Josef von Sternberg

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Scharphedin2
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Josef von Sternberg

#1 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Apr 12, 2007 4:17 pm

Josef von Sternberg (1894-1969)

Image

From the Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Clyde Fillmore: "What is your first name, Miss Smith?"
Gene Tierney: "My first name is.. how do you like 'Poppy'?"
CF: "Poppy! THat's a name that has caused my family a lot of trouble."
GT: "And you..are you an Egyptian, Comprador?"
Victor Mature: "No. I'm a Doctor - Doctor Omar.. of Shanghai, and Gomorrah.."
GT: "Where were you you born?"
VM: "My birth took place under a full moon in the sands of Damascus... in short I'm a thoroughbred Mongrel. I'm related to all the Earth.
And nothing that's human is foreign to me."


FILMOGRAPHY

The Salvation Hunters (1925)

A Woman of the Sea (1926) no extant print

Exquisite Sinner (replaced by Phil Rosen, 1926) no extant print

Underworld (1927)

The Last Command (1928)

The Dragnet (1928) no extant print

The Docks of New York (1928)

The Case of Lena Smith (1929) no extant print

Thunderbolt (1929)

The Blue angel/Der Blaue Engel (1930) Kino (R1) / Eureka (R2 UK) / mk2 (R2 FR) / UFA (R2 DE) / Divisa (R2 ES)

Morocco (1930) Universal (R1) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection / Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection / Universal (R2 FR) / Universal (R2 DE)

Dishonored (1931) Universal (R2 FR) / Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection

An American Tragedy (1931)

Shanghai Express (1932) Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection and The Screen Goddess Collection / IVC (R2 JP) / Universal (R2 FR) / Film Prestige (R2 RU)

Blonde Venus (1932) Universal (R1) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection / Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection and The Screen Goddess Collection / Universal (R2 FR)

The Scarlet Empress (1934) Criterion (R1) / Universal (R2 FR) / Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection

The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935)

The Devil Is a Woman (1935) Universal (R1) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection / Universal (R2 UK) -- included in Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection and The Screen Goddess Collection / Universal (R2 FR)

Crime and Punishment (1935)

The King Steps Out (1936)

I, Claudius (unfinished, 1937)

Sergeant Madden (1939)

The Shanghai Gesture (1941) Image Entertainment (R1); Films sans Frontieres R2

The Town (short, 1944) FocusFilm Entertainment (R1) -- included as extra on Our Town

Macao (finished by Nicholas Ray, 1952) Warner Brothers (R1) -- also included in Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection / Editions Montparnasse (R2 FR) / Manga (R2 ES)

Anatahan (1953)

Jet Pilot (1957) Universal (R2 UK) / Universal (R1) -- part of John Wayne: An American Icon Collection


GENERAL DISCUSSION

Sternberg Dietrich in various regions

Subjective and tour de force camera movements -- an excellent thread with some obvious references to von Sternberg


RECOMMENDED WEB RESOURCES

The Boston Phoenix -- article by Chris Fujiwara

Cinematheque Ontario -- Programme notes for a retrospective series of screenings of Sternberg's films in the Spring of 2008.

Classic Film and Television

Filmportal.de

Senses of Cinema

Silent Era -- filmography of von Sternberg's silent films

Strictly Film School -- short piece on Der Blaue Engel


FILMS

Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)


DVD

The Scarlet Empress (Criterion)

Screen Goddess Collection: Marlene Dietrich

Sternberg Dietrich in various regions

Sternberg/Dietrich R2


BOOKS/ARTICLES

Fun in a Chinese Laundry by Josef von Sternberg, 1966 (Mercury House, reissue ed., 1988)
Last edited by Scharphedin2 on Sat Aug 09, 2008 9:32 am, edited 3 times in total.

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HerrSchreck
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#2 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun May 04, 2008 11:15 pm

LITERARY VON STERNBERG

An American Tragedy (1931) / Crime and Punishment (1935)

Via the good graces of our covert nordic dispenser of rarities I've been able to watch these two films back to back today and was thoroughly impressed by the both of them. It seems quite simply that von Sternberg wasn't capable of making a bad film.. even those which he poo-pooed later on in his career.

