film: Bauer: Умиращия лебед / The Dying Swan (1917)

july 8 07 Despite his short career, Bauer is supposed to rank up there with Griffith and Demille, but his work reminds me much more of Wegener in not only the dark subject matter, but also the emphasis on facial expressions. What this has which the others lack is a profound sense of beauty, the shots being set up to be beautiful, the subject matter beauty and its importance. The one shot that caught my attention was the introduction to a nightmare, during which we see Gisetta in bed, to the far right of the picture, and there is a “dolly out” shot, which moves backwards through room until Gisetta is centered through a doorway. Completely uncharacteristic of the film and its contemporaries.

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film: Lubitsch: Das Fidele Gefängnis (1917)

I found Das Fidele Gefängnis to be very funny, very modern in its comedic virtues, making an excellent show of allowing the audience to see the whole picture while characters do not, so that we stamp our feet gleefully, awaiting what fun we just know must occur soon. It was acted very well–and all the characters are lovable, every single one, which gains points in my book–I think this could be characterized thus as a farce, as there’s never any immediate danger, even amidst marital mistrust, stalkers, and half the film spent in jail, everyone is always smiling, and for the few seconds during which there are hard feelings–they’re quickly resolved and kisses result. Perhaps most funny, I had to watch it three times, as the man is being released from jail, he and the guard go to hug and kiss each other goodbye, and as they’re nearing for the kiss, the guard belches and the kiss is given up. And this, this from a country in which I thought nothing existed in film but expressionism, noir, and Fassbinder. With all these films by Wegener I’ve been seeing, I was under the impression that this would be dark and twisted–I was wrong–the last place anyone would guess this from is Germany. I’m very glad to have seen this.

film: Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem, wie er in die Welt kam was far longer than I hoped it’d be. This is because I got confused and watched the wrong Golem film. I’d have been much less eager to watch it if I’d known beforehand that the director was Paul Wegener, whose 40 minute feature Der Student Von Prag was a bore to sit through, and as if watching Wegener lumber about the stage in that one wasn’t bad enough, he lumbered about in this one too, showing the only two expressions he’s capable of: boredom and murderous. What makes this film all worthwhile is the last scene, which bears a striking resemblance (I figured this one out all by my very self) to a scene from the Godfather. The scene I mean is the one in which Marlon Brando is playing with his toddler grandson, when he takes a heart attack, falls over dead, and the kid runs over laughs at him, squirts his water and runs off continuing to play. It’s haunting–because it forces us to wonder how children perceive death, if they do at all, and then we wonder, well, is death or life worth anything at all if I child cannot see it? And then we see all the bodies scattered throughout the film. In this, the Golem is supposed to run amok, having been created by a magician/rabbi who for some odd reason calls for the power of a rival Canaanite deity to help the Jews. Apparently the magic is beginning to run out, at which point Golem will disobey and kill his master. Instead, that is, after destroying most of the ghetto (we Are discussing Jews here), he breaks open the city gates, runs outside, and meets a little girl. They have a Frankenstein moment, during which he seems enthralled and she hands him a flower. He takes her in his arms, and the image of this is very sweet. And playfully she tugs off his magic star attached over his heart–which is essentially is on/off switch–and his body becomes a lifeless mound of clay again. He falls over, she thinks this is great fun, bends over and laughs at him, and then runs off. Next we see, she’s convinced all her girl friends to come over and sit on him and play. Seeing the whole thing in black and white, Golem looks as much like a human as the next person, so the whole ordeal is rather disturbing. Quite reminiscent of Godfather, you’ll see.

