Dietrich Icon

Dietrich Icon

Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 54 b&w illustrations Published: April 2007

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Media Studies > Film, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Few movie stars have meant as many things to as many different audiences as the iconic Marlene Dietrich. The actress-chanteuse had a career of some seventy years: one that included not only classical Hollywood cinema and the concert hall but also silent film in Weimar Germany, theater, musical comedy, vaudeville, army camp shows, radio, recordings, television, and even the circus. Having renounced and left Nazi Germany, assumed American citizenship, and entertained American troops, Dietrich has long been a flashpoint in Germany’s struggles over its cultural heritage. She has also figured prominently in European and American film scholarship, in studies ranging from analyses of the directors with whom she worked to theories about the ideological and psychic functions of film. Dietrich Icon, which includes essays by established and emerging film scholars, is a unique examination of the many meanings of Dietrich.

Some of the essays in this collection revisit such familiar topics as Germany’s complex relationship with Dietrich, her ambiguous sexuality, her place in the lesbian archive, her star status, and her legendary legs, but with fresh critical perspective and an emphasis on historical background. Other essays establish new avenues for understanding Dietrich’s persona. Among these are a reading of Marlene Dietrich’s ABC—an eclectic autobiographical compendium containing Dietrich’s thoughts on such diverse subjects as “steak,” “Sternberg (Joseph von),” “Stravinsky,” and “stupidity”—and an argument that Dietrich manipulated her voice—through her accent, sexual innuendo, and singing—as much as her visual image in order to convey a cosmopolitan world-weariness. Still other essays consider the specter of aging that loomed over Dietrich’s career, as well as the many imitations of the Dietrich persona that have emerged since the star’s death in 1992.

Contributors. Nora M. Alter, Steven Bach, Elisabeth Bronfen, Erica Carter, Mary R. Desjardins, Joseph Garncarz, Gerd Gemünden, Mary Beth Haralovich, Amelie Hastie, Lutz Koepnick, Alice A. Kuzniar, Amy Lawrence, Judith Mayne, Patrice Petro, Eric Rentschler, Gaylyn Studlar, Werner Sudendorf, Mark Williams


“Readers can expect essays that put pressure on received orthodoxies on Dietrich as icon, on reception aesthetics, classical feminist film theory, film industry environments, and constructions of national identity in mass media. Dietrich herself is an ideal pretext when it comes to questions having to do with cinematic discourses. . . . The volume is amazingly blunder-free, and the contributors’ energetic archival work not only serves as a model for film scholarship, but will also save film scholars much leg work.” — Ingeborg Majer-O’Sickey, German Quarterly

“This collection offers a great deal for students of film, photography, cultural history, and those with an interest in the methodology of archiving and chronically of human lives. . . . This academic volume is conversational and well-structured, and the essays in this book will find favour in among the Dietrich fans.” — Evelyn Hartogh, M/C Reviews

“This volume on Dietrich grew out of the ‘Marlene at 100’ conference at Dartmouth in 2001, and the essays preserve something of the celebratory and conversational tone the event. This tenor fits both with the methodological concerns of the volume and with Dietrich's status as a signpost for film theory. In their adept introduction, Gerd Gemünden and Mary R. Desjardines describe Dietrich as a figure that at once embodies and exceeds any specific framing of Hollywood cinema, gender, or nation. . . . The introduction attempts to place Dietrich in terms of nationality and film theory, but the volume's contributions cast an even wider net, raising issues of gender, genre, technology, aging, politics, and biography.” — A. Hunter Bivens, H-German, H-Net Reviews

Dietrich Icon. . . successfully bridges the gap between academic publishing and writing that can appeal to general readership. . . The book not only has an alluring design, but the paperback edition is also reasonably priced. . . Dietrich Icon rises above the fray and encompasses successfully the aesthetic, cultural, and sexual diversity of Marlene Dietrich. To put it simply, the book is indispensable for anybody wanting to know more about the icon Dietrich.” — Ulrich Bach, German Studies Review

