In her six Hollywood collaborations with Josef von Sternberg, Marlene Dietrich cuts a uniquely transfixing figure, her mysterious allure accentuated by the director’s chiaroscuro lighting and lavishly stylized settings. But she does far more than just luxuriate in her surroundings: at the heart of these performances was a boldly modern, unapologetically hedonistic worldview, one that she had already begun to cultivate as a stage performer in Weimar Germany. Both she and Paramount Pictures knew what they were doing when they brought her screen persona to the U.S., positioning her as an exotic alternative to the docile female characters who typically populated American movies, and deliberately courting scandal with the same-sex eroticism and androgynous role-playing that had been regular features of her cabaret acts. As film scholars Mary Desjardins, Amy Lawrence, and Patricia White explain in a supplemental feature on our just-released Dietrich–von Sternberg box set, it is this devil-may-care attitude toward sexuality that would make the actor an early pioneer of feminist and queer cinema, and an object of fascination for generations to come.
John Bailey Breaks Down a Tour de Force of Gothic Lighting
The veteran cinematographer takes a close look at the highly stylized and atmospheric lighting in one of the most pivotal scenes in pre-Code classic The Story of Temple Drake.
All About Mankiewicz
One of the most celebrated Hollywood writer-directors of his time, Joseph L. Mankiewicz offers a window into the way he sees his characters in this illuminating clip from an archival interview.
Charisma to Burn: Béatrice Dalle’s Incandescent Debut in Betty Blue
The young French actor didn’t require much direction for her first screen role. As the film’s director and cinematographer recall, she quickly proved herself to be a born star.
How Paweł Pawlikowski Reimagined His Parents’ Fiery Romance for the Big Screen
As the director explains to filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the love story at the heart of the Oscar-nominated drama Cold War has its roots in his own family history.