Cinema and Media Studies Erich Von Stroheim
Fanny Lignon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0095


Austrian-born Erich von Stroheim (b. 1885–d. 1957) is one of the greatest directors of the American silent movie era. Every one of the nine films he made is considered a masterpiece. He was also an actor whose career started in the United States and continued in France. Lastly, he was a prolific writer. In addition to the scripts of the movies he directed, he wrote a play, three novels, about ten articles, and numerous scripts and film drafts, most of which have never been published and remain dormant in the American and French archives. In the world of cinema and the world at large, Stroheim is an icon. He is considered a rebellious genius in constant conflict with financiers, the accursed artist crushed by Hollywood whose work was massacred. However, Stroheim was also a brilliant mystifier. Although he was widely seen as the epitome of the Prussian aristocrat, a regular officer of the Imperial Army, the cinema’s dirty Hun, in fact, he had only just managed the rank of corporal and had spent only eight months in the army before being discharged as unfit for active service. His father was a hat maker, and both his parents were practicing Jews. It is when he immigrated to the United States that Stroheim began to give shape to his mythic personality. He never ceased to better this myth, day after day, film after film, making quite sure that myth would replace reality. The stratagem worked so well that the truth was discovered only ten years after his death and has not yet completely replaced the fiction. The man and his work, art and life, are here so intertwined that it seems necessary, in order to introduce the bulk of Stroheim’s works, to take into account the moviemaker’s degree of actual involvement in his writings. Because, although Stroheim was an immense artist, he was also a past master in the art of communication, familiar with all the tricks of self-promotion, in which he overindulged. Anyone interested in this question would be advised to read Max Nordau’s Paradoxe (1885), a book at greatly impressed Stroheim in his youth and whose precepts he later followed with talent.

Stroheim by Stroheim

Whatever the subject matter, the texts written by Stroheim are privileged ways to access his work and, for anyone who can read between the lines, his personality. Under this heading will be found his main articles and some of the speeches he delivered and which were later published. The collection is rather limited but nevertheless contributes interestingly to our understanding.

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