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Josef von Sternberg: Eros and Abstraction

Sunday, February 8, 2009
2:00 p.m. The Salvation Hunters
Josef von Sternberg (U.S., 1925)

New Print
Judith Rosenberg on Piano
Illustrated Lecture by Janet Bergstrom


Janet Bergstrom is a professor in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA. Her illustrated lecture presents the story of Sternberg’s rocky beginnings as a director in Hollywood up through his first big success, Underworld. Her larger project, Sternberg Before Dietrich, included collaborating with the UCLA Film Archive to create a new 35mm print of The Salvation Hunters.

“Sternberg’s first film is his most badly appreciated—or simply unseen. Sternberg: ‘I had in mind a visual poem. Instead of flat lighting, shadows. In the place of pasty masks, faces in relief, plastic and deep-eyed. Instead of scenery which meant nothing, an emotionalized background that would transfer itself into my foreground. Instead of saccharine characters, sober figures moving in rhythm.’ Sometimes described as America’s first avant-garde feature film, The Salvation Hunters was produced on a shoestring by actor George K. Arthur, and shot mostly on location in San Pedro. Sternberg was the director, writer, art director, editor. Chaplin’s enthusiasm got the film distributed by United Artists and the critics’ attention. Sternberg was proclaimed a genius, in part because he dared to make a ‘film about thought,’ as the opening titles tell us.”—Janet Bergstrom, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2008

• Written by Sternberg. Photographed by Edward Gheller. With George K. Arthur, Georgia Hale, Bruce Guerin, Otto Matiesen. (79 mins followed by c. 40 min lecture, Silent, B&W, 35mm, From UCLA Film and Television Archive)

Preceded by short:
The Case of Lena Smith (fragment) (Josef von Sternberg, U.S., 1929). A rare fragment from a lost feature. (5 mins, Silent, B&W, 35mm, From Theatre Museum Waseda University)

• (Total program time: c. 125 mins)