Tagged: Early sound

Weimar – Donnerstag

Today I visited the CineStar multiplex in the Sony Centre. The arcade towers over one like some set from Metropolis. CineStar has a host of screens and also offers IMAX: however, no-one could tell me if they used 70mm or Digital. The auditorium for the standard DCP we viewed was large, well appointed with a good size screen with drapes and masking.

Last Child was Korean drama in colour and widescreen. It dealt with a couple who had lost their son in a school accident. A few months earlier he died rescuing a fellow student in a river. It seems in Korea there is a state system to honour such deeds. So, the dead student is honoured as a hero, with a ceremony, commemorative plaque and a payment to the grieving parents. The father donates the payment to the school for Memorial for his son.

He and his wife cannot leave their lost son behind though friends advise them to ‘let go and move on to life’. Then the father meets the young man who was rescued. He has dropped out of school and seems to have fallen out with his group of student friends. So the father, an interior decorator with his own business, takes the boy on as an apprentice. The father is a perfectionist whilst the boy is, at first, disinterested. But he gradually involves in the work and becomes a promising trainee, passing the National Skills Certificate. The wife, at first suspicious of the lad, also warms to him.

But the blossoming relationships are disrupted as a version of events different from the official record emerges. There is increasing conflict at work, in the neighbourhood and with the school. The film proceeds to a powerful and disquieting climax. The resolution does not offer peace though the characters are likely wiser but sadder.

The film is effective and well produced. The cast are convincing and the slow pace at which the past emerges from an official history contributes to the power of the film.

So, back to Weimar. In most festivals there comes a day, somewhere in the middle, where strains and stresses catch up with one. This was the day. So, I struggled with the screenings and I am not sure I do the titles full justice.

The Blue Light, A Mountain Legend from the Dolomites (Das Blaue Licht, Eine Beglregende aus den Dolmiten,1932) was one of the most well-known titles in the retrospective. Leni Riefenstahl, having established her cinema presence acting in mountain films, now took on the mantle of director as well as star. In an introduction we were told that the film had been edited at different times. In the later 1930s the screenwriter, Béla Balázs, who was a known Marxist, lost his screen credit. However, the version screened now was from the personal collection left by Riefenstahl and this had provided the basis for a restoration presenting the film as originally released in 1932.

The film has a very simple plot but is blessed with some very fine mountain cinematography. Two climbers arrive in a mountain village to attempt the local massif. A picture catches their attention and they are told the legend of Junta. Decades earlier the young woman, an outsider in the village, is viewed with suspicion. The situation is exacerbated by a ‘blue light’ which has appeared half-way up the mountain pinnacle that overlooks the village. The light appeared after a massive avalanche and is visible at the time of a full moon. Several men from the village have died attempting to climb up to the light when it appears at night.

However, Junta climbs up a down with immunity and regards the light as personal treasure. A painter befriends her. And one night he and Junta set out for the source of the light. They are followed by a villager intent on also reaching the light. These are impressive mountaineering sequences. There is predictably a fall. But there is also a hidden grotto on the massif. It is here that there is an explanation of the magical light. But in solving this mystery the way is open for the villagers to exploit the mountain, leading inexorable to a tragedy which is the reason why Junta is still remembered.

Riefenstahl plays Junta as a type of ‘earth spirit’: in some ways the character is reminiscent of the parts she played in the films of Arnold Frank, a key exponent of the ‘mountain film ‘.

‘Short Films 1: Quotidian’ (‘Kurzfilme I: altag’) was one of two programme. The five films shared some of the themes and approaches of ‘New Objectivity’.

Police Report of Mugging (Polizeibericht überFall ,1929) made by Ernö Metzner was a film running for 21 minutes. The short drama offered a critical, equivocal and ironic comment on urban life. The prop which provides the focus for a series on interlocking scenes is a one-Mark coin. This is initially dropped and then picked up by a passing man. However, he becomes the focus first of a potential ‘mugger and then of a prostitute and her pimp. Wherever he goes or even runs an obstacle appears. The irony is that the coin is a dud.(

“ The censor’s office regarded this social satire, shot in avant-garde style, as nothing more than a “crime film” that “due to its accumulated brutality and harsh acts was likely to have a lowering and deadening effect”. It banned the film. “

Open-air market in Berlin (Markt in Berlin, 1929), was made by Wilfried Basse and ran 18 minutes. “The weekly market at Wittenbergplatz, from the vendor set-up in the early morning hours to the clean-up in the afternoon, provides an opportunity for sympathetic observation of the customers.”

