Sunday, October 31, 2010

Helmut Arlt in memoriam

Helmut Arlt, a man of the cinema from Berlin, died on Friday, 15 October 2010, at the age of 80, after a brief hospitalization. His daytime job was as the film projectionist at the Sender Freies Berlin tv station until his retirement. He also had a home cinema in the heart of Berlin complete with 35 mm projection and a CinemaScope screen. He was a notable collector with holdings of 35 mm film prints and a large and well-catalogued video and dvd collection. He loved Hollywood, German cinema until the 1960s, and especially musicals. His ambitious German collections included rare recordings of Reichsvorbehaltfilme (banned films from the Third Reich).

I knew Helmut since 1983 and had the pleasure to attend his video evenings and film screenings. Helmut was a master of ceremonies who could find fun and inspiration in mediocre German melodramas of the 1950s and even in daily television news programmes. "Mein Bundeskanzler!" he would exclaim when Helmut Kohl appeared, and burst into that infectious laughter of his.

Helmut was not born in Berlin, but to my foreign ears he had a Berliner Schnauze, a direct and insolent way of talking, and some expressions I still hear in his voice, such as "hamwa nicht" ("that one we don't have"), "kommt keiner" ("nobody will come" [to see a certain film], or "viel Spass!" ("have fun!", often with irony). He had a special fondness for Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder's Berliner Witz (Berliner wit) which they never lost in Hollywood.

"Kiss me I'm gay" was the emblem on his coffee mug when I first met him. I never did, but I introduced to him my girlfriend and many other friends. He was always a generous host, but it was almost impossible to return the favour because he preferred to stay at home and entertain there. He had a cat, called simply "Katze" (= cat in German) who had a long life and eccentric appetites. I asked him how he could always have such high spirits. He told that he didn't but that when he was sad he preferred to be alone.

Helmut admired Kevin Brownlow, and Helmut is the "generous German collector" of the restoration credits of Ben-Hur (1925) restored by Kevin at Photoplay. But in Helmut's collections I learned to appreciate also the great ZDF reconstructions by Jürgen Labenski and Gerd Luft. For instance the restored The Wedding March with the original, electrifying sound-on-disc integral to the film according to Erich von Stroheim, himself.

During the last couple of weeks I have reminisced the evenings at Helmut's. Watching a nitrate print of Gone With the Wind (possession of nitrate film was banned in Germany since the 1950s due to a fundamental misconception of nitrate in the German law). Fast-forwarding the boring parts of musicals and relishing the production numbers such as Sheree North's prison dance in How To Be Very, Very Popular, the sexiest dance number I have seen in a Hollywood musical. Watching in CinemaScope I Will Go on Singing, the last film of Judy Garland, Helmut's special favourite star. Helmut would also show on his cinema screen scope-format slides taken at his favourite holiday target, the mountains of Mallorca. A specialty of Helmut's cinema was that smoking was expected ("in meinem Kino muss geraucht werden").

Helmut's collection of Hollywood musicals was almost complete, but one film was missing: Paramount on Parade, which has not been preserved in a complete version with the full soundtrack. This year he managed to acquire a copy from e-Bay. One of his missions was accomplished.

In our talks on the telephone last February Helmut stated bluntly that it's no fun (macht kein Spass) being old. There will be no more of those unique film evenings. No more of that laughter which was sarcastic on the surface but with tenderness underneath.

Helmut's many friends will never forget him.

PS. Kari Lempinen, thanks for the correction. Helmut stated that it's ok getting older but it's no fun being old.


Tilly said...

Thank you very much! I miss Helmut, because he was very special!

Herb Heller said...

He was a good Friends of my Family and me. Often He was the grandpa for our daughter, He Show her all the old tune movies and we saw old german und US movies in His Cinema. In the Weekend wenn Drive together to east German places and enjoying the food and Beer. We miss hin. Herbert and Family. (Sorry about my bad english)