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Gabriel de Gravone
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Erich von Stroheim
Sam De Grasse,
"Count" Karanzim, a Don Juan is with his cousins in Monte Carlo, living from faked money and the money he gets from rich ladies, who are attracted by his charmes and his title or his militaristic and aristocratic behaviour. He tries to have success with Mrs Hughes, the wife of the new US ambassador. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
The Ambassador, played by Rudolph Christians, has his back to the camera for most of the second half of the movie because Christians died in the middle of production and his part was completed by Robert Edeson. See more »
When the Count seats Mrs. Hughes at the roulette table, she is wearing a different gown than the one in the rest of the scene. See more »
Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) was a man with many realities. He was born into a poor Jewish family in Vienna, tried to join the Habsburgian army but was rejected, flew to the United States and started as a swimming instructor and boat guide. How he managed to meet David Griffith is unclear, but finally Griffith appointed von Stroheim as assistant director for his "Intolerance" (1916). It is hard to imagine how such different characters like Griffith and von Stroheim could get along with one another, but I assume that the most important feature that they shared was their megalomania. Soon after, von Stroheim started his career as director and actor, although he had no education at all not in theater, not in film business, not in literature. But this did not prevent him either to write screenplays.
After his debut with Griffith, he changed his identity and invented a new one. He added the predicate "von" to his name, told everybody that he is the descendant of a family of Viennese nobles and had made a carrier as an imperial officer in the Habsburgian army. Von Stroheim trained so long, until he could perfectly imitate the behavior of all ranks from a colonel up to a general, from a prince up to a count. And these were the roles that he should play mostly during his whole life: counts, barons, captains, lieutenants, majors, generals. He played them until he believed that he was what he played: the borders between his seeming and his being became more and more fluid. It therefore would be a terrible mistake to assume that Erich von Stroheim was a liar, a cheater and a betrayer. Similar to Don Quixote, he constructed his own reality, including his identity and believed in it himself.
Strangely enough, although von Stroheim directed only about 10 movies, but acted in in 74, he is nowadays known mainly as a director. Once arrived in the United States, the Habsburgian monarchy was broken together already, so nobody could check if Erich von Stroheim was an Austrian noble, an officer or not. In his very personal way, von Stroheim took the famous passage of the Declaration of Independence more seriously than many other Americans or peoples who became Americans: the breaking-up of his own past and scooping out fully his chances in the land of unlimited possibilities. However, in creating his personal reality, he was obliged to maximal authenticity. So von Stroheim for example reconstructed meticulously the Casino of Monte Carlo for his movie "Foolish wives" (1922). Instead of using raspberry jam as imitation for caviar he had imported original Russian Beluga caviar extremely expensive and hard to get so shortly after World War I. The movie was the hitherto most expensive film, it cost over one million of dollars. Von Stroheim's megalomania caused by his obsession for authenticity in order to convince not only the public but mostly himself about his creations of reality leaded finally to the end of his directing career in the United States and also inaugurated much later his fame as the most extravagant film director ever.
Married to Valérie Germonpréz, Erich von Stroheim met already in the United States his secretary and later life-mate Denise Vernac (1916-1984), who was 31 years younger than him. Although he never divorced from his wife, he finally left the U.S. after his failure as a director and lacking film roles. He settled to France in the castle of his girlfriend who enabled von Stroheim to continue his life of self-creation. He always wore his golden watch and bracelet, his stick with silver knob and dressed like a baron. Totally unaware that he could never reestablish himself as a film director, he continued writing screenplays that would never be filmed. His style of writing was so clumsy that he could not even publish the novels that he also wrote. He drew whole film scenarios that never would be put in scene. Meanwhile he appeared in main roles in French and again in American movies in which he played his usual roles in order to forget that he sat, as a director, unnoticed by the world in the castle of his girlfriend, writing letters of love to his wife, but fully depending financially on his girlfriend, his only public performances being his showing-ups in Paris' most expensive high-society restaurant "Maxims" where everybody knew him. In order to get there from Maurepas, where von Stroheim and Denise Vernac lived, they had to drive each evening a long way. Often, von Stroheim presented himself in the restaurant in the costumes of the barons and generals that he played on screen: the borders between reality and fantasy were abolished. However, he did not lack a special kind of self-irony, and this is shown best in "Foolish wives", where a girl is reading a book with the same title, allegedly written by Erich von Stroheim or in another movie where he played a megalomaniac film director. But nevertheless, he acted in real life, and his life of self-creation was doubtless his greatest role. In this context, is seems almost ironical that only a few days before his death the state of France appointed him knight of the honorary legion: Erich von Stroheim's only real award that was not created by himself.
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