Monday, October 05, 2015

Der Tunnel (2015 restoration Filmmuseum München)

William Wauer: Der Tunnel (DE 1915). Poster design: Ernst Deutsch (Dryden) (1887–1938). Lithographie. 70 x 95 cm. Druck: Hollerbaum und Schmidt 1915.

William Wauer: Der Tunnel (DE 1915). Photo: Filmmuseum München. Please click to enlarge the image.

DER TUNNEL  (Projektions-AG “Union” [PAGU]; dist: Nordische Films Co. GmbH – DE 1915) D, SC: William Wauer; based on the novel by Bernhard Kellermann (1913); P: Paul Davidson; DP: Axel Graatkjær; AD: Hermann Warm; ass D: Heinz Carl Heiland;
    C: Friedrich Kayssler (Mac Allan, the engineer), Fritzi Massary (Ethel Lloyd), Hermann Vallentin (Lloyd, the millionaire), Rose Veldtkirch (Maud Allen [Allan]), Felix Basch, Hans Halden;
    rel: 9.9.1915, Berlin (Union-Palast); orig. l: 2006 m; data censor date: 7.8.1915 (B.10245/15); DCP, 85' (transferred at 20 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER; print source: Filmmuseum München. Restored: 2015.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Neil Brand, 5 Oct 2015

David Bordwell (GCM catalog and website): "In 1913, the popular novelist Bernhard Kellermann published Der Tunnel. It’s not quite science-fiction, more a prophetic fiction or realist fantasy in the vein of Things to Come. The book became a best-seller and the basis of a 1915 film directed by William Wauer. The plot would gladden the heart of Ayn Rand. A visionary engineer persuades investors to fund building an undersea railway connecting France to the United States (specifically, New Jersey). No meddling government gets in the way of this titanic effort of will. Mac Allan buys land for the stations, hires diggers from around the world, and risks everything he has. The obstacles are many. An explosion scares off workers; there is a strike; impatient stockholders raid and burn the company headquarters. Mac Allan moves forward undeterred, though he hesitates when his wife and child are stoned to death by a mob."

"After 26 years, the railway is opened. Mac, along with his new wife (the daughter of his chief backer), proves it’s safe by taking the first transatlantic train. The event is covered by television, projected on big screens around the world. In the original novel, a film company was commissioned to document every stage of work.The book skimps on characterization, and the film is even less concerned with psychology. Once the character relations are sketched, Wauer goes for shock and awe."

"The Tunnel’s thrilling crowd scenes of work, fire, devastation, riots, and panic look completely modern. Bird’s-eye views of stock-market frenzy anticipate Pudovkin’s End of St. Petersburg, and Wauer creates an Eisensteinian percussion of light and rushing movement as workers flee the tunnel collapse."

"For the sequences showing the tunnel construction, Wauer supplies violent alternations of bright and dark as men, stripped and sweaty, attack the rock face. The variety of camera positions and illumination is really impressive."

"Comparisons with The Big Film of 1915 are inevitable. The intimate scenes of The Tunnel are far less delicately realized than the romance and family life of The Birth of a Nation, and the battle scenes in Birth have a greater scope than what Wauer summons up. But Wauer’s handling of crowds is more vigorous than Griffith’s riots at the climax of Birth, and his pictorial sense is in some ways more refined, even “modern.”"

"Wauer can handle small-scale action very crisply. The opening scene in an opera house creates low-angled depth compositions more arresting than Griffith’s depiction of Ford’s Theatre. Mac’s wife, in one box, is watching his efforts to attract funding from the millionaire Lloyd. Wauer constantly varies his camera setups to highlight Mac’s wife in the background studying Lloyd’s daughter, sensing in her a rival for her husband. Whether the angle is high or low, the wife’s presence in her distant box is signaled at the top of the frame. Subsequent shots present similar but not identical setups, adjusted to reset the depth composition."

"Being a cinephile is partly about making discoveries. True, one person’s discovery is another’s war horse. But nobody has seen everything, so you can always hope to find something fresh. There’s also the inviting prospect of introducing a little-known film to a wider community. Most exciting is to discover a major film that has gone unnoticed in standard film histories. It was at Munich’s Filmmuseum a decade ago that I first encountered the brooding power of Robert Reinert’s Opium (1919) and Nerven (1919). I was convinced that Nerven was as important, and in some ways more innovative, than the venerated Caligari. Now the conviction grows on me that in The Tunnel we have another galvanizing, outlandish masterwork of the 1910s. I hope it will somehow get circulated so that wider audiences can discover it. Yeah, that’s the word I want: discover.
" – David Bordwell (, posted 29.7.2014)

Stefan Drössler: "Kellermann’s novel Der Tunnel was published in April 1913, and rapidly became a bestseller: by October more than 100,000 copies of the book had been sold. In January 1914, the Imperator-Film-Co. announced it would produce a film titled Der Tunnel. In March 1914 Berlin’s Union-Film bought the screen rights to Kellermann’s novel, and sued Imperator. This was one of the first law cases dealing with film copyright. Imperator lost, and was not allowed to use the word “tunnel” in their film title; it was renamed Das Riesenprojekt. Der Schienenweg unterm Ocean (The Big Project about a Railway under the Ocean)."

