Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Brüder / [Brothers] and Zwei Welten / [Two Worlds]

[Due mondi]. DE 1929. D: Werner Hochbaum. SC: Heinrich Braune. DP: Gustav Berger. P: Werner Hochbaum Filmproduktion GmbH. 35 mm. From: Bundesarchiv, Filmarchiv Austria

[Fratello] / Brother. DE 1929. D: Werner Hochbaum. SC: Werner Hochbaum. DP: Gustav Berger. C: Gyula Balogh (il figlio), Erna Schumacher (la vecchia madre), Ilse Berger. P: Werner Hochbaum Filmproduktion GmbH. 35 mm. 1731 m. [64' announced]. B&w. From: Deutsche Kinemathek per concessione di Filmarchiv Austria
    The cast of Brüder consists of "Menschen aus dem Volke", "zum ersten Mal vor Kamera".
    Silent films screened without live music.
    Duration of Zwei Welten: 17 min, actual duration of Brüder: 75 min
    Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2 July 2014)

Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Brüder is Werner Hochbaum's feature debut, as well as the film that ushered in his rediscovery when it was saved from obscurity by East German film historians in 1973. Commissioned by the dockworkers' union and financed via the local Social Democratic party, it retells Hamburg's historic dockers' strike of 1896-97 as a family drama: one brother is a dockworker, the other a policeman. When push comes to shove, class solidarity trumps familial loyalty. Shots of harsh conditions in the workers' quarters, filmed on location, attest to the necessity of continued struggle. Starting with a mission statement ("to create a German proletarian film with simple means") and featuring mostly non-professional actors, Brüder is both modest and bold in its aspirations. Director-writer-producer Hochbaum eschews individualized storytelling in favor of patiently surveying a milieu and stringing together significant details. The prologue strolls through wintry Hamburg as if in a city symphony, then jumps from a policeman pushing a drunk to an Eisenstein-inspired montage of Germanic symbols of state authority. After measuring the police station against the worker protagonist's cramped apartment, Brüder settles into an observant social-realist mode shot through with striking symbolism. This mode is continued in the short subject Zwei Welten, a local campaign film for the Social Democratic party. Hochbaum fits some recycled material from Brüder into a montage of class contrast. While the jobless are marching, idle feet are playing golf and tennis. As the drained worker gets out of his coat, the industrialist is trying on a swastika armband for laughs. "All of you decide: dictatorship or democracy..." Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA:  There is little to add to Joachim Schätz's excellent programme text.
    Both Brüder and Zwei Welten are built on contrast - two brothers, two worlds. The structure of Zwei Welten is classical-Griffithian (A Corner in Wheat). The roaming, observing camera records details of two worlds heartbreakingly distant from one another. Dictatorship or democracy? The film urges us to vote. The emphasis on the Nazi character is significant in a film made in 1929. Among the final images of the Social Democratic election propaganda film: harvesting, children of the Pestalozzi School, a shower of ballots.
    In Brüder, one brother is a docker and labour union activist, the other brother is a policeman in the Hafenwache (harbour patrol). They are introduced as antagonists, but when the docker is arrested, the policeman brother discreetly lets him escape. He is arrested again, and this time he lets it happen. He knows that the fight has started, they will now always fight for their rights. The spark has been ignited, and the fire will never be extinguished.
    Among the mottoes is Karl Marx's dictum about the history of mankind having been that of class struggles.
    The visual register is wide-ranging. There is lyrical footage of the harbour of Hamburg. There are beautiful documentary passages covering the waterfront. The fictional passages border on non-fiction, even naturalism.
    Even the inserts of telegrams, bulletins and declarations seem to have documentary value in the literal sense.
    Hochbaum displays a fine sense of rhythm in this silent film. There are passages of melancholy, fatigue, and silence. There are scenes of hard work, strike activity, and confrontations with the harbour police.
    In Hochbaum's films there is also a sense of natural movement: how his people move in their work, in their meetings, and in their free time. Their habitus - their physiognomy, their gestures, their expressions - are right; they are playing themselves.
    The account of the strike is sober and believable. Machine workers, coal men, sailors, and cleaners join the dockers. Brüder is a valuable chapter in the story of solidarity.

I love music in silent films, and good music can add 50% to the force of the movie. But it was like a breath of fresh air to enjoy these films in glorious silence, letting the innate rhythm of Hochbaum's montage and images have its free course.

The prints convey the true grit photochemical force of the films.

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