Where the Old People Live (Wo Wohnen alte leute, 1932).

“Artist Ella Bergmann-Michel presents an old-age home in Frankfurt’s Westend neighbourhood as a “functioning living organism”. While the elderly in the dark, inner city building descend into isolation and loneliness, the modern architecture of the newer building, with its light-flooded spaces, promotes socialising. “

Fishfang in der Rhön (An der Sinn) Fishing in the Rhön Mountains, 1932), also by Ella Bergmann-Michel.

who arranges collages of fish pictures for natural history books, films her husband angling in a crystal-clear river.”

The idyll is slightly disrupted by a cat stalking prey. For a contemporary audience this offers a premonitory warning. As the Brochure notes the film was made in the ‘final summer of the Weimar republic’. Ella was an abstract artist, influenced by Constructivism: both abhorred by the Nazi regime.

During the Nazi era, the Michels survived by fishing and farming.”

Alexanderplatz Unawares Alexanderplatz Überrunpelt, 1932 – 34) was a series of fragments from an unfinished film. Unfinished because

the film was never completed because the director [Peter Pewas] was arrested by the Gestapo and the footage seized.”

The charge was treason, though I have not found the details. Pewas returned to film-making but had more problems in the 1940s. After World War II he had an extended film career. In the remains of this film we see the great department stores but also the contrasting pictures of urban rubble where children play. And there is a torchlight procession of Nazi Storm Troopers.

The next feature was Ludwig II of BavariaLudwig der Zweite, König von Bayern, 1932) a sound portrait of this frequently-filmed C19th monarch. The film was subtitled ‘Destiny of an unfortunate man’ (‘Schicksal eines Unglücklichen menschen’). The film treats of the last decade of Ludwig’s life, when his obsession with building castles took full flight. So the only nod to Wagner is a portrait and a telegram announcing his death,

As the Brochure notes Ludwig is surrounded by ‘fawning courtiers and officials.’ The political class attempt to occupy him by indulging his castle mania. But as his breakdown proceeds he is placed under the care of a psychiatrist. The ‘unfortunate’ king descends into paranoia and finally death.

The film was directed by William Dieterle who also plays Ludwig. His performance is impressive but the film struck me as repetitious. I cannot remember a film with so many dissolves: more than half the scene changes use this device. Many of the sets are impressive and Charles Sturmar’s cinematography is well done. But other characters remain ciphers. I think if I had not seen later versions by directed by Helmut Käutner (1955) and Luchino Visconti (1973) I would have found some of the narrative puzzling.

The Brochure notes that the film which,

did not hide Ludwig’s fascination with the naked male body drew intense criticisms from Bavaria. When the Bavarian censorship board refused to intervene, Munich’s police commissioner imposed a ban on showing it on the grounds that it was ‘a danger to public order’.

Ludwig has clearly exercised a fascination for film-makers as there is also an earlier title from 1922.

We had a short film projected silently; otherwise all the titles were films with  soundtracks. The German film industry pioneered sound-on-film as it did with other technical developments and stylistic techniques. The Tri-Ergon system was, for many years, the dominant sound system in Europe. Whilst early sound lacked the quality developed later these prints and DCPs were perfectly adequate for dialogue, noise and music.

Quotations from Weimarer Kino neu gesehen brochure.

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Weimar – Mittwoch

Haus de Berliner Festspiele

Today I saw my first film outside the retrospective Programme, at the Haus de Berliner Festspiele. This is some way from Potsdamer Platz but close to Kurfürstendamm where my hotel is situated. It is a Festival complex started in the 1960s. The cinema has a fine auditorium with a large and curved screen with drapes and proper masking. A fine place to watch a film.

