Una deliziosa biografia tascabile inaugura con raffinato gusto la nuova collana “Lampi” di Elliot edizioni, brevi ritratti di epoche e personaggi scaturiti dall’osservazione di interpreti illustri.
Qui è Franz Hessel, colto miniaturista degli umori berlinesi, a raccogliere la voce di una sensuale Marlene Dietrich, astro del cinema americano e mondiale. Sullo sfondo, o per meglio dire, sulla scena, la metropoli, il cui carattere pieno di contrasti e sfumate nostalgie sembra affiorare in ogni gesto dell’attrice, contribuendo alla foggia assolutamente particolare della sua femminilità.
«È cresciuta dove poi sarebbero sorti i quartieri berlinesi occidentali di Wilmersdorf e Westend. Figlia di un ufficiale, si è presto abituata ai trasferimenti legati ai cambiamenti di guarnigione, ma è sempre stata di casa nella città dai sobri e chiari colori del giorno e dai lunghi tramonti, dalle delicate albe invernali e dalle lunghe sere estive, indimenticabili per chiunque sia stato bambino a Berlino».
Il divismo di Marlene è cosa affatto incline e devota alla dimensione spettacolare, il suo successo va rintracciato piuttosto in un fascino erotico e in una carica seducente da cui nasce un’irresistibile empatia verso tutto il suo pubblico, in grado di conquistare indistintamente uomini e donne.
Il rientro dell’artista nella sua città, durante una breve pausa lavorativa, diviene l’occasione di un incontro nel 1931 con Hessel, giornalista e scrittore-flâneur, maestro della kleine Form, la prosa breve elaborata in tedesco sul modello francese del feuilleton, già alla base di esperimenti narrativi nell’Ottocento, come le ‘lettere berlinesi’ di Heine. Il genere raggiunge una piena maturità letteraria, parallelamente a una considerevole fortuna di pubblico, intorno agli anni Venti del Novecento, ed Hessel, cui si affiancano i nomi di Siegfried Kracauer e Joseph Roth, ne è uno dei più abili artigiani. Si tratta, del resto, di un’attitudine alla collezione di ascendenza ellenistico-bizantina (si pensi alle raccolte di glosse e ai lessici come la Suida) che viene a saldarsi su un vero e proprio culto della frammentarietà nel quale il tessuto testuale-archivistico è contaminato da elementi non-testuali, i media e la merce, ad esempio, ossia tutti quei ‘segnacoli’ prodotti dal labirinto della metropoli che non solo alimentano una nuova frontiera di scrittura ma divengono essi stessi soggetti narranti, inserendosi come parte in causa nel dibattito sulla Kulturwissenschaft e orientandolo a sé; basti considerare, al riguardo, le teorizzazioni di Warburg e Benjamin.
Le volte che mi sono ritrovata a camminare per Schöneberg, dall’assiepamento quasi da bazar di negozi e mercati al vecchio gasometro, dalla vegliante malinconia del ‘miglio di Berlino’ a certe stradine laterali che in un improvviso trapasso dal cemento al verde si ridestano ai bordi della ferrovia, ammiccando come in sogno, non mi è mai sfuggita la natura liricamente intima e dimessa di questo quartiere. In ciò che questa zona di Berlino ancora sa offrire al passante, per quanto la scena sia di sicuro diversa da quella vissuta nell’infanzia di Marlene, si coglie tuttavia una carica emotiva del tutto singolare, capace di procurare facilmente l’accesso a una dimensione onirica, che senz’altro circondò l’attrice da bambina.
Alessandra Campo, attenta curatrice del volumetto, regala al lettore italiano la possibilità di avvicinare due grandi personaggi che, pur giocando ruoli diversi ma tra loro complementari, hanno interpretato un momento irripetibile sulla ribalta della nascente metropoli.
Titolo: Marlene Dietrich. Un ritratto
Autore: Franz Hessel
Curatrice: Alessandra Campo
Casa editrice: Elliot
Anno di pubblicazione: novembre 2012
Titolo originale/ original title: Marlene Dietrich: Ein Porträt
Franz Hessel, 1931, per l’editore Kindt & Bücher
Su Franz Hessel e la flânerie si veda l’articolo di Claudia Ciardi, Fantasticherie berlinesi, pubblicato da La Biblioteca di Israele, a cura di Giusi Meister
Marlene Dietrich/ a biography:
Marlene Dietrich, original name Marie Magdalene Dietrich, also called Marie Magdalene von Losch (born Dec. 27, 1901, Schöneberg (now in Berlin), Ger.—died May 6, 1992, Paris, France), German American motion-picture actress whose beauty, voice, aura of sophistication, and languid sensuality made her one of the world’s most glamorous film stars.
Dietrich’s father, Ludwig Dietrich, a Royal Prussian police officer, died when she was very young, and her mother remarried a cavalry officer, Edouard von Losch. Marlene, who as a girl adopted the compressed form of her first and middle names, studied at a private school and had learned both English and French by age 12. As a teenager she studied to be a concert violinist, but her initiation into the nightlife of Weimar Berlin—with its cabarets and notorious demimonde—made the life of a classical musician unappealing to her. She pretended to have injured her wrist and was forced to seek other jobs acting and modeling to help make ends meet.
In 1921 Dietrich enrolled in Max Reinhardt’s Deutsche Theaterschule, and she eventually joined Reinhardt’s theatre company. In 1923 she attracted the attention of Rudolf Sieber, a casting director at UFA film studios, who began casting her in small film roles. She and Sieber married the following year, and, after the birth of their daughter, Maria, Dietrich returned to work on the stage and in films. Although they did not divorce for decades, the couple separated in 1929.
