The Scarlet Empress
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Filmmaker-svengali Josef von Sternberg escalates his obsession with screen legend Marlene Dietrich in this lavish depiction of sex and deceit in the 18th-century Russian court. A self-proclaimed "relentless excursion into style," the pair's sixth collaboration follows the exploits of Princess Sophia (Dietrich) as she evolves from trembling innocent to cunning sexual libertine Catherine the Great. With operatic melodrama, flamboyant visuals, and a cast of thousands, this ornate spectacle represents the apex of cinematic pageantry by Hollywood's master of artifice.
- The 1996 BBC documentary The World of Josef von Sternberg
- Production stills archive
- Von Sternberg tribute by underground filmmaker Jack Smith
- Liner notes by film historian Robin Wood
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My copy was a little bit soft, but the grey scale was good and the print that was used was 100 percent better than any TV version that I've seen, and much better than the VHS I had.
We're talking about an 82 year old film here: Let the "EMPRESS" have that little bit of shimmering mystery. La Dietrich would approve.
As strict history, it's more than a bit fuzzy. Von Sternberg claimed to use the private diaries of Catherine the Great herself in writing the story.Mainly though, it's just an excursion into style featuring his favored muse, Dietrich, to put incredible visuals onto the screen.
When allowed to, Dietrich gives a very convincing portrayal of Catherine as she progresses from naive young girl to experienced, sophisticated empress. Hint, watch her eyelids throughout the film. When they are wide open, she's young and virtous. when those famous lids are lowered, she's certainly not virtous. Wonderful silent acting on Dietrich's part, to show the frame of mind through the mere use of her eyelids.
Overall, this is a film that not everyone will enjoy. At times, one isn't too sure of what reaction is warrented. Is it supposed to be a comedy? A drama? Who knows? Just sit back and feast your eyes, as movies aren't this visually rich nowadays, not by a long shot. The photography is truly stunning, the sets are astounding, and the costumes! Amazing. As with The Devil Is A Woman, this film should be shown as a course in cinematography and how actors should be lit and framed.
The Criterion dvd is superb with a crisp transfer and excellent sound. The dvd also includes a 20 minute documentary on Josef von Sternberg which was made in the late 1960's by the BBC. Sternberg is interviewed and shows how he achieved the gorgeous lighting in his photography. Also included is a gallery of stills and lobby cards. The fold out booklet that comes with the dvd includes an excellent essay and gorgeous photos of Marlene Dietrich. I'm hoping that Criterion will release more of the Sternberg/Dietrich films, especially "The Devil Is A Woman" and "Shanghai Express".