14 May 2011

Marlene Dietrich: A Baudrillardian View

Marlene Dietrich fan and collector, Terry Sanderson, has kindly allowed me to share this photo of his Marlene Dietrich doll, a Clark Hanford masterpiece. Let me remind you that Sanderson will be presenting his show, "Marlene Dietrich - An Affectionate Tribute," on May 26 at The Cinema Museum in London at 7:30pm. The aforementioned link perfectly summarizes the content of Sanderson's show, and I would only add that Sanderson has revised this popular tribute many times over the years, before British and American audiences alike, making it worth watching for the first or the umpteenth time. Please be aware that Sanderson expends his efforts to put on this show as a hobby, not as a commercial enterprise. In fact, Dietrich inspires in many fans this same proclivity.

Incidentally, I noted Sanderson's activism as a secularist while I was glancing at the doll photo and perusing sites about him and Clark Hanford, subsequently unearthing my undergraduate memories of Baudrillard's simulacra and simulation concepts (translated by Sheila Faria Glaser). If you take this blog's name seriously and prefer to deify Dietrich, refrain from reading beyond this point. Otherwise . . .

I couldn't help but ponder what phase of simulation this doll represents. The fourth and final phase seems most appropriate: "it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum." Without shoveling morbid images in your face, I will only state that the real Dietrich was laid to rest almost two decades ago, while this doll evokes Dietrich during her mid-century reign as a cabaret queen, wearing a bugle-beaded Jean Louis gown and swansdown coat as her official regalia. Even during Dietrich's lifetime, however, Hanford's dolls simulated her when she--the "real" Dietrich--could no longer represent herself. In a 1983  Playboy issue, Helmut Newton photographed Natassja Kinski with a Hanford-made Dietrich doll (NB: OBVIOUSLY not safe for work! one | two | three ) as an Exposed movie tie-in. In 2004, the folks at Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin (MDCB) also reported that Newton shot another Hanford-made Dietrich doll, misleadingly captioning one of the photographs in his 2000 book, Work, as the real Dietrich! From my pedestrian 21st-century perspective, I would echo Linda Sheng's opinion that the Dietrich doll could almost pass as a crudely-Photoshopped Dietrich in the Playboy photos. The Work photo could have fooled me at first glance as well!

Back to Baudrillard, in which simulacra phase would you classify Newton's photos? "It masks and denatures a profound reality" or "it masks the absence of a profound reality"? I'd say the Work photo performed the latter function, as it at least attempted to precede the real Dietrich. Perhaps Maximilian Schell's documentary, Marlene, which screened a year after the Playboy shoot, embodied the second phase because, of course, we hear only Dietrich's voice against archival footage and Schell's clips of Dietrich wannabes. For those who deify Dietrich, listening to the drunken slurs of an elderly dame claim that women's brains are half the size of men's indeed would exemplify "an evil appearance" that "inaugurate[d] the era of simulacra and of simulation, in which there is no longer a God to recognize his own," because Dietrich could no longer portray her divine image, thus necessitating nostalgic clips such as the ones that Schell expertly cobbled together. On the other hand, for fans of my ilk, a new Dietrich icon emerged from the Schell documentary--a bitch who could send home Alexis Colby and Amanda Woodward with their tails between their legs--a hilarious, politically incorrect, bitchy Dietrich whom Maria Riva would biographically reconstruct as masterfully as Clark Hanford recreates a glamorous Dietrich.


  1. I knew Clark years ago when he lived in London,wonderful work.

  2. I agree that Hanford's work is wonderful and was impressed to read on his site that he began sculpting after achieving success in textiles. He truly discovered a talent he never knew he had--sculpting--and then could apply his expertise in fabrics to dress his beautiful creations.

  3. July, 2015 07:13

    I have a marleene dietrech doll bought 35 yrs ago mayfair london she is 3 ft tall black dress fake diamond necklace and looks soooo real over the yrs in and out of storage she has lost her cigerette he put between fingers and nails paint chipped is she valuable or not worth restoration I'm old now don't know how to sell her any ideas ? Thankyou

  4. July, 2015 11:03

    Could anyone tell me how to send a photo I can manage to send photo on email on phone I really would love you guys to tell me what you think of my doll

  5. July, 2015 12:42

    Just got your message wow joesph you are special !!! I thankyou for all the info I do hope you like the photo of my doll you can share with anyone on here who wants to see her as you know I'm dyslexic and computors don't agree with me so I only manage on this little phone joesph I really admire the way you offer advice its nice wish the world had more nice ppl in bless you your a STAR x