East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Morocco (1930)

Today is Joseph von Sternberg’s birthday, so it feels right that I spent one hour and a half last night rewatching his Morocco, an exotic melodrama featuring Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou.
The film was shot in 1930 and caused quite a stir, for a number of reasons.
While not my favorite Dietrich/von Sternberg collaboration, it’s still worth a look.
And despite the desert location, this is probably not a Tits & Sand movie, but… who knows?

The plot: cynical but maybe not so cynical cabaret entertainer falls in love with cheeky American legionnaire and refuses the advances of a more settled, wealthy gentleman. Passions flare, tragedy ensues.

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Joseph von Sternberg at the Great World

220px-great_world_entertainment_center_in_the_1930sI’ve been re-visiting Shanghai, in these nights – both for my Ned Land story and for another project that was stumped by the chaos after my father’s death, and now has started again in earnest.

And so I was checking my details both in my library and online, and stumbled once again on the Great World Amusement Center, established in 1917 and bombed to hell by friendly fire in 1937 during the Battle of Shanghai… the place was full of refugees from the Chinese districts, sure they’d be safe as the Japanese were not supposed to attack the International Settlement.

The place was rebuilt, weathered war and revolutions, and is still going strong – even if I doubt it’s up to its old standard as a wretched hive of scum and villainy – and here’s an insider’s view, from Joseph von Sternberg’s Fun in a Chinese LaundryContinue reading

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Waiting for 2016 in the 1930s

Last day of 2015.
I’ve been planning the family dinner and some entertainment.
The local offering, both in terms of live entertainment, cinema or TV programming is bleak bordering on ghastly.
I could go for some music – my old tradition of listening a musical or operetta of some kind on new year’s eve.
51vp643XS-LAnd indeed, I had planned to listen to South Pacific this year Рbut apparently my copy (the Jos̩ CarrerasKiri Te Kanawa version) was misplaced or, more likely, never returned after borrowing.
And the neighbors get nervous if I listen music at a high volume anyway – their dog starts barking.
Do I really want to spend my New Year’s Eve wearing headphones?

So I decided for a Marlene Dietrich double bill – first Morocco, from 1930, and then The Scarlet Empress, from 1934 (the Criterion edition, with a lots of extra features).
Both directed by Joseph von Sternberg.
So yes, while 2016 arrives, I’ll be in the 1930s, in the company of Marlene Dietrich.


Better than the ghastly New Year’s Eve the state television has to offer – ghastly, and paid with my tax money.

See you on the other side, ladies and gentlemen.
And have a happy new year – no matter in what decade you decide to start it.