528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

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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Finch
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#76 Post by Finch » Fri Aug 13, 2010 11:46 am

My set arrived today and it looks beautiful. Between this and the Flynn/Raoul Walsh set, my weekend is going to be utter bliss.

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oldsheperd
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#77 Post by oldsheperd » Fri Aug 13, 2010 3:33 pm

Anyone hope they'll revisit Scarlet Empress? Are they still looking for better elements?

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What A Disgrace
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#78 Post by What A Disgrace » Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:38 pm

I'm pretty sure the "better elements" were used for the R2 release. I can only imagine Criterion are trying to find space in their schedule, and supplementary materials for a re-release (hopefully Blu) or Scarlet Empress. It might make a great double bill with their long-awaited Shanghai Express (and maybe a triple bill with Dishonored).

And I hope they do the same with the Sirks.

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Finch
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#79 Post by Finch » Sat Aug 14, 2010 10:36 am

Haven't seen Docks of New York yet but barring any late surprises, this has got to be the release of the year across DVD and Blu and across all companies. It's astounding how just how alive and brimming with intensity these films are (Sternberg's close-ups, especially of Emil Janning in Last Command, rival the best of Dreyer in their emotional impact) and how he communicates emotion and meanings in the most simple, direct and yet completely refined shots and sequences (one example of this would be that exquisite moment in Underworld when Feathers enters the Dreamland cafe at the top of the staircase and a thread from her coat floats through the air before it's picked up by Rolls Royce; he looks up and is instantly smitten with her). These films feel utterly fresh and modern, and though I have only seen Shanghai Express, Blue Angel and The Devil is a Woman previously, these quite magnificent silents feel very much of a piece with Sternberg's subsequent talkies. Gallagher's and Bergstrom's visual essays are expectedly most informative and heightened my appreciation of the films further, and the booklet has a very good piece on Underworld (as well as Hecht's original story) (Hecht, a man I usually have a great deal of respect for, lost some points with me after criticising Sternberg's changes but then happily accepting the Academy Award for original story all the same) and excerpts from Sternberg's autobiography. In other words, it's as good as anything commissioned by MoC.

If there's one aspect of the set I'm not sold on, it's the scores. On Underworld and Last Command, I sampled each score for 5-10 minutes, ended up muting the sound and was able to take in the films so much more. Honestly, if you want to get the undiluted impact of this sensual, exquisitely mounted and paced trio, you can't go wrong without the scores (not sure what it is but contemporary composers just don't seem to have the knack for scoring silents; the only scores I've liked to date were Brock's Faust, Davis for The General for the most part, and the score commissioned for Joan of Arc).

Others may get more out of the music but either way, this is a staggeringly beautiful set, both in content and presentation (Last Command exhibiting the most damage and contrast flickering). Make no mistake: this is easily among Criterion's finest hours and an unquestionable must buy. And if you are curious about silents, you could hardly ask for a better introduction.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#80 Post by swo17 » Sat Aug 14, 2010 10:55 am

Finch wrote:Haven't seen Docks of New York yet but barring any late surprises...
There is like a 20 minute passage where the guys at the dock just sit around belittling near everything about the actor Dennis Franz in scatological detail. Which is sort of tacky, but also kind of impressive for its time, considering he wasn't even born yet. Hopefully you can look past this in your year-end vote.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#81 Post by Werewolf by Night » Sat Aug 14, 2010 11:24 am

I've only watched Underworld so far, but I really enjoyed the Robert Israel score. Very thrilling, but the film has so much of its own rhythm that imagine watching it silent would be no less thrilling. After reading the notes from the composers in the book, I may try watching it again with the Alloy score, but I'm usually highly allergic to them.

I was taken by surprise by the pace of the film. Sternberg's Dietrich pictures usually have such a langorous pace. I'm really looking forward to devouring the rest of the set this weekend.


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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#83 Post by Werewolf by Night » Tue Aug 17, 2010 10:36 pm

The interview on disc 3 has lengthy clips from The Salvation Hunters and I, Claudius! And he demonstrates his technique for lighting Dietrich on two little Swedish girls.

