occasional German interpolations being used for the sake of atmosphere and realism….
[Again] we have a story of the disintegration of a fine character to the point of complete degradation with a tragic flash of his former self at the end which heightens the dramatic contrast. And again the emphasis is upon character delineation rather than upon action…. (p. 9)
The Blue Angel is notable from the directing angle on account of von Sternberg's clever combination of talking and silent film technique. He uses dialogue sparingly and climactically and employs long sequences of purely cinematic story telling. In other words, he allows the camera to tell the story whenever possible rather than letting the actor tell it vocally. (p. 10)
Occasionally Mr. von Sternberg's directorial style leads him into slow tempo as if building up for a dramatic suspense which never quite comes off. This is all the more noticeable in a picture which has a minimum of action and a surplusage of characterization and atmosphere. (p. 12)
"Exceptional Photoplays: 'The Blue Angel'," in National Board of Review Magazine (copyright, 1931), Vol. VI, No. 1, January,...
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John Alfred Thomas
Dishonored is likely to seem a fabric of "hokum," especially when it is taken so seriously by its director. Each episode is protracted with fond care, the story moves slowly and ponderously, and the result naturally seems long drawn out. Furthermore, the picture concentrates on [Marlene Dietrich] and a mood, and what faults it has can be attributed mainly to the reverence in which Mr. Josef von Sternberg holds his own story, his own actress and his own mood.
To see only these defects, though, is to overlook much of positive value, much of promise, in Dishonored. (p. 12)
[Von Sternberg's] use of dialogue and sound is almost always an integral use and … it reinforces considerably the emotional and dramatic content of the picture. The fact remains that, despite its faults, the von Sternberg technique is one of the few intelligent approaches to the problem of uniting sound and speech with the motion picture. (p. 13)
[In this story], von Sternberg has written neither well nor wisely. The best thing that can be said for his story is that it presents a uniquely subtle sort of love, and presents it quietly…. Where others skulk in shadows von Sternberg revels in them and the scenes at a piano and in dark cells are memorable compositions. The camerawork is remarkable for its beauty and its ability to convey a mood.
The most obvious use of sound in the film is that of making...
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The direction and the photography, both sound and silent, of "Shanghai Express" … are of such excellence that only a first-rate story could match them. Unfortunately, the plot is hackneyed and intricate; what is more serious, it seems to be a superimposed mechanism rather than an organic part of the production…. The device of numberless swift kaleidoscopic shots is, of course, not new. But the vibrancy and freshness of treatment must be credited to the direction of Josef von Sternberg. It is he who makes the illusion of a train traveling through strange, war-ridden China [convincingly real]…. The characterizations are real, too, especially the lesser ones, which belong rather to the setting than to the story. It is only in so far as these very real characters are forced to take part in an unlikely plot that the illusion fades. (pp. 267-68)
Margaret Marshall, "A Chinese Episode," in The Nation, Vol. 134, No. 3478, March 2, 1932, pp. 267-68.
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Director Josef von Sternberg has long been famous for the mannered pretentiousness of his photophays, but never has his weakness for ostentation reached the extremes to be found in The Scarlet Empress….
Mr. von Sternberg has concentrated on the wild pageantry and the grim ferocity of the period, and, with his gift for atmospheric settings, pictorial effects, and visual suggestion, it seemed, at the outset of the film, that he was destined to vanquish his rivals.
It is not long, however, before the director's passion for lavish ostentation overreaches itself. Mr. von Sternberg's brooding preoccupation with the mood and color of a story, rather than with the story itself, frequently has made for a distinguished and original cinematic style, but here he carries the trait to such excesses that the picture comes to seem a particularly cruel burlesque of Sternberg methods.
Argus, "On the Current Screen: 'The Scarlet Empress'," in Literary Digest, Vol. 118, No. 13, September 29, 1934, p. 29.