Das Scheigende Klassenzimmer (The Silent Revolution), is adapted from a book by Dietrich Gartstka by the director Lars Kraume. The English-language title of the book gives a more accurate sense, ‘The Silent Classroom’. Dietrich was a part of the actual story which he recounts. A graduating class at a German Democratic Republic (GDR) school in 1956 decide to stage a ‘silent protest’ when they hear about the suppression of the Hungarian uprising. The response of the authorities is draconian and the group are faced with both collective and individual moral choices.

The film opens in fine style as two young students cross into West Berlin to experience western-style cinema. But they also see the newsreels of the initial fighting in Hungary. Coming back to East Berlin they report to their 17 fellow-students. A group then listen illicitly to RIAS, a West German ‘propaganda’ radio station. The protest commences and the conflicts begin. The group is deliberately varied. One student’s father died as a member of the Red Front-Fighters (Roter Frontkämpferbund) fighting Fascism. Several are religious and attend a Lutheran Church. Another’s father is still paying the price of his involvement in the 1953 uprising in the GDR. And one of the ring-leader’s father is a Council Member.

The spread of students and their families provides for debates from different standpoints. The authorities are more uniform, either hard-faced apparatchiks or professionals whose resistance has been beaten down. The treatment of character and plot tends to the conventional. But it is effectively dramatised. The audience responded with warm applause at the end.

It was filmed in colour and widescreen and screened with English subtitles. The production is very well done and the cast, especially the young members, are very good. The complexities of the politics of 1956 are not really engaged. The justification offered by adults for the Soviet invasion of Hungary merely defend what is mistakenly called ‘socialism’. And the radio propaganda does not give any sense of the actions of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. It is in many ways a melodrama of protest. And the finale is that common trope of the genre, resistance but also departure. I was glad to see this film and I realised that it is the first new German film production I have seen in a year: Britain is not a great place to see their offerings.

The Weimar day started with Ihre Majestät die Liebe (Her Majesty, Love 1931). This was sound film starring Franz Lederer as Fred, the younger brother in a family combine who possesses fatal charm but little ready capital. Lederer, a Czech-born actor, was a popular lead in German film in this period. One of his most notable appearances was in G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora, 1929). To annoy his family Fred spurns a union with a wealthy investor and marries the barmaid at a night club he frequents. Lia (Käthe von Nagy) is already smitten with charming but feckless Fred. The family opposition mean that their romance has to surmount a series of obstacles. On the way the film satirises the attitudes of the snobbish bourgeoisie.

The film was directed by Joe May, a successful director and producer in German Cinema. He gave Fritz Lang his start in films and like him ended up in Hollywood. In fact, Hollywood quickly made a copy of this films with the same English-language title, also 1931. The film has delightful humour and some fine witty lines. Much of it due to

“The supporting actors [who] are the stars in this tempestuous film operetta. In a mad dash to a surprise ending, a colourful chorus of song numbers, sketches and artistic tomfoolery put those minor roles at the centre of attention – “

One of these being Szöke Szakall, later S. Z. Sakall, amongst whose Hollywood films is Casablanca (1942, as carl at the famous club).

Sprenbagger 1010 (1929) had its title translated to the memorable Blast Excavator 1010. This is a new invention by young engineer Karl (Ivan Kobal-Samborsky). It will increase production at the mining company dramatically. I did wonder if the technology actually made sense, but in the film managers and colleagues find his design brilliant. And, indeed, later in the film it does work.

“Set against the background of the Leuna Works complex and the coal fields of central Germany, first tie director Acház-Duisberg (son of the head of I. G. Farben) made an apologia for the age of the machine.”

Building the machine near a rich seam of coal means disrupting the tranquillity and livelihoods of a quiet pastoral setting. Predictability there is opposition, including in Karl’s own family. And the conflict is dramatised romantically as Karl is desired both by fellow engineer Olga (Viola Garden) and local land-owner Camilla (Ilse Stobrawa).

“The violent clash of rural idyll and industry, machinery and romanticism is matched by the cinematic collision of industrial reportage and melodrama.”

What stands out in the film is the cinematography by Helmer Lerski and the editing. There are extensive sequences of montage, especially when we reach the dramatic climax. The film has an early sound track of music. The score by Walter Gronostay has been recreated for the 35mm print we saw. However, it was mainly in the C19th orchestral tradition and I did not find that it matched the images. In the credits was the young Fred Zinnemann as an assistant cameraman.

