Sunday, October 01, 2017

Der gelbe Schein / [The Yellow Ticket] (1918), film concert by Alicia Svigals and Marilyn Lerner (2013 restoration supervised by Kevin Brownlow)

Der gelbe Schein (DE 1918). D: Victor Janson, Eugen Illés [+ Paul Ludwig Stein?]. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Margaret Herrick Library. Please click to enlarge the image.

La tessera gialla / The Devil’s Pawn. DE 1918. D: Victor Janson, Eugen Illés, [+ Paul Ludwig Stein?], scen: Hans Brennert, Hanns Kräly, photog: Eugen Illés, des: Kurt Richter.
    Cast: Pola Negri (in a double role as Lea Raab and Lydia Pavlova, her mother), Harry Liedtke (Dmitri, a student), Victor Janson (Ossip Storki, Lea’s teacher), Margarete Kupfer (“Dance Palace” Proprietress), Werner Bernhardy (Astanow, a student), Adolf Edgar Licho (Professor Schukowski), Marga Lindt (Vera), Guido Herzfeld (Scholem Raab, Lea’s father).
    Prod: Paul Davidson, Projektions-AG “Union” (PAGU), Berlin, for Ufa, Berlin, filmed: Ufa-Union-Atelier, Berlin-Tempelhof; Warszaw (Nalewki), censor date: 9.1918 (BZ.42333), première: 22.11.1918 (U.T. Kurfürstendamm, U.T. Friedrichstrasse, Berlin).
    DCP (from 35 mm, 4426 ft [= 1349 m]; orig. 6 rl.), 65′ (transferred at 18 fps); titles: ENG, source: Alicia Svigals, NYC.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Score composed by Alicia Svigals.
    Music performed by Alicia Svigals, Marilyn Lerner.
    Teatro Verdi, 1 Oct 2017.
Kevin Brownlow, Caroline Buck (GCM 2017): "This print of a lost film was discovered by the late Jan Zaalberg in a private collection in Holland. Had the Nazis found its hiding place under the floorboards, they would have seized it for its Jewish subject matter. As it was, they almost destroyed it when they flooded Holland at the end of the war. Although badly water-damaged, enough survives to tell the story."

"Set in Tsarist times, the film was intended as anti-Russian propaganda before Russia was taken out of the war by the Bolshevik revolution. It features Pola Negri as Lea, a Jewish girl who blames her foster-father’s death on her lack of medical knowledge. Determined to study medicine, she leaves for St. Petersburg. But since she is Jewish, the police insist she apply for “The Yellow Ticket” – the “badge of shame” inflicted on prostitutes. She accepts, and a friendly prostitute finds her lodgings. (The melodrama was not entirely fictitious; the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg took the Yellow Ticket. The Bolsheviks rescinded the law.)"

"SPOILER ALERT. Lea is reluctantly drawn into St. Petersburg’s nightlife, while studying at medical school by day. At graduation, she is hailed as the university’s brightest pupil – but is recognized by a man in the audience, who reveals her nocturnal activities to her Russian suitor, Dmitri. When he confronts her, she tries to kill herself. She is rescued by an operation performed by her professor – who, in true melodramatic style, turns out to be her long-lost father."

"While it is not as accomplished as one would expect from associates of Lubitsch, it is of exceptional historical value. It was filmed on location in Warsaw in 1918 while the German army was still in occupation. Some scenes were filmed in Nalewki Street, in what would become part of the Warsaw Ghetto – created by a later German army that would then blow it up, along with the rest of the city, in 1943."

"Warsaw stands in both for a town in the Pale of Settlement and for St. Petersburg. (Although for a high angle of St. Petersburg, with its famous waterways, the filmmakers resorted to a stock shot of Florence.) Note that while the English titles translated from the Dutch print give Lea’s year of birth as 1899, they refer to “St. Petersburg”, though by the time Lea would have been of university age, the town had been renamed Petrograd."

"In her autobiography, Negri talks at length about the story, her part in it, and the vivid impression filming in the Jewish quarter made on her. But what she refers to is another film entirely, supposedly of the same subject, supposedly made by Polish producer Aleksander Hertz and his company, Sfinks, in the mid-1910s, and traditionally referred to as Czarna książeczka (The Black Book), or even as Żółty paszport (The Yellow Passport), Ufa’s Polish distribution title."

"This film is a figment of her imagination. But since Negri puts Hertz’s connection to this story so firmly at the centre of her recollections, was Hertz, who had been her early mentor and director (and had reportedly kept on the good side of the German authorities), possibly PAGU’s local facilitator in 1918?"

"In any case, the story was unusually popular with filmmakers. Under various guises, it was filmed four times in the silent era alone, and there were at least three sound versions. Tsarist Russia produced Gde Pravda? (What Is the Truth?, 1913), probably shot in Riga, which survives in Gosfilmofond (and on YouTube)."

"Then there were two American films: Edwin August directed Clara Kimball Young in The Yellow Passport (1916), from a 1911 Yiddish stage melodrama, Afn Yam un “Ellis Island” (At Sea and Ellis Island), by Abraham S. Schomer, and William Parke directed The Yellow Ticket (1918) starring Fannie Ward, from the 1914 Broadway play by Michael Morton. (Some Polish historians hold that August’s The Yellow Passport was so well received in the Polish territories that Ufa simply remade it locally.)"

