Erih Stroheim

Erih Stroheim

Film director, actor, screenwriter.
Country: France

Biography of Erich Stroheim

Erich Stroheim was a film director, actor, and screenwriter. Creating cinematic masterpieces was not an easy task for him. Stroheim, this short and slender outsider from Vienna, was a man of unwavering will. He was ready to fight against the Hollywood rules, not backing down an inch. How many times producers reproached him for the million-dollar budgets for his films! But he stood his ground: to hell with cardboard decorations, everything in the film must be real, no matter the cost! In response, the owners of the film companies caused scandals - Stroheim was removed from his work and other directors finished the film. This humiliation of the master repeated several times.

In the early 20th century, in the old Vienna, the capital of waltzes, the ancient city of family castles, cozy confectioneries, cheerful coachmen, and poor musicians, near the town hall, there was a hat workshop and a salon-shop of Benno Stroheim. Oh, those Viennese hats! They were not just headwear, no, they were poetry, music! It was rumored that some young ladies visited 'Stroheim' not only in search of a new hat or gloves but also to flirt with the fair-haired Erich, who helped his father in the shop. The young man could be mistaken for a true representative of the Aryan Nordic race, despite the fact that his father came from an old well-known Jewish family in Gleiwitz, and his mother, Johanna Bondi, grew up in the Jewish community of Prague. When Erich was drafted into military service and he came home on vacation for the first time, the neighbors just shrugged: how did these Stroheim Jews have such a son - in a neat uniform, with high, polished boots, white gloves, a dragoon hat with a cockade - a true Austrian officer, the pride of the empire! In fact, Erich was just a private serving in the supply unit, but when it came to bearing, posture, the ability to wear a sword, and salute - a true Prussian, a military man, a Teuton! He would have made a great adjutant to the legendary Bismarck!

However, a few months later, Erich deserted from the army and hid from the military police for some time - desertion was severely punished at all times. And soon Erich Stroheim could be seen among the crowd of immigrants, mostly Jews from Poland, Lithuania, and Bessarabia, stepping onto the stone pier of the New York port. What could a former hat salesman do? Absolutely nothing. But he was an energetic, strong-willed young man - he took on any job. He traveled across America from one end to the other. He washed dishes in a cheap diner, rode wild horses, worked as a valet, assistant sheriff, wrote articles in provincial newspapers, composed vaudevilles, and acted. In short, he took on everything.

Eventually, Erich appeared in Hollywood, the Mecca of fans of the Silent Era. At first, he worked as a stuntman. But then Erich met the great David Griffith, whom he later called his only teacher. Griffith took the nimble Austrian into his group as an administrator, and at the same time, Erich played small roles. In Hollywood, this talented newcomer from Europe gained the reputation of an extraordinary personality. In the eyes of others, this sharp-nosed blond was not just an immigrant from Vienna, but someone special, with a past connected to the Austrian imperial court, a descendant of an ancient aristocratic family with the intricate name Erich Oswald Hans Karl Maria Stroheim von Nordenwald, a graduate of the Neustadt Military Academy, born into a family of a dragoon colonel and a lady-in-waiting to the Austrian Empress.

But what about his Jewish origins? The hat shop near the Vienna town hall? The rather modest achievements in the Austrian army at the forage depot? His shameful desertion? All of this was left in the past, and in America, Erich created a new biography for himself. He even created an actor's name for himself. No one could portray an officer better than the "Austrian". His straight back, stone face, cold, rigid gaze, and characteristic haircut (which he never changed throughout his life) - with almost the entire skull smoothly shaven and only a little hair left on the top for a neat straight part.

But it wasn't just military roles that Stroheim excelled at. He wore a tuxedo like a natural lord. And his manners were impeccable. The roles of scoundrels, villains, and despicable characters who were capable of any baseness, violence, and murder seemed to stick to Stroheim. "A man whom it is pleasant to hate," as one reporter aptly named his acting mask. Nevertheless, this artist entered the history of world cinema primarily as an outstanding director. American film chronicles, eminent historians, and theorists place Stroheim's name alongside Griffith and Chaplin.

Then, at the beginning of his career, after years of work and study with the great Griffith, the young actor signed his first contract with the "Universal" film company to direct the film "Blind Husbands" based on his screenplay. A simple vaudeville story about failed marriages, marital infidelity, and cheap adultery. The theme was a winning one for those times (and all times, for that matter), commercially successful. But unlike the "chocolate" Hollywood stories, Stroheim presented a serious drama, completely devoid of sentimentality. His next film, "Foolish Wives," was even sharper. The film takes place in Monte Carlo during World War I. The film's hero is a former Russian officer, Count Karamzin, a swindler and libertine who lives off the money of his wealthy mistresses. The scoundrel eventually rapes a mentally ill girl. Her father kills the rapist and throws the body into the sewer.