"Union-Film hired Rudolf Meinert to shoot the “most expensive German film of all time” during the Summer of 1914. The beginning of World War I stopped the project; Meinert was drafted. In Spring 1915 William Wauer revived the project; Heinz Carl Heiland was the “technical director”, responsible for the special effects and the shots of the building of the tunnel. It is reported that documentary footage of the construction of the Berlin subway was also used."

"Der Tunnel premiered on 9 September 1915 at the Union-Palast on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. The film ran for three weeks in seven Berlin cinemas; in the first three days of its release it played to about 45,000 people. During the War it was successfully shown in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Sometimes, as in September 1915 in Prague, one cinema showed Der Tunnel, while in direct competition another ran Der Schienenweg unterm Ocean, which had been finished some months before Der Tunnel but received bad reviews. Today Der Tunnel is more or less forgotten, overshadowed by Kurt Bernhardt’s 1933 sound remake, which was quite popular."

"William Wauer (1866-1962) was one of the most interesting German directors of the 1910s, and in his writings he was a fighter for “film as art”. He left the film business in 1920 and became a leading artist in the Internationale Vereinigung der Expressionisten, Kubisten, Futuristen and Konstruktivisten (Association of Expressionist, Cubist, Futurist, and Constructivist Artists); he is renowned for his abstract sculptures and paintings."

"Der Tunnel’s technical director, Heinz Carl Heiland (1875-1932), was an adventurer, traveller, and writer. He worked in film as a cinematographer on shoots with special technical requirements (for example, he filmed the battle scenes for Lubitsch’s 1923 Das Weib des Pharao from a balloon), and as a director on exotic films made on location in India and Japan, among them the remarkable Bushido – Das eiserne Gesetz (Bushido, the Iron Law, 1926). "

"Der Tunnel also features one of the very rare film appearances of the legendary operetta singer Fritzi Massary (1882-1969), a big star on the stages of Berlin and Vienna. Some biographers of Adolf Hitler claim that the young Hitler was very impressed by the main character in the film Der Tunnel and how he could speak to the masses. They refer to Reinhold Hanisch’s article “I Was Hitler’s Buddy”, published in the 5 April 1939 issue of The New Republic. Hanisch knew Hitler from his years in Vienna; they had lived in the same men’s dormitory from 1910 to 1912. However, the last time Hanisch saw Hitler was in August 1913, two years before the film was released. "

"If Hanisch’s story is not invented (he was later sentenced as a crook and liar), it could only refer to Kellermann’s book – as Albert Speer does in his 1975 published diaries: “I remembered how often Hitler praised Kellermann’s Der Tunnel – also the story of a great demagogue – as one of the books that most impressed him.”
" – Stefan Drössler

AA: I had very much looked forward to see this original film adaptation of Der Tunnel (there is also a sound remake by Kurt Bernhardt, 1933), and it was worth waiting for. It is an exciting film and a neglected achievement, perhaps because it was produced in Germany during WWI and probably hardly seen outside the German-speaking area. But even German film historians seem to have forgotten it. During the Nazi era the neglect may have been conscious due to the Jewish talent participating, including Fritzi Massary who left Germany in 1932. And of course there was the successful sound remake.

Produced on a big budget, Der Tunnel delivers, and the production values are all up there on the screen. Hermann Warm had had a few years of experience as an art director for films, and this is a fine display of his expertise at this stage already. I would count Der Tunnel as a science fiction film, not only because of the prophecy of the trans-Atlantic tunnel between Europe and America (still yet to be built) and the futuristic train design but also because of the prophecy of television. The end titles even predict a new era and eternal peace - an especially poignant promise as the film was released during WWI.

As David Bordwell comments above, Der Tunnel is an advanced piece of storytelling for a film made in 1915. There is a vigorous narrative drive from start to finish. The arsenal of visual expression is rich and varied. William Wauer has an assured command of the mise-en-scène. He has a fine sense of space. The tempo of the action is brisk. The shots are clear and expressive. The deep space is a pleasure to observe.

Having seen Sergei Eisenstein's October earlier today it was revealing to observe here William Wauer's fine sense of huge crowd movements 13 years earlier. Der Tunnel belongs to the cinema's remarkable visions of class struggle. The violence is quite tragic. After a devastating catastrophe in the tunnel construction site the wives of the workers stone Mac Allan's wife and daughter to death.

Depressed, Mac Allan falls into deep melancholy, from which he is lifted by the love of Ethel Lloyd (Fritzi Massary). Via the love marriage Mac Allan becomes the son-in-law of the richest man on earth. There was heartfelt laughter in the audience as Mac Allan declares to Ellen on their wedding night that all his energy can belong solely to the tunnel enterprise. Ellen does not hide her disappointment (not the tunnel of love was meant) but agrees that "I will support you with all the means at my disposal".

After 24 years of hard work on a construction site of 100 000 workers there is a hand reaching us from the other side. Two more years, and the first Trans-Atlantic train reaches its destination in America, with Mac Allan himself as the engine driver.

Neil Brand provided a vigorous piano music to the screening.

The restoration is of the first order, the visual quality often brilliant, sometimes from decomposing source material. The colour effects are fine (lila, yellow, orange, bright red in fires).

A wonderful discovery.

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