Sunday, September 14, 2008
Look below at what I found on the TUBE. It's a "screen test" of Marlene Dietrich for "The Blue Angel", the film that made her an overnight international star. Von Sternberg--then working as a successful American silent film director at Paramount--was imported to Germany to direct his apparently modest, low-budget film for the impresario Erich Pommer. Little did he know his life was about to be transformed by his collision with the singer/cabaret chanteuse who Pommer foisted on him and who became his star, muse, lover and destroyer. "Miss Dietrich is I, I am Miss Dietrich" Von Sternberg famously told Peter Bogdanovich years later. Apparently Marlene didn't dispute this: she always believed that he was, in essence, her creator.
I love finding pieces of film like the below--old dailies, screen tests, even dopey bloopers. You get a glimpse at what was going on around the making of the picture--notice a few odd things here: they don't use a normal slate but rather a contraption that makes a noise in along with a light to provide sound sync. Also, is Marlene lip-syncing to "Your The Cream in My Coffee"? Note too that the film was photographed in both German and American versions simultaneously, a not unusual procedure in the early sound, pre-dubbing days. I like to think that this clip is keeping in the spirit of my "City Island" clips--a piece of the unfinished picture providing just a bit of the process. But would Von Sternberg have been willing to blog it? This is a question that will remain mercifully answered, thanks to history and a general lack of interest...
Next is Marlene singing "Falling In Love Again" from the finished film. I don't know about you but her manner, attitude and those garters still seem dangerously erotic to me. What the effect must have been at the time can only be assumed. By the way, Von Sternberg wrote a wonderfully acerbic book about his life in movies called "Fun In A Chinese Laundry"--he comes off as a man who loved nobody, was interested only the perfection of his art and was vaguely horrified at having found himself at the mercy of the film business, an artist without opportunity for most of the last half of his life. His interview with Peter Bogdanovich in "Who The Devil Made It" makes it clear that this cold, mono-syllabic and willfully, perversely unhelpful man didn't ultimately do much for himself with his personal style. Still it makes very funny reading. He's just so much what he is.
Von Sternberg also directed the famously aborted "I Claudius" in 1937 for Alexander Korda, the sad history of which is recounted in a wonderful BBC documentary fro the 60's called "The Epic That Never Was". Last below I've posted a nice bit
of the dailies of that film--Emlyn Williams entrance which is shot in a long shot and then tail-slated at the end by the "clapper boy" as the English then (and still?) call that camera assistant.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:43 AM