While "Tragedy" was the far less stylish of the two, it clearly stomps A PLace In The Sun into the ground as a treatment of Dreisers source material. And it also shows von Sternberg quite capable of constructing a (relatively, for him) straightforward, performance based, piece of very engaging melodrama which soaks you in and which you soak in completely (despite a somewhat weak performance by Phillips Holmes in the lead).. ending with a courtroom showdown to blast all others to high hell. That acting & screenwriting potboiler setpiece had a moment I'd never seen before-- the opposing counsels (bitter political enemies) getting so rabidly worked up viz one another via their ongoing opposition that jackets are whipped off mid-sentence to make ready for a throwdown right in fronta the judge. Although the trademark sternbergian cinematographic style is not in evidence throughout the bulk of the film, there are giveaway high points.. the sad shadowy melancholy of Sylvia Sydney's bedroom, the black wasteland of the cell at the end, classically josefian psychological closeups and roaming camera. Sydney's almost embarassing sincerity is wonderfully in evidence here (yet to see a bad performance by her.. okay well maybe 1977's tv movie Snowbeast as Carrie Rill, cigaret blasted old hag-- but her eyes were still gorgeous as ever god dammit.. dont talk bad about my Sylvia I wont Have It!!), and completely elevates (rather than make worse by contrast) whatever peformance she interacts with.. like Holmes.

Of course the more stylish of the two hidden gems is Crime & Punishment, and I am astounded that this has not turned up on dvd. Bearing every bit the mark of Sternberg, as anything he made with Dietrich, (in fact made just at the close of the Dietrich cycle after completing The Devil Is A Woman), there's absolutely no doubt that this film was photographed by vS., as well as set-decorated & lit with wonderful shadowplay/patterns to cover up the empty walls of the low budget sets. He in fact photographs Marian Marsh with the same filters and forehead shadows and light-sculptures that are patently Dietrich-like, particularly in Empress & Devil. Owing to the time and budget constraints, I almost find this film more impressive than the Paramount titles, owing to the lack of the endless resources the studios threw into those preceding classics. Here vS relies not on the phantasmagoria of vaulting, huge & ornate studio sets, dipping rolling cranes, endless crowds of extras, and endless opportunities for camera coverage and retakes-- but sheer filmmaking brilliance, and the utter originality of his filmmaking style which hardly suffers one bit from the lack of all that studio treasure. And Lorre in the lead-- as has been noted again and again-- seems born to play Raskolnikow, utterly embodies the contradictory impulses of genuine brilliance and haughty naivete, self-destruction and goodness, and clear thinking and utter confusion.

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#3 Post by david hare » Mon May 05, 2008 11:32 pm

Agreed Lorre is superb in Crime. It is frankly unbelievable to me that even as sympathetic a critic as Sarris found Lorre "inappropriate" for the role, although his whole chapter on the movie in the Stenberg monograph of 66 has an air of pained disdain for our poor von, being "reduced" to mere literary adaptations. As you point out he wasn't given anything like the production values and budget he had at Paramount but look what he made out of it (and remember he made his first movie in 1925 for something like six thousand dollars.)

Marian Marsh may be the weakest of the performers here, but only in relative terms, and his treatment of her is very stylized and moving, and I think more than compensatory. And Joe taps a sinister streak in Edward Arnold that you don't see in any other movie.

I love Lorre's effective portfolio of the four early English language pictures - the two Hithcocks, Mad Love and this. His range could not be more fully on display. (He delivers the great atheist speeches in Crime like throways to all the more powerful effect - it's a fantastic reading of the character, maybe my favorite cinematic reading of a Dostoyevskian role.

I also like American Tragedy very much. At the level of performance Philip Holmes is hardly in the class of other Sternberg male leads, but his value in the Dreiser, at least as Sternberg sees him (and I totally go with this vision) is a spineless, egocentric male beauty - Sternberg's eye for this flawlessly demonstrated in the opening bellboy scene where the women gloat over Holmes ass. I suspect even Uncle Eisie may not have made quite as much of this aspect as the Von has. The denouement and his character'sd downfall is all the more poignant for the sheer ordinariness of a character who had - basically - no character. Christ, wouldnt you fucking kill to see this in the Eastman House 35mm print! (And in 1.19 of course.)

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#4 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:54 pm

Anyone around here seen-- and able to discuss-- Thunderbolt? I'm going thru this film at present and am curious what those who've managed to see it, think about it..

EDIT: Those in the DC Area have a chance to see some rare Sternberg at the National Gallery of Art.

