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Max Ophuls in Hollywood
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Max Ophuls in Hollywood - 1/23

Much of Max Ophuls' life was spent dealing with a series of adverse experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany, forced eviction from two countries, unemployment in America, innumerable terminated projects, limited distribution of his pictures, and lack of critical appreciation in his lifetime. However, Ophuls persevered and drew strength from this adversity. In his 25 years of filmmaking he completed 22 films, at least a third of which are now considered masterpieces, and Ophuls has finally been recognized as one of the great directors.

Following an unsuccessful career as a stage actor, Ophuls began directing plays in 1923 and directed his first film in 1930. Four more films followed in the next two years, of which "Liebelei" (1932) is the most important, not least because it foreshadows so much of his later stylistic signature and thematic preoccupations. Ophuls left Nazi Germany for Paris in 1933 and became a French citizen five years later. Between 1933 and 1940 Ophuls directed 10 feature-length films in France, Italy and Holland. "La Signora di Tutti" (1934) is the most notable of these.

With the fall of France in 1940, Ophuls and his family fled to Switzerland. A dispute with the Swiss government over his status in France resulted in termination of a film project and his expulsion from Switzerland. Ophuls eventually arrived in Hollywood in 1941.

Ophuls was unemployed until 1946, when Preston Sturges, impressed by "Liebelei," arranged for him to direct "Vendetta" for RKO. However, disagreements with Sturges caused Ophuls' early removal. He then directed four more films in America for different studios: The Exile (1947) and his American masterpieces: the romantic drama Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and the two films noirs, Caught and The Reckless Moment (both 1949).

Ophuls then returned to France and maintained a remarkably high artistic standard with his last four films: "La Ronde" (1950), "Le Plaisir" (1951), "Madame de..." (1953), and his last film, and arguably his greatest, "Lola Montes" (1955). He died of a heart attack at the age of 54 in Hamburg.

Ophuls' reputation rests on both his choice of subject matter and its presentation. Many of his pictures take place in "fin-de-siecle" Vienna. Against this historical and cultural background, Ophuls focused on women in love. However, this love is neither sweet nor romantic but fraught with unhappiness, obsession, betrayal, male mistreatment and exploitation, misfortune and tragedy. All of this unfolds in an environment of opulent and luxurious decor: palatial buildings containing ornate furnishings, chandeliers, staircases and mirrors. (Even his three American films have the same feel as his European work: Letter From an Unknown Woman has the same setting, while Caught and The Reckless Moment are contemporary treatments of the same themes set in America.)

Technically, an Ophuls film is characterized by its extremely detailed mise-en-scene and complex, dramatic camerawork. Widely hailed as one of the greatest masters of camera movement in the history of cinema, Ophuls made films which emphasizes fluidity and motion, often thematically based on conceptions of the circle, accomplished by masterful use of framing, lighting, tilts, tracking shots, crane shots and pan shots. The effect of this inseparable fusion of content and style is to produce an intensely personal and emotional encounter which transports the viewer to a timeless world in which basic human experiences, feelings, emotions and states of mind are compellingly presented with an uncompromising sense of irony and a richly symbolic, self-reflexive insight.

Biographical data supplied by TCMdb

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