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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HarryLong
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#76 Post by HarryLong » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:36 am

Napier wrote:The print did indeed look much better than the CC disc.
Goldang it. I was working & couldn't make a burn.

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Westwood
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#77 Post by Westwood » Sat Jan 09, 2010 9:12 am

Are you guys talking about TCM in America? TCM France had a Marlene Dietrich "Intégrale" cycle for the whole month of December 2009, I recorded all of these but haven't watched or compared them yet.
I was most happy with finally having The Montecarlo Story in widescreen.
I also have the Marlene Dietrich 18-disc "The Movie Collection" from the UK but again not compared anything. Are those prints any good?

Is that awful new Universal logo being placed before old movies a real indication of the "time" of the print?

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Westwood
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#78 Post by Westwood » Sat Jan 09, 2010 9:36 am

Can I ask you guys how you can compare quality of the image of movies when you have more than one copy? Surely quickly changing the discs in the player is not the best way to detect minor changes.
Do you take screen grabs with the computer? Even so, would that be print screen and paste? Is that how they do it at dvdbeaver?
I doubt my pc will play R1 dvds :(

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Peacock
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#79 Post by Peacock » Sat Jan 09, 2010 1:23 pm

Westwood - just download VLC - it's free and region free...
And some people Print Screen, some use free screen grab software and some of the producers, critics etc buy special software.

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George Kaplan
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Re:

#80 Post by George Kaplan » Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:30 pm

david hare wrote:Her entire contract with Atwill is the Sadist to the the Masochist. She humiliates him at every opportuinity, perferably always publicly. And she always has to come back, just as he always has to come back. They dont' exist without each other.

But this is just the surface of course. Among other things I often get the sensation she is efffectively "Directing" (that's to say, creating, forming and shaping) her own character in real time as the movie progresses. Certrainly I now view her as the co-auteur of this picture.
The question of authorship is at the heart of the film. And because the film is so artful in this respect it has come to be one of the more widely mis-read of films. I think, the most important thing to keep in mind is that, most everything we see of Concha, and, certainly all of her most devilish, bitchy, amoral, whatever-you-want-to-call-it behavior is recounted for us, and all importantly for Antonio ("you just wanted to keep me out of your preserves!"), by Don Pasqual. But Pasqualito is one of fiction's greatest unreliable narrators - in a pantheon that includes Emily Bronte's Nelly Dean, Ford Madox Ford's John Dowell and Nabokov's double-act of Humbert Humbert and Charles Shade. Not for nothing is John Dos Passos the screenwriter; no matter how much was actually "written" by Sternberg. And by Dietrich herself! I've often wondered if her claim of favoring DIAW because she is "most beautiful" in it, (Really Marlene?) isn't itself unreliable. Critics tend to de-value Dietrich's contribution to the collaboration (certainly she is the junior partner behind the camera), often revealing a sexist tendency (see David Thomson.) It would be consistent, however, with her lifelong carrying of the torch for Sternberg's artistry that she might seek to obscure whatever authoring is hers in the project.

Has anyone ever read anything substantive about the production of this film or the writing of this script? I've not and would love to. Sarris has described the film's art as "bone dry," which gets at the strange hallucinatory atmosphere of the film. The whole thing seems produced in a kind of vacuum. Look at the beautifully weird paucity of credits. As if Joe and Marlene got some friends to pitch in, uncredited, on some cockamamie dream project, after hours, while no one is looking particularly Lubitsch. All the other six films are shot by ASC cinematographers. Here Sternberg is credited as producer, director and cinematographer (with uncredited camera operator Lucien Ballard about to graduate.) The Furthman scripted films, not only bear his authorial stamp but, are placed within a long, highly-developed Hollywood career. Dos Passos? This one credit. No credited editor, art director, music composer, songwriters (others can hope for a restored AMBERSONS but I'II dream of the cut number "(If It Isn't Pain) Then It Isn't Love".) Then factor in the outrage of the Spanish government and the "destruction" of the film and negative (?) and it's one very bizarre, very unique, yet shrouded production history.

