Friday, September 11, 2009

A Musical Interlude: Marlene Dietrich In The Blue Angel

While I was working on my essay about the best picture of 1929-30, it occurred to me I've written about all of the nominees at some length—except for Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, the movie that made Marlene Dietrich an international star.

As stories go, it's nearly a carbon copy of Pandora's Box with Marlene Dietrich playing Lola Lola, a singer/prostitute who leads a stuffy college professor (Emil Jannings) to his destruction. Unlike Louise Brooks's innocent take on her spiritual sister, Lulu, Dietrich plays Lola Lola as more of a vampy femme fatale. Not bad, highly regarded.

There are actually two versions of The Blue Angel, shot simultaneously, one in English for American and British release, the other (Der Blaue Engel) in German for the rest of Europe. This was actually a common practice back in the day, it being technically easier at the time to shoot a scene twice than to dub the film with a foreign language. Which one you choose to see is up to you. Many cinephiles prefer the German version simply because Dietrich and Jannings are more comfortable with their native language, but it turns out I'm more comfortable with mine and so I am more likely to watch it in English.

Which, admittedly, makes me a philistine.

Anyway, the English language version introduced Dietrich singing what became her signature song, "Falling In Love Again," and I present it here for your entertainment.

So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, Marlene Dietrich and "Falling In Love Again."

1 comment:

Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, another reason von Sternberg may have shot English and German versions of The Blue Angel is that it was also cheaper to ship a complete negative overseas than to print copies and ship them overseas. Safer, too, since nitrate film is highly flammable (see Inglourious Basterds for a primer on the subject).

Yes, but why not just make a copy of the negative, you ask, rather than film a scene twice? Because the technical process of duplicating a negative hadn't been perfected yet -- copies came out kind of milky.

And since most studios in those days owned rather than rented the cameras and had the crew and actors on straight salary rather than paying by the job, really all the producer was paying for was film. You could shoot all day for about $8.

Back in the silent days, the practice of shipping a negative overseas was so common that two cameras sitting side-by-side filmed two copies of a scene simultaneously (if you've seen Marion Davies's Show People, at the end you'll see director King Vidor sitting next to just such a pair of cameras).

There's an anecdote about one of Buster Keaton's films involving (as they always did) an elaborate and dangerous stunt that for some reason only one camera caught. "Europe doesn't get to see that stunt," Keaton said, refusing to risk his neck twice.