The Lowdown on Maria Magdalene von Losch
Gregor von Kallahann | 05/17/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's illustrative of Marlene Dietrich's clout that nearly all English speakers pronounce her name more or less correctly. (OK, so my own father did not: he made it rhyme with "Darlene," but I suspect he was in the minority.) As a former German teacher myself, this fact has some significance to me. I used to struggle to teach my students that a final "e" in German was nearly always pronounced as a "schwa" sound (an unemphasized "uh"). Somehow though, even people who knew how to pronounce "danke," "bitte," "Rilke" and even "Goethe" would still seem to remain puzzled by an orthography that is actually more consistent than our own. When you're a true star, though, you get to insist on people pronouncing your name right. In that Marlene had a (shapely) leg up on such other prominent German performers as Elke Sommer, Lotte Lenya or Ute Lemper. You also get to pull stunts like agreeing to allow someone to do a documentary on your life and work (that "someone" being Maximilian Schell) and then utterly refusing to let him put you on camera. Or for that matter, to let his crew film ANYTHING in your apartment. Well, if life hands you a lemon, you make lemonade, right? And so Maximilian Schell wound up making a documentary less about Marlene Dietrich than about the near impossibility of making a documentary with a cantakerously uncooperative subject.Schell ends up reconstructing Dietrich's Paris digs in the studio. Her taped interviews are played over scenes from her films, from performance clips and from shots from various newsreels. The effect is haunting. The viewer shares Schell's exasperation with his temperamental subject. Is it possible to ever truly fathom this woman's character? It's more than a matter of a former beauty refusing to be photographed: she refuses to let herself be truly known at all. Any penetrating question or observation is dismissed as "Quatsch" (nonsense). Her life, her films, her status as a cultural icon--none of that interests her anymore, or so she claims. Ostensibly, the reclusive screen legend is more accessible than a Garbo, say, who would never even allow herself to be interviewed. But in her steadfast refusal to reveal herself in any significant way, she remains as remote and impenetrable as Garbo ever was. Maybe more so.I watched this film recently, right after viewing the documentary "Nico Icon"--about another enigmatic German-born singer-actress. It made for a fascinating double bill. Nico, of course, was of a different, more jaded era, but she was once labeled "another cooler Dietrich for another cooler generation." Of course, the Andy Warhol "Superstar" (always meant as an ironic appellation anyway) never actually achieved the level of fame that her countrywoman did in her time. The younger woman, in fact, totally lacked the drive and ambition that Dietrich possessed in spades. Ironic then, that both ended up (pretty much at the same time in history) as recluses in Paris. Of course the Hollywood star lived there in splendor, while the former "Superstar," now a junkie, lived in absolute squalor. Both women withdrew into the shadows, while living in the City of Lights. The difference, of course, is that Dietrich could afford to pay her electric bill. Perhaps the one image that best sums up the difference between these two iconic German women--and, to some extent, the generations that they came to represent--is the stock footage of bombed out Berlin that is used in both films. For Dietrich it represents the world she was fortunate enough to be able to leave behind: for Nico, it was the world in which she grew up. (Both "Marlene" and "Nico Icon" are available on DVD and are highly recommended.)"
An illuminating documentary on a screen legend
W. Oliver | Alabama | 03/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is surely one of the most fascinating documentaries ever made. Although Dietrich herself was never filmed (she refused to have her face shown), it is illuminating and you get a full sense of the woman she was. Schell reproduces her apartment where the interviews were held and uses film clips, song recordings, etc. and we hear Dietrich's impressions over these. Bernard, her assistant and secretary, is also interviewed. It is at times funny and poignant and always riveting. She comes across as an intelligent and outspoken woman and also a highly opinionated one with little patience. Many of her musings are very funny - on a certain biography of Von Sternberg, she says "It's the lousiest translation ever made - I burned it!" She often uses the term "kitsch" to describe tasteless things and when Schell shows a clip of her performing on stage in front of a loud pink backdrop she exclaims "Darling, I did not know the kitsch was there!" She also clashes with filmmaker Schell on several things, including how the documentary should be made. She didn't want to discuss her films ("This should not be a critical thing") and after Schell leaves in a huff one day - she says "You walked out of here like a prima donna - well, you are the first to walk out on me and the last!" Schell did eventually convince her to let them bring in a video tape machine and get her reactions to some of her work (as the assistants are clumsily setting up the equipment, she is yelling "amateurs, amateurs!") She obviously is bored to tears with "The Blue Angel" and dismisses it but offers her opinion that "The Scarlet Empress" was her best film. When pressed as to why, she flippantly says "Because it's the best film". In addition to her life's work, she and Schell discuss some of the people she worked with (on Spencer Tracy - "I loved him" and Orson Welles "The man's a genius and when you speak his name you should cross yourself.") They also talk about Germany during the war and Schell reads one of her favorite poems which causes her to cry. This is wonderful stuff and a must for fans!"
If you like Marlene - you must have this documentary
Gregor von Kallahann | 08/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A very special documentary made by actor/director Maximilian Schell. Marlene herself didn't agree to let her be filmed so you only hear her voice taped in her apartment in Paris. Doesn't matter. Hear when she sings and tells, hear her anger when Maximilian insist on filming her or want her to look at her films, hear her gently, sentimentally crying over her "Heimat" Berlin. And see for your self how Schell have succeded to make a great motion picture without beeing able to photograph the leading lady. Nominated for Academy Award."
At look at Dietrich, the woman behind the mask of glamour
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Maximilian Schell wanted to do a documentary on Marlene Dietrich, who agreed to be interviewed on audiotape but who refused to be filmed. At face value this sounds like a major problem, but it is like when the mechanical shark would not work during the film of "Jaws": the end product is much improved because of the big headache. Schell has to play Dietrich's comments against clips from her films, creating a palatable irony between a glamorous star who always insisted on the brightest of lights shining on her face and the 80-year-old woman offering her harsh comments on the way to her grave. I think it is safe to say that after Greta Garbo it was Marlene Dietrich whose persona as a Hollywood star was the most elusive (a trait apparently franchised by foreign born actresses to be sure). Because her career was based more on image than substance--her legs in "Blue Angel" remains the signature image of her entire career--Schell's documentary takes advantage of the last opportunity to get a look behind the mask of glamour at the "real" Dietrich. What I took away from this documentary was fresh insight into the latter stage of Dietrich's career, when she took some sorts at "real" acting in films such as "Witness for the Prosecution" and "Touch of Evil." It is impossible to look at these films now and not see her attempt to be much more than just another pretty face. You might say that Dietrich's career anticipated those of the super models in today's world, since still photograph makes it even less necessary for there to be much going on behind a pretty face. However, both her career and these intimate thoughts shared near the end of her life prove that Dietrich was as calculating as anyone in Hollywood. Ultimately, "Marlene" is a unique and penetrating look at a Hollywood legend."