That same year, director Josef von Sternberg first laid eyes on Dietrich and cast her as Lola-Lola, the sultry and world-weary female lead in Der blaue Engel (1930; The Blue Angel), Germany’s first talking film. The film’s success catapulted Dietrich to stardom. Von Sternberg took her to the United States and signed her with Paramount Pictures. With von Sternberg’s help, Dietrich began to develop her legend by cultivating a femme fatale film persona in several von Sternberg vehicles that followed — Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). She showed a lighter side in Desire (1936), directed by Frank Borzage, and Destry Rides Again (1939).
During the Third Reich and despite Adolf Hitler’s personal requests, Dietrich refused to work in Germany, and her films were temporarily banned there. Renouncing Nazism (“Hitler is an idiot,” she stated in one wartime interview), Dietrich was branded a traitor in Germany; she was spat upon by Nazi supporters carrying banners that read “Go home Marlene” during her visit to Berlin in 1960. (In 2001, on the 100th anniversary of her birth, the city issued a formal apology for the incident.) Having become a U.S. citizen in 1937, she made more than 500 personal appearances before Allied troops from 1943 to 1946. She later said, “America took me into her bosom when I no longer had a native country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German—German in my soul.”
After the war, Dietrich continued to make successful films, such as A Foreign Affair (1948), The Monte Carlo Story (1956), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). She was also a popular nightclub performer and gave her last stage performance in 1974. After a period of retirement from the screen, she appeared in the film Just a Gigolo (1978). The documentary film Marlene, a review of her life and career, which included a voice-over interview of the star by Maximilian Schell, was released in 1986. Her autobiography, Ich bin, Gott sei Dank, Berlinerin (“I Am, Thank God, a Berliner”; Eng. trans. Marlene), was published in 1987. Eight years after her death, a collection of her film costumes, recordings, written documents, photographs, and other personal items was put on permanent display in the Berlin Film Museum (2000).
Dietrich’s persona was carefully crafted, and her films (with few exceptions) were skillfully executed. Although her vocal range was not great, her memorable renditions of songs such as “Falling in Love Again”, “Lili Marleen”, “La Vie en rose” and “Give Me the Man” made them classics of an era. Her many affairs with both men and women were open secrets, but rather than destroying her career they seemed to enhance it. Her adoption of trousers and other mannish clothes made her a trendsetter and helped launch an American fashion style that persisted into the 21st century. In the words of the critic Kenneth Tynan: “She has sex, but no particular gender. She has the bearing of a man; the characters she plays love power and wear trousers. Her masculinity appeals to women and her sexuality to men.” But her personal magnetism went far beyond her masterful androgynous image and her glamour; another of her admirers, the writer Ernest Hemingway, said, “If she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it.”
One of the interesting characters from early 20th-Century Schwabing was Franz Hessel, a flaneur and friend of Walter Benjamin's whom Anke Gleber has characterized as 'one of the last representatives of the metropolitan, intellectual bohemian characteristic of the European culture of early modernity.' In his book Weimar Germany: promise and tragedy, Eric D. Weitz quotes extensively from Hessel's writings (and Joseph Roth's) in order to convey a sense of Berlin's street life during the Weimar Republic.
Born in Stettin, Hessel arrived in Munich in 1900 as a law student. He soon changed plans in order to focus on archaeology and philosophy. He also became a poet, a vocation that brought him into contact with Karl Wolfskehl and the members of his circle. (I wonder if he bumped into Frederick Grove.) In this part of Hessel's life, his bohemian credentials were well and truly established by his complicated relationship with Franziska Gräfin zu Reventlow, which began in 1903 when he entered a ménage à trois with her and Bogdan von Suchocki. (Here's a photo of the house in which Reventlow and Suchocki lived at the time; it's in Kaulbachstraße in Munich, and here's a photo in which you can see Hessel with Reventlow's son.) Suchocki seems to have been replaced in this arrangement in 1907 by Henri-Pierre Roché, by which time Hessel had moved to Paris.
Roché and Hessel would later maintain a similar relationship with the German journalist, Helen Grund, whom Hessel married in 1913. This ménage became famous as the centrepiece of Roché's novel, Jules et Jim, which was the basis of Francois Truffaut's film of the same name. The character of Jules was based on Hessel. Roché was the basis of Jim, and Catherine ('Kathe' in the novel) was based on Grund.
Hessel wrote his own novel about this relationship, but it doesn't seem to be available in English. In German it's called Alter Mann, while in French it's Le Dernier Voyage. Hessel wrote it in the 1930's, but it was thought to have been lost until it was recovered in 1984.
It looks like Hessel's most important relationships with women were in the context of a ménage à trois. In this setting, Jean-Michel Palmier writes that Hessel 'becomes [women's] confidant, he loves them and admires them at a distance, preferring the role of friend to that of lover.' (Here's the original, French version of Palmier's essay.) Of his relationship with Roché and Grund, Hessel himself (in Alter Mann) said that it 'expanded the habitual scope of friendship and love.'
Franz Hessel volunteered to fight for Germany in WWI. After the war, he worked in Germany for Rowohlt Verlag. It appears that he and his family fled for France relatively late (1938). In 1940, Hessel suffered a stroke while in a detention camp in France. I believe that he was held in that camp (Camp des Milles) before the Germans had control of it, at a time when the French were using it as an internment camp for any Germans and Austrians who happened to be in France. After his release from the camp, Hessel died in January, 1941.
His and Helen's son, Stéphane, fought for the French resistance and became an accomplished diplomat. Here are brief bios of father and son.