Academic journal article CineAction

Maximilian Schell (1930-2014)

Academic journal article CineAction

Maximilian Schell (1930-2014)

Article excerpt

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Maximilian Schell is best known for his acting career, most famously perhaps (in North America at least) for his star making performance in Judgment at Nuremberg. His role as the prosecutor Herr Rolfe, employs a number of characteristics that define his image: a sharp intelligence, confidence, an intensity that is both disciplined yet emotional, and, not least, a sculpted handsomeness. Schell's role as a prosecutor draws attention to the question of performance and showcases his awareness of what that entails. Perhaps because of his casting in diverse roles pertaining to WWII, for example, a war criminal in Man in a Glass Booth, or a resistance fighter in Julia, he evokes the Germany of the war and its aftermath, and the conflicted feelings associated with a man of Austrian descent in that time frame.

What is less commented on is Schell's career as a film director. In CineAction #15, Winter 88/89, we co-authored an article entitled, "Falling In Love Again: Notes on Film Criticism and Marlene" which offers an analysis of Schell's Marlene (1984), a documentary on the career and star image of Marlene Dietrich. Schell and Dietrich had worked together in Judgment at Nuremberg and as she comments in the film, she greatly respected his work and agreed to have Schell direct the film after rejecting Peter Bogdonavich as a producer's first choice. Dietrich agreed to the interviews but refused to appear onscreen and allow access to her living quarters in Paris, and Schell never recovered fully from her unwillingness to change those terms. Nevertheless Schell manages to present a nuanced portrait of Dietrich's star image and its many contradictions, acknowledging with admiration her heroic refusal to return to Germany in the 30's and show complicity with the Nazi regime. The courage this demanded and subsequent fallout in Germany from Dietrich's decision to become an American citizen is further underlined by the fact that Schell is an Austrian interviewing a German. The fact that both are professional actors who had successful careers in Europe and America contributes to the complex and rich meditation that Marlene offers, on both performance and the position of the international star in the pre- and post -war years.

Twenty-five or so years later we have modified our understanding of Schell's intention with the film and its subject. …

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