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October 03, 2006

People on Sunday: Siodmak et al

So why did I pick this film? Well like most of the others it appears in the list of Germany’s most significant films. It is part of the BFI’s ‘History of The Avant-Garde’ series of DVDs.

People on Sunday

The film came out in 1929 and was shot before the great depression had started. As such it could be seen as representing a false optimism of people living out their lives in a micro way assuming that macro factors were taking care of themselves.

Robert Siodmak

Edgar G. Ulmer

Severaral of its makers went on to become important directors in Hollywood after leaving Germany when it turned Nazi. They were Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann.

Most of these directors went onto to make major contributions to the American ‘genre’ of ’ noir’ thrillers. Whilst some uninspired commentaries on the web fail to see the connection the film noir sensibility of dark forces bubbling under the surface of society arguably reflects both Neue Sachlichkeit and expressionist elements born of pre-Nazi and Nazi society.

The direction of the film is credited to Siodmak and Ulmer however it seems as though both Wilder and Zinnemann did some directing. The film was a collaborative effort.

Brigitte Borchert & Wolfgang von Waltershausen

It was one of a number of films which became highly influential amongst documentary and documentary style film-makers. Philip Kemp’s notes to the BFI DVD version cite Renoir’s thirties films Italian Neo-realism and the British ‘Free Cinema’ movement of the 1950s. It owes its origins more to developments within Neue Sachlichkeit than Vertov’s truly radical in film-making and political terms 1929 film ‘Man With a Movie Camera’. Here some in depth comparative research would be useful.

The Original Mass Observation Book of 1937

One important person that Kemp has missed out was Humphrey Jennings. Jennings’ surrealistically inspired input into the Griersonion British documentary movement and then his wartime output has very close links with this style of ethnographic ‘quasi-documentary’ film making. Jennings was a very strongly accredited influence with the Free Cinema Movement. Like the makers of People on Sunday they were concerned with the leisure activities of ordinary people. That Jennings was a founding member of the British Mass-Observation Movement with its development of the qualitative research technique of observation is also an indicator that this film was seen by Jennings.

Christl Ehlers the Film Extra

An important element of People on Sunday was that the actors were ordinary people not trained actors. The nearest to being an actor was Annie Shreyer who sometimes became a film extra.

An interesting interview with the other main woman in the film Brigitte Borchert is included in the BFI sleevneotes. Borchert comments that although the film was successful with the critics the ordinary people she worked with were unimpressed: ‘They said they saw things like that every day and would rather have seen a kitsch movie; they were right: they go to the movies to forget about their hard lives”. Unwittingly Borchert had summarised the main contents of Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘_The Culture Industry’ several years before it was written!

Brigitte Borchert & Wolfgang von Waltershausen Swimming

For a good range of photographs Deutsch film portal. (Please note at time of writing the photo entitled Borchert is mis-titled).

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