Hailed as ‘an engrossing hybrid of romantic decadence and spiritual austerity’, this 1924 German silent is considered an important early cinematic work as it contains Dreyer’s first clear use of Expressionism to reveal emotion, and this is much aided by the luminous photography of Karl Freund and Rudolph Maté, and the sumptuous production design of architect Hugo Häring.
Based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel Mikaël, and scripted by Thea von Harbou (best known for Metropolis and Woman in the Moon), the bittersweet love story centres on an elderly artist, Claude Zoret, who is driven to despair by his relationship with his young protégé, Michael.
Conceived as a screen version of Kammerspiel (an intimate ‘chamber’ piece for theatre), it also had a profound influence on several directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, who drew on the film’s motif’s for his script for 1925’s The Blackguard. It is also a landmark in gay cinema with regards to its frank portrayal of homosexual relations and desire – with the character of Zoret supposedly based on the real life painter Auguste Rodin.
The remarkable cast includes Benjamin Christensen (best known for being the director of the 1922 docu-drama Häxan) as ‘decadent’ artist Zoret; Walter Slezak (who would forge a career playing heavies and villains, including the Clock King in TV’s Batman) as his young protege, Michael; and Nora Gregor (from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu) as the bankrupt Countess who swindles and seduces the Master and his muse.
And, in his only ever appearance as an actor, the film’s cinematographer, Karl Freund plays a sycophantic art dealer who saves the tobacco ashes dropped by a famous painter. Best known for photographing Lang’s Metropolis, Freund later emigrated to the US, where he directed 10 films, including the Universal horror classics, The Mummy and Mad Love, before helming TV’s I Love Lucy.
Available to order from Amazon: http://amzn.to/2AEcJ3r
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration
• Score by Pierre Oser (piano, clarinet, cello) presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Full-length audio commentary by Dreyer scholar, Casper Tybjerg
• Exclusive video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns
• Illustrated audio interview with Dreyer from 1965
• A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; a reprint of Tom Milne’s The World Inside Me from 1971; Jean Renoir’s 1968 tribute, Dreyer’s Sin; a translation of the original 1924 Danish programme; a reprint of Nick Wrigley’s essay from the film’s 80th anniversary DVD release; and a selection of archival imagery
Varieté (1925) | Roll up for a gripping story of jealousy and hell with Emil Jannings and – The Tiger Lillies?
A key work of German silent cinema and an international smash on its release in 1925 and 1926, director EA Dupont’s Varieté is a visually arresting melodrama in which jealousy drives a man to murder.
When carnival concessionaire Boss Huller (Emil Jannings) meets young émigré Berta-Marie (Lya De Putti), it kindles his desire to relaunch his career as a trapeze artist. Deserting his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant son, he sets out with Berta-Marie to Berlin where the two are soon hired by famed aerialist Artinelli (Warwick Ward) to headline the city’s premier circus attraction at the famed Wintergarten theatre. But while Boss rejoices in his new-found fame, Artinelli begins an illicit affair with Berta-Marie, which – when uncovered – drives Boss to plot his revenge…
This German silent masterpiece, which is told in flashback as an imprisoned Boss tells his tale to win his freedom, was instrumental in bringing its director Ewald André Dupont to the attentions of Carl Laemmle at Universal, who brought him to Hollywood.
But while Dupont never quite achieved the level of success in the US as he did in his native Germany (he was reduced to B-movie’s and genre fare like 1953’s The Neanderthal Man), his cameraman was the legendary Karl Freund, one of the pioneers of German Expressionism, who lensed The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927), and whose lustrous monochrome cinematography flair turned Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) into genre classics alongside his directorial efforts, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).
Varieté’s success is quite simply down to Freund’s visuals, and the brooding central performances from Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti. The camerawork is hugely inventive here. It ranges from the use of a handheld camera to mimic the movements of acrobats – which culminates in a spectacular scene involving a blindfolded triple somersault; imaginative shots like a close-up of an ear dissolving into high heels walking along a corridor to capture the characters’ pent-up passions; and the use of cinema verite – horse shit on marble steps, the sad faces on fairground pageant girls in states of undress, drunk revellers dancing on tables, heavily made-up circus patrons – to give the melodrama its subtle social commentary.
Freund’s close-ups also capture the artistry of Jannings – a master of controlled emotion, who can turn his Boss from alpha male to wounded lover in a single glance; as well as the cold beauty of De Putti, who looks every inch the femme fatale, and the wonderfully villainous turn from Warwick Ward, who looks a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt.
As part of Eureka!’s The Master of Cinema Series, Varieté is presented here in a new restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation of the original German 1:34:28 version, with PCM audio on the Blu-ray and optional English subtitles.
The special features include a choice of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies, plus the complete American version of the film that was released on 27 June 1926 which tightens up the story by juggling scenes and cutting some out altogether, including one that was disapproved by the US censor (de Putti disrobing). A booklet featuring new writing and archival images is also included.
