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Exhibition Reviews

REVIEW: Play the Part: Marlene Dietrich



“Play the Part: Marlene Dietrich,” currently on display at the International Center of Photography, is a riveting exhibition that delves into the multifaceted persona of the legendary Marlene Dietrich. Spanning photographs from 1905 to 1978, this exhibition, drawn from the collection of Pierre Passebon, is a first in the United States, offering an unprecedented look at the life of a figure who was as complex off-screen as she was on it.

The exhibition features a staggering 250 photographs, including works by renowned artists like Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, and Edward Steichen, as well as Dietrich’s frequent collaborators such as George Hurrell, Eugene Robert Richee, and William Walling Jr. What sets this collection apart is not just the breadth of its content but the depth it offers into Dietrich’s life. From rarely seen snapshots to some of the last photos of Dietrich, the exhibition paints a portrait of a woman who was much more than a silver screen icon.

Dietrich, known for her roles in films like “The Blue Angel” and her collaborations with filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, was a trailblazer both on and off the screen. Her opposition to the Nazi regime, her renunciation of German citizenship, and her active support for US troops during World War II, for which she was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1947, speak volumes about her character and convictions. This exhibition does a commendable job of capturing these facets of her life, illustrating her as a core figure in feminist and queer film history.

The photographs, ranging from formal portraits to intimate behind-the-scenes glimpses, reveal the true complexity of Dietrich’s life. They show a woman who was constantly reinventing herself, challenging gender and sexual norms of her time. The exhibition is not just a collection of images; it’s a narrative that weaves through the various stages of Dietrich’s life, offering insights into her public persona and private struggles.

In conclusion, “Play the Part: Marlene Dietrich” is a must-see for anyone interested in film history, photography, or the life of one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th century. It’s a testament to the power of photography in capturing and preserving the legacy of a person who was, in many ways, ahead of her time.

International Center of Photography

79 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002

Sep 29, 2023 – Jan 08, 2024