Das Abenteuer einer Schönen Frau (The Adventure of Thea Roland, 1932) starred Lil Dagover in the title role. She is an independently-minded woman and a successful sculptor. A new commission sends her looking for a suitable male model. She finds him at a local boxing gymnasium: boxers were a popular film type in this period. However, her chosen subject is Jerry (Hans Rehmann) and English policeman and police boxing champion visiting Berlin for a fight. Inevitably romance, or at least desire evolves. Dagover convinces as the independent woman but Rehmann has his work cut out as the English Bobby. We do see him in one scene directing traffic in London.

The film works hard at generating humour. But what stands out is in the latter part Thea has a child whilst unmarried. Despite the social contempt she receives Thea sticks to her child and independent living. The conclusion is rather more in keeping with the then current mores but in the course of the narrative it seems that Thea is a ‘new woman’ and Jerry is a ‘new man’. There is a sense of equality in their relationship including in the care of their child.

We enjoyed a another good 35mm print. It is a film with some excellent production design including quite distinctive props as in the nursery. The film was directed by Hermann Kosterlitz, later Henry Koster, whose films in Hollywood include several of generic similarity such as My Man Godfrey (1957),

By this stage of the retrospective I was getting a sense of the variety of Weimar Cinema, which is in little over a decade produced a range of genres, styles and themes that were notable. I was also watching the transition from Silent to Sound era, which seem to be handled fairly adroitly.

Quotations from the Weimar Kino neu gesehen Brochure.

Weimar – Montag

Everywhere around the Potsdamer Platz one sees the Festival logo and the Berlin ‘Bear’. I read in Walking in Berlin, A Flaneur in the Capital, (Franz Hessel, 1929 – translation Amanda DeMarco) that, contrary to myth, the capital’s name is not related to the animal but to a Polabian word for ‘swamp’.

This day started with a programme of a short film and a feature.

Mit der Kamera durch Alt-Berlin was a nine minute film from 1928 on 35mm.

“It finds traces of old Berlin in the modern city. It juxtaposes drawings and engravings made about 1800 with the 1928 reality.“

Central to the tour is water and the River Spree. The director is unknown.

Die Unehelichen, Eine Kindertragödie (Children of No Importance, 1926) is an example of a genre of the period addressing the exploitation and oppression of children and often dramatising a ‘child tragedy’. The director was Gerhard Lamprecht, but here in the socially conscious mode. I had seen this film before in a programme at I Cinema Ritrovato and it was more typical of the work of the director.

We had an introduction by Daniel Meiller who explained that as well has having a long career in German film Lamprecht was also an avid collector of films and film memorabilia. He was a key person in advocating archives in post-war Germany. And his collection formed the basis of the Deutsch Kinemathek when it was set up in 1960.

The film centres on four children who have been placed with foster-parents. The adults are mainly interested in the income. The man drinks and is often violent The woman is feckless. An early scene shows the trauma for the children when their pet rabbit is killed. The two older children are Lotte (Fee Wachsmuth) and Peter (Ralph Ludwig). Lotte succumbs to the poor treatment and dies. Peter is given hope by kindly neighbours and then a woman who is prepared to adopt him. However, this prospect recedes when Peter’s father, who works on a barge, turns up and wants his son as additional labour. Peter has to pass through a traumatic and climatic ordeal before the film closes.

“The basis for making the film was an official report from a society for the protection of children against exploitation and cruelty and socially committed directorate Gerhard Lamprecht brought to light a deplorable state of affairs that was widespread in the Weimar Republic.”

Seeing the film again I was impressed. This time it was a digital transfer rather 35mm. It is well done and the children are convincing. However I did find that the narrative and representations were rather conventional and used stereotypes to a degree. Once again we have the ‘deserving’ and undeserving’ poor with not a great degree of nuance in the characterisation. The film does effectively offer contrasts. The film opens with a privileged child of a bourgeois household playing in the garden and watched, on the other side of the railings, by Lotte and Peter. Late in the film, when Peter appears to have found an equivalent home, he plays with friends in a well-appointed garden.

