December 14

FOOTAGE FETISHIST: ERICH VON STROHEIM, TOTAL FILM-MAKER – PART THREE

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 4 May.


7:00PM – THE WEDDING MARCH

Erich von Stroheim
 (1928) 113 mins
Unclassified 15+ Unless accompanied by an adult

Following the commercial success of The Merry Widow, Stroheim embarked on this epic production. Showing trademark perfectionism and disdain for budgets and deadlines, Stroheim created a film—a love triangle featuring a pauper prince (Stroheim), a beautiful innkeeper’s daughter (Fay Wray in one of her first lead roles) and a brutish butcher—that was forcibly split into two parts (Josef von Sternberg was assigned to re-edit the picture; the second part, The Honeymoon, is now considered lost). Compromised though it may be, the film’s greatness was eventually recognised by its inclusion in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. With Zasu Pitts.

Digital Restoration courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum.


9:05PM – THE MERRY WIDOW

Erich von Stroheim
 (1925) 137 mins
Unclassified 15+ Unless accompanied by an adult

This expressly baroque and bitingly satirical deconstruction of Franz Lehár’s operetta is one of the great American silent films. One can almost whiff the stench of decay that palls across the Hapsburg Empire in Stroheim’s characteristically cluttered, meticulously detailed and opulent opus. Fascinatingly weird and grotesque characters parade across the film’s visually brilliant tableaux while the romance between Prince Danilo (John Gilbert) and the “Merry Widow” (Mae Murray) unfolds. Shot by Oliver T. Marsh and designed by the great Cedric Gibbons. Joan Crawford and Clark Gable appear as ballroom dancing extras.

35mm print courtesy of The Library of Congress.

CTEQ Annotation:
Footage Fetishist: ‘The Merry Widow’ by Adrian Danks.

7 February
OPENING NIGHT 2024

7 February – 21 February
FROM THE BOULEVARDS OF PARIS TO THE DOCKS OF CHERBOURG: LANDMARKS OF THE FRENCH FILM MUSICAL

28 February – 13 March
"LIVING MAY BE TRAGIC, BUT LIFE ISN'T": THE FILMS OF THE TAVIANI BROTHERS

20 March – 3 April
IN THE AFTERGLOW: THE MERCURIAL STARDOM OF GLORIA GRAHAME

Wednesday 10 April
MAN OF THE CINEMA: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN FLAUS AT 90

17 April – 1 May
KEEP ROLLING: ANN HUI'S COUNTER-CINEMA

8 May – 22 May
"ALL ART IS ONE": THE VISIONARY CINEMA OF MICHAEL POWELL AND EMERIC PRESSBURGER

29 May – 12 June
WRITING WITH HER EYES: SUSO CECCHI D'AMICO, SCREENWRITER AS OBSERVER

19 June – 3 July
THE HOUSE THAT MOHSEN BUILT: THE FILMS OF SAMIRA MAKHMALBAF, MARZIEH MESHKINI AND MOHSEN MAKHMALBAF

10 July – 24 July
THE PAIN OF LIVING: JEAN EUSTACHE, BEING CINEMA

Wednesday 31 July
BETWEEN THE WAVE AND REVOLUTION: THE RETURN OF RIVETTE’S LEGENDARY L’AMOUR FOU

4–18 September
BLIND BEASTS, RED ANGELS AND HOODLUM SOLDIERS: THE IRRESISTIBLE CINEMA OF YASUZO MASUMURA

25 September – 9 October
JIŘÍ MENZEL: MAKING COMEDIES IS NO FUN

16–23 October
OF MEN AND MONSTERS: THE CINEMA OF NIKOS KOUNDOUROS

Wednesday 30 October
CONTESTED HISTORIES: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF JENI THORNLEY

6–20 November
THE FIRST AND LAST OF ENGLAND: THE QUEER LEGACIES OF DEREK JARMAN

Wednesday 27 November
PARADING THE PAST: RECENT ERNST LUBITSCH RESTORATIONS

4–11 December
THE SEEDS OF CHANGE: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF TOM ZUBRYCKI

Wednesday 18 December
CARLTON AND BEYOND: THE MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY FILM SOCIETY IN THE 1960s