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Josef von Sternberg: Eros and Abstraction

Sunday, February 1, 2009
2:00 p.m. The Blue Angel
Josef von Sternberg (Germany, 1930)

(Der blaue Engel). Sternberg was brought to Berlin to direct Emil Jannings in the actor’s first sound film. But the performer for whom The Blue Angel is best remembered is not Jannings but Marlene Dietrich. Shot simultaneously in German and English-language versions (we present the German), the film made Dietrich an international icon with the role of Lola Lola, a performer in a cabaret dripping with atmospheric Weimar sleaze. Lola’s coarse crooning and signature costume—white top hat, black stockings, and little else—make the customers drool over their liverwurst, and reduce Jannings’s prim professor to a groveling, crowing caricature of masochistic compulsion. Although the Dietrich on view here is looser and more casually funny (not to mention more solidly built) than the carefully sculpted creature of the later films, her aura of sexual confidence was established from the start, and The Blue Angel’s wallow in erotic obsession would, rightly or not, color critical views of the entire Sternberg-Dietrich collaboration. This print includes Dietrich’s screen test for The Blue Angel.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmöller, Robert Liebmann, based on the novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. Photographed by Günther Rittau, Hans Schneeberger. With Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Hans Albers, Kurt Gerron. (106 mins preceded by 4 min screen test, In German with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Kino International)

Preceded by short:
The World of Josef von Sternberg (Barrie Gavin, U.K., 1967). Sternberg demonstrates the lighting of a shot to a group of British assistants, including Kevin Brownlow. (30 mins, B&W, DVD)

• (Total running time: 140 mins)