Marlene (1984)

“I was an actress, I made my films — that’s it!”

81-year-old Marlene Dietrich shares memories from her past with former co-star Maximilian Schell, while refusing to be photographed.


Classic movie buffs will surely delight in this most unusual interview between Maximilian Schell and octogenerian Marlene Dietrich, made under the strictest of conditions: that Schell would get only 40 hours of her time, and that her current image would never be shown on film. The result is a vibrant and creative — if at times necessarily constrained — walk back through memory lane with Dietrich, who reveals herself to be simultaneously cantankerous (“‘Falling in love again…’ I mean, really! It’s ridiculous”), obstinate (“It’s all in my book”), humble (“I didn’t understand anything in those days”), self-effacing (“I wasn’t erotic at all — I was snobby!”), mysterious (“What’s true is that what you read is untrue”), reflective (“I’ve never actually felt at home in any one place”), admirable (“Naturally we were against the Nazis; of course we were”), dismissive (“Do you think I’d go and sit in some sad, stuffy old cinema and watch an old film?”), bitchy (“I don’t call them women. I call them females. They can’t think clearly”), clear-headed (“You can’t miss what you’ve never had”), mendacious (she claims she had no siblings), and opinionated (“You can’t use that — really, you can’t”), among many other qualities. It’s well worth a listen.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A creative rendering of a life recounted

Must See?
Yes, as a fascinating if fragmented glimpse into Dietrich’s storied life. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.



One Response to “Marlene (1984)”

  1. Not must-see: for diehard Dietrich fans only.

    Not that long ago, I tried to rewatch this doc. I had seen it once before, around the time it was released (but I had almost no memory of it). I was sort of looking forward to the revisit. But… I soon began finding it difficult – and, by midway, I couldn’t go on.

    Most of what Dietrich is quoted as saying in the assessment is related to what I was feeling. It wasn’t just a matter of finding her “cantankerous”. I was sort of overwhelmed with the sense that… she didn’t want to be doing this documentary! She seemed to be finding the whole process – well, it’s impossible to say for sure but perhaps invasive (?), irrelevant (?), something she had ‘yes’ to but regretted (?).

    But, finally, I thought, ‘If she’s as disinterested in this as she sounds (and she certainly sounds it), then why should I be watching it?’ …It’s not like the same information can’t be found elsewhere.

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