“[T]he editors provide an extensive summary of the many publications that have explored Dietrich’s performances from ideological, formal, and, above all, psychoanalytic perspectives.” — Caroline Weber, BookForum

“[T]here is much to admire in this volume. This is an excellent book to be used in the classroom as well as a resource for any Dietrich aficionado.” — Irene Javors, Screening the Past

“As the product of a German studies professor and a film-studies professor respectively, Dietrich Icon is unique in its appeal to a wide scholarly audience. Even more surprising is its approachability to the casual reader who knows little, if anything, about Dietrich. . . . [T]he incredible details of its memoirs . . . and precise critical analysis allow the reader a penetrative rather than descriptive look at Dietrich. Dietrich Icon has something to offer everyone, from literary, film, and queer theorists to cultural studies and history scholars, with something for the unfamiliar reader to boot.” — Lauren Indvik, Dartmouth Review

“Yes, it is academic in the best sense of the word: you can learn a lot but you may also enjoy the design, the wonderful photos, the careful editing.” — Dietrich Newsletter

“Gerd Gemünden and Mary R. Desjardins convincingly suggest, and the essays together prove, that Dietrich is a figure who is interesting not just in herself but also as a prism reflecting discourses on aging, stardom, feminism, film theory, authorship, authenticity, performance, and masquerade, as well as audience projections ranging from Third Reich condemnation to lesbian cult fandom.” — Pamela Robertson Wojcik, author of Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna

“Most works on actresses are largely biographical in nature, with some critical evaluation of particular films and stage appearances thrown into the mix. This anthology by Gerd Gemünden and Mary R. Desjardins, however, presents serious historical and theoretical work on Dietrich’s star image and career—all expressed in clear and readable language, devoid of ‘jargon.’” — Lucy Fischer, author of Designing Women: Cinema, Art Deco, and the Female Form


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gerd Gemünden is the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Framed Visions: Popular Culture, Americanization, and the Contemporary German and Austrian Imagination and coeditor of The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative, and the Postmodern Condition.

Mary R. Desjardins is Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies at Dartmouth College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii


Introduction: Marlene Dietrich’s Appropriations / Mary R. Desjardins and Gerd Gemünden 3

Falling in Love Again / Steven Bach 25

I. The Icon

Dietrich’s Face / Lutz Koepnick 43

The Legs of Marlene Dietrich / Nora M. Alter 60

Marlene Dietrich: The Voice as Mask / Amy Lawrence 79

II. Establishing the Star Persona

Playing Garbo: How Marlene Dietrich Conquered Hollywood / Joseph Garncarz 103

Seductive Departures of Marlene Dietrich: Exile and Stardom in The Blue Angel / Elisabeth Bronfen 119

The Blue Angel in Multiple-Language Versions: The Inner Thighs of Miss Dietrich / Patrice Petro 141

Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus: Advertising Dietrich in Seven Markets / Mary Beth Haralovich 162

Marlene Dietrich: The Prodigal Daughter / Erica Carter 186

III. “Marlene Has Sex But No Gender”

Marlene Dietrich and the Erotics of Code-Bound Hollywood / Gaylyn Studlar 211

“It’s Not Often That I Want a Man”: Reading for a Queer Marlene / Alice A. Kuzniar 239

Get/Away: Structure and Desire in Rancho Notorious / Mark Williams 259

IV. (Auto-) Biography and the Archive

The Order of Knowledge and Experience: Marlene Dietrich’s ABC / Amelie Hastie 289

Dietrich Dearest: Family Memoir and the Fantasy of Origins / Mary R. Desjardins 310

An Icon between the Fronts: Vilsmaier’s Recast Marlene / Eric Rentschler 328

“Life Goes On without Me”: Marlene Dietrich, Old Age, and the Archive / Judith Mayne 347

“Is That Me?”: The Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin / Werner Sudendorf 376

Bibliography 385

Contributors 401

Index 405
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3819-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3806-2
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