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The imagination can become a horrible thing indeed when it is given as much scope and freedom as Von Sternberg apparently enjoyed while making his version of the Catharine the Great legend ["The Scarlet Empress"]. Or perhaps one had better say that when, as happens every so often. Hollywood decides to make a mistake, it is able, because of the vastness of its resources of every kind, to make a truly colossal mistake…. Josef Von Sternberg now shows us just what can be hatched when an overcharged imagination is set loose upon an eighteenth-century Muscovite background. One had always recognized that the Russia to which Catharine came as a bright and ambitious young bride must have been far from a pleasant and civilized sort of place. But in "The Scarlet Empress" one is transported to such a nightmarish realm as never existed outside the less plausible tales of Hoffmann and Poe. Evidently Von Sternberg has read or been told that the Moscow palaces of Catharine's time retained many crude Tartar influences in their architecture and furnishings. This seed of archaeological discovery blossoms immediately in the directorial fancy into the most original grotesqueries of every description…. [The] lighting, or rather the absence of lighting, in the picture is alone sufficient to create the feeling of the sinister and the unhealthy, the uneasy conviction that what one is witnessing can only be the product of an elephantiasis of the imagination…....
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[The Blue Angel's international success] can be traced to two major reasons, the first of which was decidedly Marlene Dietrich. Her Lola Lola was a new incarnation of sex. This petty bourgeois Berlin tart, with her provocative legs and easy manners, showed an impassivity which incited one to grope for the secret behind her callous egoism and cool insolence…. The other reason for the film's success was its outright sadism. The masses are irresistibly attracted by the spectacle of torture and humiliation, and Sternberg deepened this sadistic tendency by making Lola Lola destroy not only [the professor] himself but his entire environment. A running motif in the film is the old church-clock which chimes a popular German tune devoted to the praise of loyalty and honesty (Üb' immer Treu und Redlichkeit …)—a tune expressive of [the professor's] inherited beliefs. In the concluding passage, immediately after Lola Lola's song has faded away, this tune is heard for the last time as the camera shows the dead [professor]. Lola Lola has killed him, and in addition her song has defeated the chimes.
Besides being a sex story or a study in sadism, Sternberg's film vigorously resumes postwar traditions, marking the definite end of the paralysis. The Blue Angel can be considered a variation on Karl Grune's The Street. Like the philistine from the plush parlor, [the] professor is representative of the middle class; like...
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[Do Josef von Sternberg's] films have any importance, other, let us say, than that of having brought to the screen the redoubtable filmic personality of Marlene Dietrich? The answer, which, I feel, is most definitely in the affirmative, lies in the perceiving of certain cinematic tendencies and ideas which are gradually gaining momentum in the commercial cinema of Europe and in the experimental cinema of the United States. (p. 405)
[In The Salvation Hunters (1924)], we can see the beginnings of a formal method of film construction and, more specially, the positive statement of an artist confident of the inner strength of the individual.
Placing his characters in the most disheartening of environments, where one would expect to find a story illustrating some fault with the social structure capable of producing such conditions, we find instead this slum-district background employed symbolically as a visual portrayal of inner ugliness, an ugliness with which the individual is confronted to conquer by himself, within himself. External reality here was primarily used to illustrate an inner conflict, although the story accepted on its immediate level, not on its symbolical one, produced exactly the same cumulative effect; the story could be understood on either level, depending, somewhat, on the spectator's preference or depth of perception. (pp. 406-07)
Today von Sternberg claims that it was his...
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[The] personal theme of The Blue Angel foreshadows an impending social disaster. Sadism was about to be unleashed in mass form in Germany and the film is, of course, a study of the spiritual torture and humiliation of a small-town man with whom everyone can readily identify himself. (p. 49)
[From the outset], the professor is haunted by the figure of the clown in the background, for he, the man of ideals, is himself a clown in the world of The Blue Angel. Thus at the beginning, when the professor first enters, the cabaret is shown as chaotic, almost surrealistic, with its whirling clouds, miasmic veils, and shifting backdrops; at the end, when he is part of it, it is steady, and brutal in its clarity. Everything connected with the professor suggests this interpretation—his favorite pupil called Angst, the mitigation of his masculine nose blowing after meeting Lola Lola, the very nickname Unrath (or excrement), which was later given to the Jews.
