Waxworks | Paul Leni’s 1924 anthology masterpiece gets a stunning restoration
Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs in 1928 but also The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.
Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.
Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.
As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of Waxworks, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.
There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).
Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
- Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
- Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
- In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
- Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
- Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material
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.
Faust (1926) | FW Murnau’s silent gift to German cinema’s rich heritage of horror now on Blu-ray
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.