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david hare
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#81 Post by david hare » Sun Jan 10, 2010 9:42 pm

George I think you've quite thoroughly captured that "special" and "unreal" quality of Devil is a Woman.

I can only add, I think one aspect which it shares most markedly with Scarlet Empress is the exhaustive musical score. Sternberg took reams of material from Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky et al and reorchestrated and knitted it together himself for a tapestry-like, effetively through composed soundtrack which is near relentless throughout the picture. And he does the same thing with Devil, pulling together material from Falla, Albeniz and others - in the latter case the score is probably no longer in duration than the Empress score but it seems to be even more heightened in Devil, perhaps as a result of the extreme stylization of action, and the reduction of narrative down to the formal trick of having 90% of the film narrated in reflection. You notice of course, the entire 70 minute flashback is signalled with the single word "but..." with which Atwill follows his advisory dialogue to Romero in the cafe scene. The editing before and after this is remarkable, as though he's merging present and past within the same mise en scene, just as he does - for instance - in the astounding Wedding scene from Empress which begins with a long wide pan to the left, which is suddenly broken/interrupted to a cutaway of Lodge, and ends with a long wide pan in reverse reflection which again abruptly cuts to the Empress in an orgiastic presentiment of Dietrich's own final orgasmic shot. In between Sternbegr cuts the whole sequence toegether in such a way as to totally confound any spatial geographical connnection between the three principals - Dietrich, Lodge and the Empress. I think the same confounding of temporal reality and the plunge into reverie/poetry/whatever which come from Atwill can be seen to be cued by similar phrases or sudden breaks in an otherwise conventional shot in both pictures.

On screenplays, Furthman was surely his ideal scenarist, sharing as he did the Von's mordant sense of humor. His contribution to Blonde Venus is significant, not for grounding the film into some sort of faux "realism" but actually conspiring with Sternberg's own conceits to amplify the poetry and surrealism of the enterpirse. It possibly is the Von's funniest - even most enjoyable - film. But I now find, rather than dessication, a real comedy lurking in the shadows of Devil. It was a magnificent parting work for the two of them.

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Minkin
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#82 Post by Minkin » Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:43 pm


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Derek Estes
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#83 Post by Derek Estes » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:47 pm

I hope this is soon to be upgraded. Possibly when Criterion finally releases Shanghai Express and Dishonored. A complete set of the Von Sternberg/Dietrich films would be wonderful.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#84 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jul 19, 2011 4:58 pm

I'm not sure I understand exactly what's being said here, but it sounds like it may explain the poor PQ of the Criterion:

From an interview with Torsten Kaiser of TLEFilms:
Do you own the DVD of Scarlet Empress?

KB: I don't believe I have that one.

TK: If you know anyone who has a copy, just pop it in for a moment and watch the grain go by. You can shake hands with every single piece of grain in the picture. The specks of grain are that large. The problem was that they used the wrong stock. The image became extremely soft in the process, lost a lot of its resolution and density, and therefore lost significant gradation. The grayscale went to pieces, and there was very little registration and detail. Obviously, that makes it impossible for us to do anything more, even in the digital world.

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Roger Ryan
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#85 Post by Roger Ryan » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:16 pm

It sounds like Kaiser thinks Sternberg used the wrong film stock when shooting the picture and that there is no way to improve the image much even with digital tools (unless this film was later transferred poorly to safety stock and the original elements are long gone).

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tojoed
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#86 Post by tojoed » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:27 pm

There's not much wrong with the UK disc, so I'm assuming he's talking about the Criterion.

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swo17
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#87 Post by swo17 » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:42 pm

Do you own the DVD of Scarlet Empress?

KB: I don't believe I have that one.

TK: If you know anyone who has a copy, just pop it in for a moment and watch the grain go by. You can shake hands with every single piece of grain in the picture. The specks of grain are that large. The problem was that they used the wrong stock. The image became extremely soft in the process, lost a lot of its resolution and density, and therefore lost significant gradation. The grayscale went to pieces, and there was very little registration and detail. Obviously, that makes it impossible for us to do anything more, even in the digital world.
He's talking about what Universal did when they made a copy of the film after acquiring it from Paramount in the '50s.

