Sunday, June 28, 2015

Varieté / Variety (2015 restoration in 2K by FWMS and Filmarchiv Austria)

Photo: Filmportal. Quelle: DIF, SDK. Bei den Dreharbeiten: An der Mitchell-Kamera Günter Anders, Karl Freund und Robert Baberske; vorne links Emil Jannings und Warwick Ward; rechts E. A. Dupont und der hemdsärmelige Dolmetscher Joe Rive. Click to enlarge.
Varietee / Varieté. DE 1925. D: E. A. Dupont. Based on the novel Der Eid des Stephan Huller by Felix Holländer. SC: E. A. Dupont. DP: Karl Freund, Carl Hoffmann. AD: Oscar Friedrich Werndorff. M: Ernö Rapée. C: Emil Jannings (‘Boss’ Huller), Lya de Putti (Berta-Marie), Warwick Ward (Artinelli), Maly Delschaft (la moglie di Boss Huller), Kurt Gerron (lo scaricatore di porto), Georg John (il marinaio), Georg Baselt (impresario del varietà), Charles Lincoln (l’artista spagnolo), Alice Hechy (l’attrice). P: Universum-Film AG (Ufa). DCP. 95’. B&w. German intertitles with Italian subtitles. From: Murnau Stiftung
    Restored in 2014-2015 by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, in cooperation with Filmarchiv Austria in Vienna, from an abridged nitrate copy for the US market, provided by Library of Congress. The German title cards and missing scenes stem from a nitrate copy of Filmarchiv Austria. Some shots were added from a duplicate copy of the Filmmuseum Munich and a duplicate negative of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Missing title cards were reconstructed on the basis of the censorship card and the typography of the Viennese copy’s titles. The digital restoration in 2K was realized by Filmarchiv Austria.
    Original length: 2837 m /20 fps/ 123 min
    Gerhard Bienert as the card player and the tell-all caricaturist. The original music for the American version was by Ernö Rapée.
    Introduced by Ernst Szebedits (FWMS) and Fumiko Tsuneishi (Filmarchiv Austria).
    Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with Italian subtitles and e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti and with Antonio Coppola at the grand piano, 28 June 2015

Michael Wedel (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015 catalogue and website): "The source material on which Variety is based – Der Eid des Stephan Huller (The Oath of Stephan Huller) – was published in 1912. The material was pure pulp fiction and a prime example of the widespread trend of emotional and sensationalist literary kitsch so predominant at the turn of the century. Two movie versions were made of it in the years after publication, but by the 1920s this kind of literature had fallen into gracious oblivion. The 1925 movie, by Ewald André Dupont, which borrows its motifs from this novel ranks among the most prominent cinematic works produced during the Weimar Republic era. "

"Variety’s international box office success was Dupont’s ticket to Hollywood. It was also due to the then still sensational appeal of a melodramatic love triangle between acrobats around which the plot revolves. "

"Yet its film-historical significance, and timeless appeal to today’s audiences, have different reasons: its directorial finesse, systematically translating the plot into the silent movie language of expressions and gestures, and virtuose camera work which conveys the emotional turmoil in the form of sensual sensations and visual vertigo. Set as the personal account of a convicted murderer, the plot is one long flashback of a jealousy-ridden conflict between trapeze artists, which reaches its thrilling climax at dizzying heights. However, the inevitable tragic turn does not occur in front of the audience beneath the starry ceiling of Berlin’s Wintergarten Theater, but in an uneven duel between the cuckolded Boss (Emil Jannings) and Artinelli (Warwick Ward) over the beautiful Berta-Marie (Lya de Putti)."