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be composing one of the three scores on this release, I thought this tale of jealousy and hell and ultimate redemption was the perfect match for the avant-garde British musical trio’s dark cabaret sound. And it most certainly is, working best when the group whip up a frenzy of accordion, band saw and Theremin, while lead singer Martyn Jacques uses a host of different vocal tones to utter the word ‘Variety’, as the film’s moves inexorably towards its heated climax. Now that I’ve hear their score, I can’t wait to revisit this little gem again to hear the other two scores.
One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form.
Incalculably influential, the film’s nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake (horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it).
Back in 2014, Eureka! released the definitive restoration on dual format as part of their Masters of Cinema Series, now the expressionist masterpiece is back in a special Steelbook Blu-ray edition, which includes the 2014 documentary, From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour exploration of German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Plus, there’s a host of brand-new bonus extras to savour.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• High-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses
• You Must Become Caligari: Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War: 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
• On the Restoration: three short video pieces on the film’s restoration
• Trailer for the release of the new restoration of the film
• Booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery
Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari (1920) | The German expressionist masterpiece is back in UK cinemas in a mesmerising 4K restoration
Now newly restored, director Robert Wiene’s classic of German expressionism is far more than a landmark of film history; to this day it remains unsettling, thought-provoking and very impressive. About – or is it? – a sinister hypnotist who sends out a somnambulist to commit a series of murders, the film is remarkable for its disturbingly unresolved ambiguities, for its highly stylised performances (Conrad Veidt’s playing of the somnambulist is especially astonishing) and for the brazenly artificial, dreamlike distortions of its painted sets. As such, it’s one of the best known and most successful experimental films ever made; its abiding power lies in its effectiveness in establishing and sustaining a mood of inescapable nightmare. This new digital restoration features a new score in the style of Giuseppe Becce, composer of the music for the film’s original release.
• A dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition of the film will follow on 29 September 2014 from Eureka Entertainment as part of their award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series.
Cinema Screenings (Click on the links for details)
From 29 August
London – BFI Southbank (14 days) http://bit.ly/1kZB5Vo
London – Curzon Victoria (7 days) http://bit.ly/1wuEqkL
Dublin – Irish Film Institute (7 days) http://bit.ly/1oYg0P8
Edinburgh – Filmhouse (4 days) http://bit.ly/1oYg7tX
Glasgow – GFT (3 days) http://bit.ly/1jPpJbF
Cardiff – Chapter (2 days) http://bit.ly/1wuFqoN
Bristol – Watershed (7 days) http://bit.ly/1t3dl81
Nottingham – Broadway (7 days) http://bit.ly/1oYgipa
Chichester – Chichester Cinema at New Park (1 day) http://bit.ly/1tR5MoV
From 30 August
London – The Barbican (2 days) http://bit.ly/1oaaI4m
From 31 August
Cork – Triskel Arts Centre (4 days) http://bit.ly/1rqOBGv
Brighton – The Emporium (Bijou Electric Empire Forever) http://on.fb.me/1r3Y1se
Clevedon – Curzon Community Cinema http://bit.ly/WhlZp5
Bo’ness – Hippodrome http://bit.ly/1oHRTkM
Eastbourne – Redoubt Fortress (Filmspot) http://bit.ly/1zIEtxG
London – Prince Charles Cinema http://bit.ly/1oBqepz
Belfast – QFT http://bit.ly/1oYhhWm
Vintage Sunday Screenings across The Picturehouse Chain http://bit.ly/Whmm2P
Maidenhead – Norden Farm Centre for the Arts http://bit.ly/1so1pQE
Ilkley – The Ilkley Film Festival http://bit.ly/1oYhuZL
Woman in the Moon (1929) | Fritz Lang’s final silent epic is a cautionary tale and cinema’s first real space exploration film
‘Never’ does not exist for the human mind… only ‘Not yet’
In the hope of plundering the moon’s vast, untapped gold reserves, a cartel of industrialists covertly finance a manned space mission headed up by a visionary scientist (Klaus Pohl). Joining him is student astronomer Friede (Gerda Maurus) and two young men courting her (Willy Fritsch and Gustav von Wangenheim), an unscrupulous American (Fritz Rasp) and a young stowaway (Gustl Stark-Gstenttenbauer). But when the rocket finally reaches the far side of the Moon, the team find themselves stranded in a lunar labyrinth, where emotions run scattershot, and the new goal becomes survival.
THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS…
Two years after lensing his science-fiction masterpiece, Metropolis, Fritz Lang returned to the genre for his final silent epic Woman in the Moon, based on his wife Thea von Harbou’s 1928 novel Die Frau Im Mond.