After the premiere of the film, a scandal erupted. Newspapers wrote that this stranger from Austria insulted Americans, caused great offense to the praised American morality, and betrayed the country that had sheltered him. Funny, isn't it? America, whose films today are criticized by everyone for immorality, violence propaganda, and sexual decadence, was reproaching Erich Stroheim for all these sins!

How did Stroheim react to this? "If I see life around me as unattractive," he responded to reporters, "why should I portray it as easy and happy?"

When watching Stroheim's films today, witnessing the adventures of the bare-legged, slick officer, clicking his heels all the time, elegantly smoking cigarettes, another thought arises, which, it seems, did not occur to the journalists who attacked the director at that time - the anti-war direction of the young director's work. The main character, played by Stroheim himself, is an officer, a man who wears military uniform with brilliance, the pride of the army! But in reality, he is an empty, pompous creature who has nothing besides a uniform with insignia and polished boots. He is not a human, he is an impostor!

For many years, film critics have noted how brilliantly Stroheim portrayed officers. Yes, it is true. Furthermore, the actor looks at his character with a smirk, finding him ridiculous and sometimes even detestable.

What caused this aversion to soldiers, to officers, in a former shop assistant? Perhaps it is connected to his unexpected desertion, which forced him to leave Vienna, his homeland, his elderly parents forever. What kind of drama lay behind this? Unfortunately, no one will ever know. After all, details about his real name, his ordinary origins, the hat shop, and his Jewish parents only became known after his death.

Many years later, when he was forced to leave inhospitable America, Stroheim was invited by his idol Jean Renoir to appear in "The Grand Illusion," which later became a milestone in world cinema. In this film, he played the role of a German flying ace who shoots down a French plane and invites surviving French officers to dinner. One must witness this scene, in which Stroheim - Major von Rauffenstein - welcomes his guests at his table! He enters, puffing on his ever-present cigarette, and first thing, he takes a shot of schnapps from the bar counter. He doesn't drink it, he gulps it down, slightly squatting and throwing his head back. Only a combat pilot can do this so skillfully, so heroically! The weak officer he portrayed in his early silent films was no longer there. A solid, stocky Prussian with a bull's neck, a well-fitted officer's uniform, and highly polished boots. But there was something completely new in his expression. With what dignity and even friendliness, he welcomes the Frenchmen, with whom his army is at war!

In the second part of the film, the former pilot, wounded and encased in a corset, becomes the commandant of a prisoner of war camp. "My spine is broken in two places and secured with silver brackets," he tells his imprisoned French friend with sadness. "A silver chin and a silver kneecap - that's all the wealth that the war brought me."

Thus, Stroheim puts the final touch to his long-standing duel with the detested military. At that time, Stroheim was already in his sixties. And fifteen years later, when he was no longer alive, leading film critics from around the world gathered to determine the twelve best films "of all time and all nations." This honorary dozen included the film "Greed," shot in Hollywood in 1923, the best and one of the most scandalous films in Stroheim's directing career.

Creating cinematic masterpieces was not an easy task for Erich Stroheim. This short and slender outsider from Vienna was a man of unwavering will. He was ready to fight against the Hollywood rules, not backing down an inch. How many times producers reproached him for the million-dollar budgets for his films! But he stood his ground: to hell with cardboard decorations, everything in the film must be real, no matter the cost! In response, the owners of the film companies caused scandals - Stroheim was removed from his work and other directors finished the film. This humiliation of the master repeated several times.

"Greed" became the longest film in the history of the silent film era. In the first version, the screening lasted about eight hours. Stroheim was forced to cut the film, many beautiful scenes and episodes were irretrievably lost. In the end, Stroheim was removed from the editing process and entrusted to a random person, who mercilessly cut "Greed." But even in its mutilated form, this film, as mentioned before, was later recognized as a masterpiece.

During his lifetime, this talented self-taught director, who wrote screenplays, was the artistic designer of his films, and brilliantly played the lead roles in them, never left the studio for months, worked day and night. As the newspapers wrote, "without changing his old shoes and patched suit." As a reward, Stroheim received dismissals, a bad reputation as the most wasteful, capricious, and willful director. Yet film magnates continued to sign contracts with him because he was a "box office" director whose name on the billboards ensured the success of a film.

The requiem of the actor, the final chord of his cinematic odyssey, was his participation in Billy Wilder's famous film "Sunset Boulevard." Stroheim played himself - once-famous Hollywood director, living out his days as the butler of an aging film star. This was no longer the lively officer, brazen and foolish, that the young Erich played, but an old man seasoned by life. But again, the same dazzling white gloves, the same amazing posture, the tuxedo, and the silk bowtie.

...Stroheim died in 1957 in his country house near Paris. Shortly before that, France awarded him a high honor that he had long dreamed of. On a white cushion, following the coffin, they carried the Legion of Honor. "His funeral," Jean Renoir recalled, "befitted this extravagant man. Ahead of the funeral procession, consisting of celebrities of French cinema, gypsy musicians from a nightclub played Viennese waltzes..."