World Melodrama Film Series Presents The Scarlet Empress (1934)

And so it begins.  New film series from Erik and me, starting next week.  Kicking off with a hay-chewing, soldier-screwing, monstrous statue-looming, inexplicable coup-succeeding bang.  If you live afar, time to start following along as we set off a 10 week sprint to prove that melodrama may be the undervalued genre of the last century, at least if you like your films as ornamental, formally disjunctive, kinky, and suspiciously anarchic as I do.

“Your husband doesn’t mean a thing to you.”
“He does.  I’ll always be faithful to him.”

“Don’t be absurd.  Those ideas are old-fashioned.  This is the eighteenth century.”

We’re starting the series off this quarter with Josef von Sternberg’s remarkably stylish and overheated costume film, The Scarlet Empress, which is nominally about the events and backdoor machinations leading up to the assassination of Peter III and the ascension to the throne of Catherine II (a.k.a., the Great) in mid eighteenth-century Russia.  What this perfunctory plot summary leaves out, however, is everything that makes this film a seminal example of historical melodrama, from the smutty upstairs-downstairs nocturnal comings-and-goings to the extravagant ornamental details that overwhelm almost every scene to Marlene Dietrich’s breathless naïf who proves to be a very quick study when it comes to learning both how to rule a foreign country as vast as Russia and how to win that country’s military over to her side, one soldier at a time.

Tuesday, April 5th
Stevenson 150, 8 PM

1 comment:

Alyssa Shimmin said...

Melodrama came up tonight after the Mission to Mars screening and I was lamenting your absence. Then someone reminded me you exist in the world-wide realm! I just thought I'd let you know that after revisiting this film several times since spring, I've been turned. You should be pleased, or at the very least less disappointed.
Anyway, I hope Italy is sufficiently weird.