Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014
Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "The first of four films which Hochbaum made in Austria: the subject matter is genuinely Viennese, Felix Salten's stage play Der Gemeine, a scenario about the transition to the 20th century and, at the same time, a scathing critique of the militarism of the epoch. Hochbaum takes up the atmospheric and thematic grounding, but with a leap in time, which can also be read as a comment on the then-contemporary authoritaria regime in Austria. He transfers the plot to the year 1913, the lead-in to the First World War."
"Vienna, which likes to appear charming, slightly frivolous, and cosmopolitan in the cinema of the early 1930s, presents itself in Vorstadtvarieté as a place of self-delusion, of brazenly taking advantage, and of broken dreams. The story begins in the pleasure-seeking environment of the Prater amusement district. Mizzi Ebeseder, the daughter of popular cabaret singers, toys with the idea of a stage career at the family-owned variety theater. Singing is bliss for her. Her fiancé, though, architectural draftsman Josef Kernthaler, sets a clear ultimatum: for her to go to the stage would mean their immediate breakup. The conflict sharpens when Josef is drafted into the army. His comrades' moral laxness, the economies of desires, the buzz and tinsel of the theater make him freeze completely. His world, which knows no nuances, is cracking at the seams. The phantasm of purging is on the rise. Josef 's demands pull the rug out under Mizzi: she staggers, wavering between singing her number and the promise of marriage, between city and country, between a stage costume and a soldier's uniform. Her space in life is caving in, and not only hers."
"To this, Hochbaum responds with a highly mobile and subtle camera. It creates its own spaces, sometimes lyrical, holding on faces, oriented toward the play of visual details, "because things are easier to photograph than emotions". This was a credo that he had learned from the cinematic polymath he appreciated most, Béla Balázs."
"The censors did not let Hochbaum get away lightly with his filmic statement about Vienna. The tragic ending had to be reinterpreted into a happy one, and the movie was stripped of its subtitle. It had been A song of Austrian humanity." Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)
AA: Vorstadtvarieté is a film about the eve of World War One, which meant the end of the Dual Monarchy. It is a musical film about a popular music theatre touring in the suburbs and the little towns of Austria. It is a story of the Austrian joy of life. It is also a love story across class boundaries.
At times I jotted down in my notes: why does not Mizzi just leave Josef who is so clearly unsympathetic? He does not understand that music, performing, and entertainment are Mizzi's life, her calling, her way of giving love. But on the other hand Josef is a man of dignity. He would not persuade Mizzi to remain his lover (as his father openly suggests): he wants to marry her. He is in real agony when he has to leave Mizzi for the military. The love sequence in the nature is also an expression of their strong feelings. And finally Josef comes (in this release version) to Mizzi's rescue at the last moment.
The film is full of music of many kinds, including the Radetzky March and sitra tunes; I would like to see the playlist.
The dialogue is often in heavy accents which makes it fascinating but at times difficult to follow for a not-native speaker.
There are the two worlds of the military and the music hall. Also the town life and the country life with its different customs and traditions. There is the generation clash between the stern future mother-in-law and Mizzi, who is proud of her Volkssinger's costumes.
There are many fine scenes full of life and a fine sense of composition, but there is little of the avantgardistic and experimental left here. There is a sense of growing mediocrity.
The true drive of the movie is Ophulsian, tragic: the severity of the military vs. the life force of the musical world. Mizzi has already written her suicide note, but Josef draws her back to life from the bridge from where she wanted to jump in front of the train.
The source of this print is in good basic health. There are signs of use in it, some scratches and rain, but most importantly, large helpings of great visual beauty such as in Mizzi's beautiful song sequence after the show when Josef has banned her to perform anymore and he is not sleeping well at the barracks.
Der junge Bauzeichner Josef Kernthaler will im Wien des Jahres 1913 seine Freundin Mizzi Ebeseder heiraten, deren Eltern das Varieté "Die Praterspatzen" betreiben. Doch er wird zu den k.u.k.-Truppen beordert und muss seine Verlobte zurücklassen. Vorsichtshalber schickt er sie aufs Land, da er unterbinden will, dass sie im Varieté auftritt. Mizzi indessen hält es in der Provinz nicht lange aus, bricht die Vereinbarung und hat als Sängerin größten Erfolg. Ein Verehrer aus hohen Militärkreisen lockt sie in seine Wohnung, und durch einen unglücklichen Zufall begegnet sie dort ausgerechnet Josef, der sie sofort des Betrugs verdächtigt. In der ursprünglichen Fassung des bereits mehrfach zensierten Films stürzt sich Mizzi daraufhin verzweifelt vor einen Zug, doch der tragische Schluss wurde nach der Uraufführung in ein Happy End verwandelt.