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Friday, 29 March 2013 17:24

‘Greed’ shows off silent film splendor

‘Greed’ shows off silent film splendor
Written by Diane Carson
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Given that at least two-thirds of the silent films ever made no longer exist, how fortunate that director Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” has survived. Though its running time of two hours twenty minutes seems long even by today’s standards, in fact von Stroheim envisioned an eight-hour extravaganza, painstakingly shooting over 85 hours of film. 

I’d love to have seen the full-length version since this masterpiece comes packed with visually arresting shots conveying a gripping story of—as its title announces—greed. Made in 1924, the acting style reflects the silent years’ fashion—more melodramatic than today. And yet through the emotional power of their acting, Gibson Gowland as husband John McTeague, ZaSu Pitts as his wife Trina, and Jean Hersholt as their adversary Marcus triumph over the artifice. These three represent complex individuals in the grip of fierce conflict.

Based on Frank Norris’ celebrated1899 novel “McTeague: A Story of San Francisco,” the film’s explosive tension centers on Trina’s lottery windfall of $5,000, money she maliciously refuses to share even after the McTeagues sink into poverty and, eventually, indulge the basest of human instincts.

Von Stroheim insisted on a realistic approach using deep-focus compositions shot on location in San Francisco and for two months in Death Valley to the detriment of cast’s and crew’s health. The resulting film is spectacular, often voted among the greatest ever.

The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra will accompany this archival black-and-white, 35mm print of “Greed” with an original score, presenting this film as “silent” films were, in fact, performed. Cinema St. Louis and Webster University present “Greed” as part of the 2013 Greater St. Louis Humanities Festival. In addition, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum will introduce and discuss “Greed” at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 6th only. For information and the current schedule, you may call 314-968-7487 or go to the web at:  

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