Marlene Dietrich: A legend’s controlled, impeccable image

“I have been photographed to death,» said Marlene Dietrich to Maximilian Schell when the latter tried to take a photo of the star to accompany «Marlene,» a biographical documentary he was directing at the end of the 1980s. She had a point. The lens had always been Dietrich’s loyal servant and photography the medium through which the actress controlled her public image and carefully constructed her cinematic legend. Featuring approximately 15,000 photographs, all in excellent condition, Dietrich’s private photographic archive is a rare documentary endeavor – with the star having supervised every single shot. In an exciting show titled «Marlene Dietrich – A Legend Through Images,» 38 of these photos showcase the actress’s face. Organized by the Thessaloniki Film Festival in collaboration with the Thessaloniki Goethe Institute and Helexpo, the exhibition accompanies the tribute to the actress, which opens tonight at the city’s Olympion Cinema. Including stills from movies, snapshots from movie sets and public appearances, family portraits as well as Dietrich posing for celebrated artists (such as Horst P. Horst, Cecil Beaton and George Hurrell, among others), the photo exhibition offers a glimpse of the unique relationship established between the German actress and the camera. It was certainly not a discreet relationship, but rather a partnership defined by constant struggle, ambition and self-control. In Dietrich’s hands, photographers became pawns revealing her iron will when it came to matters of style: ranging from the androgynous and the sophisticated to the femme fatale, a devil in disguise or a woman of mystery. It was the Municipality of Berlin which inherited Dietrich’s private photographic archive in 1993. Since then, the collection has been showcased in a permanent display at the Berlin Cinema Museum. Besides a self-centered actress’s caprice, the archive attests to Dietrich’s professionalism and her demand for top quality. Opening tonight on the Olympion’s fifth floor, the exhibition runs to October 29.

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