Von Stroheim. Before I get going- I love that he added his own “von” to his name to make himself sound more distinguished and aristocratic. Haha. For a silent director, von Stroheim had a limited output (though his per-average film quality was very high- he made 6 of the top 75 movies of the 1910’s and 20’s—dominant!) and it wasn’t cut short by an early death in his case- but by forced retirement basically from studio interference (they banished him for going over budget) and his unwillingness to compromise or negotiate his artistic integrity. He was an actor and is great in many silent films (such a great villain) along with Grand Illusion and Sunset Boulevard after the silent era where he is fantastic. So he was an actor/director that had a limited output, long battles with studio interference because of the art vs commerce eternal film battle. Sounds like Orson Welles a little, right? It sounds like the only two films the studio didn’t interfere with are Blind Husbands and Foolish Wives– his first two- and they show the promise of being on the artistic level of Murnau and Eisenstein. His filmography and reputation is also largely based on Greed. Greed is supposed to have been one of the greatest film masterpieces of all-time. But, very few people (12 I guess– all dead at this point as it was destroyed long ago) actually saw the un-butchered von Stroheim extended version and all that remains are chunks of that final film. I think the imagery and remaining skeleton of the film is enough to classify it as a masterpiece but I can’t call it a top 100 or higher (some have it as top 10) on constituted and can’t play the “what if” game at that level and put it above so many deserving films.
Best film: Greed. I admire many of his other films. They are all extremely detailed and there is some sumptuous camera work and really gorgeous mise-en-scene, but nothing has the power and imagery of Greed—especially some of the Death Valley sequences. According to legend, there were over 85 hours of footage shot—incredible.
total archiveable films: 7
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (Greed, Foolish Wives)
top 100 films of the decade: 6 (Greed, Foolish Wives, Blind Husbands, The Merry Widow, The Wedding March, Merry-Go-Round)
most overrated: Greed. Even though it’s my #1 von Stroheim film I don’t think, as currently constitutes, it is the #100 film of all-time as it is on TSPDT (#93 according to the consensus). I have it closer to fringe Masterpiece. Maybe someone will find a “lost” version of the entire thing some day and I’ll change my mind. There is a shorter version on TCM and then they did a longer version with still photography and dialogue (like Cukor’s A Star is Born if you’ve seen that directors cut version). I’m not sure which one to recommend- probably the shorter version I guess.
most underrated: Foolish Wives is #649 on TSPDT. This should be #268. I regard this film and you can really feel Griffith’s influence on von Stroheim here with the sense of grandeur. Von Stroheim is much more cynical than Griffith of course, and more playful as well.
gem I want to spotlight: Blind Husbands in 1919 is simply one of the most assured directional debuts in movie history.
stylistic innovations/traits: Most of his films were about unhealthy and self-destructive obsessions which is probably how most of his producers felt about von Strohem himself as a director (most of his film shootings sound very similar to the production of The Revenant, Apocalypse Now or Heaven’s Gate – and this is in the silent era). Von Stroheim was fated, largely by his own inability to compromise his art for commercial ends, to achieve only a very small output, and to see five of the nine films he made as director ‘improved’ by other hands. He’s especially noted for his obsessive detail- whether it be prewar San Francisco in Greed or Vienna and other European cities in his other films. Stylistically his films are sharply edited with gorgeously meticulous visuals. I’ve also noticed that von Stroheim specializes in very rich characterizations- which comes in handy in silent cinema especially. His films are all concerned with characters that degrade themselves in pursuit of sex or money or power.
- Foolish Wives
- Blind Husbands
- The Merry Widow
- The Wedding March
- Queen Kelly
By year and grades
|1919- Blind Husbands
|1922- Foolish Wives
|1925- The Merry Widow
|1928- The Wedding March
|1932- Queen Kelly
*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