Saturday, October 08, 2011

Das Spielzeug von Paris / [The Plaything of Paris]

Pariisin leikkikalu (La Poupée de Paris / Célimène, la poupée di Parigi) (Sascha-Filmindustrie AG, AT 1925) D: Michael Kertesz [Michael Curtiz]; P: Alexander Kolowrat; SC: Michael Kertesz [Michael Curtiz] (?), based on the novel Red Heels (1925) by Margery H. Lawrence; DP: Max Nekut, Gustav Ucicky; AD: Artur Berger, Gustav Abel; cast: Lily Damita (Susanne Armand, known as “Célimène”), Hugo Thimig (Duval), Eric Barclay (Miles Seward), Georges Tréville (Charles, Vicomte de la Roche de Maudry), Theo W. Shall (Michel Fournichon), Hans Moser (Nouvel Eden manager), Maria Fein (Ninette), Marietta Müller (Nan Seward), Maria Asti (Germaine Landrolet), Traute Carlsen (Lady Madison), Ria Günzel (Dorothy Madison); filmed: 4-6.1925; première: 1.9.1925 (Wien); released: 16.10.1925 (Wien); 35 mm, 3059 m, 110’ (24 fps); from: Filmarchiv Austria, Wien. Spanish intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 8 Oct 2011.

Miguel A. Fidalgo (GCM Catalogue): "The change of orientation was not only thematic, but stylistic. Kertész assembled a new multinational cast, with the Swedish Eric Barclay (born Erik Altber), the French Georges Tréville, the German Theo Shall, and the Italian Maria Asti, to surround Damita, the absolute star of the enterprise. Behind the camera, however, were several of his regular collaborators, including Gustav Ucicky and the art director Artur Berger, whose marvellous sets recreated nocturnal Montmartre in the Sascha studios in the Viennese Prater. Kertész’s script depicted a Paris where everything was different from the rest of Europe: night was more alive than day, parties were massive, feelings extreme, and love might be possessive or free, according to who was practising it. Célimène is the centre not so much of a romantic triangle, as of a “ronde”. A cabaret star and indisputable queen of the city, a series of characters obsessively move around her, all wanting something: the very mature Viscount of Maudry sees in her his last romantic opportunity in life, and clings painfully to this strange relationship; Germaine, an old lover of the viscount, wants to recapture him by provoking Célimène to fancy another; Miles Seward, an insipid British diplomat, at first approaches Célimène in a cautious and conceited way, but ends completely obsessed with making her his wife; Nan Seward wants to marry her brother to the equally insipid Dorothy Madison, involved through her nobility and wealth; Duval, the cabaret manager, wants Célimène on his stage; and Michel Fournichon, Miles’ French friend, simply wants her in bed, though he has never the opportunity to tell her. And Célimène herself? She only wants to be happy, to enjoy life and the moment, love and fame. Such a sexual cocktail was too explosive for certain countries to accept, and Kolowrat did not want to risk losing money at such a delicate moment. Though reluctant to compromise his vision, Kertész shot two quite different endings, leaving each country to decide which best suited its public and market: a moral story in which the “frivolous” Célimène either becomes an “honest” woman or pays for not being one, or a plot with a Lubitsch-like irony on the matter of love and life. In the first version, released in Austria, Germany, and Britain, the comedic tone of the start ultimately gives way to tragedy: the protagonist, understanding that this is her one chance of a pure and redeeming love in marriage, goes in search of Miles in a stormy night, and ends up expiating her sins by dying of pneumonia – decorous, but inconsistent with what has gone before. The version released in France and Spain as La Poupée de Paris, however, offered a vital and carefree vision of promiscuity: instead of dying from her pneumonia, Célimène survives it to resume her privileged place in Paris night-life, with her dear viscount observing her backstage, and boring Miles continuing his boring life with his boring fiancé. Though both versions are valid in their different ways, Kertész’s real sympathy is certainly with the ironic cut, not only because it better matched his personal reality, but because it finally makes the story more finished and substantial. After all, Damita had captured him romantically, and Kertész could understand how easy it was to allow oneself to be overwhelmed by such a possessive and devouring passion."

"Accepting the ironic version as the most suitable and closest to his intentions, we can marvel at Kertész’s accomplishment, and the multitude of significant details: the joint where the Viscount discovers Célimène, with its suggestive name, Le Lapin rouge (The Red Rabbit), peopled with romantics, dirty old men, thieves, lesbians, mystery-men, beauties, victims, all presented in revealing close-ups; the suggestive manner in which Célimène drinks before Miles, slowly and seductively, and her extremely sexual reaction to the kiss on her hand; the dullness of Dorothy, with her “sweet and quiet, a little gray” love; the uninhibited tone of “rivals” but friends Célimène and Germaine, who greet each other with a kiss on the mouth and always gravitate to physical contact; the castrating scissors with which Michel toys when he sees Célimène and Miles entwined by a thread; and, especially, the delightful game of love and desire that Célimène and her maid play with dolls."

"Das Spielzeug von Paris is so different from Kertész’s previous films that it demands radically different staging. The inventive “musical” numbers – different as they are from the future choreographic fantasies of Busby Berkeley – are credible not only because they develop in a theatrical setting, but because while Damita knows perfectly how to move and dance, her supporting chorus is charming in its awkwardness. Berger’s work is equally expressive in showing the difference between the “mondaine” world – fantastic and attractive – and the serious and solemn “normal” world to which the story constantly refers. The rhythm, as usual, is strongly maintained; and in the dramatic storm sequence, the tough realism of the staging confirms again that Kertész has no qualms in his demands on the actors: the spectacle of the seminude Damita buried in the mud and about to be struck by a car is shocking. It is one of the frequent paradoxes of film history that a film as marvellous as this is today virtually forgotten." – Miguel A. Fidalgo

AA: The source novel is apparently trivial entertainment, but this movie comes alive with certain exciting strengths: the performance of Lily Damita in the leading role (she is very good both in sexy dance numbers and on the sickbed fighting an almost lethal attack of fever), the exotic production numbers at the cabarets of Paris, the montage of the faces watching Lily Damita at "la Butte", and the visual power of the climactic storm scene. There is nothing banal in them. The performances of the actors are credible, and Michael Curtiz has a good command on the total vision of this big production. Miguel A. Fidalgo told me before the screening that he had insisted on this version of the movie to be shown (a long version, and an ironic, not melodramatic, version). The Spanish titles have also a pleasant design very appropriate to the subject. There is a slightly duped quality in this print which is not baneful, and I had in fresh memory the brilliant visual quality of the trailer of this movie which was screened a couple of days ago before Der junge Medardus.

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