Sex and sadism, individual and social, are the main themes of The Blue Angel…. The dead bird which, in almost the first words of the film, the professor is told will never sing again, is nevertheless singing again in Lola Lola's boudoir, and sings in the last shot of all in the person of Lola Lola herself. Then for an instant the twelve apostles, in agonized poses of broken stone, file around the great Hamburg church clock, and finally Marlene herself...
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Inevitably, one approached a work so obviously personal [as The Saga of Anatahan] with certain associations and expectation. The subject itself seemed to give ideal scope for certain aspects of von Sternberg's past work: his eroticism, his sensationalism, his decorative flair. Part of the fascination of the film is that it satisfies none of these expectations—so much so, in fact, that it has an almost unconscious "alienation" effect…. Von Sternberg deliberately eschews violence, and most of the murders take place off screen; only in one set—a charming hut entirely hung with variously shaped shells—is there evidence of his mannered, personal use of décor. Instead, von Sternberg has attempted to treat the story of Anatahan as an epic of heroism and endurance. He has succeeded only in presenting a lame, shambling chronicle…. [The] events seem arbitrary and meaningless. There is no sense that time and isolation develop the characters in any way, enlarge or narrow their visions. In the same way, von Sternberg has failed convincingly to create the locale itself: the island remains a series of unrelated sets. (p. 34)
The failure, though, lies deeper. Von Sternberg has taken no consistent attitude to his material. At times, the film seems to be presenting a heroic picture of resistance and loyalty in the teeth of isolation; at others, merely a piece of detached observation on the effect of isolation on the sexual habits of...
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Von Sternberg's movies had to have plots even tho they already had them inherent in the images. What he did was make movies naturally—he lived in a visual world. The explanations plots he made up out of some logic having nothing to do with the visuals of his films. The explanations were his bragging, his genius pose,—the bad stories of his movies. Having nothing to do with what he did, (& did well) the visuals of his films….
I don't think V. S. knew that words were in his way, but he felt it—neglected them, let them be corny & ridiculous, let them run to travesty—and he invested his images with all the care he rightfully denied the words. And he achieved the richest, most alive, most right images of the world's cinema…. (p. 4)
His expression was of the erotic realm—the neurotic gothic deviated sex-colored world and it was a turning inside out of himself and magnificent. You had to use your eyes to know this tho because the sound track babbled inanities—it alleged Dietrich was an honest jewel thief, noble floosie, fallen woman etc. to cover up the visuals. In the visuals she was none of those. She was V. S. himself…. The plot [of The Devil is a Woman] piles up situation after situation—but needlessly—Sternberg graphically illustrates this by using a tired actor giving a bad performance. If his hero is a phoney for the purposes of the story, V. S. casts an actory actor in the...
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[Ostensibly The Scarlet Empress] is about the marriage of the young and innocent Sophia Frederica to the mad Grand Duke Peter of Russia, and the insurrection which resulted in her becoming the new Empress Catherine. Looking at it today, one is continually puzzled (and delighted) by Sternberg's ambivalent attitudes towards the material. Surely nobody could have doubted that he was sending it up ("those ideas are old-fashioned—this is the eighteenth century" proclaims the ardent, black-wigged Count Alexei to the pouting young Catherine). Yet Sternberg's insolent wit was the last thing commented on at the time. Strange, too, how these comic anachronisms are made to alternate with set-pieces played solely for their dramatic or exotic appeal; all dialogue ceases and Sternberg constructs a sequence "painted with light" which fully confirms his reputation as one of the cinema's great visual stylists….
Sternberg is supposed to have thought of the Empress as a fishwife, but it is all too raucous and calculated for comfort. The film's portrait of a harsh, hypocritical Court looks artlessly naive by comparison with the cynical inventions of [Erich von] Stroheim or [Ernst] Lubitsch. They may not have had all the experience of middle European high life that they claimed, yet they had a more genuine and ingrained sophistication which protected them against some of the traps Sternberg falls into.
Neither of these...
