Von Sternberg

Von Sternberg

[von sturn-burg]
Von Sternberg, Joseph (Jo Sternberg), 1894-1969, Austrian-American film director and screenwriter. Von Sternberg, who worked in the United States from 1925, made films that were noted for their dazzling visual impact and attention to physical detail. His early works include The Salvation Hunters (1925), Underworld (1927), and Docks of New York (1928). His masterpiece was The Blue Angel (1930) with Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich, made in Germany. The film depicts, with a dreadful intimacy and a striking control of contrasting atmospheres, a stuffy professor's desire for a nightclub singer and his subsequent shattering humiliation. Von Sternberg directed Dietrich in several other films (including Morocco, 1930; Shanghai Express, 1932; and The Devil Is a Woman, 1935) and thereby fashioned her enduring screen image. Von Sternberg wrote most of his films' screenplays, relying in later years on romantic formulas. Among his later films are Jet Pilot (1950) and Macao (1951).

See his autobiography (1965); C. Harrington, Josef Von Sternberg (1979); C. Zucker, The Idea of the Image: Josef Von Sternberg's Dietrich Films (1988).

Josef von Sternberg aka Jonas Sternberg (29 May 1894, Vienna, Austria22 December 1969, Los Angeles, California) 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. Sternberg's style has had a vast influence on later directors, particularly during the film noir movement. His mastery of mise-en-scene, lighting and soft lense is unrivaled, and his collaboration with sultry actress Marlene Dietrich is internationally celebrated.

Life and Work

Josef von Sternberg was born Jonas Sternberg (the false aristocratic title 'von' was later added by a Hollywood studio head to make the name sound more distinctive) to a Jewish family in Vienna 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 Sternberg at his Hollywood Studio. Sternberg had commercial success later in the decade at Paramount Pictures with the remarkable late-period silent films The Last Command and The 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 seven years earlier, when he was still under contract with producer Howard Hughes.

Sternberg died from a heart attack in 1969, aged 75, and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Sternberg's autobiography is titled Fun In A Chinese Laundry. Also, over fifty production stills (from the Purviance Family collection), showing von Sternberg work from The Sea Gull (A Woman of the Sea), has been published.


Silent films

Sound films


Other projects

External links


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