Frühling Erwachen (Spring Awakening, 1919) was another Eine Kindertragödie. However this film dealt with school students in their late teens: at a time before the ‘teenager’ had not been invented. The film was based on a Franz Wedekind play dealing with the ‘sexual tragedy of youth’. There are a group of students but at the centre are Moritz (Carl Balhaus) and Melchior (Rolf van Goth). Moritz’s family would seem petty bourgeois. His father harbours ambitions beyond Moritz’s abilities. But Melchior from a bourgeois family, [like Hubble in The Way We Were, 1973] is gifted and finds school life easy. We also follow the boys’ relationship with two girl students. Melchior has a close relationship with Wendla (Toni van Eyck) who lives alone with her mother. Whilst Moritz engages with Else (Ira Rina). Her father is a successful businessman. Ilse, the vibrant person in the group, organises a party at her home on one of his business trips. There is sexual experimentation. And a veiled description of this in a notebook causes Moritz to face expulsion, despite his innocence. This incident is the one that mainly determines the tragic outcome.>

The film was directed by Richard Oswald. I have seen his films before and found him a pedestrian film-maker. Spring Awakening is well produced and the cast are good. But the drama only takes off in individual scenes; shots in the cemetery are well done. And the treatment of awakening sexuality is timid. There is a sequence by a river with a young couple: I deduced rather than knew that coitus occurred. Of course, there was Weimar censorship. But other films, like those adapted from Wedekind’s other plays, are more explicit.

We had a good 35mm print to watch. And Stephen Horne provided a well composed score that was complimentary.

Die andere Seite (The Other Side, 1931) was an early sound version of R. W. Sherriff’s 1928 play, Journey’s End. So we had a German cast playing the British soldiers on the Front Line in 1918. The lead actor was Conrad Veidt as the commanding officer, Richard Stanhope. Once I got used to the German language for ‘Tommies’ I was really involved. Intriguingly we had two German performances of ‘It’s a long way . . .’, one the English original and one a German variant.

The film follows the play very closely. Its makes really good use of the moving camera, high and low angle shots, sound effects and inserts shots. The claustrophobia of the dug-outs, the squalor of the trenches and the desolate landscape between the lines are very effective. I thought that it worked better than the 1930 British/US version. The last time I saw that film it struck as rather studio bound, even with a pretty good cast. And I also found it superior to the newly released British version in colour and widescreen. That film adds additional scenes, apparently to fill out the pilot. In fact these rather dissipate the drama. And Die andre Seite works better at placing the placing the conflict and battle. In an early scene Stanhope shows the positions on the map and one has a clear sense of the lay-out of the opposing sides.

The last film of my day was a rather crazy drama, Opium (1919). I had seen the film once before but this was a new restoration presented on digital. We had an introduction on this from Stefan Drößler and Andreas Thein. Using nitrate elements at the Düsseldorf and Munich Archives at the Austrian Film Archive they achieved a longer version closer to the original. But notably they also reconstructed the vibrant tinting (lots of reds) of the film. This was a transformation from the version I saw a few years ago.

Made during a censorship free period, Opium combined the thrill of the exotic with them titillation of the erotic . . .”

The film is full of scenes of indulgence in opium and the vivid and bizarre dreams that the smokers experience. These in particular stand out in the film,

[Robert] Reinart and his cameraman Helma Lerski developed a brilliant, hallucinatory cinematic language . . .”

Another of Reinart’s films is Homunculus (1916), a serial about a Frankenstein creation. This also has vivid tinting and hallucinatory sequences. The plot of the film is picaresque, taking us from the USA to China, to Europe, back to the USA, to India and back again. There are supposed scientific investigations and good deeds. But there are also extra-marital affairs, long-term revenge journeys and, predictably with drug addicts, hospitalisation and death. This is a bizarre but powerhouse film. Keeping, I would think, the audience agog for its 91 minutes.

So back to the hotel after a full day. By now I had worked out the buses and U-bahn. These are very efficient. You can get a weekly ticket for 30 euros. They are frequent and there is an all-night service. Mealtimes take some fitting in. But there are the Berlin coffee shops, with excellent drinks and their splendid pastries. And I have managed a meal and a beer at a Beer Keller.

