Melbourne Cinematheque- The Power of Desire: The Decadent Visions of Josef von Sternberg (week III)

5 Jun

The Blue Angel (1930) was the film that introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world. It was also one of the last films silent star Emil Jannings completed. Filmed simultaneously in German and English- and being considered the first fully sound German film- the plot follows Professor Immanuel Rath (Jannings) who, after confiscating a photograph of a cabaret dancer from his students, goes to the bar later that evening to meet her. Upon catching sight of the notorious Lola (Dietrich) Rath’s life spirals out of control, forcing him to leave his teaching position and become a clown in the troupe. Rath is now nothing more than a man driven insane with humiliation, poverty and Lola’s infidelity.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who we all know and love from previous Cinematheque experiences (BRD Trilogy, anyone?), based his feature Lola (1981) on von Stenberg’s work. He didn’t remake it as such, rather he played homage to von Stenberg’s vision. Also, Antony Hegarty has a song entitled ‘Blue Angel’. I’m not sure if it is related but it is a good song, so you should all get on to that too.

The Last Command (1928) again features Emil Jannings, this time in a role that won him the first every Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He plays Sergius Alexander- a poverty-struck extra in Hollywood who is cast as a Russian general in a film about the fall of the Tsarist regime by director Leo Andreyev. Unknown to others, Alexander and Andreyev share a history causing Andreyev to humiliate him. Ten years previous Alexander had indeed been a Tsarist general who sent the revolutionist actor Andreyev to prison, who now commands the exiled man who relive the past he would rather forget.

To end the Josef von Sternberg retrospective is the short The Town (1943), a documentary on the effect war has had on life in Madison, Indiana.


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