Underworld Screen 5 articles



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  • As is always the case with Sternberg, the specifics of plot are less essential to the success and brilliance of the film than the ways he crystallizes his characters’ psychologies through lighting, composition, and costume; the sensual nature of Sternberg’s filmmaking is here enhanced by a remarkable, kinetic editing style that gives the entire film the sense of ceaseless motion.

  • Josef von Sternberg, like his contemporary Yasujiro Ozu, appears inextricably linked in the mind of modern film culture to his iconic leading actress; Sternberg with Marlene Dietrich in works such as THE BLUE ANGEL and THE SCARLET EMPRESS... As with Ozu though, the viewer would be remiss not to reckon with Sternberg's silent work. Far more than just a dress rehearsal for the main event, Sternberg's 1927 film UNDERWORLD arrives complete, a silent classic at once hilarious and brutal.

  • Most stories are structured to favor the interiority of dreams over the course the protagonist’s journey towards change. Few filmmakers highlight this as poetically as Sternberg, who crafts a cinematic landscape by way of smoke and light. The emotions are raw and rooted in a universe crowded with people searching to buy into the same dream.

  • Sternberg’s richly ornamental compositions—which are dense with shadows and objects that separate viewers from the action—suggest a willful distance from his characters. A poet of solitude and shame, he framed the story’s rounds of recriminations and repentance with starkly frontal shots, which serve as striking visual correlates for a shy and solitary director’s revulsion at human contact.

  • "The first American gangster film", the legends say, and whether that's true or not, when it comes to Sternberg you should reverently take legend over fact. This is a sign of how his visual flair and psychodrama could shock relatively straightforward genre material to life, with a moralistic cross-cutting finale that's like Griffith if Griffith had had a wilder sex life. Silent fans, see it.

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