The collaboration between filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich is one of the most enduring in all Hollywood cinema. Tasked by Paramount bosses to find ‘the next big thing’, director von Sternberg lighted upon German silent star Dietrich and brought her to Hollywood. Successfully transitioning from the silent to the sound era, together they crafted a series of remarkable features that expressed a previously hitherto unbridled ecstasy in the process of filmmaking itself. Marked by striking cinematography, beautiful design and elaborate camerawork these vibrantly sensuous films redefined cinema of the time, while Dietrich’s sexually ambiguous on-screen personas caused a sensation and turned her from actor to superstar and icon. Lavish, lascivious and wildly eccentric, the films Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s provide a unique testimony to Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The six films that von Sternberg made with Dietrich in Hollywood are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations, interviews, audio commentaries, rare films, outtakes and deleted audio, documentaries… and more! This stunning box set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.
The fourth dual-layer disc in Indicator’s box set Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount presents Blonde Venus in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Like the other titles in this set Indicator is making use of the same restoration Criterion used for their own release: a 4K one sourced from a 35mm nitrate print and encoded here at 1080p/24hz. The disc is also locked for region B so North American viewers will require Blu-ray players that can play back region B content.
The image for this one is still impressive. The shadows again look very striking, with clean tonal shifts in the gray scale and rich, deep blacks, aiding in this aspect. Whites are also bright without ever blooming. The image is rarely razor sharp, which has more to do with the original photography, but grain is rendered perfectly, coming off natural and crisp, never looking like noise.
Some damage remains along the lines of minor scratches and tram lines, but they rarely stick out and it’s one of the better-looking presentations in this respect. Everything together still looks gorgeous and this is just another gorgeous film-like presentation.
The lossless PCM 1.0 mono track doesn’t sound different from Criterion’s. It’s surprisingly sharp and even has some decent fidelity behind it. There is an audible hiss in the background (which is expected) but there are no severe instances of damage.
Indicator’s set continues packing on the supplementary material, with Blonde Venus starting things off with a brand new audio commentary Adrian Martin. Though he touches on the relationship between star and director and their career together as a whole, this is focused primarily on the film itself. He looks at the film from the angle of it being a “fallen woman” film, looking at how the character transforms and so on. He also looks at the film in the context of the time and even examines elements of the film that crossed over into real life, like Dietrich as a mother and then her character (also a mother) in the film. As usual Martin loads the track with plenty of material and keeps it going at a good rhythm and it’s yet another solid track to be found on this set.
Nicholas von Sternberg offers yet another introduction, this one running 6-minutes, and the director’s son talks about the aspects of the film he likes. This is followed by Dietrich, Queer Icon, featuring writer So Mayer explaining how Dietrich has become said “queer icon.” Though she opens by basically saying you either get it or don’t (not a promising start to a 25-minute feature), she does explain the various aspects of her and her persona that stand out, from wearing a tux and kissing a woman in Morocco to her parodying of masculine authority in The Scarlet Empress, and gives some wonderful context to all of it. It’s a rather thoughtful addition to the set.
The disc then closes with another image gallery, which you can navigate through using your remote. It’s made up of over 40 images, which includes production photos, clippings, lobby cards, and posters.
The one disappointing aspect to Criterion’s set was the lack of film-specific supplements, which indicator’s set is filling in nicely, with Martin’s track being another exemplary addition.
Again the presentation is the same as Criterion’s but Indicator packs on a few solid supplements that make it stand out.