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Critics reviews
The Scarlet Empress
Josef von Sternberg United States, 1934
Sternberg offers more than a hint of onanistic delight in detailing Catherine’s gradual perversion from doe-eyed girl to hood-eyed seductress, but mixes it with a powerful strand of feminist-minded melodrama, a form popular in the pre-Code era that was just moving out of favour. Yet Sternberg laid a template for whole zones of modern popular culture yet to be invented.
March 04, 2014
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As we try to properly absorb any number of disturbing psychological and thematic associations, one thing is certain: we’re out of the usual comfort zone established by most big-budget “golden-era” Hollywood studio filmmaking.
March 18, 2012
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The decor and costumes, and the mise-en-scéne that deploys them, have never been equaled for expressionist intensity.
February 09, 2006
The tone, conjoining ironic tragedy and a kind of macabre farce so closely that they become inseparable, demanded adjustments beyond anything for which audiences (and, for that matter, critics) were prepared. Were we suppose to laugh or weep? Was the film’s ending exhilarating or horrifying? Since that time, the film has been appropriated, most unfortunately, as a “camp” classic. But it is a profoundly serious work.
May 07, 2001
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Josef von Sternberg’s 1934 film turns the legend of Catherine the Great into a study of sexuality sadistically repressed and reborn as politics, thus anticipating Bertolucci by three decades. Marlene Dietrich’s transformation from spoiled princess to castrating matriarch is played for both terror and sympathy, surface coolness and buried passion, with weird injections of black humor from Sam Jaffe’s degenerate grand duke.
January 01, 1980
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