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Finch
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#84 Post by Finch » Sat Aug 21, 2010 4:29 pm

Just finished watching Docks of New York, and I'm officially hooked on Sternberg. This set is definitely the release of the year in a very crowded field of utterly compelling and addictive releases and labours of love; this particular film, like Underworld before it, adds credence to the claim that silents are the purest form of cinema. I could get drunk on pictures like these two where everything comes together so beautifully: the pacing, the glorious compositions, the tracking shots, the performances and the sheer sensuality of it! I even enjoyed the score on this occasion, and I say this as someone who is usually not keen on Donald Sosin. Having seen the whole set though, I have to second davidhare's question why this wasn't a simultaneous Blu release. The damage, while readily apparent (especially in the final third of Docks), is comparatively much less than in The Only Son where the marks, scratches etc were so prevalent that I felt the BFI's high definition upgrade was a valiant attempt but in the end for naught. Whereas the Sternbergs looked, IMO, totally acceptable to warrant a Blu, and frankly, anything other than a rights issue seems like a flimsy excuse for this to not have been released in 1080p as well. I suspect that Criterion anticipated middling sales at best for this set (they never had that much attachment to silents anyway) but hopefully this will sell beyond their expectations, and at least convince them to put silents other than Chaplins on Blu.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#85 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Aug 21, 2010 4:41 pm

Werewolf by Night wrote:The interview on disc 3 has lengthy clips from The Salvation Hunters and I, Claudius! And he demonstrates his technique for lighting Dietrich on two little Swedish girls.
Seemed like the obligatory thing to do when getting Joe in front of a camera for interview with a crew nearby... "Hey von, you think maybe you could light one of these girls laying around here for us so we could uh see how you do it?" He did the same with Brownlow on the segment included for the Scarlet Empress disc.

Count me as another guy slavering for this release, even though I've had decent releases of all three for a time. I will say that the renewed look at Thunderbolt via the European telecast of the restored print really couldn't up its value in my mind-- some of the mise en scene is beautiful, and the use of early sound is intriguing (along with Mamoulian's APPLAUSE, West's ALIBI, Lang, etc). I'm wondering how you felt about it Dave-- did you get a copy of the broadcast via the usual backchannels?

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#86 Post by david hare » Sat Aug 21, 2010 6:19 pm

Nice to see you back bro!

Thunderbolt - my attitude to it is the same as yours - I just think it becomes terribly clumsy after the first twenty minutes. I suspect, because the von had to put up with the rigid camera booth and work around that he simply wasn't able to block and stage the scenes the way he ideally wanted. So the whole thing feels lacking in compositional glory, if ya know what I mean... Yet Morocco is perfect and fluid, and fabulous use of sound.... qui sais?

Not expressing well this morning - sore head and a Federal election that wont be resolved for days or weeks. Hung Parliament ( and not in a nice way) and neither party really deserved to win.... an absolute nadir in Oz Politics. Labor just as revolting as the Conservatives - there's really no difference between them any more.

Blechhhh!

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HerrSchreck
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#87 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Aug 21, 2010 7:12 pm

Thanx comrade.. I know I owe you a pm over yonder... upheavals on my end resolving, or at least a facsimile of resolving, tending towards a modicum of interior peace at last. Finally.

Anyhow, Thunderbolt: I wasn't sure how you felt after that broadcast. I recall the last time we were discussing our frustrations with the film... especially the material beyond the (legitimately intriguing) nightclub scene in the beginning... you had suggested that until a look at a decently clear print of the film (beyond the washed out .avi's we were relying on back then a couple years ago) surfaced--allowing us an experience of the impact of Joe's compositions and mise en scene-- an accurate assessment of the pic was not really possible, or at least fair. Which I couldn't really argue with, von being a director who crafts much of his narrative substance via the effect of carefully modulated atmosphere, and what he called "an illusion," the highly effective atmospheric worlds he manufactures on the visual plane that are ever impacting and seducing the viewer moment by moment as the narrative unfolds-- therefore with this atrophied by a bad copy, it would be a short-sell to judge the film.

I couldn't really argue with that, but in terms of story and narrative, the flat factual unfoldings onscreen, however drained of von's visual effect, seemed to posess problems difficult to overcome, even with the lushness of his chiaroscuro.

But hey. There's still some damned cool moments in the film.

How amazing would it have been to posess DOCKS in Blu!?? I wish CC could palm off the Blu rights to Kino or something-- their Blu's have been all-around top notch, from what I've been seeing & hearing... and I'm sure they'd leap at the chance to put these three titles, and at least DOCKS out, on Blu.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#88 Post by david hare » Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:56 pm

Maybe someone at Kino is listening? For a start they already have a relationship with Eastman House, since the AV Boxsets although Paramount is the fly in the ointment. How much do they want? Do they think they can get?

