A Year: Day to Day Men: 22nd of September, Solar Year 2018

Red Atop of Gray

September 22, 1885 was the birthdate of director, actor and producer Erich von Stroheim.

Eric von Stroheim is considered one of the greatest directors of the silent era; he created films representing both a cynical and a romantic view on human nature. His style of directing was known to be dictatorial and demanding on the actors. Stoheim’s best remembered work was his adaption of Frank Norris’ period novel “McTeague”, released in 1924 under the title “Greed”. It originally started as a project with Goldwyn Pictures, which later during the filming, Merged with Loew  and became MGM,

“Greed” was intended to be a highly detailed version of the book, shot at the actual locations in the book. Scenes with actors in period dress and Silent movie make-up were shot amidst a modern day San Francisco, with its automobiles seen in many scenes. The Death Valley scenes in the book were shot on location in the heat of summer, the first feature-length film shot at the location.

The original print of “Greed” ran for ten hours. Stoheim and director Rex Ingram, after cutting more than half of the footage, edited it into a four-hour version that could be shown in two parts. Metro- Goldwyn Mayer, tired of Stroheim’s attempts to cut the film to less than three hours, removed Stroheim form his control and gave the film to head scriptwriter June Mathis with instructions to cut it further. Mathis gave the print to a routine cutter, who reduced it to two and a half hours in length. In what is considered one of the greatest losses in cinema history, a janitor at the studio destroyed the cut footage. The released version was a commercial failure and was disowned by Stroheim.

Stroheim’s unwillingness or inability to modify his artistic principles for the commercial cinema, his extreme attention to detail, his insistence on near-total artistic freedom and the resulting costs of his films led to fights with the studios. As time went on he received fewer directing opportunities. In 1929, Stroheim was dismissed as the director of the film “Queen Kelly” after disagreements with star Gloria Swanson and producer Joseph P. Kennedy over the mounting costs of the film and Stroheim’s introduction of indecent subject matter into the film’s scenario.

Eric von Stroheim played the role of producer Max von Mayerling in Billy Wilder’s 1950 “Sunset Boulevard”, for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award fo Best Supporting Actor. Excerpts from his previous work “Queen Kelly” were shown in the film. His character has lines stating that he used to be one of the three greatest directors of the silent era. Stoheim’s character reflected the actual humiliations and trials Stroheim had actually suffered through his career. Stoheim, paralyzed from cancer in his body, passed at his chateau near Paris on May 12, 1957 at the age of 71.

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