by Richard Koszarski ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 1, 1983
Don't be misled by that pop-movie title: Koszarski (Hollywood Directors) is only tangentially interested in von Stroheim's acting career, only indirectly concerned with those legendary (apparently true) stories about cruelties to actors by director von S. This is, rather, a sober study of the von Stroheim directing career--blending intense film-by-film analysis with detailed accounts of the von S. troubles with studio after studio. ""It is improper to compare his body of work with that of a professional film director,"" says Koszarski; unlike all the others, ""his work was always rooted in his own experience, real or imagined."" Thus, Koszarski examines each von Stroheim film for ""autobiographical elements,"" with mixed results: the biographical portrait of von Stroheim here (a Jewish refugee passing himself off as a German nobleman, a much-married hedonist) is sketchy and colorless, providing a weak base for life/work parallels; Koszarski's analysis of the various von Stroheim love-triangle plots sometimes becomes ludicrously academic--with charts and graphs of relationships. On the other hand, von Stroheim's central, naturalistic themes are persuasively mapped out (with strong specifics on how von S. re-shaped his basic story material). Solid, too, is the appreciation of von Stroheim's technical development--from apprenticeship under John Emerson (and, informally, D. W. Griffith) to his use of contrasting visual styles, photographic stylization, experiments with color, and density of frame-by-frame detail. (Though limited by the mutilations that afflict the von S. oeuvre, Koszarski makes a good argument for the ""central position of editing""--often overshadowed by those memorable close-up images.) And, most effectively, Koszarski uses extensive research into studio archives to offer balanced, minutely detailed reconstructions of von Stroheim's conflicts with studio heads, stars, censors, cameramen, et al.: the crises with young Irving Thalberg; the repeated problem of over-length; case studies of Greed and the doomed Queen Kelly (""even aged in wood, von Stroheim's directorial style was proving too strong for Swanson and Kennedy""). In all: rarely absorbing as a critical biography--but a skilled, dense mixture of academic film-analysis and shrewd Hollywood-history research.
Pub Date: June 1, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983
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