All 3 entries tagged Europe

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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).


October 02, 2006

The Threepenny Opera

I chose to cover The Threepenny Opera for a number of reasons. The Mack the Knife & Polly Peachumdirection was by G. W. Pabst
who directed Pandora’s Box which comes earlier in the course. This helps to build up the knowledge profile of a particular director.

G. W. Pabst

Lotte Lenya

The film was made at a politically interesting time in 1931 when the economic depression was still deepening nearly two years after it had started. Political polarisations were deepening along with the depression. The cinematography was done by Fritz Otto Wagner. There is a brief profile of him below. Wagner was the cinematographer on two of the classic films of the period that are covered in the course. His abilities clearly show that this was no coincidence.

Kurt Weill

The musical score was written by Kurt Weill and the adaptation was from a play by Brecht. Brecht felt that the handlng of the film destroyed the political and aesthetic modes of his play and took out a law suit against the producers.

Bertolt Brecht

Cabaret singer Lotte Lenya appears in what seems to be her only screen role.

Brothel Scene with Lotte Lenya

Those should be reasons enough :-).

Fritz Arno Wagner

Fritz Arno Wagner
One of the best and most experienced cinematographers in the Weimar period. He stayed within the industry during the Nazi period. Wagner had worked with Pabst before as director of photography on Westfront 1918. Wagner worked on many important films of the Weimar period including Murnau’s Nosferatu, Fritz Lang’s M, Spione (1927 / 28) and the earlier der mude Tod (1921) and even on Lubitsch’s 1919 classic Madam Dubarry (1919). For a full list of credits go to Deutsch Film Portal

Useful link at the Senses of Cinema Site

Another link to Threepenny Opera


September 27, 2006

Why I Chose These Films

Well if you’ve discovered this blog and got to this part its probably because of the images illustrating the course I’m constructiong for Open Studies starting this coming January. I’m going to explain in this entry and future ones why I’ve chosen these particular films and what I hope the course will help to achieve. Please feel free to comment. A fundamental part of the point of the course is to contribute to a better understanding of European culture in general through its fantastic cinematic history, its not just a course for the sake of it.

The Weimar and Nazi period of German history is enormously rich and controversial. Much of this can be seen in its film output. Some of the best known directors in the World ever, emerged within German cinema of the Weimar period. Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Murnau and Pabst and infamously Leni Reifenstahl were just some of the well known names.

In this course I’m keen to get away from the rather dominant popular perception of German films as all about Expressionsim. Of course it was fascinating and helped to create a powerful film industry second only to the USA in the 1920s.

Ironically one of the films we will be considering is _Metropolis _ which cost a huge amount of money and was designed to crack the American market through its development of spectacle. It flopped in the States and as a result an Americam company bailed out Ufa gaining a controlling interest and access to distribution rights throught the Ufa chain of premium cinemas. This weakness in the company allowed the arch nationalist media mogul Hugenberg to buy the American share and control the company. Unsurprisingly the Jewish Pommer was one of the first to suffer dismissal.

We are starting the course with a strange film called Double Headed Eagle. This film constructs a narrative of the Weimar period from 1918-1933 when Hitler takes power. It contains some fascinating archive footage including some of Eva Braun’s home movies. As with many things it does need to be judged on its absences as well. There is footage of Hitler campaigning in the countryside but no clear idea of how dreadful rural unemployment and poverty was from 1923 onwards. This really gave the Nazis a field day because of the twin speed economy that developed after the Dawes plan. The well off woman at the races is an image which could be used as part of the myth of the ‘golden years’ of the Weimar republic. I don’t want to be too hard on the film. I’ve just been searching the Web for images of rural unemployment in the Weimar during the 1920s drawing a blank. I did find this interesting site though of the German Historical Institute for those of a historical frame of mind. If anybody finds some good images of rural unemployment in the Weimar during the 1920s please wing me an email. The women at the races comes from the images and documents section of the GHI site by the way.

 A socialite horseracing, Berlin c 1925

Double Headed Eagle is cinematically interesting nevertheless, because it eschews the ‘voice of god’ style of documentary we are all so used to and uses images combined with music to convey its ideas.

Next entry will be on Nosferatu probably the best of German expressionist cinema.


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