Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Fun in a Chinese Laundry, by Josef Von Sternberg

Josef Von Sternberg is one helluva fop. His memoirs, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, can't really be called that. They're more a meditation on life and art. The assiduous reader who looks for juicy detail on his biggest creation, Marlene Dietrich, is bound to be disappointed. Her name barely turns up half a dozen times. Instead we get pages and pages of tantalising fragments, but never anything concrete. For example, he gives us these longs lists of outrageous things he's done, but never tells us exactly how and in what circumstances these things happened to him.

As such, I don't know how far we can trust the veracity of the great film director's recollections. Indeed, in a footnote on page 264, he tells us about an essay titled, the Fetish of Authenticity. Von Sternberg adds, 'I consider this a noteworthy concentration of a theme in a title.' Indeed!

For example, I was shocked to read Joseph Kennedy (father of John F. Kennedy) lauded to the skies as charming and brilliant. Everyone knows he was a grubby little crook!!

All that aside, I found the 340 pages a very seductive read. It is written in a leisurely, lapidary prose and I found myself turning page after page eagerly. Not as outrageous as Salvador Dali's memoirs, not a classic like Proust or Jean Genet (the book's style is much in that line) I'd call it a most interesting curio. Essential reading for any devotee of twentieth century art, a little known side street in literature.

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