Since it's often claimed that the greatest loss in the history of the cinema is the 32 reels that Metro cut from Erich Von Stroheim's "Greed" (1923), it is important to remember that the 10 that remain were enough to get it voted as one of the 12 best films of all time by an international jury at the Brussels Exposition of 1958. As tragic as the fate of "Greed" was, it remains, even in truncated form, timelessly dazzling. It is not a fragment but a fully rounded film, running 150 minutes in the version to be presented Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. at the County Museum of Art.
In adapting Frank Norris' "McTeague" in a justly celebrated documentary-like style, Von Stroheim forsook his usual Ruritania to tell the working-class story of a San Francisco dentist, (Gibson Gowland), and the deceptively fragile-looking woman (Zasu Pitts) he marries. Pitts' realization of her terror of sex on her bridal night coincides with her winning $5,000 in a lottery, unleashing in her a lust for gold in place of sexual lust. "Greed," however, is not merely Freudian but a profound and tragic consideration of the interlocking of fate and character.
Von Stroheim returned to a lush Ruritania--a fictional Balkan principality--with his very free 1925 adaptation of the Franz Lehar operetta "The Merry Widow" (screening Friday at 8 at LACMA). Once again, there's a confrontation between American innocence, represented by touring Broadway showgirl Mae Murray, and European sophistication, in the person of playboy prince John Gilbert, whose true love for Murray is threatened by his slimy cousin (Roy D'Arcy).
In its final four offerings, the Fox International Theater's "International Women's Film Festival" presents in its local premiere Fionnula Flanagan's "James Joyce's Women" (Wednesday), Marta Meszaros' "Women" (today), which had a local run in December, 1978, and two films which premiered at Filmex--Helma Sanders-Brahms' "Germany, Pale Mother" (Tuesday) and Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (Thursday).
"Women" is a superb, understated 1977 film about two seemingly different women (Marina Vlady, Lili Monori) whose paths cross as each is undergoing a crisis.
"Germany, Pale Mother" is a masterful celebration of mother love, set against the chaos of World War II, in which Eva Mattes triumphs as a seemingly ordinary young wife and mother who exultantly survives the horrors of war only to be threatened by destruction with the advent of peace.
In "Jeanne Dielman," Belgian film maker Chantal Akerman takes the old adage, "a woman's work is never done," and turns it upon the audience in her relentless 3-hour, 20-minute study of the domestic routine of a Brussels widow (Delphine Seyrig) with an utterly self-preoccupied teen-age son (Jan Decorte). Seyrig is truly riveting, and this film, seething with feminist protest, proves a shocker.
Based on the stage production, which won critics' awards here and in San Francisco, "James Joyce's Women" (unavailable for preview) presents six women from the life and works of the Irish writer. Ariane Mnouchkine's superb "1789," which screened March 3, returns for a one-week run starting Friday.