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#5 Post by whaleallright » Sun Oct 19, 2008 4:13 pm

For what it's worth, A Woman of the Sea (the lost Sternberg supposedly suppressed by Chaplin) is better known as The Sea Gull.

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#6 Post by Saturnome » Sun Oct 19, 2008 4:44 pm

I'd like to ask, what was Sternberg involvement with It ?

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#7 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Oct 19, 2008 5:26 pm

Supposedly Badger was taken sick, and Sternberg took over during the period of his absence. What scenes he did, I'm not sure.. not sure we'll ever definitively know.

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#8 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Wed Oct 22, 2008 5:49 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:Anyone around here seen-- and able to discuss-- Thunderbolt? I'm going thru this film at present and am curious what those who've managed to see it, think about it.
Well I just watched it last night, and I thought it was quite ambitious for a 1929 talkie. It wasn't as good as Applause or Hallelujah, but von Sternberg adapted to the technology as well as Mamoulian and Vidor. The use of music, overlapping dialogue, and having sound and dialogue come from off-screen, as well as a few instances of a moving camera all showed a comfort with the new medium, that for 1929 is pretty remarkable.

The film has its limitations, namely Fay Wray's awkward line readings, the weak plot, and some of the skittishly bizarre characters in the prison. I got the impression that the awkward sequences at the prison, were the result of no one really knowing how people should talk in the movies. So there is just so strange lines that get spoken. There were some positives with the acting though, I enjoyed the whole sequence at the black nightclub, where most of the actor's were black, and aside from the stuttering waiter, they weren't playing for cheap laughs. There was also a great scene where Richard Arlen as Bob Moran and his mother (Eugenie Besserer) are kind of play wrestling while she cleans a cut on his hand. The rapport between the two was very natural, and the two talk and laugh together at the same time, which seemed to be an instance of von Sternberg testing out how such a sequence would sound.

I got the impression that many of the sequences in the film were the result of von Sternberg's desire to experiment, namely the prison sequences where prisoners off screen alternately heckle and serenade those on-screen. Compared with a lot of early talkies where every bit of dialog is clumsily spoken only by those on-screen, Thunderbolt seems a revelation.

It was also interesting to see how von Sternberg incorporated his usual dense mise-en-scene in the film. The sequence at the night club early in the film establishes this, as Thunderbolt (George Bancroft) and Ritzy (Fay Wray) enter the club, and their bodies are obscured by both the staircase banister in the background, and what looks like some sort of wooden-grid in the foreground(I'm not sure what to call it). There's another shot where some tough guy makes a wise remark about Thunderbolt, but his face and most of his body are blocked by vertical supporting beam, and in fact you never see the guy's face at all.

Then of course the majority of the film takes place with Thunderbolt in prison, where prison bars obscure him, and almost every other character who gets shown. Often times characters talk, but the prison bars block their mouths, so you can't see them moving. It's a bold move by von Sternberg, and shows an implicit trust in his audience. He knows that the audience will get it.

Thunderbolt provides the missing link between his silents and what he would do in 1930 with The Blue Angel, and Morocco. Both of those films get the bulk of the credit for being innovative, but I think his work on Thunderbolt was equally so, even if it's not entirely successful.

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#9 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Oct 22, 2008 6:05 pm

I found the work to be moderately interesting in terms of his use of sound, but nowhere near the audacity of Mamouian, Roland West (Alibi) or Lang in M. Visually I enjoyed the pictorial Sternbergian hallmarks (including the latticework you mentioned-- dangling all manner of tinsel, palm leaves, party streamers, branches, etc into the frame to create spacial dynamism between the camera, and the darkness it usually shoots out of, and it's primary human subject, is classic JvS), as well as moments of wry humor and decadent atmosphere... a hi-art perfectionist with low-society loyalties.

But the film was extremely klunky as a story, and I couldn't even watch it straight thru in one sitting. I found Wray's line readings well nigh shakesperian versus the agony of Bancrofts delivery, which felt like a taped audition where they "just read thru the lines first without acting just to get the feel for it". None of the narrative sophistication and nuance from his preceding silents (and I've seen them all inlcuding the Salvation Hunters), or subsequent talkies, is in evidence. It's like he couldn't deliver compelling melodrama and adapt to a new technological medium in one project. Even early talkie titles he dismissed like Crime & Punishment & An American Tragedy are infinitely more successful than Thunderbolt.

