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Creator / Erich von Stroheim

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The Man You Love to Hate.

"[Stroheim] had only one fault: every sequence in one of his pictures was as important as every other sequence. He made a five-reel picture out of every scene."
Clarence Brown

Erich von Stroheim (born Erich Oswald Stroheim in Vienna; September 22, 1885 – May 12, 1957) was an Austrian film director, actor, and screenwriter. When he emigrated to the United States in 1909 he added the aristocratic "von", passing himself off as an Austrian noble. (He was in actuality the son of a middle-class haberdasher.) Within a few years he had made it to Hollywood and found work as a stuntman and then a stock player in D. W. Griffith's production company, as well as an assistant director. World War I gave him numerous opportunities for parts as evil Germans, usually stereotypical monocled Junkers with boots and riding crops. This led to his studio, Universal, billing him as "The Man You Love to Hate".

After the war ended the parts of evil German officers dried up, so Stroheim wrote an original story, Blind Husbands, and managed to talk Universal into not only producing it but letting him direct. This began the ten-year directorial career for which Stroheim is most remembered. He was the epitome of the Prima Donna Director as well as The Perfectionist, noted for being fastidious to levels not seen again until Michael Cimino made Heaven's Gate, insisting on strict period detail (at great expense to the studio) in films like Blind Husbands, Foolish Wives, and The Merry Widow. He was also a rather notorious misogynist, proclaiming during one fight with Louis B. Mayer that all women were whores. Stroheim's bold demeanor and his uncompromising commitment to his art made him opposed to the rising Hollywood Studio System and his films suffered extensive Executive Meddling. In fact he was probably the first director whose films being Re-Cut was known to the public. The most spectacular instance of this was Greed, his epic adaptation of the novel McTeague, which according to rumor was nine hours long in its original cut. Stroheim later shortened it to six hours, intending to have it released it in two parts. But then producer Irving G. Thalberg took control of the film, cut it down to two hours, and the remaining footage was later burnt to save vault storage with the nitrate silver sold for salvage. Stroheim unsurprisingly regarded this as a travesty, although the industry and press backed Thalberg at the time and Stroheim was largely vilified for being uncommercial and demanding. He suffered the same fate on his subsequent films too, with The Wedding March released in two parts (ironically the very arrangement denied to Greed) and the second part going missing in a vault fire at the Paris Cinematheque years later.

A bigger meltdown was Queen Kelly (1929), which starred Gloria Swanson and was produced by Joseph Kennedy (father of President John F. Kennedy). Swanson didn't like the direction Stroheim was taking the film in and was horrified by its explicit sexual content, while Kennedy, like every other producer Stroheim ever worked with, was appalled by the out-of-control budget. Stroheim, as usual, didn't care what anyone else thought. Probably most importantly, Hollywood was just about done switching over to talkies by this point, but Stroheim insisted on making Queen Kelly as a silent film. Kennedy eventually got fed up, fired Stroheim and halted production.

After that Stroheim was seen as Persona Non Grata and never directed a film again. He still found work as an actor, however, and appeared later in films like Renoir's The Grand Illusion, where his performance was highly touted. His most famous performance is in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard where he and Gloria Swanson are reunited with him playing her butler Max Von Mayerling, a thinly disguised Expy of himself. The clips of Norma Desmond's silent films in Sunset Boulevard is actual footage from Queen Kelly.

Stroheim's films were amazing and shocking at the time for their bold sexual content, pessimistic portrayal of relationships, lack of Narm Charm, and unsentimental naturalistic performances, which greatly improved upon the expressionistic over-the-top acting in silent films. His Greed pioneered the use of location shooting and deep focus, years before Citizen Kane. And his films are arguably more accessible to audiences today than are those of other silent masters such as D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, since they aren't piled with Victorian melodrama and sentimentality.

No relation to Rudolf von Stroheim.

Partial Filmography :