Weimar – Sonntag

I have now also viewed films in the alternative venue for Weimar, CinemaxX. This is a multi-screen venue right in the heart of Potsdamer Platz. Consequently it is popular and very busy. The screen dedicated for Weimar [with other titles] is CinemaxX 8. This is a 250 seat auditorium with a fairly steep rake and thus has good sight-lines. Friends warned me though that the front three rows are rather too close to the screen: Jenny Jugo (the Weimar Carmen) could drop straight into one’s lap. They have installed a piano for the silent accompaniments. And, for the space of the Festival, pop-corn and bought-in drinks are banned.

The day opened however at the Zeughauskino.

Menschen im Busch, Ein Afrika-Tonfilm (1930). We had an introduction from a member of the Deutsche Kinemathek who provided the background and context to the film. The film-makers, Gulia Pfeffer and Friedrich Dalssheim, filmed in the interior of Togoland [later part of Ghana and the Togolese Republic]. The land had been a German colony before World War I and post-war it became a British Mandate: a method used by the British to grab land in many places. This political dimension was not addressed by the film. Whilst the film used footage shot on location the sound was dubbed in Berlin. Some of this was clearly voiced in Germany but some appeared to be actual sound incorporated. I hope to check this out. The use of actual African voices was a first in ethnographic film; a parallel to Edgar Anstey’s film Housing Problems (1936).

The film opened with an introduction from the former German Governor. We had been warned that his comments were littered with what are now ‘politically incorrect’ descriptions. He compared the Africans to ‘children’ and described their culture as ‘inferior to European Civilisation’. All was not lost, because most of his talk was heard over images of the coast line of the territory. The opening was very well done, we watched fishing boats landing their cargoes, battling through the surf to the beach. This, like the rest of the film offered excellent camera shots and movements.

The film presented a day in the life of the Ewe people in Chelekpe village. In fact the majority of the film followed one family, a village man, his two wives and children. The narrative ran from daybreak to late evening. There were meals, work, and leisure. The village had a division of labour, both in harvesting and hunting, and in the technologically dependent activity of weaving. Animals were a full part of the village life: goats, pigs, chickens, and some smaller animals we could not identify. In the evening there was a religious/social dance ritual. This was accompanied by drumming as both men and women, some in special costumes, swayed and rotated. The dancing and drumming reached a frenzied climax before darkness fully fell.

We then had a two-part film adapted from a novel by Jacob Wassermann. I do not know the novel but the plot of the films suggested a vast picaresque narrative.

Christian Wahnschaffe, Teil 1: Weltbrand (Part 1: World Afire) was directed by Urban Gad in 1920 and in a digital form ran 80 minutes. The opening title explained that the film is set in 1905 in several European countries. Conrad Veidt played the titular role. Christian is the son of a wealthy industrialist. He lacks purpose though he has secret desire for his engaged step-sister. Spoilt and lacking direction Christian is introduced to a popular Pairs-based dancer with whom he begins an affair. Eva is a man-eater and later in the film she has another affair with a Grand Duke, [a stand-in for the Romanov Tzar]. This links the film to the Revolutionary Year of 1905, though it is not actually presented in name]. In the course of the film we have become acquainted with anarchists and a secret group called ‘The Nihilists’: appropriately their political programme is never explained. They are involved in protests and suffer in the repression ordered by the Grand Duke. In one scene he watches a s a machine gun opens up on a civilian demonstration. In the later stages the plot develops round an envelope of secret papers. The story ends pretty badly for everyone, except the Grand Duke and his henchmen: but Christian does survive.

The film followed the style of many early films in this period. Full of parallel cutting between characters and events, often in very short scenes. So the events and characters move at speed and it becomes quite complicated following the plot. It is however full of conventional tropes and stereotypes, and combines motifs from several familiar genres of the period. In that sense it was probably easy for a contemporary audience to follow. Stylistically the production is not that well done. The editing leaves a certain amount to be desired though it was not clear how much was due to missing footage. The cast are reasonable but it is not one of Veidt’s great performances.

