Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Carmen (Ernst Lubitsch 1918), film concert of a score by Gabriel Thibaudeau, played by Gabriel Thibaudeau and Cristina Nadal

Carmen (1918), poster by Josef Fenneker. From Rocaille, a blog curated by Annalisa P. Cignitti.

Carmen (DE 1918) with Pola Negri (Carmen) and Harry Liedtke (Don José). Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

(Carmen / Gypsy Blood). D: Ernst Lubitsch (DE 1918), scen: Hanns Kräly, based on the novella by Prosper Mérimée (1847), photog: Alfred Hansen, des: Kurt Richter; asst: Karl Machus, cost: Ali Hubert, cast: Pola Negri (Carmen), Harry Liedtke (Don José), Leopold von Ledebur (Escamillo, a bullfighter), Grete Diercks (Dolores), Wilhelm Diegelmann (prison guard), Heinrich Peer (English officer), Paul Biensfeldt (Garcia, smuggler), Margarete Kupfer (innkeeper), Sophie Pagay (mother of Don José), Paul Conradi (Don Cairo, smuggler), Max Kronert (Remendato, smuggler), Magnus Stifter (Lieutenant Esteban), Victor Janson, Albert Venohr, prod: Paul Davidson, Projektions-AG “Union” (PAGU), Berlin, for Universum-Film AG (Ufa), Berlin [Union-Film der Ufa], filmed: Ufa-Union-Atelier Berlin-Tempelhof; Rüdersdorf (limestone quarry & mountains), censor date: 11.1918 (BZ.42598, 2133 m), 30.4.1921 (B.02105, 1784 m, première: 20.12.1918 (U.T. Kurfürstendamm, Berlin), 35 mm, 1802 m, 88′ (18 fps); titles: GER, source: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Pola Negri.
    Score composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau.
    Played by Gabriel Thibaudeau and Cristina Nadal.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 4 Oct 2017

Stefan Drössler (GCM 2017): "Ernst Lubitsch’s career as a filmmaker blossomed just as the First World War was drawing to a close. A bit player in Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater, he began to act in comedy films from 1913. By 1915 he was also directing them. Supported by producer and theatre owner Paul Davidson, Lubitsch realized increasingly ambitious film projects, in which he frequently cast fellow actors from the Deutsches Theater like Emil Jannings and Pola Negri. His exotic adventure film Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy), shot in the summer of 1918, was still awaiting release when Lubitsch began shooting an even bigger and longer historical film: “It was going to be Carmen. A costume drama! With ‘masses’ (as they were then called). And – the German film industry considered us crazy – with authentic sets in Tempelhof! We quietly worked away. Wild ‘sierras’ were created in the limestone quarries of Rüdersdorf, a Spanish marketplace in Tempelhof. Davidson had faith in the film and invested sums considered inconceivable at the time. Today you would easily spend such money in a single day. The ‘crowd scene’ was invented. When our company of several hundred paraded around Tempelhof dressed as Spaniards, they ushered in a new era for film extras.” (Ernst Lubitsch, Lichtbild-Bühne, Deluxe Issue 1924/25)"

"As Pola Negri recalled in her autobiography Memoirs of a Star, published in 1970: “In those early UFA days, even though the world around us was falling to pieces, Lubitsch and I shared many antic moments on the set. Perhaps we could only have flowered so successfully in the Berlin of that period. The tragicomedy of life was our métier and was echoed in the films we made. Even our jokes had an edge of fatality to them.” Following a press screening that took place at the beginning of November 1918 in the grip of post-war revolutionary turmoil in Berlin, the film premiered just before Christmas 1918 at the U.T. Lichtspiele on Kurfürstendamm. Contemporary reviewers unanimously praised Negri for her portrayal of the title character: “Ever since her star started to shine in Ufa’s sky, its light has grown increasingly bright and dazzling. Until just recently one had to endure her in unpleasant kitsch, but now Negri, with an unbroken string of serious works, has been making every effort, if not to completely dethrone the reigning queens of the cinema, then to at least well and truly totter them. She truly has all the capabilities, both in her outward appearance as well as her expressions and gestures, for creating a Carmen following Mérimée’s formula. One is led to believe that one should be careful when she is in love; that she defies heaven, iron, and fire, and that blood rages through her veins. She dances with charm and grace; flirts with her pearly white smile and suggests with her eye movements that she enjoys it. One is instantly reminded of the song lyric [from Carl Millöcker’s operetta Der Bettelstudent]: ‘Die Polin hat von allen Reizen’ [“The Polish woman has all the charms”]. Pola Negri subtly transforms the love-crazed Spaniard into a fiery Pole.” (Egon Jacobsohn, Der Kinematograph, No. 628, 15 January 1919)"

"Pola Negri truly dominates the film, which seems unconcerned with plumbing the psychological depths of Mérimée’s original novella. The supporting characters are remarkably weak. The Spanish setting meanwhile bears unmistakably Teutonic features: “Pola Negri as Carmen has a broad, Slavic face, two spit curls, and an aggressive air of somewhat heavy-handedly applied femininity. Don José (Harry Liedtke), in make-up and wigs borrowed from Joseph Schmidt and Richard Tauber, resembles a paunchy allotment holder plagued by the memory of his front lawn adorned with sunflowers and the virginal Dolores (Grete Diercks) with pigtail plaits. Escamillo (Leopold von Ledebur), a friendly man with a grim face, proud, with a beer gut, wins the battle with an invisible Prussian cow. Indifferent, as all the other characters in this film are, he abandons Carmen and Don José to their sad fate. Don Cairo and his dangerous band of border hunters are a wild, messy bunch. At no point do they attain the crystal clear structure of the Bizet-like smuggler quintet, in which Carmen and the bandits are allowed to display their own sensuous identity.” (Werner Schroeter, 1988)"

"After the unexpected success of Madame Dubarry (released as Passion in December 1919), Carmen was re-edited for an American release in 1921, as Gypsy Blood. In the American version the framing story was hand-coloured and Lubitsch’s name was left off the credits. Adolph Zukor brought Pola Negri to Hollywood in the summer of 1922, but was not interested in Lubitsch, who had also hoped to get a contract with Paramount." Stefan Droessler (Translated by Oliver Hanley)

The music

"For several years I’ve been searching for a film that would meld the warmth of the cello and the sparkling rhythms of the piano. Lubitsch’s silent Carmen seems to me like the dream medium for this. This new score (composed in Spring 2016, with no reference to Bizet’s celebrated music) contains a constant ballet that mingles several tangos and jazz-flavoured interludes, creating a bridge between the almost century-old patina of a great silent film and the public of today. I wanted to use the cello to embody the voice and sensuality of Pola Negri, with the piano maintaining the movie’s rhythm and action." Gabriel Thibaudeau

AA: Revisited (my previous viewing: Carmen at Cinema Orion, January 2008) Ernst Lubitsch's European breakthrough film from the post-war years when he also found his true voice as a creator of original fantastic German comedies. Ossi Oswalda and Pola Negri were among his favourite stars, and they inspired each other.

Lubitsch does not yet have a full grip on the tempo and the dynamic current of the narrative. The rough, relaxed and carefree approach of his Carmen is at the same time sympathetic. The mise-en-scène is lively, and there are unforgettable images such as Carmen seducing the jailer.

A wonderful original score by Gabriel Thibaudeau at the piano and Cristina Nadal at the cello. No Bizet.

The print is probably the best there is, with occasional high contrast and obviously duped passages. It was fascinating to watch this within days from another PAGU-Pola Negri vehicle, Der gelbe Schein, also from 1918.

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