109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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movielocke
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#226 Post by movielocke » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:08 pm

Morocco looks incredible, I must say, the opening track shot. the play of light and shadow, the z axis space of every shot is just incredible, and the clarity of the image and dynamic range of the exposures (speaking as a black and white photographer, not an HDR fanboy) is absolutely jaw dropping. My last viewing of Morrocco was in 2003 or 2004 on a muddy and well worn VHS tape with no contrast or depth to the image at all, visually, this set has knocked my socks off so far.

My last viewing of Shanghai express was an SLP-taped off TCM VHS, so my mind is sort of boggled at what I might expect.

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david hare
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#227 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 17, 2018 3:31 am

It is absolutely gorgeous!

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Drucker
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#228 Post by Drucker » Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:48 am

Halfway thru the set, and my second time watching most of these films. Morocco is admittedly a bit slower than the other two, but can you chalk that up to its earliness as a sound film? I can think of other films of this era that can be as stiff at points. There are times when this one feels like one of its contemporaries, but Dietrich's performance elevates the film. I also love dopey Gary Cooper here. Are there other films where he's so obtuse?

My sense is that the films actually seem to get better and richer as they go on, in part because Dietrich gets, more vicious as the films go on? Perhaps that's not the right word. In Morocco and even Dishonored she spends a decent amount of time actively "pursuing" a gentleman. In Shanghai Express however, she plays more games with him. Though they end up together in the end, there is a attitude-ridden coldness to Dietrich. She's willing and eager to play games and drive the man crazy.

If I remember correctly, there's a ton more of that in Blonde Venus and Scarlet Empress. The more Dietrich gets to be Dietrich, the better I suppose. Also, good lord is that PQ on Dishonored stellar.

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Feego
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#229 Post by Feego » Mon Jul 23, 2018 11:44 am

Drucker wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:48 am
I also love dopey Gary Cooper here. Are there other films where he's so obtuse?
This is one of my favorite Gary Cooper appearances in film (I feel that wording might be more appropriate than "performances.") Cooper is not among my favorite actors, and I typically find him utterly lifeless when he's not working with directors who understood how to use him (Capra, Hawks, Mann). Von Sternberg brings out qualities in him I've never seen elsewhere. He's aimless and lost, but in a very desirable way. A man cut off from the rest of the world and caught in a crossroads. This is far from the straight-arrow hero he usually portrayed for less imaginative directors (the exceptions I mentioned earlier found ways of undermining or complicating this characterization). I've never seen him more aloof or sexy. I have yet to delve into this set and it's been a few years since last viewing these films, but I actually thought Morocco was the best at the time, if not necessarily the most spectacular. There's something about the exotic location not representing the geographic Morocco but rather a hazy, romantic state of mind for its main characters that really appealed to me. It's a locale to which emotionally lost people are spirited away, and I think much of its effectiveness is not in anything that Cooper and Dietrich actively do, but in the way von Sternberg captures them.

The ending is an absolute knockout for me as well, and one that makes excellent yet subtle use of sound for an early talkie.
SpoilerShow
On my first viewing, I remember watching as Dietrich joins the other women following their soldiers through the desert. The sound of the desert winds blowing on the soundtrack had a haunting effect, and as I knew the film was about to fade out to "The End," I found myself hoping that the wind sounds would carry through even after the fade-out. As this was from 1930, my hopes weren't high, but it was nirvana when they did just that!

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Drucker
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#230 Post by Drucker » Mon Jul 23, 2018 1:12 pm

Totally on board with your feelings about the ending, which until the recent re-watch was the only thing I could really remember.

Earlier in this thread David Hare scoffs at the notion of realism in these films, and nowhere is that more effective than in the non-American locales for the films. We're constantly given people crossing borders, who are either traveling or in the military, or are somewhere away from home. In that opening scene of Dietrich on the boat in Morocco, where she seems to appear from nowhere, and we have no idea where she is going...that's a mood that resonates in almost every film in this set. Von Sternberg does such a good job of using the "foreigness" of the films as a character, we sort of believe everything is equally possible. Are there really women who follow military men in the dessert? A counter-revolutionary group holding up trains in China? Austrian spies? There probably is a factual basis for a lot of what VS does, but it plays out so spectacularly as a fantasy that would never work if the films were set in the US.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#231 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:24 pm

I very much liked the "slowness" of Morocco -- and also thought Cooper was wonderful in this (not sure whether I prefer him here or in Design for Living).

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david hare
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#232 Post by david hare » Mon Jul 23, 2018 7:00 pm

Drucker wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 1:12 pm
Totally on board with your feelings about the ending, which until the recent re-watch was the only thing I could really remember.

Earlier in this thread David Hare scoffs at the notion of realism in these films, and nowhere is that more effective than in the non-American locales for the films. We're constantly given people crossing borders, who are either traveling or in the military, or are somewhere away from home. In that opening scene of Dietrich on the boat in Morocco, where she seems to appear from nowhere, and we have no idea where she is going...that's a mood that resonates in almost every film in this set. Von Sternberg does such a good job of using the "foreigness" of the films as a character, we sort of believe everything is equally possible. Are there really women who follow military men in the dessert? A counter-revolutionary group holding up trains in China? Austrian spies? There probably is a factual basis for a lot of what VS does, but it plays out so spectacularly as a fantasy that would never work if the films were set in the US.
Youre absolutely correct in these obervations but I would recall the old Herbert Read (was it?) mantra that “realism” is merely one of seventy six variations of Style. The open air sequence in Venus in which Dietrich gves up the boy is as powerfully moving as the outburst by the young soldier who refuses to shoot her at the end of Dishonored. As Sarris said over and over there is nothing trivial about the relationship between men and women. And the greatest art must pass hurdles of artifice and formal genius to express such profound things in meaningful ways. Jo’s movies are all grounded in imagination and “style”.

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Drucker
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Re: 109, 930-935 Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood

#233 Post by Drucker » Tue Aug 07, 2018 12:34 pm

The second half of this set is a far cry from the first. Having gone through everything, it feels as though the first half of this set really features films that are meant to really be Dietrich vehicles. In hindsight, they really come off, regardless of quality, as being ways to show how sexy and sensual Dietrich can be.

The second bunch of films are far more "traditional" stories as far as I'm concerned. Blonde Venus is remarkable. Marshall is GREAT as usual, the plot works well, we get a more standard Hollywood plot with some beautiful visuals and great suspense. There is redemption at the end. Dietrich for the first time in these films is put in a desperate situation. I liked this film a lot more upon this watch than I did the first time I watched it. I felt that everything really clicked and the film rises to the stakes it sets for itself.

With historical epoch Scarlett Empress I have to say I was a bit let down. I loved this film the first two times I watched it, but not so much this time. The best thing about these films is how empowered Dietrich is. The way she toys with emotions in Shanghai Express is delicious. But she spends half of this film cowering in fear, afraid of what she is allowed to do. The film is also just a bit slower than the rest, and the visual set-pieces don't match up for the lack of execution here. I'm sure there's a huge amount of camp value for those who love that stuff, but there's just a few things that are out of place. The heir to the throne isn't dumb enough. Dietrich's revenge isn't vicious enough. I do however like the queen, as well as Count Alexi, who really rises above the fray here to give us that ridiculous character we expect from these films.

Throwing every trick he's got in this picture, Devil Is A Woman is wonderful. So rich, so over the top. Close-ups of doom galore. The most pathetic man we've seen yet, and Dietrich at her most vicious. An absolutely sumptuous film that's a fitting end to the set.

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