Anatahan Screen 8 articles

Anatahan

1953

Anatahan Poster
  • Creatively, Anatahan is not a disappointment so much as it is a curiosity. It’s certainly in line with Sternberg’s primary narrative theme—a stunning, emotionally distant woman who leads men first to distraction, then destruction... The problem with all this is that the story is not so much dramatized as illustrated. It’s basically a silent movie with (very good) musical accompaniment narrated by a single voice that handles the exposition and informs us of the emotional states of the characters.

  • Covered in seashells and patio furniture, as kitschily artificial as a Jack Smith movie, it’s one of cinema’s most self-conscious games of pretend, made all the more bizarre by the director himself on the soundtrack, sounding in turns God-like, sarcastic, admonishing, and disgusted with humanity.

  • Sternberg's film is a law and a world unto itself, and watching it is an immersion into many things, including a filmmaking mode that seems to be receding fast.

  • One of the great masterpieces of cinema, ANATAHAN may not be as well known as Sternberg's 1930's films with Marlene Dietrich, but it's a rich and raw culmination of the themes and stylistic attributes he had been pursuing since the 1920s.

  • Filming in a Kyoto studio, Sternberg slashes the screen with Expressionist tangles of foliage and menacing shadows of rough-hewn latticework. They evoke the warped furies that social refinements and aesthetic delights—the manners and finery that Sternberg’s earlier heroines flaunted—both repress and embody.

  • Somehow, through all this abstraction, the feeling of bearing sobering witness to the breakdown of civilization comes through vividly. Though some of these people are rescued in the end, the final sequence suggests that their newfound understanding of the depths of human cruelty within themselves will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

  • ...All of these formal quirks make Anatahan quite the cutting-edge accomplishment for 1953, though the film hardly gives the impression of a work made for aesthetes alone. On the contrary, Sternberg's distancing maneuvers imply humility in the face of a story far outside his lived experience, and it's a vantage point that enables the director to very directly probe existential questions that long consumed him.

  • With non-actors, zero Hollywood funding, and a post-production that ran years, the struggle of making Anatahan could have proven a bloated disaster. But seeing this true story is a singularly peculiar experience... Though clearly shot on a backlot—the fake island setting hearkens to the chapter serials of wartime—the artifice helps keep the focus on the film as a tightly wound parable about barbarism, arrogance, and the need to invent situations in order to perpetrate those qualities.

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