Monday, October 03, 2016

Algol (2011 digital restoration Filmmuseum München, Cineteca Nacional, Santiago de Chile)

Algol. Emil Jannings as the master of the world. Photo: Filmmuseum München.

Algol. Emil Jannings and John Gottowt with the miracle machine. Photo: Filmmuseum München.

Algol. John Gottowt as Algol.

Algol. Erna Morena, Ernst Hofmann. Quelle: FWMS, DIF, Filmportal.

Algol. Ernst Hofmann, Erna Morena. Quelle: FWMS, DIF, Filmportal.

Algol. Szene mit Ernst Hofmann vorne. Quelle: FWMS, DIF, Filmportal.

Algol. Szene mit Ernst Hofmann, Erna Morena, Mitte, v.l.n.r. Quelle: FWMS, DIF, Filmportal.

Algol. Tragödie der Macht / Power. DE 1920. PC: Deutsche Lichtbild-Gesellschaft e.V. D: Hans Werckmeister. 2144 m /18 fps/ 104 min
    Source of 2K DCP: Filmmuseum München (restored 2011, Filmmuseum München; Cineteca Nacional, Santiago de Chile).
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Riscoperte.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Stephen Horne, alla batteria: Frank Bockius, 3 Oct 2016.

Kein Meisterwerk von Werckmeister, but a fascinating and memorable contribution to Weimar cinema and the great legacy of German film fantasy, one of the key predecessors of Metropolis in many ways.

Revisited Algol which I had last seen over 30 years ago at a viewing table at Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek at Theodor-Heuss-Platz in Berlin in a 35 mm print which I believe was borrowed from Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR on the other side of the Wall. The rare print had flash titles which were in reverse and upside down so I had to stop the film whenever they turned up to read them through a mirror and a magnifying glass simultaneously.

With my brother I was then writing a history of the horror film, and we mounted a retrospective of German film fantasy at Orion but there was no viewable print of Algol at the time which is why it was not included.

I have been fascinated by the imagery of Algol since the first viewing but now thanks to the Munich restoration Algol for the first time makes complete sense to me... or, rather, the extent of its nonsense can at last be completely appreciated.

Algol (John Gottowt) is the demon who provides the coal miner Robert Herne (Emil Jannings) the key to infinite cosmic energy which entirely changes world economy and makes Robert the master of the world. His beloved Maria (Hanna Ralph) leaves him and moves to a neighbouring, agricultural country to live next to nature. Robert marries Leonore Nissen (Gertrud Welcker), the owner of the coal company which now collapses.

There are visions of the wonders of the sky and hellish conditions underground in the coal mine ("uns kommt nie ein Tag"). Robert's Wirtschaftswunder is contrasted with the pastoral idyll of the neighbouring country. It is easy to see a contemporary relevance in the technological miracle of Algol in the age of nuclear power and the digital revolution. There is infinite power and incredible wealth for the few, and nothing for the rest. In this science fiction dystopy it is the Devil's work.

The time span of the story is several decades. In the finale Robert is old and tired. Algol has killed Leonore. Robert's spineless son Reginald (Ernst Hofmann) conspires against his father incited by Yella Ward (Erna Morena). They attack him and steal his key. A joyless "before the deluge" orgy sequence ensues, but Robert has a spare key, and he destroys his wordly power. Maria comes to fetch Robert. "I passed power as strength".

Interesting details include a two-armed version of what we have come to know as the Hitler salute, then a recent invention by Gabriele D'Annunzio.

The budget may have been limited but Algol has been produced in a similar spirit of bravado as Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Resources are small but the vision is big. Walter Reimann's art direction is wild and inventive. Algol is not an Expressionistic film, but there are Expressionistic touches and elements in it.

Emil Jannings indulges in over-acting as usual and always commands the scene. John Gottowt (Scapinelli in Der Student von Prag, Professor Bulwer [van Helsing] in Nosferatu) creates another unique and grotesque character as the demon Algol. The performances of the female leads are more sober, importantly for the balance of the film. They are centers of sanity.

Algol is a crazy and memorable dream play.

A lively and engaging musical interpretation by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius.

A splendid work of restoration of a fascinating film.

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