Though I'm sure I'd appreciate it more when a better copy is in hand vs the usual smut floating around back channels for years.

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#10 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Wed Oct 22, 2008 6:42 pm

I still haven't checked out Alibi, though I've been meaning to.

For his silents I've only seen The Docks of New York, though I have copies of The Salvation Hunters, Underworld, and The Last Command. Does he have any other existing silents? I've heard rumors that The Exquisite Sinner exists, but don't know of anything else out there.

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#11 Post by Rufus T. Firefly » Wed Oct 22, 2008 11:04 pm

Silent Era says MGM have a print of The Exquisite Sinner but that appears to be incorrect unless it's turned up in the past five years. I think we would have heard about it if it had. The Sea Gull/A Woman of the Sea was destroyed by Chaplin for tax reasons some time after 1933 (or 1939), The Drag Net and The Case of Lena Smith are lost as noted above, though a short fragment of the latter exists.

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#12 Post by Saturnome » Thu Oct 23, 2008 1:04 am

There's some reports I haven't much verified that, in fact, Oona Chaplin destroyed the last copy of A Woman of the sea in the 90s, I'm speachless about the possible truth of it.

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#13 Post by Felix » Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:05 pm

wrt Thunderbolt I am waiting for one of my e-tailers to upgrade his copy and send it on so I have yet to see it.

John Baxter in his Films of JvS (1971 so more information may have come to light since then) reports that it was originally shot as a silent and claims it was released as such in some places, with the studio imposing the sound requirement on Joe later, which would explain any failings in this respect.

He suggests that it declines after the first half "as Paramount injects a lavish measure of music and comedy to gurantee commercial success" and says that Joe admitted that some elements were introduced against his will. Mind you he also says that the scene with Bancroft stopping to play with a dog has the "contrived quality" of the kitten in the shoot out in Underworld, whereas, being a sucker for cats, I loved that scene, though I was very concerned when he did not show the kitten escaping...

"Arlen's eleventh hour marriage to Wray in the death cell is the final straw." Null points then as we say over here.

I'd be interested to know if this fits with your viewings.

On the subject of his uncertain contributions to films, what about Lust In The Dust? I loved watching Macao just to see which bits he did do; I thought some of them came over very loud and clear.

And if anyone could point me in the direction of a copy of An American Tragedy I would be ever so grateful...

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#14 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Thu Oct 23, 2008 2:26 pm

The tone of the film is pretty inconsistent, it starts out playing it straight, but then the bit with the introduces some odd comedy, what should be a tense and menacing scene as Bancroft slowly stalks his way up to Arlen's apartment is instead played for comedy. Then the prison sequences are played more for comedy, with zany prisoners, and a bumbling warden. It's pretty much the happiest death row I've ever seen.

As for the wedding sequence, well I thought it was pretty effective, as the whole purpose is to shame Thunderbolt into a confession by forcing him to watch his girl marry Arlen. That was actually one of the better scenes in the film, but I suppose it's open to interpretation.

As for a silent version it wouldn't surprise if one was made, as that was pretty common even into the 1930's, as many small-town theatres didn't upgrade for quite some time. The film might work better as a silent if only because you wouldn't have to hear Fay Wray's awful line readings, but even then it's still a weak plot.

I have a copy of An American Tragedy if you want to trade or something. PM me.

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#15 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Oct 23, 2008 4:11 pm

Felix wrote:wrt Thunderbolt I am waiting for one of my e-tailers to upgrade his copy and send it on so I have yet to see it.

John Baxter in his Films of JvS (1971 so more information may have come to light since then) reports that it was originally shot as a silent and claims it was released as such in some places, with the studio imposing the sound requirement on Joe later, which would explain any failings in this respect.

He suggests that it declines after the first half "as Paramount injects a lavish measure of music and comedy to gurantee commercial success" and says that Joe admitted that some elements were introduced against his will. Mind you he also says that the scene with Bancroft stopping to play with a dog has the "contrived quality" of the kitten in the shoot out in Underworld, whereas, being a sucker for cats, I loved that scene, though I was very concerned when he did not show the kitten escaping...

"Arlen's eleventh hour marriage to Wray in the death cell is the final straw." Null points then as we say over here.

I'd be interested to know if this fits with your viewings.

