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THE BLUE ANGEL

Germany, 1929 (MIFF 1964)

Director: Joseph von Sternberg

Made in 1929, the first year of sound, The Blue Angel refused to follow the then popular technique of photographing theatre. Von Sternberg placed the emphasis on pictorial quality and concentrated on the potentialities of the camera and of natural sound, as did Rene Clair and Hitchcock at the same time. Von Sternberg had already made several silent films in Hollywood (The Salvation Hunters and Underworld among them) notable for their immense care in texture and composition. He came to Berlin for The Blue Angel, and eventually shot an English as well as a German version.

The film is about a highschool teacher who fails in love with a cabaret singer, Lola Lola; he offers marriage and leaves with her when the company of performers moves on. She soon tires of him, and he is reduced to peddling her photographs, and after many humiliations, when the company returns, to play in the "Blue Angel" of his home town; he is billed to appear as a stooge to the conjurer of the troupe. Deeply wounded, he turns on the faithless Lola Lola ...

The film has lost none of iis power to evoke pity and terror. The skill of its craftsmanship, and Jannings' performance, stagey but magnificent, give the work an almost timeless quality. The tawdry atmosphere of the "Blue Angel" itself, the worthless, callous Lola Lola portrayed by Dietrich, the careful foreshadowing of the final tragedy, are tributes to the direction. The settings carry on the traditions of the German silent film, and as the shambling figure of Professor Rath staggers through tortuous alleyways, we are not far removed from the world of Caligari. The theme of degradation and humiliation here becomes an orgy of sado-masochism.

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