Marlene (1984)

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

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

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Review:
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.

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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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