Monday, May 15, 2017

The Lesbian Who Molded Dietrich

I often say we are an echo of Weimar Germany. Weimerica is not a repeat and not merely similar. The echo is a fainter and worse version of the original sound. An echo is a trick of the structure that the sound is originally made in. Our current situation is partly structural. Same molders that worked in Germany work here in America now.

The same crass desires are served. The same roles are played. This is what makes us weaker, worse and unoriginal. This is the hollow, tired feeling to our era. The idea of homosexual as an identity had its start and its first big push in Berlin. Sadly, many of the same, worn out looks of the LGBT crowd are straight from Weimar Berlin.

Think of the cliché lesbian. ugly and chubby... wears men's clothes... loud, harsh and rough... pushes her lifestyle on others... political. Your mind has conjured up Claire Waldoff. Claire Waldoff was a short, ugly and chubby lesbian that had a radio show and worked the stage in the Weimar era. Waldoff was open and in your face about who and what she was. She was often in men's clothing, working that tie and pants look with suspenders like a good Berlin businessman.

Waldoff was also an evangelical lesbian. She was connected to the artist circle and recommended all women to become lesbians. It would be a statement! We can see with the benefit of hindsight it was a mating strategy of just expanding her potential partner pool. Same thing happens on college campuses today. Waldoff was, of course, connected to the communists in the '20s, but this comes with a qualifier. She even worked with the Nazis once they came to power. Like a modern lesbian, she was a true coward in the face of pushback.

Waldoff has a special connection to us though. Waldoff's style and persona influence us even today. Besides the lesbians aping men with their putting on a uniform, she has a deeper connection. Waldoff knew and befriended Marlene Dietrich. They went beyond friends and Dietrich admitted to being intimate with Waldoff. Dietrich would be a giant star and fashion icon of the golden age of cinema. Dietrich does not become Dietrich without Waldoff.

Dietrich stole the entire menswear ensemble from Waldoff. The difference was Dietrich did it on occasion, and while playing with androgyny was still feminine. With her legs and svelte figure in a sporty cut of shirt or pants, Dietrich did not look like a fat grocer on a wholesaler pricing visit, but she looked like a sexy woman of mystery.

Dietrich was a vamp not just because of her foreign accent but her peculiar style. Katherine Hepburn might have worn pants, but was not considered sexy or striking sensuous lines in them. Dietrich did. Dietrich's effect plays with us today whenever a sexy pop figure tries this. Madonna employed it liberally in one of her image reboots, sorry two. The video of Vogue may well have been a Dietrich update for 1990.

Without that specific playful androgyny, Dietrich is just another pretty face of the glamorous age of cinema. Without Dietrich's beauty, the style falls flat like Diane Keaton's Annie Hall look. Without Dietrich's legacy, it's a look that no one would try to retread. It is the possibility of a smoldering beauty carrying off the lines and the collars, but none of it is possible if not for one little ugly lesbian in Berlin.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

Ryan,

What's the best book on Weimar Germany?

Thanks.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Eric Weitz's "Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy" is a good overview even if in favor of commies and downplays jewish control of german institutions and the seedy side. "Three Comrades" is a good fiction tale to give you a feel for the era.