Preview: Black and White Films of Josef von Sternberg, New York Times

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photographer on August 22, 2010 at 8:36 am


George Bancroft plays a ship’s stoker in Josef von Sternberg’s “Docks of New York,” one of three silent films in Criterion’s new boxed set.

We don’t normally focus our coverage on moving pictures, but a review by David Kehr in the New York Times today of a new compilation DVD of work by Josef von Sternberg caught our interest.

In describing von Sternberg’s films, David Kehr, writes:

For Sternberg, the director of “Shanghai Express” and “The Scarlet Empress,” plots were at most a structuring device, a way of ordering elusive emotions, hazy atmospheres and almost abstract images.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Sternberg once suggested his movies be projected upside down, so that audiences wouldn’t be distracted from the sublime play of light and shadow on the screen.

With the camera moving almost constantly through a visual field dense with swaying extras, hanging clouds of smoke and fog, and looming foreground objects that together seem to keep the characters behind a scrim of unknowability, Sternberg here creates a spectacle at once breathtakingly beautiful and chokingly oppressive.

These films, re-issued by Criterion, sound like a Black and White image collector’s “must have” from a pure photographic perspective.

We often look at movie photography and comment, “That shot would make a great film still”, so it is interesting to look at work from a master of image making from the first half of the last century using Black and White to support story telling in an artistic manner… only in a serial sequence of pictures.

Check out the review at: NY Times

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