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this blue angel

Sometime in college, when I was taking a film class, I wandered into a bookstore and opened one of those books that existed before the internet, a compendium of famous people born on each day of the year. We had just screened The Blue Angel, in class, and there, on my very own birthday, was Marlene Dietrich. She of the vertiginous cheekbones and the intense eyes.

I'm not at all sure that the film communicated its message, any message, to my adolescent self. It held a critique of Weimar society as it tipped towards the Third Reich, sure. But that critique moved through depictions of a nightclub and a cabaret singer that were both wilder and more controlled, at the same time, than anything in my known universe. I had lived abroad for a year and traveled on night trains without a chaperone and I was so young and fucked up and immature that I thought this made me worldly. It did not. The Blue Angel brought me up short. It depicted a world I could not quite grasp, and I was fascinated by my inability to understand it. My lovely film professor showed me the power of angle and POV, in her perfect French accent. I might have become a film nerd, under different circumstances. Instead, I looked up enough info about Dietrich to make myself feel I had some cred and then, in command-line internet communities and early email software, I began using a new avatar: this blue angel. Sometimes people would ask me if I was a fan of the Navy flyers, and I would scoff and say, no, of course not, it's a reference the Sternberg Dietrich film.

Dietrich's Lola gains power over a professor, an arrogant moralistic man, using her feminine wiles. He wants so badly to control her that she is able to harness the intensity of his interest and channel it back over him, as if she were able to pull his tie over his shoulder and through his teeth and use it as a bridle. She seems to channel something much more sinister and effective than prettiness or charm. And I found her remarkably un-pretty at the time. Looking at her pictures now, I don't know how I reached that conclusion, except that she is so flinty. I felt that pretty people, when I was in college, had to seem soft and amenable.

When there's time for further research, I'll rewatch the film, and then sketch the wider genealogy of chair-ography that links Lola's power to the patriarchal forces that imprisoned Britney.

For now, I explain it here to re-launch my blog, my Old School Blog, which used to live at, a dormant URL that I still own.


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