"(Note: Fyodor Otsep’s film Earth in Chains (Zemlya v plenu, 1928), starring Anna Sten, shown at the Giornate in 2012, carried the international title The Yellow Ticket, but had a different story.)"

"A few days after the Armistice, Der gelbe Schein had its premiere in Germany. Pola Negri stayed on there to become one of Europe’s leading stars, acclaimed for films like Lubitsch’s Madame Dubarry and Carmen. In 1935, with Negri back in Germany after years in Hollywood, Hermann Goering told her that her portrayal of the Jewish student had so moved him he had never forgotten it. In her autobiography Negri makes this the phantom film by Hertz – referring to it disparagingly as “this Polish 2-reeler”, rather than the feature by Janson and Illés, neither of whom is mentioned."

"Variety, reviewing Der gelbe Schein in 1922 under its U.S. title, The Devil’s Pawn, considered it “an exceedingly poor picture from all angles… Pola Negri makes you think of Theda Bara playing Juliet”. Photoplay said, “Foreign … not good enough to be dangerous to home product.” Could this be because Pola Negri, signed by Famous Players-Lasky, had recently arrived in Hollywood?"

"Anxious not to antagonize Gentile audiences, the scriptwriters give Der gelbe Schein an ending where Lea turns out not to be Jewish at all. Ironic coda: at Hitler’s orders, rumours that Negri herself was Jewish were “investigated” in 1935, and dispelled – “She is Polish and thus Aryan.” Victor Janson, despite the sympathy his film expresses for the Jews, didn’t balk at signing up to the Reichsfilmkammer in 1933, and voluntarily became a National Socialist party member as early as April that year."

"Der gelbe Schein was last shown in Pordenone in 1990.
" Kevin Brownlow, Caroline M. Buck

The music 

Alicia Svigals: "In writing my score for Der gelbe Schein I tried to bridge the gap between the film’s time and ours – a gap that might deprive us of the emotional response the original audience would surely have had. The mores depicted are a little mysterious now; the pressures driving the characters not as self-evident as they would have been then. The narrative conventions of film, now a second language to us, were only just forming. I felt my task was to clarify the story’s structure through the music, and arouse in the viewer the profound feelings depicted onscreen."

"The score is influenced by klezmer and Slavic folk forms, Béla Bartók and Ernest Bloch, café music, cantorial singing, and my particular fiddling style. I chose improvising pianist Marilyn Lerner as my partner, knowing both her ability to take a melody and twist it into surprising shapes, and her deep connection to klezmer.
" Alicia Svigals

AA: It was illumating to watch within a few days Der gelbe Schein and Ernst Lubitsch's Carmen, both produced in the same year 1918 by Paul Davidson's Projektions-AG Union (PAGU) and starring largely the same cast (Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke, Viktor Janson, Margarethe Kupfer), co-written by Hanns Kräly, and designed by Kurt Richter. Lubitsch was not yet superior in everything he did, although it is interesting to speculate on how he might have realized Der gelbe Schein.

This movie shares the title but not the narrative of Raoul Walsh's The Yellow Ticket (1931) with Elissa Landi and Laurence Olivier. Still, the central outrage is the same: in Czarist Russia, a Jewish woman was obliged to acquire a yellow ticket, that of a prostitute, in order to travel. Also in both films there are sympathetic prostitutes who help the leading lady who never prostitutes herself.

Viktor Janson and Eugen Illés's Der gelbe Schein is a vehicle for Pola Negri who appears in a double role. It is a growing-up tale of Lea who is talented in learning, and an account of the ordeal she has to endure to move from Warsaw to the Saint Petersburg university to study.

The plot of the film written by Hans Brennert and Hanns Kräly is incredible. Early on Ossip Storki learns the truth of Lea's parentage but does not reveal it to her although it would save her from humiliation. When Lea's yellow ticket is exposed she attempts suicide and is rescued by her professor, the Gentile doctor Schukowski, who turns out to be her biological father. Although Schukowski always keeps on his desk a photograph of Lydia Pavlova, a dead ringer to Lea, he has never suspected anything. Lea has grown up Jewish but is thus of entirely Gentile parentage.

Memorable: soulful images of Lea in her childhood home (see above), authentic imagery of orthodox Ashkenazi life in Warsaw, Lea visiting her parents' graves at Warsaw's Jewish graveyard, deeply moving footage of poverty and poor children, emotionally charged close-ups of Lea, and the infinite agony of the professor in the finale.

The composition in depth is impressive (see also above, and click to enlarge the still).

The passionate music, full of Jewish sounds, has been composed by Alicia Svigals. The heartfelt performance by Svigals together with Marilyn Lerner made this event special.

From challenging sources a digital copy has been created with loving care. Much of the footage looks duped or in high contrast, but the result is very watchable all the same.


Josef Jünger said...

Dear Antti Alanen,
may I ask you, where did you find the picture - in which archive?
Josef Jünger

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Josef Jünger, I believe this was in the press kit of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto! Antti

Antti Alanen said...

The source of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Margaret Herrick Library.