Before making (sound) film history with The Blue Angel, Viennese-born filmmaker Josef von Sternberg directed a series of thematically and stylistically daring silent films. This DVD presents the first and last of his surviving silents, digitally restored from archival 35mm elements and supplemented by a new video essay by film historian Janet Bergstrom. The Salvation Hunters, von Sternberg's self-financed, socially conscious directorial debut, won praise from Charles Chaplin, among others, and includes a new score by award-winning Austrian composer Siegfried Friedrich. The sole extant fragment of The Case of Lena Smith brings the director's youthful memories of fin de siècle Vienna vividly to life.
The Salvation Hunters - USA 1925 - Directed and written by: Josef von Sternberg - Cinematography by: Edward Gheller - Cast: George K. Arthur, Georgia Hale, Bruce Guerin, Otto Matiesen, Nelly Bly Baker - Produced by: Academy Photoplays - Premiere: February 15, 1925
The Case of Lena Smith - USA 1929 - Directed by: Josef von Sternberg - Written by: Jules Furthman, based on a story by Samuel Ornitz - Cinematography by: Harold Rosson - Cast: Esther Ralston, James Hall, Leone Lane, Kay Deslys - Produced by: Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. - Premiere: Januar 19, 1929
Josef von Sternberg, Salvation Hunter - USA 2016 - Produced, written and directed by: Janet Bergström
About Josef von Sternberg
In Sternberg's singular uvre, his last and first films count as the most »hidden« and unique. The Saga of Anatahan (1953), shot on a highly artificial jungle set in a Japanese studio, and The Salvation Hunters (1925), shot on location in Los Angeles and the port of San Pedro: two authentic, self-financed, independent works. As he made his directorial debut, Sternberg had lived in the us for 16 years, longer than in Vienna. But he treasured this »un-Americanness« probably not only because it corresponded to his natural and cultural character, but also because mid-1920s hollywood had room for it. Erich von Stroheim, who had immigrated from Vienna to California prior to Sternberg (and was the model for the adopted »von«), had created a worldwide, cinematic landmark with Greed (1924), and The Salvation Hunters consciously follows in its naturalistic tradition. At the same time, Sternberg maintains a distance from the social drama; his idea of film as abstract thinking-in-images shines through clearly in his debut. Sternberg's films would continue to be perceived later as »un-American« in some circles. Adored by cinephile critics around the world, his final, now lost, silent film, The Case of Lena Smith (1929), was a mainstream critical and box office flop due to its elliptical narrative and »depressing« atmosphere. The four-minute fragment from the film discovered by Hiroshi Komatsu in 2003 indicates, together with the multiplicity of surviving images and documents related to the film and not least Sternberg's own statements, that with this film he was tapping deeply into his memories of life in, and thoughts of, Vienna during the Austro-Hungarian Empire (as well as its literary echos).
- The Salvation Hunters 1925, 70'
- Music score by Siegfried Friedrich
- The Case of Lena Smith 1929, 4' (Fragment)
- Josef von Sternberg, Salvation Hunter 2016, 32'
- 20 page booklet with an essay by Janet Bergstrom
Edited by: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Vienna
DVD authoring: Tobias Dressel
DVD supervision: Oliver Hanley
First edition October 2016, Second edition December 2018