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Herman G. Weinberg
There are no scabrous passages ever in Sternberg, not because he is a moralist—although he is that, in its most salutary sense, without any a priori moral judgments, like a psychologist or psychoanalyst—but because it would be a waste of film footage, every foot of which is precious to a director with so much to say, with so many comments to make. His characters hardly ever even kiss and on the rare occasions when they do it is usually hidden behind a fan, a cloak, a back, or in a half-light. He has better ways of indicating romantic feeling or, when he wants to, purely sexual ones, by innuendo in his incisive dialogue and telling imagery. So sure is he of what he is doing that he doesn't need to pander to his audiences. His is a cinematic language of the utmost circumspection. (p. 103)
Let us consider [a] criticism leveled against Sternberg in the past—his "mannerisms," i.e., his cinema calligraphy. Now, mannerism is a way of doing things and that is what style is. And if that style is different from the usual way of doing things it becomes a "mannerism."… Sternberg without his "mannerisms" would not be Sternberg…. (p. 104)
Sternberg's "mannerisms" do not exist in a vacuum and alone anymore than his art does. It is part of the whole clamorous and exultant world wherever interesting people are to be found in and out of the arts, in science and sociology too, wherever dedicated men and women with a...
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[The Blue Angel is important because it so presciently shows the immaturity and sadism of the German middle class.] In its singular contemplation of the sudden disintegration of a pillar of bourgeois society under the quick, corrosive influence of a strong application of gutter sex, it starkly reveals the imperfection and fraudulence of the facade of middle-class decency and discipline that its ponderous hero represents. It sourly suggests the soggy culture out of which Nazism oozed. And in the sadistic frenzy of the schoolboys to torment and destroy their hated teacher after they have witnessed his weakness for the cabaret girl, we may spot the incipient viciousness of later Hitler Youth.
But I find The Blue Angel most engrossing because of the opening it makes upon the whole darksome, subterranean area of psychoneurotic sex. Where the custom in silent pictures was simply to treat the primal urge as a powerful but usually unholy and sinful appetite that overwhelms men and women by its sheer physical rush and urgency, the revelation in this picture is a sickly image of sex as a passion mixed up with deep obsessions to dominate and get revenge. And where the evil of it in the silents was mainly its immorality, the evil of it in The Blue Angel is its corruption into a social disease that infects the aggressions of people and causes them to act in debased and vicious ways. (pp. 71-2)
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It is only in the light of Sternberg's private life that the world of his films is illuminated; a world where fathers, if they appear at all, are self-interested and remote, mothers raucous harridans or dowagers of reptilian hauteur, children savages with the instincts of the jungle, men cowering victims who both fear and welcome the lash of contempt that their women, alone in his films retaining their individuality, can wield….
If Sternberg's character is complex, his work is infinitely more so. He broke new ground in cinematography, and had enormous influence on cinema design and acting. Yet he invented nothing….
But even if his sources are observable, it is clear that in arranging the material he borrowed Sternberg was motivated by a strongly personal and original style. (p. 14)
Sternberg's alternative to the Hollywood style of film-making was a synthetic language of personal statement. Story was unimportant, elapsed time insignificant; most of his films leap years in the telling, charting an emotional relationship or moral decline without respect for chronology. Imitating Kammerspiel, he used lighting, décor and minutely observed gestures to entice from nature and the human face their hidden "spiritual power," and his development became a search for new elements that would allow him to distil in greater purity this inner essence. (p. 16)
No words can...
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Between the lines of [Sternberg's autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry,] and behind the images of the films, one may detect the constant contention of discipline versus indulgence; intellect versus faith or the inexplicable; civilisation versus the savage or exotic; and the tendency to conceal versus the tendency to reveal. Finally, there is the role of Sternberg as artist: 'scientist' versus 'vamp'. These roles are paralleled in the projections of himself in his characters, generally as man versus woman. Within Sternberg the artist and the man, the two sides seem to vie for ascendancy. In the films, these contradictory personal proclivities are externalised personified to fight it out on the screen; and the conflict is expressed in erotic terms….
