LBJBR’S Film Director Spotlight: Erich Von Stroheim

Erich Von Stroheim was an enigma. He meant it that way, Born September 22, 1885, in Vienna, Austria, the future film director of several of Sunset Boulevard co-star Gloria Swanson, Von Stroheim emigrated to the United States at a young age. His ancestry and class status have long since been the subject of debate among film historians. Later on, as a established film director, Von Stroheim would cultivate an autocratic aura and manner. This Von Stroheim would become of the most well-known, if not head strong film directors in Hollywood history.

Von Stroheim would begin his career in Hollywood as a stunt, sometimes actor and consultant for studios on German culture. They young Erich would continue his film education under the tutelege of film pioneer DW Griffith. One of Hollywood’s first and greatest innovators, young Erich would take minor roles in several of the prolific director’s films.

Von Stroheim would take on small roles in other films, chiefly playing bad guy, usually Germanic in origin; World War I had just set the world on fire. After the war ended, Von Stroheim would turn to the creative side and pick up writing. In 1919, Von Stroheim would direct his first film Blid Husbands, which would use Von Stroheim’s own script.

Von Stroheim would earn his austere Germanic reputation as a film director. Wikipedia would note:

“As a director, Stroheim was known to be dictatorial and demanding, often antagonizing his actors. He is considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era, creating films that represent cynical and romantic views of human nature. (In the 1932 film The Lost Squadron Stroheim played a parody of himself as a fanatic German film director making a World War I g tropes in his films include the portrayal of janitors, and the depiction of characters with physical disabilities”

Von Stroheim’s brusque manner and bullishness would put him in direct conflict with producers and studio heads. It didn’t help that he took extremely long periods of time to shoot films, that often came in over budget. MGM’s wunderkind producer, Irving Thalberg had to fire Von Stroheim on one project.

Von Stroheim’s problems with staying under budget and on time are best represented by his 1924 film Greed. Wikipedia notes:

Greed was one of the few films of its time to be shot entirely on location, with Stroheim shooting approximately 85 hours of footage before editing. Two months alone were spent shooting in Death Valley for the film’s final sequence, and many of the cast and crew became ill. Stroheim used sophisticated filming techniques such as deep-focus cinematography and montage editing. He considered Greed to be a Greek tragedy, in which environment and heredity controlled the characters’ fates and reduced them to primitive bêtes humaines (human beasts). “

Von Stroheim presented the studio with an unreleasable 10 hour. The studio passed the print to another editor who managed to cut the film down to to 2 hours and 20 minutes when Von Stroheim refused to do so. The director would disown the film.

More run-i ns were ahead for the volitale director. Unwilling to compromise in a producer driven business, Non Stroheim’s films were becoming more like artistic endeavers rather than a film. The cost and the amount of time to make become more than anyone would want to undertake.

Erich Von Stroheim would be left at the side of the road.

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