Saturday, October 22, 2022 at 7:30pm
Maximilian Schell's Marlene

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Introduced by Melissa Anderson

Marlene, Maximilian Schell, 1984, digital projection, 94 mins

Marlene Dietrich’s greatest performance—or certainly her most volcanic and indignant—occurs in a film in which the screen deity insisted she be invisible. At the age of 80, deep into her retirement, the actress agreed to take part in a documentary about her life, to be directed by Maximilian Schell, her costar in Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Dietrich’s involvement in the project came with unorthodox conditions: neither she nor her apartment in Paris, where Schell interviewed her and where she had been living as a near-recluse since 1979, could be photographed.

The portrait that emerged, simply titled Marlene and premiering in 1984, is a shrewd summa of stardom and late-life legend-burnishing, one that evinces its irascible subject’s perverse genius: by sticking to the shadows in Schell’s documentary, the senescent Dietrich ensures that viewers will crave images of her from the past that much more. Schell’s rich compendium of clips includes not only scenes from the actress’s most famous films but also segments from a 1971 TV interview, bits from her concert performances, and footage from one of her innumerable morale-boosting efforts for Allied troops during World War II. (Dietrich famously renounced her German citizenship in 1939.)

Most of the Austrian-born Schell’s inquiries to the legend, delivered in English and German, are met with some version of the following, also auf Deutsch und Englisch: “Rubbish!” or “You should go back to Mama Schell and learn some manners.” Faced with such a stroppy interlocutor, Schell persists, remaining courtly but not too submissive. When not exploding at Schell, Dietrich offers curiously self-abnegating appraisals. “I wasn’t erotic. I was snotty,” she recalls when discussing her films with Josef von Sternberg, a corpus that still inspires thralldom from spectators of all genders. Kenneth Tynan, perhaps Dietrich’s most astute admirer, once observed that the actress “stormed the senses, looking always tangible but at the same time untouchable.” In Marlene, she is unfilmable—and, like all screen eminences, untamable, unpredictable, completely unknowable.

— MA

Melissa Anderson, the film editor and lead film critic of 4Columns, is the author of a monograph on David Lynch’s Inland Empire from Fireflies Press.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.