Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Scarlet Empress

The Scarlet Empress – Josef Von Sternberg – Marlene Dietrich plays Catherine the Great, from her childish naivety through to a domineering strut of sex wielding, womanhood. A ‘womanhood’ problematically transfigured, in her empowerment, as a cross dressing and titillating role-play of masculinity. She strides through the palatial corridors, dressed in a male uniform (tailored with promiscuous flair) to usurp her frail and mentally deranged husband. It is all fairly ridiculous and feels far less successful than Blonde Venus, the title role of which seemed to far better optimise Dietrich’s ambiguous appeal. The most impressive element of the film is its astoundingly artistic sets, composed of lavish rooms, macabre statues, monolithic doors and a consistent, extravagant eye for detail. There is also a brilliant montage at the beginning, in which scenes of torture and mythologised barbarism skip from topless women burnt at the stake to a man tied inside a bell as human clapper (recalling a detail from Fantomas). 6.5/10



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