Thursday, October 10, 2019

Der Sonderling

Karl Valentin in Der Sonderling / The Eccentric (DE 1929) by Walter Jerven. Photo © Filmmuseum München

Der Schwarze Einser, die 1849 im Königreich Bayern ausgegebene erste deutsche Briefmarke. Johann Peter Haseney - Scan vom Original. Photo and caption: Wikipedia. This first ever German stamp is coveted by Karl Valentin in Der Sonderling.

DER SONDERLING / Karl Valentin, der Sonderling / [The Nerd] / The Eccentric (DE 1929)
regia/dir: Walter Jerven, Franz Osten. scen: Walter Jerven, Karl Valentin, Liesl Karlstadt. photog: Hans Karl Gottschalk. scg/des: Peter Rochelsberg. cast: Karl Valentin (Karl Valentin), Liesl Karlstadt (Paula Kuhn),Truus van Aalten (her niece Anni), Ferdinand Martini (Friedrich Kuhn), Heinz Koennecke (Herr Lechner), Gustl Stark-Gestettenbaur (Toni). prod: Karl Valentin Filmproduktion, München. dist: Union-Film, München. uscita/rel: 28.12.1929 (Gloria-Palast, München). copia/copy: 35 mm, 2513 m, 91′ (24 fps); did./titles: GER. fonte/source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.
    Not released in Finland.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    European Slapstick – Prog. 6: Valentin’s Day
    Musical interpretation: Daan van den Hurk, Frank Bockius, Romano Todesco.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 10 Oct 2019.

Stefan Drössler (GCM): "Walter Jerven, publisher of yearbooks and anthologies, and a scriptwriter, was already writing about the physical comedian Karl Valentin in the early 1920s. A film collector, at the end of the 1920s Jerven presented silent film programmes from early cinema, which he accompanied as a film-storyteller, “like in the old days”. The closing highlight were the early films of Karl Valentin, by then completely forgotten. The tremendous success of these presentations triggered the founding of “Karl Valentin Productions” to produce “feature comedies with Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt”. Financial backing was provided by the Martin Löwenthal & Justin Walther bank. The duration of shooting cannot be ascertained; in his 1941 “Completed Engagements” list, Valentin marks only five days of shooting for Der Sonderling, 21-25 October 1929. The budget was minimal (38,000 marks), which is why the original idea of adding a soundtrack with effects and dialogue sequences was not implemented. When the silent film premiered towards the end of 1929, Ufa had already entirely changed over to sound and successfully released their first sound-film operettas to technically updated theatres."

"The Münchner Neueste Nachrichten reported on “opening scene applause” in the premiere theatre, and enthused: “German film and Germany’s Chaplin have finally found each other, and no doubt a global audience will enjoy this as much as that here in Munich.” However, the film did not make it to the top-rank theatres in other cities, which were committed to sound film. Der Sonderling did not retrieve its production costs, and its distribution company was liquidated. Valentin and Jerven never received their pay. When the film was finally taken over by Arnold & Richter HG for small-gauge home-cinema and film-club release, it was banned from public presentation by the censorship office on 9 April 1942, “for offending artistic sensibility”. Their reasoning can be found in a document dated that same day: “The film was produced some 15 years ago. The content is such utter nonsense that it cannot even be called a plot, and should not be imposed upon audiences anymore.”"

"It is safe to assume that producer Peter Ostermayr’s brother, Franz Osten, first credited as co-director and then as artistic supervisor, was of decisive help to inexperienced Valentin fan Walter Jerven in the production, being a practiced director of expensive productions and films based on the Bavarian highland novels of Ludwig Ganghofer. Jerven in turn deserves credit for recognizing the principles of Valentin’s comedy and allowing him the necessary freedom in filming. The film presents Valentin as an apprentice tailor and stamp collector, fighting against the perils of the material world around him and being suspected of theft. However, the tailor’s stalwart daughter, and Valentin’s secret suitor, played by Valentin’s long-time stage partner Liesl Karlstadt, solves the case. Valentin is released from prison. Warden: “You are innocent.” Valentin: “Why?”"

"Critics objected to the film’s episodic structure and simplistic manner: “There was a reason the first new Valentin film wasn’t premiered in Berlin. He has totally stayed behind in early film. All the jokes are in the intertitles. Valentin’s admirers will be shocked at the emptiness of expression and acting.” (Neue Berliner Zeitung)"

"Others showed more mercy: “Regardless, there is much joy in many a detail, and this seems proof that Valentin is the right man for film too, regardless of his poorly photographing eyes. Though perhaps more so for sound films than for silent images. Without the philosophical nonsense of Valentin’s monologues and dialogue, the true Valentin cannot be shown.” (Berliner Börsen-Zeitung)" Stefan Droessler (GCM)

AA: I wrote general remarks about Karl Valentin in my previous entry on the short films screened before Der Sonderling.

Karl Valentin is not well known in Finland, and I first saw his films in West Berlin in the 1980s, short films and Max Ophuls's masterful Die verkaufte Braut. In Bologna's European Comedians series in 2002 I saw three short sound comedies starring Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt: Strassenmusik (1936), Der Zithervirtuose (1934) and Orchesterprobe (1933), all with a musical theme.

Der Sonderling I saw now for the first time, in Pordenone's midnight screening which started at 23.30 and ended at 00.58. It is Valentin's first feature film and his only silent feature. Valentin was famous for his verbal wit, but here he expresses himself with purely visual means.

Following the synopsis in Filmportal: Valentin works as an apprentice to shoemaker Kuhn whose wife Paula (Liesl Karlstadt) is romantically interested in him. Valentin is a passionate stamp collector, and in secret Paula adds the most coveted stamp into his album. There is a mix-up and Valentin is suspected of theft. Although everything is cleared, and Valentin is reinstated with apologies, his mental balance is seriously shaken, and he embarks on a series of suicide attempts.

This portion of Der Sonderling belongs to the comedy's "failure even in suicide" lineage. (See for instance Buster Keaton's Hard Luck, 1921). He tries gas (the meter has been closed for the night). He tries poison. He tries hanging (the rope is too short). He tries drowning (there is not enough water). He tries to break his head against the wall (the wall breaks down). But he rejects an invitation to join a motorcycle ride with Paula: "Ich bin doch nicht lebensmüde!" ("I am not tired of life!").

There is a Kafkaesque dialogue when Valentin is released from prison.
– Sie sind unschuldig.
– Warum? Wofür? Weshalb?
There is a similar dialogue in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven:
– Innocent of what?

A brilliant print.


AA: Facebook capsule:

I knew Valentin best from his sound films of which Max Ophuls's The Bartered Bride is a big favourite. I saw for the first time Der Sonderling / The Eccentric, his only silent feature. Valentin was best known for his verbal wit but here he excels in purely visual comedy, together with his beloved partner Liesl Karlstadt.

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