Christian Wahnschaffe, Teil 2: Die Flucht aus dem Goldenen Kerker (Part 2: The Escape from the Golden Prison, 1921) is a sequel. The ‘golden prison’ is Christian’s family home where he feels bored and guilty over his privileges. A different friend takes him to a working class district in the hope of excitement. This they find, and Christian assists, a poor prostitute attacked by her pimp. He thus meets a young social worker, Rose. Partly due to her attraction and partly due to acquiring a social and religious conscience, Christian starts to ‘give all he has to the poor’. However, in this slum we find few ‘deserving poor’ and an amount of ‘undeserving poor’. The film resembles Part I in that once again the story ends badly for most characters.

However, this film has a coherent narrative thread and avoids the endless parallel cutting. So it works in a more constrained and effective manner. In addition, whilst the film has the same director as Part I, it has new scriptwriters. Most noticeably it has a new cinematographer, Willy Hameister. His work offers frequent high angle shots of the slums. The exterior use both low-key lighting and effective tinting. It looks much better than the first part. And there are some excellent set-pieces in the slum tenements as the mass of working class denizens are involved in varied agitations. Part 2 seems a much better film than Part 1. A colleague thought that the second part might have been re-edited after release: the digital versions relies mainly on a Dutch print.

Stephen Horne provided the accompaniment for both films. He worked effectively with Part 1 but Part 2 provided greater scope for drama and emotion. Stephen is a multi-instrumentalist, so we had several instruments; one at least, the accordion, provided a musical motif for working class scenes in both films. Escape from the Golden Prison is a definite film to see but watching the whole two-part drama makes better sense and the contrasts alone are entertaining.

Der Himmel auf Erden (Heaven on Earth, 1927) was the first film that I viewed at CinemaxX. This was a social comedy. The lead character, Traugott Bellmann (Reinhold Schünzel, who also directed the film), is a Member of Parliament who achieves famed by condemning centres of vice. He specifically names the night club, ‘Heaven on Earth’. However, newly married he discovers first that his new father-in-law sells the copious amounts of Champagne consumer in the club; then, that it belongs to his step-brother, not seen for years. His embarrassment creates problem in both his public and personal life.

The situation opens in a very witty manner with a delightful satire of parliamentary action. The night club itself is only mildly unseemly and hardly at all immoral. The main consumption is the champagne. The dancing girls are leggy but not overtly sexy. And the nudes on the drapery are really quite prim. The comedy in the club is probably stretched out too long: I found the humour and wit dissipated at times. But it come together in a great and comic climax And the scenes of the moral guardians and some of Bellmann’s discomfiture are very funny.

The film was screened from a pretty good 35mm print. Maud Nelissen provided a score that included light sequences, lively dances and touches of ragtime.

Another good day. As the retrospective develops it is emerging as an intelligent and rewarding exploration.

Weimar – Samstag

Zeughauskino

The Weimar retrospective runs throughout the Berlinale. There are in most cases two screenings. The ones at the CinemaxX sited at Potsdamer Platz tend to be fully booked. However, the Zeughauskino, a brisk 30 minute walk away, is not usually packed out. This is a typical Museum auditorium, designed for multi-purpose use. It seats only 160 but the seating is comfortable, the rake is good and the sight-lines are fine. The acoustics, including for live music, are good. And the screen is a good size, masked for ratios. The cinema has a range of formats, 16mm, 35mm and Digital. The foyer is small and it gets crowded before a popular title. However, the staff are efficient and affable. And we get a brief introduction before a screening, including in English. So I spent my first day here. The first two films are ones that I wish to return to at fuller length.

‘Der Katzensteg’

Der Katzensteg / Regina, or the Sins of the Father was released in 1927. It was directed by Gerhard Lamprecht and adapted from a novel of the same name from 1890, by the noted author Hermann Sudermann. It is a period drama set in the times of the Napoleonic wars. The key characters are a Baron and his son; a Vicar whose daughter the son is taken with; and at the other end of the social scale a drunken coffin-maker whose daughter works at the Baron’s castle. The first act of the film presented events in 1797 with the French invading Prussia. There is treason which sets in motion a chain of catastrophic events. The acts of the fathers haunt the children.

By 1813 the wars near their end but revenge continues to blight the lives of the children. The conflicts come together in a powerful and tragic conclusion. This film was a dramatic tour de force though if often used conventional situations. Stylistically it was filmed with real panache. In particular the opening sequences involving night-time conflicts between French and Prussian troops were really gripping.