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Roger Ryan
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#88 Post by Roger Ryan » Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:03 am

swo17 wrote:
Do you own the DVD of Scarlet Empress?

KB: I don't believe I have that one.

TK: If you know anyone who has a copy, just pop it in for a moment and watch the grain go by. You can shake hands with every single piece of grain in the picture. The specks of grain are that large. The problem was that they used the wrong stock. The image became extremely soft in the process, lost a lot of its resolution and density, and therefore lost significant gradation. The grayscale went to pieces, and there was very little registration and detail. Obviously, that makes it impossible for us to do anything more, even in the digital world.
He's talking about what Universal did when they made a copy of the film after acquiring it from Paramount in the '50s.
I was lazy and didn't read the quote in context. Kaiser establishes that there were a number of films Universal acquired from Paramount in the 50s that suffered from poor preservation - CHRISTMAS IN JULY being another title.

This really is a great interview and brings to light the numerous issues that can occur when films are being prepared for digital media release.

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hearthesilence
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#89 Post by hearthesilence » Wed Jul 20, 2011 3:01 pm

So basically, unless you have a pristine print pre-dating Universal's acquisition of those Paramount films in the '50s, this film (and many others like "Christmas in July") is going to look a lot grainier and yet a lot softer and less detailed than they should? That really, really sucks...

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Doctor Sunshine
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Re: 109 The Scarlet Empress

#90 Post by Doctor Sunshine » Wed Jul 20, 2011 3:30 pm

The quality would vary depending on the safety stocks they used for each film--some were done on fine grain, some coarse. Mayhaps we'd better reproduce the entire relevant section:
Blu-ray.com wrote:KB: Do these challenges come as a surprise?

TK: Hell yes. I definitely would say yes. Surprises are always in the cards. Preston Strurges' Christmas in July is coming out pretty soon on DVD, but the image is simply too poor for a Blu-ray release. The Christmas in July image is so particularly bad because of copying issues. Earlier, you were asking me about film elements and the condition that they're in. Well, Christmas in July really stands as one example of how photo-chemical processing can sometimes be a disaster for a film. In the '50s – 1953, I believe it was – Universal obtained a large portion of the Paramount catalog. But in adding it to their own catalog, Universal discovered that the shipped material was largely nitrate that's not only dangerous and very flammable. The decision was made to copy it right away to safety material. Now, the copying itself was not a problem, but the manner in which it was copied certainly was. Much of it had to be done then hastily, and on any stock that could be could found - often not on fine grain, but on coarse grain stock – and that created several huge problems. Do you own the DVD of Scarlett Empress?

KB: I don't believe I have that one.

TK: If you know anyone who has a copy, just pop it in for a moment and watch the grain go by. You can shake hands with every single piece of grain in the picture. The specks of grain are that large. The problem was that they used the wrong stock. The image became extremely soft in the process, lost a lot of its resolution and density, and therefore lost significant gradation. The grayscale went to pieces, and there was very little registration and detail. Obviously, that makes it impossible for us to do anything more, even in the digital world. It's the same thing with VHS. Some people didn't like the noise of VHS, so hardware manufacturers came up with the idea of pushing a button and "enhancing" the image. Really, it would simply wipe the living hell off of everybody who was on the picture, leaving all kinds of noise at the edges in the process. It was one of the worst things I've ever seen and, in some cases today, the industry sometimes commits the same mistakes that were made in the days of VHS.

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R0lf
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Re:

#91 Post by R0lf » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:16 am

Michael wrote:The plot itself appears kind of ridiculous - the ups and downs of a German cabaret singer/housewife who decides to prostitute to make the quick buck to support her husband and so forth. But you're not watching Venus for the story. You're watching it for Marlene and Sternberg's specacular, weird, gorgeous style.
I've been reading the comment over and over that the story for Blonde Venus is ridiculous.

I think the ridiculousness in this movie stems from it's total dedication to taking the role of a woman in society dead serious and following it through to it's realistic conclusion within the social model (the original comment uses the words "decides to prostitute" when prostitution is the only option for gainful employment a woman has at this time).