On the subject of his uncertain contributions to films, what about Lust In The Dust? I loved watching Macao just to see which bits he did do; I thought some of them came over very loud and clear.

And if anyone could point me in the direction of a copy of An American Tragedy I would be ever so grateful...
Well in terms of what I saw I don't see evidence of a film clearly orignally shot silent then dubbed into sound.. like The Canary Murder Case, or Prix de Beaute'... or the way Four Devils was supposed to have unfolded.

All of the scenes were clearly recorded on set... in other words all of the scenes were shot with a mic picking up the actors performances. So although I don't doubt (as was commonly done at this time) silent versions were construed from the same elements that went into the construction of the sound version, I saw no long strecthes of silence (as in, say ALIBI) indicating a composite of both silent and sound footage. It seemed to be planned as a sound film from the start.

As to the narrative critique from your source, it's pretty much in agreement with what I saw. The ass wiggling of Bancroft with the dog was completely out of character for Thunderbolt, and even as comedy it didn't read as amusing. The whole second half of the film just plods, with straight-on frontal shots of guys laying around their cells and a slow grinding progression towards the resolution of the disposition of the Moran character. But it's not compelling "jailhouse drama" by any means. I mean Up The River (an early sound effort by John Ford considered a lesser film in his canon) reads as a masterpiece besides the plodding narrative of the 2nd half of Thunderbolt.

As to the silent titles I have, I have the Salvation Hunters, Underworld, Docks of NY, The Last Command.. when I said I have them all I meant in terms of what was available or floating around.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#16 Post by Donald Trampoline » Fri Mar 13, 2009 5:11 pm

The Salvation Hunters is screening at UCLA Billy Wilder Theater this Saturday March 14th at 7:30 p.m.!

It's part of the 14th Festival of Preservation.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#17 Post by Antoine Doinel » Wed Apr 22, 2009 12:43 pm

The Last Command is screening with a live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra at this year's Ebertfest.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg - Saga of Anatahan on DVD

#19 Post by foggy eyes » Fri Aug 07, 2009 9:51 am

matthew120 wrote:From Films Sans Frontiers THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN is on DVD in Region 2 PAL. Available from Amazon.fr and Fnac.com
Blimey. Have you seen it? Caps?

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Re: Josef von Sternberg - Saga of Anatahan on DVD

#20 Post by Zazou dans le Metro » Fri Aug 07, 2009 11:51 am

foggy eyes wrote:
matthew120 wrote:From Films Sans Frontiers THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN is on DVD in Region 2 PAL. Available from Amazon.fr and Fnac.com
Blimey. Have you seen it? Caps?
Some viewer reports in France say it's a passable transfer if a little contrasty but there are burned in french subs.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg - Saga of Anatahan on DVD

#21 Post by foggy eyes » Fri Aug 07, 2009 4:40 pm

Zazou dans le Metro wrote:there are burned in french subs.
Bugger.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#22 Post by david hare » Fri Aug 07, 2009 5:50 pm

I'm almost certain this is the Cinematheque francaise print which DOES have burnt in French subs. Would be interesting to see a review for PQ.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#23 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Aug 07, 2009 6:07 pm

When they say French subs is this of Joe's narration of the English version, or is it of the Japanese spoken by the actors on the set? (does the Japanese cut exist for this? forgive my ignorance, I'm sure i once knew, but--)

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#24 Post by david hare » Fri Aug 07, 2009 8:04 pm

Schreck the French subs will simply be of Joe's narration.

THe very brief bits of dialogue from the actors were never subbed, and in fact Joe slightly re-edited Anatahan after the very first screenings to include the two or three nude shots of Keiko, and one of the long shots of the ocean with the sound of waves. His own narration was always the principal soundtrack element, with the music. I first saw this in 1967 in a 35mm print he "borrowed" (without telling) his friend in Los Angeles for screening at the SFF and which he introduced personally in a windswept fleapit in Sydney that year to an audience of approx 12 people (but a VERY attentive one!) This was the original screening version which didn't have the nude shots, was about a minute shorter and had Japanese subtitles vertically on the Right side of the image for the narration. The later verion is his final one.

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Re: Josef von Sternberg

#25 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Aug 08, 2009 11:21 am

Only Joe could do that-- think to do that.

Good old, sad old, triumphant old Joe.

Where's that damned Eclipse box awreddy?

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