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I Found It At The Movies: 1930: The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)

I Found It At The Movies: 1930: The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg)

Blog - I Found It At The Movies

Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

(I skipped 1929 because there are too many key films from that year that I’ve yet to see. I still need to see, for instance, Josef von Sternberg’s Thunderbolt and Jean Renoir’s Le bled. And, of the films I have seen from 1929, none have left a strong enough impression on me to really qualify as a “favorite film” of mine. Over time, however, I hope to rectify this and eventually have an entry for 1929.)

I first saw The Blue Angel during the Summer of 1996, only a month or two after graduating college. I spent most of May through August living in a friend’s apartment in Paris, right in the middle of cinephile mecca, the Latin Quarter. There are more art houses per square mile in the 5th arrondissement of Paris than in any other place I’ve ever been. Anyway, I remember catching The Blue Angel at one of these great theaters on Rue Mouffetard. I saw it at like noon or maybe even 10 a.m. (another great Parisian quirk, many of the art houses open early). Needless to say, it was a great day.

The Blue Angel reminds me very much of my 1931 entry, La chienne. Both movies contain absolutely devastating femmes fatales, Marlene Dietrich here, and both movies conclude (SPOILER!) with their male leads in incredibly dark places. I’m not sure why, but I like grand tragedies, and The Blue Angel and Emil Jannings’ performance are about as tragic as they come. I can’t always identify with loneliness on screen, but Jannings makes me feel for his character in a way that is complete and painful.

Of course, I also love Dietrich in the film. She not only traps Jannings, she entangles me, too. But it’s really Jannings that makes this one so powerful for me.

What moviemakers can learn: As a director, try to fall in love (emotionally, not romantically) with your characters. If you embrace them fully and with total conviction, it will be much easier for the audience to do the same.

Other contenders for 1930: There are some huge gaps I still need to fill in for this year. I still need to see: Howard Hawks’ The Dawn Patrol, Yasujiro Ozu’s That Night’s Wife and Tay Garnett’s Her Man. I’m a fan of Luis Bunuel’s L’âge d’or, although it doesn’t affect me emotionally in the same way as the von Sternberg film. I remember really falling for the charm and music in René Clair’s Under the Roofs of Paris, but it probably didn’t impact me as deeply as my first choice. Of my runner-ups, the real challengers for me are Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Earth, Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco and F.W. Murnau and Robert J. Flaherty’s Tabu. Tabu is one of the most poetic films I’ve ever seen, and it’s a film I’ll continue to revisit with some frequency. But ultimately, it’s the sense of tragedy in The Blue Angel, and the way that Jannings’ performance devastates me, that make it my favorite film of the year.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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