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"MARLENE": MODERNITY, MORTALITY, AND THE BIOPIC

LUCY FISCHER
Biography
Vol. 23, No. 1, THE BIOPIC (winter 2000), pp. 193-211
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23540209
Page Count: 19
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"MARLENE": MODERNITY, MORTALITY, AND THE BIOPIC
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Abstract

One of the major genres in Hollywood is the so-called "biopic," and, frequently, such films have focused on the life of a well-known actress: Gertrude Lawrence, Frances Farmer, or Susan Hayward, for instance. Just as recent cinema has re-worked genres like the western and the musical (in films like Silverado or Pennies from Heaven), so the biopic is subject to modernist or postmodernist elaboration. This is the project of Maximilian Schell's experimental biopic Marlene (1983)—which seeks to examine the life and career of Marlene Dietrich. Frustrating Schell's desire, however, is the fact that, although she commissioned the film, Dietrich refuses to appear in it, leaving the filmmaker/biographer to deal with only photographs and archival film footage. Nonetheless, this highly self-reflexive work raises questions about the nature of biography, the relationship between cinema and death, and the ontology of the film medium.

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