|Gina Falkenberg and Friedrich Gnass|
Location: Hamburg St. Pauli. Also credited: die Ganoven und Mädchen von St. Pauli.
Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 1 July 2014
Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "The cinema as a laboratory for the physical. Impressionist intensification is Hochbaum's modus operandi. Again, he is roaming Hamburg, fixing his gaze on the skin of things brought to life by the camera. Details tell stories, little things become eloquent. "The cinema is true, a story is a lie", writes French Film enthusiast Jean Epstein in 1921, a poetic maxim which for Hochbaum also holds true in the early 1930s. At the same time, he insists that the cinema must capture reality and give expression to, if not negotiate, class conflict."
"A day like any other in the port of Hamburg. Dock workers spill out of big ships. Back on shore after a good day's labor, legs are walking inland with an adequately heavy gait. In the streets, their movement gains momentum. The big city requires speed. The pace quickens, perspectives intermingle, a kaleidoscope of neon signs allures. Exhaustion turns into dance, and the nightlife industry awakens. Some are out for customers, others for amusement. And everybody complains about how bad the times are, economically. Ballroom-Else, a disenchanted streetwalker in the Weimar Republic, has one weakness: she falls for the mawkish stories of the movies. The swashbuckling Sailor-Karl has snatched a couple of watches and is on the run. He somehow ends up in the attic where Else lives. She hides him from the police. He cajoles her, putting silly ideas in her head and promising her a life together far away from St. Pauli. Finally, she agrees. So all that's left to do is say farewell to Leo, a demoralized musician beaten by life with whom Else shares her attic. Their way leads them to a sinister quayside bar where she and Leo both work night after night. Here, time falters, plots unravel, dreams change. Perception becomes blurry while police keep clear heads. Hochbaum unfolds a tired utopia that cannot stem the tide of time. A new morning breaks over the gray city "where dust, not dew, falls from the sky"." Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)
Sich regen bringt Segen [Hard work pays off]
- the motto on Else's wall
AA: Razzia in St. Pauli is a lyrical account of the Hamburg underworld. Werner Hochbaum spreads his poetic wings in a story that takes place during one day and one night. The introduction is purely visual, and large passages of the film are without dialogue.
A point of comparison: Josef von Sternberg's underworld films such as The Docks of New York.
The opening is documentary, and much of the rest of the film is so realistic that it is close to a documentary.
The cinematography by Adolf Otto Weitzenberg is innovative. There are long takes with an assured mobile camera. There are swift montages and dissolves. Hochbaum also likes whip pans.
Sometimes the action is followed entirely via hands. Then there is a revealing montage displaying only faces.
There are lyrical shots of the sea and the harbour.
There is a telephone montage showing a clock on the wall, glittering waves, telephone wires, and a street construction site. The music starts to follow the rhythm of the stone pavement construction work.
There are naturalistic views of Else's drab apartment and the world of crime, from the viewpoints of the burglar Karl and the police.
There is a ring of truth in the gestures and expressions, a realism of movement.
There are even Lubitsch touches: the relationship between Else and Karl is conveyed via a scene of mutual laughter so infectuous that even Else's mother cannot help joining it. There are jazz age montages, too.
Music is always of the essence in Hochbaum's films. Again, I'd like to see the playlist. There are the Volkssänger songs, and there is the piano playing of Leo. At his most melancholy, Leo plays a familiar classical piano solo (a nocturne by Chopin?). There is a slow montage during the solo, soon changing to waltz time. There is an upbeat musical epilogue, an Eislerian song sung by the great Ernst Busch (off), showing a montage of maschines, feet, and chimneys.
Hochbaum has also a musical ear for dialogue. In this week we have heard Hochbaum's way with the dialects of Berlin, Vienna, and Hamburg, and their cadences feel natural. My Austrian and German friends confirm that the rhythms of the dialects are right, but they have been stylized for the general audience; by my own judgment I can only say tentatively that the Berlin dialect sounds right.
Else's affair with the burglar Karl lasted just one day. Leo is welcome to return. "Komm schon. Komm doch". "Bist du sehr müde?"
There is an impressively strong photochemical bite in this beautiful print which seems occasionally to stem also from challenging source materials.