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.

February 5
OPENING NIGHT

February 12 – February 26
VITTORIO DE SICA: CINEMA, ITALIAN STYLE

March 4 – March 18
LIGHT AND SHADOW: THE MERCURIAL STARDOM OF MARLENE DIETRICH

March 23 – April 6
CAST A DARK SHADOW: THE BEAUTIFUL SADNESS OF DIRK BOGARDE

April 13 – April 29
THE BIG CARNIVAL: THE FILMS OF BILLY WILDER

May 6 – May 20
“LIFE’S PARADE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS”: DOUGLAS SIRK

May 27 – June 10
WILDFLOWERS: DANCING, DESIRE AND FREEDOM IN THE FILMS OF GILLIAN ARMSTRONG

June 17 – July 1
DRIFTING STATES: THE FILMS OF APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL

July 8
AT HOME IN THE WORLD: CECIL HOLMES, ACTIVIST FILMMAKER

July 15 – July 29
HIROSHI SHIMIZU: FORGOTTEN MASTER

September 2 – September 16
JEAN COCTEAU: THE POETRY OF DREAMS

September 23 – September 30
QUEERING THE ARCHIVE: THE CINEMA OF BARBARA HAMMER

October 7 – October 14
GALLOWS BACCHANALIAS, FRACTIOUS FAIRY-TALES AND THE RULE OF THREE: THE CINEMA OF JURAJ JAKUBISKO

October 21 – November 4
REACHING BEYOND THE FRAME: THE POETIC CINEMA OF ABBAS KIAROSTAMI

November 11 – November 25
BORSCHT, SAUERKRAUT, GOULASH AND LEMONADE: AN INTRODUCTION TO OSTERNS AND RED WESTERNS

December 2 – December 16
THE LAND IS OURS: YOUSSEF CHAHINE