What you say about Von's compositions... Tag was talking to me about Ford's compositions and the way they live, and express meanings through composition (with geometric axes and cutting among other things - viz Pilgrimage) and got me thinking about Von's in a relative way, or opposing way really. If you look at his greatest pictures (most of them of course) he seems to build them up to a realm of Spectacles for core scenes. Most obviously the two musical numbers in Venus, but take the staggering Marriage scene in Scarlet Empress and the way he pulls everything together - that right to left track down the church which suddenly cuts away breaking the rhythm of the travelling to Lodge, and then settles on the ultra tight two shot then CUs of Jaffe and Dietrich. THen he spends what seems like a full minute in that shot of her and the candle, literally expressing her life through the way her breathing pushes and pulls at the candle light. Then a reverse track back from L to R and the Empress in high angle as the chorus wells up. Unlike Ford who through composes in every shot, and in the decoupage, Von seems to rely on accumulation of detail to enlarge the meaning and the impact. In Thunderbolt I dont ever get that sort of buildup, or growing intensity, or core spectacle. The real treat recently from the back passage was that new print of American Tragedy!

Schreck, the Kino Blus have been very fine and they have good people working there. I do think there's a problem with the white levels (too blown out) on Steamboat Bill Jnr, but maybe it's the print. and Ive got half a dozen of their Blus now, all wonderful.

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John Edmond
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#89 Post by John Edmond » Sat Aug 21, 2010 10:05 pm

Hey! You think a thread on Sternberg would provide a safe respite from thinking about how Labor committed electoral suicide through self-loathing induced political incompetence.

It's a pity that I don't see much chance of Paramount saying yes to Kino* Blu Sternberg - if they won't say yes to a brand who can maximise sales, why would they say yes to a brand whose business model goes for saturation. I look to Europe for hope (while nagging my library to grab this set).

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#90 Post by david hare » Sat Aug 21, 2010 11:04 pm

John, do you live in Sydney?

It was bad enough Rudd was the choice of the Labor machine, but at least the man had a few ideas. Of course he became Box Office poison the moment he suggested not supporting the deeply nasty pro-Israel lobby, suggested a tax on the fucking miners, and greatest error of all, divorced himself from the Faction Thugs who run the fucking Party. Did you read the little, buried story about Gillards "de Facto", his conflct of interest invovlement in the Property industry, his appointment to a Government sponsored contruction/building tendering entity, and his and Gillards smiling appearance at a "Friends of Zion" function in Melbourne just before she knifed Rudd. There's more filth here than you can shake a stick at.

You only have to look at Gillard's Lynchian, bizarre Oscar awards speech last night in which she THANKED Mark Arbib to simply reel at the sheer total moral bankruptcy. How could anyone vote for them any more. And I havent bothered to mention the toally evil demonziation of the "boat people". Maybe after March and their annihilation in NSW, the cancer that is Sussex St will go, and something will rise in its place. It will take a very long time, if ever.

Meantime we've got Greens and Indies. It's the best you've got.

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John Edmond
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#91 Post by John Edmond » Sun Aug 22, 2010 5:31 am

Spring Hill, Brisbane -- which meant I had just as good a view for watching Labor's annihilation as anywhere in Sydney. As far as I can tell the only difference between the contempt felt for respective state governments is that in NSW the government is looked upon in fascinated horror - in QLD the government is ignored, blanked....we will wait and then we will vote. How federal Labor could think reminding us of these governments was a good idea just boggles the mind.

The sad thing is that out there somewhere Arbib, Howe, et al are arguing that they were right, just not right enough - that Abbot's success proves Australia is a right-wing country, that Labor should have shifted further to the right to capture the centre, and of course, that Rudd should have been replaced earlier. This is of course ignoring the fact that Labor's vote collapsed every time they shifted away from left-wing policies. Sadly, they're probably being rewarded right now -- otherwise Gillard/Labor would have to admit that their unctuous glazed stupidity destroyed a potentially ten year government within a couple of months.

The best we can hope for Labor to be dragged into decency by the Greens and Andrew Wilkie as they try and form a government.

A vague, weak attempt to staying on topic: my previous comment's * was going to refer to an argument that the spectacular improvement of Kino's quality control produced in shifting to blu-ray warrants a re-branding or distinct label to avoid being tarnished by their back catalogue's lack of quality control.


Bulimba declared: LNP 78 ALP 7.
Last edited by John Edmond on Wed Apr 04, 2012 4:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Gregor Samsa
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#92 Post by Gregor Samsa » Sun Aug 22, 2010 5:34 am

david hare wrote:John, do you live in Sydney?

