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PRIME EXAMPLES OF CINEMATIC ART AT ITS BEST
on August 28, 2010
The three films included in this set - UNDERWORLD, DOCKS OF NEW YORK and THE LAST COMMAND represent some of Josef von Sternberg's greatest work from the time before he discovered Marlene Dietrich, and clearly show that he was already a master at his art. His trademark style in the use of light and shadow, complex mis en scene, slow lap dissolves, deceptively simple storylines and characters of psychological depth are in full bloom during this late silent period.
Josef von Sternberg was unquestionably a unique genius among film directors, and as such is frequently misunderstood by those who are accustomed to a more conventional approach to how movies are made. In terms of visual style and sustained atmosphere he virtually has no equal, even though others have tried to imitate him and have borrowed many of his ideas in their own films. For example in UNDERWORLD, one can see foregleams of plot devices that figured prominently in the gangster genre that emerged during the 30's, particularly in the films from Warner Bros. Von Sternberg already laid the groundwork. In DOCKS OF NEW YORK there is the romantic relationship between George Bancroft and Betty Compson, but von Sternberg achieves it with little, if any, passionate embracing or kissing between the couple. This is typical von Sternberg and is part of what makes his screen romances different from other directors. His protagonists share a psychological bond more than a physical one, and yet one senses a potent eroticism that seems to permeate all of his films. In THE LAST COMMAND we have a wonderful example of life imitating art imitating life within the background of a motion picture studio as a former Russian general, played by Emil Jannings, is demoted to an extra recreating his past glories in a Hollywood production. The film presents the irony of life that von Sternberg liked to explore in so much of his work.
Criterion did a terrific job with all three films as well as with the supplemental material, and I highly recomended this DVD set to anyone interested in true cinematic art.
Now if only someone would put out THE SALVATION HUNTERS...