Erich von Stroheim, Statement of Purpose

Erich von Stroheim: A Statement of Purpose

A friend of mine, Christopher DiGrazzia, suggested the work of noted perfectionist early filmmaker Erich von Stroheim a while back, and I’ve kept the option in my back pocket ever since. After the long run of forty films from Clint Eastwood, I was looking for a filmography both less imposing to handle as well as very different. Well, it was either this or Michael Bay.

I kid, of course. von Stroheim is best known for his look, a distinctive bald head with a monocle, that was made famous first in Jean Renoir’s Le Grand Illusion and later in Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Blvd. However, for a time, he was a film director of some repute, commanding large budgets and making films that lasted for hours and hours. None of those original versions of any of those films exist (the most famous one being Greed), and a fair number of his films are outright lost. All that’s left is a small filmography of six films, or maybe five, or maybe seven?

Producers generally seemed to have hated him which is why his directing career only really lasted about fourteen years, and they often recut his films against his wishes. There’s a famous story of, having been burned on his first film, Blind Husbands, von Stroheim locked himself in the editing bay with a gun on his next film to protect his work. It got so bad that Queen Kelly and Hello, Sister! had reshoots without von Stroheim’s involvement. It seems as though with Queen Kelly, it was about cutting out half the film and just filming a quick ending that star Gloria Swanson approved of, and for Hello, Sister! it was a complete reshoot that mangled any kind of original intent from its original director beyond recognition.

So, I’ll watch all seven, and I’ll include Queen Kelly in the inevitable ranking. However, I’m going to exclude Hello, Sister! from the ranking, though I’ll watch and give it a rating and everything.

So, here we go, a quick look at an interesting little pocket of the silent and early sound era in Hollywood.

I’m excited.

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