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GREED
1924 - Erich von Stroheim
United States
106
Opening Shot

"GOLD - GOLD - GOLD - GOLD. Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold, Molten, Graven, Hammered, Rolled, Hard to Get and Light to Hold; Stolen, Borrowed, Squandered - Doled." After this opening poem (which I've read was added by the studio in their recut version) the film opens to an iris-in and several exterior establishing shots of a California gold mine...

The Film

Greed is one of the landmarks in the history of American cinema. The original version was nine hours and was previewed to a small group. Erich von Stroheim then cut the film to his own "director" version, which was just over 5 hours. The studio then took the film and released it as their 140 minute version. Sadly the original version or even Erich von Stroheim's recut 5 hour version were destroyed. The studio version was all that remained until a restored 239 minute extended version was made by using still re-photographed still images and camera movement created to match the original 1923 screenplay. This was intended to smooth out the sloppiness of the MGM release, which Von Stroheim despised. It is unfortunate we will never see the film as intended, and while what remains is a bit uneven as a whole, the portions that survived reflect what is a remarkable achievement in the history of film. Both an incredibly experimental as well as intensely internal film, one that beautifully blends realism and expressionism. Going against the standards of the studio, von Stroheim shot the film on location in San Francisco (where the inspired novel "McTeague", is based) as well as in Death Valley (during the summer). Von Stroheim's attention to details were critical in what he wanted to be a greatly faithful adaptation of Frank Norris' novel. While the moral dilemma and repression of the film is slightly lost in the Studio version (which adds its own "messages" in added titles) what is still evident is the mastery of von Stroheim's direction and staging, with flawlessly composed visual depth (heightened by the photography of the great William H. Daniels, who was later known as actress Greta Garbo's preferred cinematographer). Also not lost is the incredible performance of Zasu Pitts as the unhappy wife whos life is tragically destroyed after winning a lottery. As a study in film history and filmmaking, Greed (even in pieces) is one of the truly significant films of all-time.

The Filmmaker

Sometimes referred to as 'The Man You Love To Hate' Austrian-born filmmaker Erich von Stroheim is one of the most interesting and innovative filmmakers of the silent era. Von Stroheim's career could be considered a tragic one in that just about every film he made was destroyed from being his intended work. Von Stroheim was a perfectionist and a passionate filmmaker who was determined to capture the essence of his art through realism. This did not sit well with Hollywood Studio executives (who are business men that insist they know what audiences want to see). Obviously there was friction between the two and it always resulted in Von Stroheim's intended vision being destroyed. Von Stroheim especially feuded with MGM boss Irving Thalberg, who despised him and eventually took control of his masterpiece (1924's Greed), in what may now be one of the most notorious re-edits in the history of film. In 1999 a restored 239-minute version of Greed appeared, but Von Stroheim's original 'Director Cut' (which stands at over 300 minutes) remains lost. It is among the most legendary "lost films" of all-time. However even what remains is a monumental cinematic achievement that is as powerful and important today as it was in 1924. Von Stroheim was a filmmaker that viewed cinema as a form of art over entertainment. He made a financial living as an actor (starring in films for DW Griffith, Jean Renoir, and Billy Wilder, among others.) As a director his career was short lived, as his vision and conflict with studios did not suit well with the transition to sound. In all Von Stroheim made 11 films (two of which he was fired from and 10 of which were silent films). In 1950 he acted in Sunset Blvd, which marked his second film under the direction of Billy Wilder. In the film Von Stroheim is portrayed almost as a portrait of himself alongside co-star Gloria Swanson whom he feuded with during the making of his most exciting and unusual film (1929's Queen Kelly).

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