MovieChat Forums > The Scarlet EmpressĀ (1934) Discussion > Here's a nice topic for you: The infamou...

Here's a nice topic for you: The infamous dinner table


Well, first of all, that sequence involving the large feast, with the multitude of creepy statues of everywhere and that great long take, reminded me greatly of the first dinner scene from Eastern Promises. Pretty sure Cronenberg was making a bit of a citation. But instead of using shadows he used bright colors. Especially red, I think.

Second of all- I'm becoming really curious about this Josef von Sternberg. How did he get away with this stuff???

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The period of time in which von STernberg collaborated with Dietrich was actually a pretty permissive time. 1929-mid 1934 was a period during which the Production Code was not actively being enforced. (You may have heard the term "pre-code" to describe it). Many movies made during this time dealt with pretty mature subjects--premarital and extra-marital sex, out-of-wedlock children, abortion, prostitution and so on in a much more realistic and honest fashion than would films of later years
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Von Sternberg got away with more than most, possibly because he was considered a "genius" whose films were artistic. Eventually, falling revenues and the Production Code caught up with him and Paramount stopped tolerating his eccentricities and excesses. After "The Devil is a Woman," he only directed a handful of films (including the bizarre and atmospheric "Shanghai Gesture")and was more or less forgotten until the 60's when Truffaut (I think it was him) revived interest in his career through a series of interviews.

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The period of time in which von STernberg collaborated with Dietrich was actually a pretty permissive time. 1929-mid 1934 was a period during which the Production Code was not actively being enforced. (You may have heard the term "pre-code" to describe it).


Well said.

Perhaps the Great Depression was another factor? I've been led to understand that the Depression was a boom time for movies. Not necessarily in technical terms, but as far as ticket sales were concerned.

From what I can make out, The Scarlet Empress didn't do very well at the box office. Even so, I'd like to think that, if nothing else, the movie took the audiences of 1934 away from their troubles for a while. There's so much going on in terms of visual effects that I can't imagine not being drawn into it, even if you're not quite taken with it (if that makes any sense).

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I would suggest that 1930s audiences would have said it showed why there had to be a revolution. Quite a few people in the 1930s joined the Communist party and some even went to Moscow in the first blush of enthusiasm for a new age, that of course turned out to be as corrupt and oppressive as the old one.

They would most likely have known that the 1812 Overture, a perennial favorite for open air concerts, was created after Catherine's time and was greatly anachronistic not the least of which because it celebrated Russia's repulse of Napoleon's army which had nothing whatsoever to do with an autocratic Russian Empress seizing power from her deranged husband, in any philosophical or historical sense. It was too famous a piece of music to have NO significance and just be used as a tune with bells and gunfire. The director wasn't a simpleton and the movie is too complex to have been created for simpletons to view.

The only explanation I can come up with is that the director was an autocrat and he respected and admired autocrats so he could portray Catherine and the army fighting for her against her husband as being the saviors of Russia, the same way Alexander I and the army were perceived when they beat off Napoleon's army. The movie might not have gone over big in that time not only because it showed weird and depraved things which were not designed to appeal to a mass market, and because it was essentially visual in an era of increasingly good dialogue, but because audiences in the 1930s were convinced that Catherine and all the rest were a thoroughly bad lot and it was good they were overthrown.

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JvS was self absorbed. In this film, story was second banana to visuals. Not a good idea in any art form.

my favorites are Harlow and Garbo. I guess I'm just an old fashion guy

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Actually, a great idea in all art forms. You need to get over your close-minded pre-conceptions about what film is supposed to be and discover the aesthetic treasure trove it can offer.


Hostility to art is also hostility to the new, to the unforeseen. --R. Bresson

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Or...this was really a silent movie with words. It would have done as well or even better without them.

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If he was less self-absorbed he'd have been a lot less influential. There are many other directors who are equally as self-absorbed but without half the chops.

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I hadn't considered the dinner table scene in Eastern Promises, but I see the similarity.

There is also a much more direct citation of the shot in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

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