Josef von Sternberg
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Josef von Sternberg (29 May 1894 – 22 December 1969) was an Austrian-American film director. He is one of the earliest examples of auteur filmmakers, and performed many other duties on his films besides directing, including cinematographer, writer, and editor. Von Sternberg's style has had a vast influence on later directors, particularly during the film noir movement. His mastery of mise en scène, lighting and soft lense is unrivaled, and his collaboration with sultry actress Marlene Dietrich (The Devil is a Woman) is internationally celebrated.
Josef von Sternberg was born Josef Sternberg (the von was added by a Hollywood studio head) to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria but spent much of his childhood in New York City where his father, a former soldier in the army of Austria-Hungary, tried to make a new life for himself. Sternberg grew up in poverty and dropped out of high school. As a youth he got a job cleaning and repairing movie prints and soon found himself apprenticing in the movie industry. He made his directorial debut in 1925 with The Salvation Hunters (called by some the first American independent film). Charlie Chaplin was impressed by this film, and worked with Von Sternberg at his Hollywood Studio. Von Sternberg had commercial success later in the decade at Paramount Studios with the remarkable late-period silent films The Last Command and Docks of New York, both noted for their influential cinematography. His reputation was also advanced by a series of early gangster films including Underworld and Thunderbolt.
His new found prosperity made it possible for him to commission an impressive mini-mansion from the famous architect Richard Neutra. Even after its demolition Von Sternberg house remained an example of modernism in Architecture.
In 1930, Sternberg went to Germany and directed the widely acclaimed film Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) in German and English versions simultaneously, the first German-language talkie. It was Sternberg's second film with the then-famous German actor Emil Jannings as the doomed Professor Rath. (The first was The Last Command.)
Sternberg also cast the then-unknown Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola, the female lead, and overnight made her an international star. Sternberg and Dietrich continued to collaborate on Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, and The Devil is a Woman.
Macao (1952) was one of Sternberg's last Hollywood films.
Anatahan (1953) is the story of a group of Japanese soldiers who refused to believe that the Second World War had ended, it was directed, photographed, narrated, and written by von Sternberg. Anatahan had limited release, and it was a financial failure. Also, it happened to be Sternberg's final film: even though another Hollywood picture he directed (Jet Pilot) was released in 1957, it had actually been shot 7 years earlier, when he was still under contract with producer Howard Hughes.
Sternberg's autobiography is titled Fun In A Chinese Laundry.
- The Salvation Hunters (1925)
- A Woman of the Sea (1926)
- Underworld (1927)
- The Last Command (1928)
- The Docks of New York (1928)
- The Case of Lena Smith (1929)
- Thunderbolt (1929)
- The Blue Angel (1930)
- Morocco (1930)
- Dishonored (1931)
- An American Tragedy (film) (1931)
- Shanghai Express (1932)
- Blonde Venus (1932)
- The Scarlet Empress (1932)
- The Devil is a Woman (1935)
- Sergeant Madden (1939)
- The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
- Macao (1952)
- Jet Pilot (1957)