Sternberg's work displays obsessively this tension between his volatile 'dark forces' and the imposition of rational control. He exhibits his fascination with the contention of reason versus emotion by working out the dynamic possibilities of their coexistence, both dramatically through his characters and visually in his treatment of the images. Confronting his preoccupation with emotion, Sternberg is threatened with the danger to his objective control and the possibility that, as artist, he may not be able to deal effectively with anything else….
Dramatically, Sternberg conceals through ambiguity. He often purposely refuses to develop elements of...
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Thunderbolt looks very much like an attempt to repeat the highly successful formula of Underworld. But where the earlier film had a triangle situation as three-dimensional as a pyramid based in the curious sort of love affair between the brutish Bull Weed and the gentle, courteously ironic Rolls-Royce …, Thunderbolt operates from a much simpler, more Hollywooden premise which leaves no place for the ambivalent moralities of Sternberg's world…. Clearly conscious of [a] shallowness in the characterisation, Sternberg tries to compensate by elaborating a cat (the mysterious lure of the underworld) and a dog (tranquil domesticity) as symbols of the emotional dilemma: a symbolism which eventually identifies Thunderbolt with the dog (dumb devotion), and would have been more effective, as well as more in keeping with twilight Sternbergian ethics, had Ritzy the cat been allowed to retain a hint of feline equivocation. Although it looks terrific, shot with all Sternberg's usual loving care for half-lights and shadows, this first half of the film seems to catch him in an uneasy attempt to reduce his vision to a 'reality' commensurate with the simplified characterisation. The visit to the Black Cat Club, for instance, never quite takes off into the dream-like fantasy of the gangster's ball in Underworld, despite its striking visual play with the predominantly Negro staff and customers against the glittering silvery-white decor,...
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Never has Josef von Sternberg made the surfaces of reality seem so fragile and the shapes of illusion so tangible as in The Last Command (1928). He deliberately creates not one but several worlds and then dissolves the barriers between them. A carefully constructed film with meticulous attention to techniques, detail, and symbol—the whole nevertheless emerges not firm and clear, but vague and half-seen. This is a remarkable kind of alchemy …; moreover, it is exemplary of his ability to shape, reshape, and destroy his worlds so that they are continually shifting and becoming; it is the essentially modern device of clarity seeking ambiguity, rather than the other way around. (p. 68)
The narrative structure is at least tri-level. I say "at least" because nothing is quite as it seems. There is a modern story of the making of a film about the Russian Revolution; there is a flashback to revolutionary Russia of 1917; and there is the Hollywood film itself which concerns that revolution. This last combines elements of the first two levels. It provides a fusion of them and extension of their meaning.
I have stressed the fusion of the three narrative levels. The connecting links among them are of three kinds: (1) similar characters and plot elements, (2) similar cinematic techniques, (3) leitmotif devices. (p. 69)
Similar cinematic techniques also unite the three levels. The whole of The Last...
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A Sternberg film is built on paradox and dichotomy, its essence fixed not by one particular image that can be isolated, but by a particular pair of images, or series of images or motifs…. [The Shanghai Gesture] is a Sternberg image set without a film: namely, a virtuoso crane into the depths of a gambling pit near the beginning and a complementary crane out again at the end, echoed by more clipped tracks into the gamblers themselves. As an evocation of a human vortex of feeling and chance, this is as electric and concise a 'fix' on the Sternberg theme as there is. (p. 106)
The whole structure and design of The Blue Angel—classroom/cabaret, professor/clown, students/audience—is symmetrical…. Lola, Kiepert, the clown with the frozen mock-empathetic expression and Rath's students are less characters than parts of a psychic-aesthetic whole, a completion of Rath, one summoning up the other, their insolence predicated on Rath's authoritarianism. His use of his handkerchief forms an absurd part of his regimen; Lola's panties, which he picks up in its place and with which he absently wipes his forehead, are merely an extension of that absurdity. The Blue Angel is a serio-comic vision of the world as fun-house-mirror image of personal sexual paranoia, a witty and sad confirmation of one's worst nightmares. (pp. 106-07)
The world of The Devil is a Woman is created in the image of Concha...
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