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Willing Seduction

Willing Seduction: The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich, and Mass Culture

Barbara Kosta
Series: Film Europa
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Willing Seduction
    Book Description:

    Josef von Sternberg's 1930 filmThe Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel) is among the best known films of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). A significant landmark as one of Germany's first major sound films, it is known primarily for launching Marlene Dietrich into Hollywood stardom and for initiating the mythic pairing of the Austrian-born American director von Sternberg with the star performer Dietrich.

    This fascinating cultural history ofThe Blue Angelprovides a new interpretive framework with which to approach this classic Weimar film and suggests that discourses on mass and high culture are integral to the film's thematic and narrative structure. These discourses surface above all in the relationship between the two main characters, the cabaret entertainer Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich) and the high school teacher Immanuel Rath (one-time Oscar winner Emil Jannings). In addition to offering insight into some of the major debates that informed the Weimar Republic, this book demonstrates that similar issues continue to shape the contemporary cultural landscape of Germany. Barbara Kosta thus also looks at Dietrich as a contemporary cultural icon and at her symbolic value since German unification and at Lola Lola's various "incarnations."

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-914-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 filmThe Blue Angel(Der blaue Engel) is one of the best-known films to emerge from the Weimar Republic (1919–33)—a landmark in German film history, internationally acclaimed.¹ A significant milestone as one of Germany’s first major sound films, it is famous for launching Marlene Dietrich into Hollywood stardom and for initiating the mythic pairing of the Austrian-born American director von Sternberg with the star performer, Dietrich. Kept alive by the image of Dietrich and her iconization, The Blue Angel must be counted among the films that have acquired a value that goes beyond the film...

  6. Chapter 1 Mass Entertainment and “Serious” Culture
    (pp. 23-52)

    The story of Josef von Sternberg’s filming ofThe Blue Angeloften begins with the account of von Sternberg’s search for the perfect Lola, and his fateful discovery of Marlene Dietrich. She allegedly had a minor role in a theater performance of Expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser’sZwei Krawatten(Two Bow Ties) in the Berliner Theater, where she played an American and had one line—“May I invite one and all to dine with me tonight?” Delighted with Dietrich’s nonchalant stage presence, von Sternberg immediately arranged an audition.¹ In Dietrich he found his perfect Lola, whose image reminded him of images...

  7. Chapter 2 Distraction, Deception, and Visuality
    (pp. 53-84)

    In the same year that Walter Benjamin wrote his celebrated essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935), Marlene Dietrich was makingThe Devil Is a Woman, her seventh and final film with Josef von Sternberg. Dietrich’s film takes place in Spain, where Benjamin would commit suicide in 1940. In the film, the alluring performer Concha dashes the hearts of a number of men, among whom is a revolutionary who must flee to France from Spain. Compared to her performance inThe Blue Angel, inThe Deviland with each von Sternberg film that followsThe Blue...

  8. Chapter 3 Disillusionment and Esprit: Weimar’s Modern Woman
    (pp. 85-110)

    To readThe Blue Angelin terms of a masochistic aesthetic lends vast insight into the internal psychodynamic of character and reflects on attributes of cinema and spectatorship as early as the 1920s. Yet, if the text is looked at as a cultural artifact, then it is also necessary to expand the textual workings beyond the film aesthetic and take into account the historical context and its imprint on the image. In doing so, representation achieves a depth that goes beyond the surface. As I have shown in Chapter 1, the complex cultural wars discursively waged during the Weimar Republic...

  9. Chapter 4 The Seductions of Sound
    (pp. 111-140)

    The Blue Angelowes its “life” to the emergence of sound. Because of its importance as one of Germany’s first sound films, it participates in a wider discursive field that addresses the uneven transition from silent to sound film in Germany, the newly discovered power of sound, and its effect on audiences. Toeplitz refers toThe Blue Angelas a “signpost film,” and as a conversion-era film, it tests the conventions of silent film and daringly plots its own acoustic principles.¹ Ironically, in the early stages of sound cinema, debates on its aesthetic value echoed those that accompanied the emergence...

  10. Chapter 5 The Actuality of The Blue Angel: Dietrich, Germany, and Mass Culture
    (pp. 141-166)

    On May 16, 1992, Marlene Dietrich’s last wish—to be buried next to her mother in Friedenau, Berlin, the city of her birth in 1901—was fulfilled.² Her mother’s daughter, and Germany’s daughter, had finally come home. In many ways, Dietrich symbolized the prodigal daughter, replacing the long-standing return of biblical sons to the familial nest after venturing out, a theme that was replayed in a number of street film melodramas during the Weimar Republic. It was “the return of the Blue Angel” (“die Heimkehr des blauen Engels”),³ as Hellmuth Karasek noted in the German weekly magazineDer Spiegel. But...

  11. Fade Out: The Credits
    (pp. 167-184)

    As in many early films, whose casts and crews were relatively small compared to today,The Blue Angel’s credits roll at the start of the film. Yet, owing to the dramatic turns each biography took either immediately following the premiere ofThe Blue Angelor a few years after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, I include them here at the end. The personal biographies of the cast, producer, scriptwriters, composers, and crew, as far as they can be tracked, represent the many different and unforeseen directions taken by the lives of those who were involved in Germany’s thriving film...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-190)
  13. Index
    (pp. 191-196)