Lang’s film adaptation, which links the opening of the Moon as a territory with a gold rush, was as accurate as the technology of the day would allow, and is considered the first serious space exploration film. It’s also here that the countdown was invented – strictly for dramatic effect. The pioneering director takes great care to make the details of his story as real and as state of the art as possible. And he does so with documentary precision, even anticipating how a lunar rocket would have to be moved to its launch pad. While some of its scientific notions are flawed (von Harbou gives the moon atmosphere for one), the film has great technical skill and inventive direction. The script however is another matter. Boasting a heady fusion of espionage tale, serial melodrama, and comic-book sci-fi, it should be great fun, but its actually a bit leaden, overly sentimental and confusing in parts (and some of the scenes do go on a bit).
While the sci-fi’s serious themes (like man’s hubris) don’t have the same dazzling and disturbing impact as the social and political concerns underlying Metropolis, Lang’s film spookily foretold Germany’s wartime push into rocket-science and was inventive enough to force the Nazi’s to withdraw the film from distribution and destroy the film’s spaceship model in order to keep their development of the V1 and V2 rockets a secret. Assisting with the special effects is acclaimed abstract artist, Oskar Fischinger, who created one of the sequences in Disney’s Fantasia (1939), while the film’s scientific advisor was German physicist Hermann Oberth, who is regarded as the founding father of rocket science. Another advisor Willy Ley later wrote Conquest of Space, which was filmed in 1955.
THE DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Restored to its near-original length, Frau im Mond is released (from 25 August 2014) in a dual format special edition in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
• 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray of the 2000 FW Murnau-Stiftung restoration
• Original German inter-titles with newly translated optional English subtitles
• The First Scientific Science-Fiction Film German documentary about Frau im Mond (15min)
• Booklet featuring an edited analysis of the film by Michael E Grost, and on Fritz Lang’s body of work
No man can resist evil! The bet is on!
Mephistopheles (Emil Jannings) bets an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) he can corrupt the soul of aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman); and the stakes are the Earth itself. When a plague is unleashed and Faust is unable to find a cure, he rejects both God and science and invokes the aid of Satan. Mephisto appears and makes a pact with Faust: he will restore his youth in exchange for his soul. But its a pact the revitalized Faust wishes he never made after he falls for the innocent charms of Gretchen (Camilla Horn)…
FW Murnau’s silent gift…
1926’s Faust: A German Folktale (Faust, eine deutsche Volkssage) was FW Murnau’s last German film before heading to the US. Featuring stylised photography, set and art direction, and ground-breaking special effects, it came at the pinnacle of the silent era and alongside 1922’s Nosferatu was Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror.
With screenwriter Hans Kyser, Murnau fused Faust’s script from German folk legend, the works of Goethe and Marlowe and the Charles Gounod opera, to render a highly individual work. And from that much-filmed legend Murnau conjured cinema’s devil incarnate in the form of Emil Jannings’ Mephisto – resplendent in black cloak and sporting a widow’s peak that has been much copied and parodied. Behold him enveloping a whole town in the blackness of his giant cloak, restoring the wizened Faust’s youth in a fiery blaze, or flying over the intricate model town to a lavish wedding feast. It’s wondrous stuff, made all the more so by Timothy Brock’s operatic orchestral score.
Whilst the film was harshly met by critics of the day – calling it a vulgar sentimental love story (and it does lag somewhat during these scenes) – and derided Murnau’s decision in giving the tragedy a happy ending, the film’s compelling imagery is its enduring legacy. Murnau was fortunate in having two of the German film industry’s finest designers on board, Walter Röhrig, who created the iconic cubist sets for Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari, and Robert Herlth, as well as Fritz Lang’s favourite cameraman Carl Hoffmann, whose ‘dance of death’ sequence is a showcase for his artistry. Under Murnau’s fastidious eye, the team brought to the silver screen the director’s stylised vision as he wanted it, a battle of light and shadow that mirrors in celluloid the film’s metaphysical themes of good versus evil.
THE RESTORED PRINT
Although numerous editions of the film exist, there were only two original negatives from which all other versions issued. Using the nitrate duplicate negatives printed by UFA in 1926 and an array of international sources, Murnau’s favoured domestic German version has been reconstructed by Filmoteca Espanola from which this newly restored transfer is sourced. It makes this version the closest we will ever get to see the film as the director intended. The Masters of Cinema Series presents the Friedrich-Wilhelm- Murnau-Stiftung restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK in a two-disc dual format release with the following features.
• Newly restored 1080p transfer of the domestic German print (1.33:1 aspect ratio), featuring different takes and much better resolution than the export print
• Original German intertitles and improved optional English subtitles
• Choice of viewing the film with Timothy Brock orchestral score, specially commissioned harp score by Stan Ambrose, or (on Blu-ray only) new piano score by Javier Pérez de Azpeitia
• Audio commentary by film critics David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn
• Complete export version of the film
• The Language of Shadows, 53-min German featurette on the film (Blu-ray only)
• Tony Rayns on Faust – a 20-minute video piece recorded in 2006
• Booklet with essays of the film’s history by Peter Spooner and R Dixon Smith, excerpts from Éric Rohmer’s analysis of the film, and archive prints.