From Publishers Weekly
In a thrilling biography of one of Hollywood's great originals, Lennig strips away the legends surrounding director/actor Erich von Stroheim. A notorious fabricator, this master of silent films and actor in talkies and silents invented a past for himself as an Austrian nobleman with a distinguished military career. Actually, Stroheim, the son of a Jewish hatmaker, arrived penniless in New York in 1909 at age 24, crowning himself "von" on Ellis Island. In Austria, he had joined the army but was discharged after five months as unfit for military service. Puncturing the lingering myth that Stroheim became an assistant director on D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, SUNY film professor emeritus Lennig, who did remarkable sleuthing in Austria, Paris and Hollywood, establishes that Stroheim was never even on the studio lot. Lennig convincingly portrays Stroheim as an exasperating, tragic, noble, partly self-destructive genius, doomed by Hollywood commercialism because he was an obsessive perfectionist and extravagant spender, a novelist at heart whose striving for full characterizations and intricate plotting led to gargantuan shooting scripts. Lennig compares the full prints of Stroheim's films with the disastrously truncated released versions, revealing the artistry that often ended up on the cutting-room floor. Best remembered as an actor for roles in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937) and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stroheim reveled in playing bad guys--crook, lecher, rapist, evil Hun, mad doctor--yet resented being typecast. Lennig reveals a complex man: caring and sentimental beneath the cynical aristocratic exterior; a religious mystic who renounced Judaism and assumed the mantle of Roman Catholicism, who went to fortune-tellers and made major career moves according to their advice. Lennig's masterful knowledge of film history and technique informs this penetrating biography. Photos. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Timed to coincide with Turner Classics' world premiere of a restored director's cut of Erich von Stroheim's silent masterpiece Greed, this book aims to puncture the Stroheim myths--myths that, to his liking, obscured his past and nonaristocratic origins. Better known to contemporary film audiences as an actor (Max in Sunset Boulevard was among his most famous roles), it is Stroheim's work as a director that is Lennig's (emeritus, film, SUNY at Albany) main focus. He devotes a chapter to each of the films he directed, including two of Stroheim's lost films. An extremely readable book, this biography manages to convey Lennig's appreciation of Stroheim's genius. Still, he doesn't shy away from exploring the affairs that forced Stroheim to act to support himself. (Always uncompromising, Stroheim tended to produce long movies resembling today's TV miniseries, because for him showing his film characters going through all the minutiae of daily life was crucial for character exposition.) Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Marianne Cawley, Charleston Cty. Lib., SC
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.