Joachim Schätz presenta il suo libro scritto con Elisabeth Büttner, Werner Hochbaum: An der Randern der Geschichte filmen (Filmarchiv Austria, 2011)
Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014
Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Werner Hochbaum was born the son of a naval officer in Kiel, one of Germany's maritime centers. Yet, his predilection for stories located near or on water is less a matter of birthright than of poetic conviction: in the port, the laws of the land reach their limit and the ebb and flow of the sea touch on settled lives. With Ein Mädchen geht an Land, Hochbaum returns once more to Hamburg, where he had shot Brüder and Razzia in St. Pauli, and planned his unrealized debut feature in 1928: a city symphony about the port metropolis. The ideological turning of the tide since those days can be witnessed in the melodrama's basic construction. This time around, the ocean is not a space of desire, but of discipline and devotion. When, after seven years at sea, the upright Erna Quandt goes ashore, the troubles in her life start. As a housemaid, she sets an estranged bourgeois couple back on the right course, but falls for marriage impostor Jonny Hasenbein. In the end, of course, she doesn't end up in the seedy quayside bar where Jonny dwells but in the sunny home of a widowed shipbuilder and father of three."
"Despite some ostentatious folksiness (there's a credit for calendar mottos), Hochbaum fashions Eva Leidmann's source novel into something nuanced and occasionally complicated. The imposing Elisabeth Flickenschildt as Erna and pudgy Carl Kuhlmann as the rueful crook Jonny make a deeply touching screen pair, and by re-inventing the unhappy rich housewife as an ostracized Viennese, Hochbaum moves the film's proud Hamburg traditionalism into twilight. While the plot draws lines between land and sea, the camera work, art direction and sound design stress fluid transitions and gray areas. A signature Hochbaum moment: when Erna walks onto a swaying gangplank, looking into the river Elbe and contemplating suicide, the placid emotional surface of the narration is stirred up into an evocative play of light, fog and shadows." Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)
In his introduction Joachim Schätz talked about the combination of robust folksiness and delicate feeling in Werner Hochbaum's cinema. Although Hochbaum was soon to be blacklisted by Goebbels, a new Hochbaum film was an event eagerly awaited by journalists. Ein Mädchen geht an Land was a homecoming for the Kiel-born Hochbaum to his adopted hometown Hamburg which he had last visited in Razzia in St. Pauli. The meaning of the sea has turned around: no longer the site of unlimited desire, it is now one of order. Erna Quandt is thrown from the safety of the family ship to the precarious land of Hamburg. Within a decade Hochbaum's cinema had proceeded to the quaint folksiness of Ein Mädchen geht an Land, yet consistently and stubbornly he held to the late 1920s tenets of Béla Balázs and Walther Ruttmann. In his concise introduction Schätz also managed to cover five thematic segments in the Werner Hochbaum story discussing his complicated biography, his concept of social environments, his talent in transitions, the persistence of the avantgarde, and the dynamics of work and play. (I apologize for eventual misunderstandings in these notes.)
AA: An unromantic drama of a woman of inner dignity and discipline who finds fulfillment in serving the cause of the ship, always loyal to the captain, also in a wider and more general sense, obeying her code of ethics also after she decides to leave her family ship and settle ashore.
Erna's honesty is so deeply engrained that she is constitutionally incapable of recognizing Jonny Hasenbein as an impostor. Yet Erna's sincerity also throws Jonny so much off balance that he is unable to cheat Erna. In the most unusual scene of the film Jonny, urged by his accomplices, tries to force himself to continue his swindling, but he has lost all conviction. As Joachim Schätz states above there is something very moving about the unlikely pair of Jonny and Erna. Jonny is arrested and Erna walks to the harbour alone at night... but the children bring her back to her senses.
The shipowners' life which Erna learns to know as a maid is seen as a world of alienation, arrogance, lovelessness and a work ethics without a joy of life ("your life is all about business"). "Hanseatische Manieren" have been immortalized in world literature by Thomas Mann in Buddenbrooks. The clash here is between the Hanseatic sense of duty and sacrifice and the Viennese joy of life. Amalie, Mrs. Sthümer, comes from Vienna, and she and Walter have fallen in love in Florence, in an atmosphere of a mutual passion for art. Now Amalie keeps playing her piano alone. There is a happy turn thanks to Erna, and the family motto "Zu einem ganzen Menschen gehören zwei" ("It takes two to make a complete human being") comes true thanks to her. Perhaps this happy turn is a bit movie-convenient, but this story interestingly reflects two sides of Hochbaum, himself, the progressive film poet of Hamburg who had become an exiled avantgardist in Vienna. But in March 1938 der Anschluss had taken place - Hitler had annexed Austria. The premiere of Ein Mädchen geht an land took place in September 1938.
Hochbaum has a strong sense of the imagery: the sea, the river, the wind, the rain, the waves, the storm. They spell life, they spell change, they spell death. Also the soundscape is assured: the sound of the wind, the foghorns, the songs (accordeon, Erna's lullabies, "Muss i denn" = "Wooden Heart"), the Hamburger speech rhythm. The milieux range from the ships to the Blankenese bourgeois district to harbour pubs and cabarets.
Hochbaum's avantgardistic impulse is at its most evident in Erna's nightmare sequence.
Hochbaum has a talent in directing his actors as an ensemble.
Ein Mädchen geht an Land can be seen as a film of reconciliation or conformism. Yet it is also more.
I enjoyed the strong black levels in this print of good basic visual health. The contrast might be slightly high, but the print is not unpleasant to watch and perhaps a daring approach to darkness has been the original concept.