It was bad enough Rudd was the choice of the Labor machine, but at least the man had a few ideas. Of course he became Box Office poison the moment he suggested not supporting the deeply nasty pro-Israel lobby, suggested a tax on the fucking miners, and greatest error of all, divorced himself from the Faction Thugs who run the fucking Party. Did you read the little, buried story about Gillards "de Facto", his conflct of interest invovlement in the Property industry, his appointment to a Government sponsored contruction/building tendering entity, and his and Gillards smiling appearance at a "Friends of Zion" function in Melbourne just before she knifed Rudd. There's more filth here than you can shake a stick at.

You only have to look at Gillard's Lynchian, bizarre Oscar awards speech last night in which she THANKED Mark Arbib to simply reel at the sheer total moral bankruptcy. How could anyone vote for them any more. And I havent bothered to mention the toally evil demonziation of the "boat people". Maybe after March and their annihilation in NSW, the cancer that is Sussex St will go, and something will rise in its place. It will take a very long time, if ever.

Meantime we've got Greens and Indies. It's the best you've got.
On the upshot, the situation as is will wind up giving Greens and Indies more power. And maybe a minority government will be forced to have less crummy policies than a majority government would have.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#93 Post by david hare » Sun Aug 22, 2010 7:24 am

John, I agree about Kino rebranding. The quality is definitely there now, on top of the wonderful catalogue and they're well positioned because they can tap into the superb restorations around the world that are now feeding the Blu revolution (and whcih the Blu revolution needs to prosper.) They've also adopted Crit's price point. But that's the USA, compared to the UK where BFI and MoC for instance are equally primo quality Blu labels now, at half the price of Crit or Kino.

These Paramount Sternbergs are now a problem for Blu reissue. Crit had always intended to do blu as well as SD when Blu came on line but simply never rechecked its paperwork I guess, and Para was free to demand a ransom, or simply refused outright. The only other person as knocked over as me by the lack of Blu was Issa Clubb the disc producer. But what can you do. Paramount are total bastards. Maybe MoC can have shot at these - I wish them luck.

The only reason I mentioned Sydney was simply that you're living next door to the Labor Machine and the State governments it produces year after year with revovling hacks as premier which can only bear comparison with the original Rum Corps, or Mayor Daley's Chiacgo in 68, or perhaps Pol Pot's Cambodia. Everyone talks about the "brand" stinking in NSW, but the problem became apparent with the ascension of Rudd, who tried to break away from these fiends, and then the appalling Gillard, that the same machine runs the entire party. The ALP doesn't exist for me any longer. Speaking of Brisvegas, do you know Bruce Hodsdon?

I enjoyed watching the three indies earlier this evening - bumpkins all and smart as getout. And while Melbourne's already a Green Reps win, my electorate in Innner West Sydney, Grayndler had a 20% swing to Green (all Lab defectors) and he is polling second in two party preferred. The Lib is trailing about 8% behind the Green. So with Lib prefs we may have another Green Rep here by next week.

The pundits missed this one! We should go to the Italian system, post (very successful) Mussolini of total Parlaimentary anarchy. It probably works better. So did Mussolini.

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HerrSchreck
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#94 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Aug 22, 2010 1:58 pm

david hare wrote:The real treat recently from the back passage was that new print of American Tragedy!
Christ you just reminded me I am delinquent in tweezing this, and it is now sitting on DVD waiting to be spun.

The situation with the von Blu's is depressing for sure, inasmuch as the road to A Deal for distribution seems almost hopelessly muddled by the pre-existing situation with crit, and a bummed veteran package producer like Issa Clubb who's been on deck putting out some of the most venerable CC packages for well over a decade, who no-one is going to want to appear to be walking over.

Or maybe not. In this dog eat dog business, and with Paramount on the boards as ultimate rightsholder, anything's up for grabs... if only at a very high and annoying price point.

Who'da thunk? Of all the Blu's of known classics coming out, they'd hit a stumbling block of a chiseling rightsholder-- a major studio at that-- for a SILENT FILM???? How many copies does paramount think are going to be flying out the door here? Sure it's Joe, and sure these are masterworks, but how many copies beyond a few hundred harrdcore directors, teachers, libraries, and fans like us, do they think are going to be pouring out into UPS and toppling off of store shelves in the coming months? They should simply be pleased at the opportunity for a decent deal and distribution with one of the two or three R1/USA labels that present an opportunity for real money, remove the packaging and production overhead from Paramount, and avoid the PD mire of labels like Grapevine or Vintage Film Buff.

