Von Sternberg, Josef (1894–1969) By Loyo, Hilaria
Born in Vienna as Jonas Sternberg to impoverished Orthodox Jewish parents, Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969) migrated to New York in his teens; there he changed his name and endured the hardships of immigrant life. After working on a succession of film jobs, he eventually became a director. The experience gained on the various skills involved in the movie-making process would serve him to claim an absolute, almost craft-like control over his films, often dismissing the work of his collaborators. Self-proclaimed “a Hollywood’s messiah of film art,” von Sternberg consciously sought an anti-realistic approach to the cinema. His skillful lighting, often combining strokes of light and shade in sharp chiaroscuro, and his expert use of décor, costumes, props, and actors yielded compositions that conferred a poetic and abstract dimension upon his films, often at the expense of dialogue and narrative coherence.