Saturday, October 01, 2016

Geheimnisse einer Seele / Secrets of a Soul

Geheimnisse einer Seele. Werner Krauss. Photo: FWMS, DIF, Filmportal.

DE 1926. PC: Neumann-Film-Produktion GmbH / Ufa - Kulturabteilung. D: G. W. Pabst. 2214 m /20 fps/ 96 min.
    35 mm print: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin. Courtesy of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden. 1430 m /20 fps/ 62 min – a print without credits and intertitles.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Il canone rivisitato.
    Screened at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, without intertitles, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 1 Oct 2016.

Revisited G. W. Pabst's legendary film about psychoanalysis. After an initial disappointment with its superficial and facile account of psychoanalysis I like Geheimnisse einer Seele more every time. There is tenderness in the interpretation of Werner Krauss in the leading role as a man who discovers that he is no longer in charge of his life, not even of himself. He has become a stranger in his own inner life. Among other things, Geheimnisse einer Seele is an unforgettable account of regression, literally to a child in search of help from mother. Mother needs to even cut meat at lunch for son.

The tenderness in the account of psychoanalysis is an aspect in which there is an authentic touch of the cure of Sigmund Freud, himself. It was not only a "talking cure" but also a "love cure", even "playing with fire" because of the inevitable appearance of transference and counter-transference. But the film's account of psychoanalysis stops short of any acknowledgement of such processes.

The film has strengths of its own. The key visual motifs have never been more powerfully on display: the knife, the wound, the wind, the rain, flying, trains, the rising tower with a spiral staircase, the clock, the key, the water: "the dark, turbulent water". Buñuel and Hitchcock saw this film and were influenced. Fritz Lang was already firmly set on his own path, having found the power of some of the same images independently.

A surprise in this screening was that a print was shown without intertitles. Geheimnisse einer Seele is a Kulturfilm famous for its intertitles. They were even published as a book. The related surprise was that the film can be quite well understood without intertitles. This was the period of purely visual expression in German cinema (Der letzte Mann and others), and that Geheimnisse einer Seele works this well without titles was unexpected.

Yuri Tsivian in his program note confesses that he does not understand why Freud wanted no part in this or any other film on psychoanalysis. Freud did not believe that "a satisfactory plastic expression of our abstractions is at all possible". For me this is a profound and essential statement.

Of course it is possible to create plastic representations that are rewarding for psychoanalysis. But it is quite plausibly impossible to do justice to the psychoanalytic method by a plastic representation. Anyone who has read The Interpretation of Dreams understands why. The talking cure, the plethora of associations, the language-bound character of those associations, the psychological journey to the displaced and the repressed, the part played by transference and counter-transference, the singular and intimate character of each case, and the central role of the invisible are among the features that make the attempt futile. Of course there are many attempts in popular culture, but because they tend to become intentional and unintentional caricatures, they seem to validate Freud's stand.

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