"In a movie, overflowing with intriguing visibility, which kindles the audience’s curiosity like nothing else; by a cascade of innovative camera effects, suggestive props, artistic performances and erotic eye and body contacts, the homicidal act eludes the vaudeville audience’s view and curiosity as the fighting men descend to the floor while the camera, unchained throughout the rest of the movie, rests in position undeterred. The movie audience sees but an arm suddenly going limp and dropping a knife, before the hulky figure of the victorious Boss rises above his slain opponent, rendering it a distinctive ellipse. It signalizes less an act of subjective suppression in the murderer’s memory, but rather a moment of moral reflection of the drama which has been captivating the viewer’s minds up to that point."
(Michael Wedel)

AA: A masterpiece brought back to life again thanks to a brilliant restoration.

I had never seen a good print of Varieté before; I had only seen highly duped 16 mm prints. Even so, Varieté has so deeply impressed me that it has been on the top of the list of classics I have been looking forward to see in a good restored version one day. That day arrived today.

Inspired by "the unchained camera" of The Last Laugh, Varieté belongs to the greatest achievements of pure visuality in cinema. There is an aching intensity in the shots: in the powerful compositions, in the exalted camera movement.

The film was such a success for E. A. Dupont that he tried to repeat it several times in different countries, but Varieté is on a completely different level of achievement because of its inner sense of conviction. The surface is brilliant but more profoundly, Dupont immediately taps into an irresistible current of emotion. The actors live their parts with conviction, and their interplay is fine from the start. There is an assured touch in Dupont's direction as he follows the deep current of emotion (not an external visual pattern) via the action and the looks, by fluid camera movement and well judged cuts. There is an engrossing blend of vitality, humour, passion, and derring-do in Varieté.

There are several memorable scenes and touches, such as - the blasé reactions of the Wintergarten audience to the unheard-of feat of the triple somersault - the wild party of the artists after the performance - Artinelli observing the clumsiness of Boss Huller with the key and the lock - and the montage of the myriad eyes in the final performance.

Varieté is told as a long flashback within a concise framing story at the prison.

Emil Jannings overacts again, especially in the conclusion of the flashback story, but he displays also a subtle register of fine reactions, including tenderness, sadness, disappointment, and comedy. He is at his best in the beginning with a sensitive and rich touch. His legendary "acting with his back" is a welcome corrective to his hamming of the climactic scenes of violence.

There was an obsession with triangle tragedy in circus world during the silent era, for example in the various film adaptations of The Four Devils in different countries. Varieté is a particularly distinguished achievement in that cycle. The plot twist is that during the final triple somersault sequence Boss Huller acts totally professionally although he is so frantic with jealousy that he is on the verge of fainting. The tragedy climaxes first after the show as the inexorable Huller confronts Artinelli in cold blood.

Watching Varieté I am thinking about possible influences to many films, including Der Blaue Engel (even casting Jannings, Gerron, and Bienert together again), Alfred Hitchcock (The Lodger; the triangle and the ring motif in The Ring, but most importantly the mastery of the looks, telling a story purely visually), and perhaps even La strada (the triangle in circus world: the strongman kills the weaker man, the orphan woman).

Gerhard Bienert is not credited for his role in Varieté, not even in Filmportal. This is one of the first masterpieces in which he plays a small but memorable role (he had also already appeared in Die Nibelungen). His unique career lasted during the many Germanies until the late 1980s. He was like a good guardian spirit of the German cinema in a similar way as was Gaston Modot in France (film career 1909-1964). Maybe there is an essay on those two, and if there isn't, someone should write one.

The legendary cinematography of the flashback story was conducted by Karl Freund, and it still looks sensational and rich in visual wit and invention.

But my favourite has always been the haunting framework footage shot by Carl Hoffmann with a totally different visual approach: ascetic, reduced, intense. When I think of Varieté I first remember the circle of inmates at the prison yard, Huller's back with the number 28, and the final image of the opening of the prison gate and the desolate trees swinging in the wind.

Antonio Coppola played the piano with a good sense of the complex psychology at work.

Visual quality: a fine sepia toning and a rich touch unlike in the 16 mm circulating prints that have been the best available viewing materials until now. This seems to be a short version, but I do not know how much the short duration has to do with decisions about speed.

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