No other filmmaker has suffered the indignity of being called an “incomplete filmmaker” as often as Erich von Stroheim (1885–1957). It is difficult to come to an accurate critical appraisal of Stroheim’s work based on the frustratingly partial, incomplete and forcibly abandoned nature of the works that make up his filmography— The Devil’s Pass Key, Queen Kelly, The Wedding March and the legendary, lost almost 8-hour cut of Greed—made at a time when the widespread appreciation of the art of cinema was not yet commonplace, much less the will to preservation. Most damagingly but brilliantly, Billy Wilder cast Stroheim as a thinly fictionalised embodiment of the Hollywood casualty in Sunset Blvd. Stroheim has been cast in the shadow of this spectre ever since. Yet Stroheim was also one of the most accomplished, inventive and modern of all European émigré directors, past or present. As the émigré son of working-class Austrian Jews (who nevertheless styled himself a high Count), Stroheim’s status as the pre-eminent Hollywood outsider imbues his work with a tragic inexorability and gentle romanticism, qualities heightened further by the knowledge that Stroheim worked as a total filmmaker: penning several of his most potent works (Blind Husbands, Foolish Wives) in addition to occupying a multitude of roles both behind and in front of the camera. This handpicked season of 35mm prints includes Stroheim’s most celebrated works of the late silent era (The Merry Widow, The Wedding March), the monumental Greed, the film that defined his career and reputation, and his moving performance in Jean Renoir’s profoundly humanist anti-war classic, La grande illusion.
Additional screenings in this three-part season take place on 30 March and 14 December.
7:00PM – LA GRANDE ILLUSION
Jean Renoir (1937) 114 mins G
Renoir’s most internationally celebrated film tells the tale of two French soldiers imprisoned in a German POW camp, and then in a fortress prison after they try to escape. Though banned in WWII Italy and Germany, this WWI-set film was heralded for its strikingly complex regard for the human condition, no matter the characters’ class, nationality or politics. Renoir’s lingering long shots, allowing subtle detail to seep through, remain hauntingly powerful today. Co-written by Charles Spaak, it stars Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim (in a touchingly stoic role as an aristocratic German officer) and Dita Parlo.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
9:05PM – FOOLISH WIVES
Erich von Stroheim (1922) 117 mins
Unclassified 15+ Unless accompanied by an adult
In this spectacularly indulgent film set in a large-scale studio recreation of Monte Carlo, Stroheim cast himself in a feature role as a sharp and unscrupulous aristocrat. A decadent escapade that vastly exceeded its budget, the final released version was the result of significant studio cuts, which saw over four hours of footage excised. Yet Stroheim’s vision was so grand and fantastical that it remains an irresistible masterpiece of seduction, extortion and murder. With Miss DuPont, Mae Busch and Maude George.
35mm print courtesy of The Library of Congress.
Foolish Wives by Luke Aspell.