Foolish Wives

Saturday, September 3 at 11:30 AM — Music Box Theatre — 3733 N. Southport Ave
Tickets: $12 at the door, or purchase in advance

Sep 3 - Foolish Wives

Directed by Erich von Stroheim • 1922
When Erich von Stroheim directed his first feature, the studio brass at Universal prevailed upon him to change its title from The Pinnacle (a two-dollar word that the ticket-buying public might confuse with pinochle) to Blind Husbands. Von Stroheim was aghast, but the picture proved a commercial and critical juggernaut, and even he recognized the box office logic of christening its successor Foolish Wives. (The title was, in fact, his wife’s idea.) Initially planned as another tale of innocent Americans abroad seduced and abused by European ruffians, the scope of the film quickly swelled to imperial proportions. A replica of Monte Carlo was built on California’s Monterey Peninsula, and shooting continued for eleven months before the studio took away the punch bowl. By this time, Universal flacks had made ballyhoo lemonade from budgetary lemons, erecting a billboard in Times Square tallying the spiraling expenditure. When the picture was finally released, the ad copy boasted that von Stroheim was “going to make you hate him, even if it takes a million dollars of our money to do it.” They weren’t wrong: his character — a phony count, Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin, ensconced in a seaside villa with two comely “cousins,” who enraptures the wife of an American ambassador in a scheme to launder counterfeit currency — aroused near-unanimous condemnation among the patriotic press. “I recognized a great desire in the minds of the American people … for knowledge of life as it is. I tried to give it to them, the thing they wanted,” boasted von Stroheim, with predatory glee. “I still maintain they wanted it.” Chopped down successively during postproduction, release, and a scrapped sound-era reissue, Foolish Wives can never be summoned back in all its venal splendor. However, building upon Arthur Lennig’s heroic 1970 reconstruction, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art have given Foolish Wives a major restoration in time for its centenary, returning color tints and hand-colored sequences to von Stroheim’s blood-and-caviar spectacle. (KW)
147 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Live musical accompaniment by Dennis Scott