In the introduction to the 1924 movie Greed, the narrator uses a turn of phrase that struck me as at once the most clever of descriptions and the most appropriate. After giving some background about the director, Erich von Stroheim, the narrator begins to talk about von Stroheim's next project--a film based on the Frank Norris novel, McTeague. The narrator then goes on to say that von Stroheim did not condense the novel-"he evaporated it."
The historical significance of Greed, even in its heavily edited state, is certified by the director's dedication to the source material and its pioneering work with on-location filming. The ambitiousness of Stroheim's Greed--the literal translation of a complete novel from page to screen - put the finished film at forty-two, when most other films ran for only eight or ten. Since the nine-hour original epic no longer exists, it can only be judged by those who sat through its only complete showing, which included Stroheim, Warner studios executives, and members of the media press.
The arduous and ambitious on-location shooting, both in the Bay Area and elsewhere, stretched the film crew to the limits, leading to the death of one, a member of the catering crew, during the filming of the famous Death Valley scenes.
In total the film Greed deserves the title of "Most Ambitious Movie Project" even when compared to other films with compatible shooting schedules like Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now. In the opening moments of von Stroheim's movie, the viewer can easily see that Greed was created with love that boarded on obsession. As one reviewer noted, von Stroheim sat "straight as a ram-rod" during the entire eight-hour screening--most impressive for anyone, and an excellent example of his dedication to his work.