Sunday, July 17, 2011

SFSFF: The Woman Men Yearn For

Saturday night the SF Silent Film Festival packed the Castro Theatre for a rare screening of The Woman Men Yearn For, a German silent film staring Marlene Dietrich. Kurt Bernhardt directed Dietrich in this movie before she appeared in Die blaue Engel. It gives the lie to the myth that von Sternberg discovered Dietrich & created her iconic screen image. We first see her staring out a train window, looking both blank & alluring, & her seductive pull is immediate. Otherwise, the movie is an unsurprising drama of thwarted passions.

Eddie Muller, local Film Noir expert, delivered a punchy & informative introduction. He related that the film's director described Dietrich as an "intrigante," a woman who fosters intrigue. This is in contrast to a femme fatale, a woman who uses her seductive powers to victimize men. In this case, certainly, Dietrich is the victim & not the victimizer. Mr. Muller also rebutted early critics who panned her seemingly static performance. Mr. Muller defines a real movie star as "someone who is utterly compelling doing nothing."

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, comprising piano, violin, clarinet, trumpet & cello, accompanied the film with an original score. It is melodic & has the feel of salon music. A recurring tune is identified with Dietrich's character. The score establishes a distinct mood for each scene, but the transitions are abrupt. The band kept an even pace for the entire movie, & the audience responded enthusiastically to their performance. Anthony Bernhardt, son of the film's director, was present at the screening.

§ Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt (The Woman Men Yearn For)
(Germany, 1929, 85 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Kurt Bernhardt
Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sat, Jul 16th 8:30pm
Castro Theatre

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