As for importance goes, this is clear a work of German expressionism–its twisted sets remind me of a more organic version of Cabinet des Dr Caligari–however, I’ll also note that the expressionistic sets are demarcated by the ghetto walls. Immediately outside them, the world loses its gothic-turned-claustrophobic intensity and regains something much more romantic and natural. The conclusion, thus, is that the expressionistic elements are confined to an illustration of Judaism. While the Jews live in this strange city, persecuted for practicing black magic and causing public havoc, they Do practice black magic and cause public havoc! Caligari, as I recall, made the whole world not as twisted, but with the same shadowy texture over much sharper sets.

film: Feuillade: Les Vampires [e2] : La Bague qui tue (1915)

Midway through a scene, a shot, that looked almost identical to one from Fantomas. The film was carried heavily by letters and newspapers, as in Fantomas, and…surprise, the same director, Feuillade. I could not get my hands on episode 1, so I began with 2, and it was short enough to maintain some of my attention, though I don’t know how well it will continue to do so. But–I’ve turned back on my earlier plan to stop watching things that I know I’ll hate. Why? Well, because this director and his Fantomas and Les Vampires series were influential on the surrealists, whose work I’m trying to read. I also don’t enjoy Buster Keaton–and he was influential on them. But, one watch, and that’ll be all. If I didn’t enjoy Fantomas and yet I’ve had so many observations and comparisons later based on it, then I’ve achieved my task. If Der Student von Prague is by the same director as Der Golem, and if it highly influenced the horror genre…well, I should keep going.

film: Wegener: Der Student von Prag (1913)

Der Student von Prag I was looking forward to because I’d read it was a modern adaptation of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. If that’s the case, then so is Crossroads about Robert Johnson. Really, if there’s only one significant figure in history who sold his soul to the devil, then Christians should assume they’ve pretty much got Satan beat. What are the differences? Faustus is not needy, he’s brilliant and bored with life. Balduin is a depressed student who’s utterly broke. It becomes almost silly to see him, in scene after scene, sitting at a table in the foreground, surrounded by pretty young people dancing and partying, as he sits depressed, head on hand. But we know he must really be depressed because someone comments that he is the biggest partier at school. Almost immediately he strikes a deal with some old man, getting a large amount of cash in exchange for anything in the room. The man doesn’t exactly take his soul unless you’re going by Sir James George Fraser’s subjects’ beliefs that the soul (as a manikin) can be captured in a mirror, or a camera, and so forth. Thus the old man/devil points to Balduin’s soul in the full-body mirror, Balduin’s daemon steps out of the mirror, and Balduin is left alone with his money. First he’s freaked out, because he has no reflection anymore, but second, he’s fine, because he’s got all this money. The rest of the film is spent with him trying to get by in everyday adventures, and continuing to freak the fuck out when his daemon shows up to make precisely the sort of remarks a ghost would make, viz. “wherever thou goest, so shalt i be” sorts of things. And in what would be today the nudie scene, Balduin’s hooking up with the Countess when she finally notices, that which the audience has been squirming about for five minutes, that Balduin has no reflection in that enormous mirror reflecting their kisses. And she flips out, and suddenly Balduin’s daemon pops into the room, and all hell breaks loose. By this point you should be thinking: well, if his daemon keeps showing up, does that mean he can smack it? Good point. But he wouldn’t want to fight himself because, after all, he’s the best swordsman in Prague. So he pulls out a gun to kill himself, the daemon pops in, he shoots it, and it disappears. Now he’s very pleased with himself, because we’re pretty sure, from what we can tell, that his reflection has returned to the looking glass. And what now? You guessed it: Balduin instantly dies from a gunshot wound. This ties things up nicely as long as you don’t think about technicalities (…was the external daemon responsible for Balduin’s living? Or if one doesn’t require a daemon to live healthily, then why does having a shot-up daemon inside oneself lead to death?). Give me flying body parts and devils any day, rather than this ending. The film just itches for better technology.

If we feel like getting interpretive here, I suppose we could point to the extraction of daemon via mirror is strikingly close to the extraction of daemon via camera–which places every audience member in the role of the devil. Who but we has paid cash to observe the actions of this man’s extracted soul, to view the tragedy of his life, like gods over Job?