Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kleider machen leute / L'Habit ne fait pas le moine

Kleider machen leute / Bräutigam auf Kredit - version francaise: L'Habit ne fait pas le moine. AT 1921. PC: Volo-Film. D+SC: Hans Steinhoff - based on the short story “Kleider machen Leute” by Gottfried Keller (1874); intertitles: Homunculus [Robert Weil]; DP: Anton Pucher, Herr Kieselau; AD: Hans Neumann (interiors), Hans Dostal, Robert Reich; COST: Karl Alexander Wilke; art titles + trick images: Mayblond [Michael Maybaum]; CAST: Hermann Thimig (Jaro/Jago Strapinsky), Dora Kaiser (Nettchen/Dora, Judge Polski’s daughter), Hugo Thimig (Landlord of the “Golden Scales” Inn /“Hotel Wasily”), Thea Oesy (Erika), Wilhelm Schmidt (Melchior Böhnli/Bonislas), Franz Kammauf (Judge Polski), Cornelius Kirschner (Vicar), Eugen Günther (Pharmacist), Fritz Straßny (Professor), Josef Moser (Notary), Viktor Kutschera (Beggar), Hans Thimig (Fool); orig. l: 1893 m; restored French version: 1675 m /18 fps/ 81 min (Desmet colour, duplicating original tinting and toning); print: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. Restored by Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique, Bruxelles, in cooperation with Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin. French intertitles with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 7 October 2008.
(When there are two character names, e.g., Nettchen/Dora, the first is that of the original German version, the second that of the French version.)
Horst Claus: "Following the screening of the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv’s restored prints of Steinhoff’s silent films by the Giornate del Cinema Muto since 2002, the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique discovered and, in 2005, restored a tinted and toned French version of the director’s debut film, Kleider machen Leute, entitled L’Habit ne fait pas le moine (the French proverbial equivalent of the original German title). A comparison of this print’s second reel with its – up to now – only surviving German counterpart (shown at the Giornate in 2004) indicates that both are based on the same materials. In both cases the plot-line adheres closely to Gottfried Keller's original short story (first published in 1874), which relates events surrounding the penniless tailor Jaro (French version: Jago) Strapinsky, who recently has lost his job. Dressed in his best clothes while looking for new employment, he is picked up by the coachman of a Count’s carriage, who – after dropping him off in Goldach – makes the greedy landlord of the town’s hotel believe that his passenger is a wealthy and important melancholy aristocrat. The news of the mysterious stranger’s arrival spreads like wildfire among the town’s citizens, who hope to benefit financially or socially by being associated with the supposedly high-ranking personage. Their attention, combined with their eagerness to shower him with credit he has not asked for, make it impossible for Jaro either to get away secretly or reveal his true identity – with embarrassing as well as happy consequences for both sides.
Shot mainly on location in the Vienna Woods between June and August 1921, the film was made by Steinhoff’s own Vienna-based production company Volo-Film. Besides producing and directing it, Steinhoff also wrote the scenario and supplied the ideas for the extensive designs of the intertitles. Acquired by Hanns Lippmann’s Gloria-Filmgesellschaft (a subsidiary of Ufa), Kleider machen Leute premiered to unanimous critical acclaim at the end of 1921 in Berlin, as Bräutigam auf Kredit (“Groom Through Credit”, a title which Ufa’s publicity department considered had stronger audience appeal than the original). Though a financial flop, it paved the way for Steinhoff's entry into the German film industry. It also was the reason why, for a number of years, several critics regarded him as one of the most promising film directors of the time (some even saw in him a potential successor to Ernst Lubitsch).
Compared with the Berlin censorship card, which contains a list of the German intertitles, the surviving French print is 214 metres (11%, or approximately 10 minutes) shorter than the German release print. Due to deterioration of the film stock there are gaps at the beginning of Reel 3, when the citizens of Goldach try to curry favour with Jaro/Jago. Further visual material is missing in Reel 4, when Boehnli (French version: Bonislas) plans his intrigue against Jaro/Jago, by inviting the Tailors Guild to perform a pantomime that will ridicule and expose his rival for the love of Nettchen (French version: Dora), the daughter of Goldach’s highest civil servant. Wear and tear are responsible for lost material at the start and end of some of the reels – most prominently at the end of the film, which apparently did not conclude with the couple’s wedding, but continued with a summary of Jaro’s private and business development, culminating in a sequence in which Jaro/Jago and Nettchen/Dora are seen in old age, surrounded by grandchildren. There is some evidence of deliberate attempts to speed up the action by cutting or shortening shots designed to support character development and the creation of atmosphere. Visually, for example, the original opening sequence seems to have placed a far greater emphasis on Jaro/Jago’s pride in his outer appearance. Interference of this kind stands in contrast to the addition of (in most cases unnecessary) explanatory intertitles to the French version. (The first reel alone, with 42 intertitles, contains twice as many textual interruptions than the German print.) Instead of simply replacing the humorous rhyming couplets of the original with their French translations, those responsible for the French print (in line with the film’s subtitle “Comédie sentimentale en 5 Parties”) made do with prose titles that add a sentimental touch to the narrative. Furthermore, their attempt to hide the production’s German provenance by claiming in the opening credits that it is of Polish origin, and performed by renowned artists from the Warsaw People’s Theatre (“Interprétée par les réputés artistes du Théâtre Populaire de Varsovie”), reflects the impact of anti-German sentiment on the international distribution of German-language films in the years following World War I. Though made in Austria and featuring three members of the renowned Austrian acting dynasty of the Thimig family, it purports to be set in Poland, reflecting that country’s comic mores and manners. (“Cette Comédie, qui se déroule en Pologne, n’est qu’une trés humaine étude de moeurs où a été respecté tout ce qui fait le charme des traditions de ce pays.”) Among the curiosities that crept into the film during its conversion from an Austrian to a Polish production for French audiences, today’s spectators will also be intrigued to note that the good people of Goldach, whom the film presents as living in the Biedermeier period, roughly the first half of the 19th Century, already went to the cinema several decades before the medium had officially been invented:“Tous les soirs, comme d’autres vont au Théâtre ou au Cinéma, l’aristocratie du village se réunit à l’Hôtel Wasily.”
– Horst Claus. - A soft duped look in the print. It is nice to see Hermann Thimig, the Lubitsch favourite (Die Puppe) in this role. I watched only the beginning. There is also something Gogolian (The Inspector-General) in this Gottfried Keller story.

No comments: