“Marlene Dietrich had an absolutely electrifying presence on camera. I mean, she captivates the camera. You can’t take your eyes off her… She moves marvellously, the expressions on her face just a slight flicker of something in the eyes or a rise of the eyebrows speaks volumes. She’s incredibly alluring; her sense of humour comes through. She’s a captivating lady.” – Michelle Facey
Interview between Toby Miller of Cambridge 105 and Michelle Facey, programmer, Kennington Bioscope at The Cinema Museum.
You mention in your writing for THE WOMAN THAT ONE LONGS FOR that this is a film where Marlene found Dietrich, where she found herself as an actress. What did you mean by that?
I think it perhaps has to do with feeling her image and capturing an essence by use of lighting. Curt Courant was the cinematographer for THE WOMAN ONE LONGS FOR and I think they worked very well together. She discovered her own way of lighting, by sitting in a photo booth and practising, and she discovered that if she turned her face upwards towards the light, it created a halo around her hair and gave her cheekbones. There’s a very distinct Dietrich moment in the woman where she’s framed in the window of the train and you can see much to recognise there in later works. And also the camera lingers on her limbs, her famously beautiful legs in this film which are folded up underneath her on the train as she cowers, trying to escape the advances of her travelling companion played by Fritz Kortner…
You hinted that the storyline there, could you tell me what the film is about? Is it fairly representative of German cinema of this sort of mid twenties period?
Yeah, it’s a 1929 film and it’s very much in the same bracket or genre as PANDORA’S BOX.
She was up for that part briefly, wasn’t she?
She was, and it was thought that she was a dead cert.
So this is a similar sort of character to the one that Louise Brookes played in PANDORA’S BOX?
It’s a woman of intrigue, who is able to manipulate men, who’s very passionate and alluring. It certainly is of the genre of the time, of passion, jealousy, intrigue and possibly murder!
What was her relationship with her silent career – she had about 17 but they don’t often get mentioned, even when she discussed her own work.
No, they were very much downplayed. Josef Von Sternberg when he met Marlene believed that she’d only been in three films, and then he found out that it was nine silent films that she’d been in, that by my calculation is only 17 that she was in from 23 till 29.
Why do you think she was so dismissive of her time in silent film? Was it an attempt to mythologise her background?
That’s certainly true – between her and Sternberg, they carried on improving upon the story, and changing it to greater mythologise them both. They made seven films together, it was a remarkable relationship but Sternberg certainly wanted to make it appear that she sprang forth fully formed, only with his direction, in THE BLUE ANGEL.
In 1929 how big a star was she in Germany? I know she’d done some work on stage and some in cabaret but at this point, pre-THE BLUE ANGEL, how well known was she as an actress?
She was very well known: she was in magazines and she’d been to Austria and played on stage with Willi Forst, who was a big German song star. She had an affair with him and they made the film CAFÉ ELECTRIC together. He was the one responsible for teaching her how to play the musical saw, which she would play later for American troops!
Her star was absolutely on the rise, and people in the German press at the time knew that she would inevitably leave and go to Hollywood even before it happened. It was just accepted…
Listen to this interview, and other coverage of the Cambridge Film Festival, here on the Cambridge 105 website.