Fun in a Chinese Laundry

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The pioneering film director describes his personal life, work, techniques, and career

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User Review  - DinadansFriend - LibraryThing

This is a ghost-written memoir, but Sternberg is honest enough to give credit to his writers. The story is very much about immigrant boy makes good, first in the experimental cinema of Weimar Germany ... Read full review


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About the author (1988)

Sternberg was born to a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna and emigrated to the United States at the age of 17. During World War I, he produced training films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. After the war ended, he worked in various menial positions in the film industry before becoming an assistant director in 1921 and a director a few years later. At that time, the aristocratic von was attached to his name by a producer who thought it would add class. His directorial debut was in 1925, with the low-budget but very successful Salvation Hunters; however, Sternberg only really made a name for himself with Underworld (1926), the first of several gangster films featuring George Bancroft. These were especially remarkable for their cinematography and lighting, which revealed the influence of expressionism in their play with light and dark. Sternberg never made a color film, but he exploited the medium of black and white to create textured spaces of light and shadow, smoke and mist, and screens and veils, which were symbolically and emotionally resonant. Although critics have sometimes found his narratives thin, they have agreed that his visuals are stunning. While Sternberg was considered one of Hollywood's most important directors in his own day, he is now remembered chiefly for his seven films with Marlene Dietrich. He discovered her in a cabaret in Berlin, where he had gone to film The Blue Angel (1930), Germany's first sound production; she was cast as the provocative singer Lola-Lola, a role that made her a star. Sternberg carefully managed her screen image in the six other films that he made with her: Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). Sternberg was notoriously imperious and autocratic, with a fondness for jodhpurs and riding boots, and was thought of as something of a caricature of the Hollywood director. The role he envisioned for Dietrich was that of the femme fatale, the desirable but enigmatic and even dangerous lady who seems to symbolize the "eternal feminine" and the attraction, mystery, and threat that that image holds for men. Feminist film theorists have suggested that Sternberg's visual style, as well as Dietrich's acting style, work to expose and critique the sexism of this archetype of femininity. Sternberg's difficulties with I, Claudius I, Claudius (unfinished, 1937) damaged his reputation in Hollywood, and he worked irregularly thereafter. His last film---his favorite project---was natahan (1953), about Japanese soldiers isolated on an island at the close of World War II. Although he traveled to international film festivals and occasionally lectured in the years that followed, he never made another film.

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