Sheesh!

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John Edmond
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#95 Post by John Edmond » Sun Aug 22, 2010 8:34 pm

It's been an amazing turn around for Kino. I remember when somebody linked to this promising discussion of a re-release of Tarkovsky's Sacrifice http://bretwood.blogspot.com/2009/01/wo ... ifice.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; , and I just thought it sounds nice, but they'll probably blow it - now I'd pre-order their next release.

I can't tell if Paramount are being petty, greedy, or stupid when it comes to licensing back catalogue - probably all three. That's partly why I think an overseas release of these films/telecines is now more likely: stubborn self-obsessed companies are more flexible about overseas matters - look at BBC licensing arrangements for one.

I know of Hodsdon, it would be an impressive feat to care about films in Brisbane and not know his work - but the closest I've coming to meeting him is nodding or saying hello, and then scratching my head in the background while people I know chat to him.

When it comes to Sussex St contempt I'll have to acquiese to you. I'm curious what happens in NSW if the opposition demonstrates that it is unworthy of government again - I imagine some Sydney wide brain snap.

Just caught footage of Alexander Downer crowing about this election - now I have to go cleanse myself.

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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#96 Post by Tribe » Mon Aug 23, 2010 8:04 am

Dave Kehr's take on the box set from the NY Times.

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liam fennell
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#97 Post by liam fennell » Mon Aug 23, 2010 8:59 am

You guys are making me incedibly jealous with all this 'Thunderbolt' and 'American Tragedy' talk! This is fun stuff to read anyway...

Do you guys know if the sound in 'Thunderbolt' was planned from the start of production?

Jo cares about his sound design so very much in the later films that it's hard for me to imagine Jo's first sound experiments being anything less than fully realized and fascinating - your various cool and puzzled reactions to the film make me very interested indeed. Certainly the sound design in Blue Angel is wonderful, and that was made in conditions that must have been just as primitive, being Germany's first sound picture and all.

Maybe Jo needed a 'Thunderbolt' where he could experiment and find out what works or what doesn't? In fact, I think he himself says something along those lines in 'Chinese Laundry'.

Anyway, I've never seen any of his silents yet and I can't wait for tomorrow!

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Tommaso
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#98 Post by Tommaso » Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:26 pm

liam fennell wrote:Jo cares about his sound design so very much in the later films that it's hard for me to imagine Jo's first sound experiments being anything less than fully realized and fascinating - your various cool and puzzled reactions to the film make me very interested indeed. Certainly the sound design in Blue Angel is wonderful, and that was made in conditions that must have been just as primitive, being Germany's first sound picture and all.
While the conditions were certainly primitive, in 1930 Germany could look back on quite a few years of experimenting with sound film, even though UFA was slow to adopt it. In any case, "Der blaue Engel" certainly wasn't Germany's first sound picture, not even UFA's (that honour probably goes to Hanns Schwarz' "Melodie des Herzens" from 1929, a masterpiece which sadly today is practically unknown). An interesting article on the development of the German sound film is at filmportal.de (in German only, though).

So I guess Sternberg could look back on his own experiences with "Thunderbolt" and the expertise of the UFA staff when creating the indeed wonderful audio world of "Der blaue Engel".

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liam fennell
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#99 Post by liam fennell » Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:25 pm

thanks, didn't know that. I was just going by what Jo said in his autobio.

Makes sense though, 1930 is kind of late, now that I think of it.

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david hare
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Re: 528-531 Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

#100 Post by david hare » Mon Aug 23, 2010 7:21 pm

The soundtrack for Angel is de rigeur for Tobis soundtracks, and indeed may have set the template for later early German Talkies. Although I frankly think Lang's use of sound in Testament of Dr Mabuse even more striking.

But Von's sound in Angel is almost banal-ly literal compared to Morocco. This is a film I far prefer to Angel anyway, but the soundtrack is a miracle of heightened sensibility - it's as abstract and poetic as something like Grem's Petite Lise, down the whistling of the sand over the final scene which slowly crescendos as the women disappear over the last dune and the Paramount mountain comes up. It always makes my hair stand on end.

Thunderbolt's track is relatively conventional, with the additional burden of level bumps and cuts when the mikes are switched off and on, as you get with so many pre-1930s soundbooth talkies.

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