Academic journal article German Quarterly

Dietrich Icon

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Dietrich Icon

Article excerpt

Gemünden, Gerd, and Mary R. Desjardins, eds. Dietrich Icon. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 420 pp. $89.95 cloth, $24.95 paperback.

The volume's pretext was the 2001 Dartmouth Conference on Marlene Dietrich. The editors gathered essays that put into circulation intersecting issues that relate to Dietrich-staging-Dietrich-being-staged. Readers can expect essays that put pressure on received orthodoxies on Dietrich as icon, on reception aesthetics, classical feminist film theory, film industry environments, and constructions of national identity in mass media. Dietrich herself is an ideal pretext when it comes to questions having to do with cinematic discourses. As Mayne writes, Dietrich has "functioned asa paradigm of virtually every argument that has been made about the specificity of the cinema" (349).

The volume's four major sections are framed by a "Prelude" comprising the editors' introduction and a short piece by biographer Stephen Bach ("Falling in Love Again"). In Section I, titled "Icon," Lutz Koepnick's and Nora Alter 's sharply insightful essays set a high bar for the rest of the volume with the imaginative and courageous theorizing that they are known for. In "Dietrich's Face," Koepnick separates the Siamese twin set Dietrich/Garbo with surgical precision. Projecting Dietrich's face into the digital (post-cinematic) age, he convincingly argues that her face "was prosthetic, seamlessly incorporating technology into a new kind of posthuman organism," while Garbo possessed a "beauty that was of classical aesthetic modernism" (58) . Alter 's essay puts into circulation Dietrich's legs with images of amputated war veterans and imaginatively theorizes their uncanny effect. Importantly, Alter puts pressure on psychoanalytical explanations as end-all for thinking about Dietrich's legs. I suspect that readers will never be able to fantasize about Dietrich's legs without recalling the (phantom) limbs Alter places in contiguity with Otto Dix's "Streichholzhhändler G" and "Kriegskrüppel" (both 1920). Amy Lawrence's "Marlene Dietrich - The Voice as Mask" brings up the rear of Section I. Her essay argues convincingly that Dietrich's voice enchants as an "impenetrable surface" that allows authences to project their desires and fantasies.

Section II, "Establishing the Star Persona" opens with Josef Garncarz's "Playing Garbo: How Marlene Dietrich Conquered Hollywood." Garncarz's persistent research digs up crucial information and refracts it through the historical prism (1920s and 1930s) of Germany's and Hollywood's film industry. Elisabeth Bronfen's "Seductive Departures of Marlene Dietrich: Exile and Stardom in The Blue Angel" reads this eponymous work through "real" and "reel" aspects of Dietrich's physical and artistic departures and momentary arrivals. Patrice Petro's "The Blue Angel in Multiple-Language Versions - The Inner Thighs of Miss Dietrich," takes on the vexing issue of multiple language versions of The Blue Angel. Subtended by meticulous detective work Petro challenges notions of original and copy in terms of this film's place in film history; his analyses of the consequences of changes in each of the four versions result in exciting new readings. Mary Beth Haralovich's important article, "Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus - Advertising Dietrich in Seven Markets" explores the variety of ways Blonde Venus was marketed in the US, suggesting that Dietrich's complex star persona can be read through the campaign strategies used in local markets. Erika Carter's "Marlene Dietrich Prodigal Daughter" effectively challenges notions of Hollywood's hegemony in the structure of star systems. …

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