Josef von Sternberg – Der Blaue Engel

The Blue Angel (Sternberg 1930) is a sad movie about a sad man. The main character is Dr. Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), who falls in love with a burlesque artiste (Marlene Dietrich). Rath is a professor at a local college, which he emphasizes often. I am going to go ahead and assume that college means high school for us U.S. blokes. Overall I was not that into the movie. I had to actually steel myself to sit down and watch it, and I kept picking up my phone to distract myself. However, I finally focused about 30 minutes in to this 1 hour and 47 minutes spectacle of a film. There were definitely some interesting parts and some downright boring parts. So lets just leave it at that and focus on what was good.

To start with, Sternberg did a great job with parallels in this film. There are definitely comparing scenes that recall the opposing mindset of Dr. Rath and different points in the film. My favorite scenes were the middle (what I consider the middle, I didn’t check the actual time) and the end. Both are shot beautifully with the Dr. at his teacher’s desk. The camera is slightly to the right of the screen, and it starts to track backwards, never moving the Dr. from the focal point. The empty student desks are wonderfully symbolic of what is going on with Dr. Rath. Another parallel that I loved is the bird metaphor that is repeated. The movie opens with the Dr. waking up, being served breakfast, and then realizing his bird has died; the maid’s comment, “It stopped singing a long time ago.” This scene can be compared with the scene right after the Dr. first sleeps over at Lola’s. He wakes up to a bird singing. The bird metaphor here is fabulous, he thinks that just like the bird in a cage, Lola is also trapped. It is too late that he realizes that she is here of her own volition. No one has caged her, and therefore she needs no saving or taking care of.

The first half of the film is kind of boring. Dr. Rath’s character is pretty bland here and he becomes the butt of many a joke, for his students and the viewer. He really starts to shine at my halfway point when he sticks up for Lola against the insults of his boss. It is also here that his life starts to spiral downwards. Not to give to much away (if I haven’t already) but shit gets bad for Dr. Rath. The last half of the film is about Dr. Rath’s attempts at coping with his new life as a part of the traveling act that Lola is a part of. I think this last half is where Emil Jannings as Dr. Rath really shines. Throughout the whole film, he never says much, but during the latter half, his silence is gut wrenching. I just wanted him to scream and rail against everything, but he cannot even fathom what is happening.

I find it hard to continue this talk without spoiling too much so I’ll end it with this, if you’re a movie goer, maybe skip this one. If you’re a film watcher, check it out. For a film new to sound, only three years after The Jazz Singer, it handles sound wonderfully. Hence, why this film is considered a musical as well. In fact, it even falls within one of the two typical musical categories, a backstage musical. What I found great is that it mixed the backstage musical with the storyline musical, inserting music into everyday occurrences. But like I said, if you’re into film, check this out, not if you’re just into movies (you might think it’s boring, like I did at first).

 

Cast and Crew

 

Next Week: Howard Hawks – His Girl Friday, Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight (I plan on watching both Nolan Batman’s in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises, eek)