Despite appearing in more than a dozen silent films, Marlene Dietrich didn’t achieve her big international breakthrough until 1930 with The Blue Angel, when she first paired with visionary director Josef von Sternberg. Over the course of seven films in six years the partnership produced some of the most highly crafted and visually stylish films to come out of the Hollywood studio system.
Pulled from the world of Berlin theater and cabaret by Sternberg, Dietrich really made her mark in sound films. Following her devastating performance as Lola Lola opposite Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel, Paramount studio execs immediately signed the star to a seven-year contract and brought her over to Hollywood.
Sternberg’s exceptional skill in lighting and photography, against the backdrop of carefully controlled set design and costumes, presented an ideal canvas for Dietrich to play a series of dangerous and enigmatic women. At once radiantly sensual and glamorously mysterious, Dietrich’s alluring image was crafted in light and shadow and soft focus photography. Sternberg positioned Dietrich in a variety of atmospheric locales from a desert legionnaire outpost in Morocco to a Spanish carnival in The Devil Is a Woman. Her deep contralto voice and often risqué performances turned now-classic songs into unforgettable moments. Her rendition of “Falling in Love Again” is hard to shake, and who could forget Dietrich, dressed as a gorilla performing “Hot Voodoo” in Blonde Venus?
— James Layton, Assistant Archivist, Motion Picture Department
Wednesday, August 15, 8 p.m..
(Josef von Sternberg, US 1930, 92 min.)
Wednesday, August 22, 8 p.m..
(Josef von Sternberg, US 1932, 93 min.)
Wednesday, August 29, 8 p.m..
The Devil is a Woman
(Josef von Sternberg, US 1935, 75 min.)
Lisa Kribs-LaPierre is the former Manager of Online Engagement at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.