The ridiculousness stems from how absurd the woman's role in society is to begin with.

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david hare
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#92 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:25 am

That is absolutely true. Dietrich's scene of derelict desolation when she hands the kid over to Marhsall is two minutes of masterpiece that wipes out hours of other self signifying bloated pictures dedicated solely to pseudo "Social Consciousness."
And it's another testament to Sternberg's soul as one of the very greatest Auteurs of all time.

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knives
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#93 Post by knives » Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:25 pm

Agreed, from first watching to most recent the most appealing aspect is the naked humanity and truth that carries the piece. I've known people who have been in similar situations and as much as von Sternberg could be about artifice he was in this film at least giving a realist reflection of society, because what else is more absurd and Hollywood in this case?

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zedz
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#94 Post by zedz » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:30 pm

I'm another person who doesn't find the film 'ridiculous' at all. It's more of a conventional melodrama than the other Sternberg / Dietrich films, which played with various ideas of the exotic, but it's no more ludicrous than other melodramas of the time and, as David observes, the application of the Sternberg / Dietrich magic to that material transforms it into something extraordinary for any time. On the surface, these films appear to be all flamboyance and stylization, but at heart they're psychologically acute, and that tension applied to this subject matter is what makes Blonde Venus my favourite Sternberg.

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triodelover
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#95 Post by triodelover » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:50 pm

zedz wrote:...and that tension applied to this subject matter is what makes Blonde Venus my favourite Sternberg.
It's certainly my favorite Dietrich/JVS collaboration or my favorite sound JVS. You, David and Knives are all spot on in your comments and I've little to add. I'm probably in a minority here (IIRC), but I've always enjoyed Herbert Marshall a great deal, particularly in his pre-Code efforts. I would love a Blu of Blonde Venus. Hell, I'd settle for a Blu clip of the Hot Voodoo number all by itself.

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knives
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#96 Post by knives » Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:58 pm

There's an anti-Herbert Marshall sentiment out there? He's always at least been well cast into roles in my opinion. Hell just his work with Lubitsch deserves a little respect.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#97 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Jul 03, 2012 6:38 pm

I love Marshall, but if I'm remembering the film correctly his character was so unbearably dickish that the reconciliation at the end was the most painful part of a generally very painful movie. Which, again, furthers the atmosphere the film creates, in which even the world's most amazing and powerful woman can't win against the unified strength of the male owned world.

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david hare
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#98 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:11 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:I love Marshall, but if I'm remembering the film correctly his character was so unbearably dickish that the reconciliation at the end was the most painful part of a generally very painful movie. Which, again, furthers the atmosphere the film creates, in which even the world's most amazing and powerful woman can't win against the unified strength of the male owned world.
Humiliations are a recurring trope throughout Sternberg’s universe. Virtually every film has the spectacle of a central character hitting total rock bottom, and his gaze never wavers from that appalling spectacle (which is at the heart of ever understanding the human soul) to the next step which may be death or redemption. Marshall’s “failure” in BV is pride, the most human and universal of sins, and Dietrich’s ability to instantly cast off her recent past, her status as kept woman, her personality as an artist and her entire persona as Dietrich and stride past a humbled Marshall to tend to the boy whom Sternberg invests with a kind of preternatural understanding, is one of the most sublime moments in all of cinema.
Marshall could read the yellow pages and I would pay for a ticket.

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triodelover
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#99 Post by triodelover » Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:11 pm

david hare wrote:Marshall could read the yellow pages and I would pay for a ticket.
Yves Montand actually did that on Johnny Carson's show. The romantically affected members of the audience swooned. :)

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Michael
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Re: Blonde Venus (von Sternberg, 1932)

#100 Post by Michael » Fri Jul 06, 2012 1:28 pm

WOW. It's 5 years ago when I first saw Blonde Venus (thanks to david hare) and now people are debating my 5-year-old comment describing the film "kind of ridiculous". That was my initial impression of Blonde Venus. Since then I have seen the film a few more times and the very deceptive layers of the film revealed more and more. And I no longer think it's "kind of ridiculous" but I can see how people seeing the film cold could perceive that way.

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