The film was projected from a 16mm print from the Deutsche Kinemathek. It was old and the definition was only fair but one could still enjoy the excellent use of the moving camera and effects like superimposition. The screening also benefited from a fine accompaniment by Maud Nelissen. Much of her music offered a slow and somber accompaniment and there were finely timed silences at key moments.

‘Kameradschaft’

Kameradschaft La tragedie de la mineComradeship (1931) is a famous German/French co-production. It was directed by the highly regarded George Wilhelm Pabst. Based on a mining disaster of 1906 the film shows how German rescue teams rushed to aid their French comrades after an explosion. The film opens by stressing the borders that separate France and Germany, including a reference to the French occupation of the Ruhr industrial area in 1921.

The digital restoration was introduced by Julia Wallmüller from the  Deutsche Kinemathek. She explained that there had been two versions on release, German and French. The German release did not fare well but the French version was popular. In Germany a final ironic ending was cut leaving a more upbeat conclusion. The restoration now included that ending.

The film is bi-lingual, German and French. It is extremely well done and blends effectively the actual film footage with studio recreations. We follow the general direction of the disaster but also are encouraged to identify with sympathetic individuals from both communities. The underground sequences combine almost documentary sequences, with tension, pathos and relief. The film focuses on the working class communities either side of the border and there is a sense of class and craft solidarity. The management and authorities remain in the background. The changed ending in Germany was symptomatic of the future when the organised German working class failed to halt the rising Fascist Party. Predictably the Nazis did not like the film.

‘Der Kampf ums Matterhorn’

Der Kampf ums Matterhorn / Fight for the Matterhorn (1928) dramatized events leading up to Edward Whymper’s famous ascent of the key Alpine peak. The first six reels of the film chronicle the relationship between Whymper (Peter Voß) and Italian guide Jean-Antoine Carrel (Luis Trenker). Carrel lives in the village of Breuil with his wife Felicitas (Marcella Albani), his mother (Alexandra Schmitt) and step-brother Giaccomo (Clifford McLaglen): plus two dogs. The mountain drama is filled out with a triangle of passion with Giaccomo attempting to stir up enmities because of his desire for Felicitas. I found this melodrama distracted from the main mountaineering narrative. It appeared to be an attempt to provide dramatic aspects to the false rumours that Whymper had cut a rope when the later tragedy occurred.

The mountain sequences, with early attempts on the Matterhorn by Carrel and Whymper, are excellent (this is 1860 and 1863). The film generally blends location work with studio shots effectively. And it enjoys striking panoramas across the Alpine mountains. The cast involved skilled mountaineers and there are impressive shots of climbing on rock faces and steep snow slopes.

The film also has memorable canine moments. The house dog, a terrier, at one point nips at the dancers during a village celebration. The outhouse dog, a Labrador-cross, has an epic sequence. It races over snow, ice and rocks to call Carrel to aid his wife who, fleeing Giaccomo, has fallen down a slope on the glacier.

In the last three reels the film moves to the tragic events of 1865. Following the record fairly closely we see the party led by Zermatt guide Michel Croz with Whymper and the competing party from the newly formed Italian Mountaineering Club led by Carrel. Whymper reaches the summit first but there is a fall on the way down with the loss of four lives. The ascent is well filmed though the latter stages are presented through an iris (a telescope – long shots): presumably as they were not able to film high up the mountain.

There follows the accusation of a cut rope against Whymper. Here the film dramatises and we see Carrel climb up the Matterhorn and return with the rope to vindicate Whymper. The drama here works better than in the earlier reels which provide a reference point. But again I found it distracted from the central mountaineering story which is visually stunning. The DCP had introductory titles explaining that the restoration relied on several different print versions. The restoration and transfer were at 4K which produced an excellent and well-defined image. I did think the location and reconstruction shots were distinguishable, down I assume to the harder edges of digital. We enjoyed a piano accompaniment by Maud Nelissen: she made the melodramatic scenes passable and the mountain sequences imposing. The film runs for 117 minutes. There are shorter versions, including I believe a 9.5mm version of three reels.

The three films offered a fine introduction to what promises to be a week of cinematic treats.