STROHEIM by Arthur Lennig

STROHEIM

KIRKUS REVIEW

A magisterial, crazily comprehensive biographical study of the original renegade director: the man they loved to hate, Erich von Stroheim. Lennig (Film, Emeritus/SUNY Albany; The Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, not reviewed) spent 20 years researching his subject; the result is an exhaustive tapestry that transcends its critical-theoretical leanings to transport the reader back to Hollywood’s heady (and, for Stroheim, cruelly capricious) days. Discounting his hero’s lies and evasions about his past, Lennig pieces together the fragments of Stroheim’s humiliation-filled youth in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite his claims of military service, Stroheim had been declared unfit to serve, a blow whose many effects on his films and his persona Lennig traces. Stroheim was socially alienated but also smart and ambitious enough to immigrate to America and climb the Hollywood ladder from extra to assistant director and scenarist, playing a number of —vile Huns— before directing his first picture, Blind Husbands, in 1919. He soon became notorious for both his prickly persona and an obsession with —realistic— filmmaking, which caused successive productions to devour funds and film stock. His artistic individualism could be bafflingly self-destructive, as in his bait-and-switch at Goldwyn, where the studio contracted for a lighthearted film and received the eight-hour-long Greed. Such tales flesh out a meticulous portrait of the often reckless silent-film era (the studio destroyed three fourths of Greed). Lennig offers exhaustive interpretive summaries of all Stroheim’s films before turning to his later descent. Swindled and blacklisted by ham-handed producers, he fell into near-penury in the 1930s, eventually escaping from Poverty Row films to become a respected (yet understandably embittered) actor in postwar France. Although Lennig underplays Stroheim’s legendary dark personal pursuits, he provides a definitive portrait of the notorious director and, in his accounting of the follies of art met by commerce, an affecting cultural history. (30 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8131-2138-8
Page count: 550pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1999




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