Josef von Sternberg. Von Sternberg’s strength is his top three films and his overall landmark and meticulous aesthetic approach and innovation. It’s hard to ignore someone so synonymous with mise-en-scene, obviously an important aspect of cinema (one of the key four elements along with camera movement, editing and form). I feel like von Sternberg is a great litmus test for film students as his narratives can be trying but his films are remarkably strong on style and characterization. I feel like my appreciation for Blue Bngel has grown over the years as my own film knowledge and appreciation has bloomed.
Best film: The Blue Angel. I’ve said it all above. If someone doesn’t appreciate this movie they aren’t watching cinema the same way I do: foreground/background detail, mise-en-scene blocking and obstruction.
total archiveable films: 10
top 100 films: 1 (The Blue Angel)
top 500 films: 3 (The Blue Angel, The Scarlet Empress, Morocco)
top 100 films of the decade: 7 (The Blue Angel, The Scarlet Empress, Morocco, Underworld, The Docks of New York, Shanghai Express)
most overrated: Literally all of his films are underrated or rated fine on TSPDT.
most underrated: This is impossible because all of his work is underrated. I’ll focus on his big three (Morocco, Blue Angel, Scarlet Empress) because those are the biggest travesties. I have Blue Angel at #76 and the TSPDT consensus says 615 (so we’re 539 slots off). I have The Scarlet Empress at #147 and the consensus has it at #450 (303 slots off). Lastly, I have Morocco at #215 and the consensus has it at #802 (587 slots off). Frustrating.
gem I want to spotlight: The Docks of New York. I’m overdue for seeing this but if memory serves the imagery is stunning- great shadow work– excited to get to it again.
stylistic innovations/traits: Mise-en-scene as he fashioned a unique Hollywood version of German Expressionism (albeit in melodrama instead of horror). His busy mise-en-scene is unmistakable. His use of massive objects in the field of vision has stuck with me as much as Eisenstein’s editing montage and Murnau’s moving camera. Also, his pairing with Dietrich is renowned for good reason as he created her as a major star in the 1930’s.
- The Blue Angel
- The Scarlet Empress
- The Docks of New York
- Shanghai Express
- Blonde Venus
- Crime and Punishment
- The Shanghai Gesture
- The Last Command
By year and grades
|1928- The Docks of New York|
|1928- The Last Command|
|1930- The Blue Angel||MP|
|1932- Blonde Venus||R|
|1932- Shanghai Express||HR|
|1934- The Scarlet Empress||MP|
|1935- Crime and Punishment||R|
|1941- The Shanghai Gesture||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives