Monday, May 30, 2005

Cinema of Josef von Sternberg

I've finished reading The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg by John Baxter. I liked it, and would like to read more about this fascinating director. It is one of the few books on this gifted and somewhat tragic figure. Sternberg is, of course, best known for his cinematic collaborations with Marlene Dietrich. Besides the Blue Angel, he also directed such noted films as Shanghai Express (with Dietrich and Anna May Wong), Morroco, Underworld (an early gangster film), and The Last Command.

While reading Baxter's book, I was struck by a passage which noted the similarities between the Blue Angel (1930) and the earlier Pabst production, Pandora's Box (1929). "Sternberg's concept for Lola was, as one might expect, an eclectic one, combining elements from other artists with aspects of his own life. Ignoring contemporary Germany, of which he knew little, he returned to the period of [Heinrich] Mann's book, the late Nineteenth century, and to another writer whose influence on German thought had been explosive, the playwright Frank Wedekind. To replace Mann's name for the heroine, Rosa Frohlich, Sternberg adapted 'Lola' from 'Lulu" of Wedekind's plays Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora's Box (1905), but he also borrowed so heavily from Wedekind that in many ways The Blue Angel is a fantasy on the playwright's themes. Lulu, like Lola, is a dancer exercising a cold fascination over an older man, who sacrifices his reputation for her. She is surrounded by her past and future lovers . . . ."

Wow! Such similarities have occurred to me in the past, but I have not really seen them spelled out so succintly. And so early on - Baxter's book was published in 1971. Has anyone else ever seen an articles or books linking the films?

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