Weimar to Hollywood film series
In conjunction with The mad square
The mad square: modernity in German art 1910–37 highlights radical innovations made by artists in Berlin, affecting painting, sculpture, print-making, photography and the decorative arts during the inter-war years. Weimar to Hollywood demonstrates the decisive impact of German filmmakers of the same period. Screening classic cinema from the 1920s onwards, it reveals the transatlantic destiny of Weimar cinema.
Nine weeks of the program are devoted to two key directors.
FW Murnau (1888–1931)
7 September – 2 October
FW Murnau was the Wunderkind of cinema in Weimar Germany. By 1926 he had completed 21 films, most of which are lost or exist in only fragmentary form. Dedicated to art and experimentation, Murnau insisted that the relationship between characters, objects and camera should form a ‘symphonic unity’. He was a brilliant visual storyteller, harnessing the play of light to suggest dire feelings of a culture in distress. Influential during the transitional period of German Expressionism, when it moved from the traditional arts into film, he made a profound impact on Hollywood when he emigrated in 1926.
Fritz Lang (1890–1976)
5 October – 6 November
Among the most significant films produced in Weimar Germany are Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). Their expressionist style, in which shadows and silhouettes were used to evoke the state of mind of the central characters, accorded with the disillusioned post-war German mood. Soon after Hitler’s rise to power he fled to the US. He made 21 features during the next 21 years, working in a variety of genres at every major studio in Hollywood. These films influenced the evolution of 1940s American film noir.
Image: Fritz Lang M 1931 (12 & 16 October) Courtesy Praesens Film
Wednesdays 2pm & 7.15pm
17 August – 6 November 2011
Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878
- Berlin: symphony of a great city: 2 & 3 September
- German experimental films of the 1920s: 17 September
Tickets are issued at the Domain Theatre one hour before commencement. Films start at the advertised time. Doors open 30 minutes before this. Latecomers not admitted.
Location: Domain Theatre
Related exhibition: The mad square: modernity in German art 1910–37
The cabinet of Doctor Caligari
Dir: Robert Wiene 1919 (Germany) 72 mins (at 18 fps) 35mm Tinted version
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt
German intertitles with English subtitles
In this nightmarish, fantasy story, Cesare, a hollow-eyed sleepwalker (Conrad Veidt) commits murder while under the spell of Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss), a carnival sideshow hypnotist. Ordered to kill Jane (Lil Dagover), who is a resident of the nearby village, Cesare defies Caligari and instead abducts her. The cabinet of Dr Caligari is a key work in the evolution of a German Expressionist cinematic style arising in the Weimar era, telling stories with bold, stylised visual effects. The distorted set design is by designer Hermann Warm, with the painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, who created expressive patterns of light and shadow painted directly on set walls, floors and background canvases. The film was a huge commercial success and critics worldwide acclaimed its innovative style. Caligari has been cited as an influence on Hollywood film noir and is considered to be one of the earliest horror films.
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919) Courtesy Transit Film
Wednesday 17 August 2011 2pm – 3:12pm
Wednesday 17 August 2011 7:15pm – 8:27pm
Sunday 21 August 2011 2pm – 3:12pm
Dir: GW Pabst 1929 (Germany) 133 mins (at 20 fps) 35mm B&W
Legendary American showgirl and actress Louise Brooks is at her finest playing Lulu, a sultry chorus girl who ensnares a motley crew of Berlin lovers and admirers, including a countess and a prominent newspaper editor. She contributes to the eventual downfall of them all. Fleeing to London after being charged with murder, she encounters one of history’s most feared killers. Pandora’s box was considered shocking for the suggested lesbianism of Lulu and the countess. The flamboyantly independent Brooks was a style-maker in the 1920s, influencing women to bob their hair and adopt ‘flapper’ mannerisms. Her following acquired cult status after the influential director GW Pabst cast her in Pandora’s box.
Pandora’s box (1929) Courtesy Praesens Film
Wednesday 24 August 2011 2pm – 4:13pm
Wednesday 24 August 2011 7:15pm – 9:28pm
Sunday 28 August 2011 2pm – 4:13pm
The blue angel
Dir: Josef von Sternberg 1930 (Germany) 108 mins 35mm B&W
Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings
German with English subtitles
Searching for an actress who would exude the raw sexuality of a vamp, Josef von Sternberg discovered Marlene Dietrich playing a bit part in a Berlin theatre. He co-starred her with the immensely popular German actor Emil Jannings, in a film that has retained its hold on the public imagination for more than eighty years. The blue angel is a Weimar classic, an unsparing account of a straight-laced, bourgeois schoolteacher’s obsession with Lola Lola, a cabaret dancer working in a sleazy nightclub. One of the earliest ‘talkies’, this technically dazzling film traces an ‘upright’ man’s folly. As the political situation in Germany worsened, Dietrich followed Sternberg (the ‘von’ was added to his name by a Hollywood producer, who thought it looked better on a cinema marquee) to the USA and their partnership resulted in six films for Paramount Pictures.
The blue angel (1930) Courtesy Transit Film
Wednesday 31 August 2011 2pm – 3:48pm
Wednesday 31 August 2011 7:15pm – 9:03pm
Sunday 4 September 2011 2pm – 3:48pm
Nosferatu, a symphony of horror
Dir: FW Murnau 1922 (Germany) 63 mins (at 18 fps) 16mm B&W
Max Schreck, Alexander Granach
FW Murnau was one of the most influential directors of the silent era and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema. In 1922 he filmed the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, investing it with poetry and symbolism. His carefully structured camera angles, set design and actor choreography resulted in a fantastical masterpiece enhanced by the use of real locations and imaginative treatment of space. The demonic vampire, Nosferatu, is played by the terrifying Max Schreck, with a skeletal frame, rodent face, long fingernails and pointed ears. Unable to secure rights to the original novel, Murnau changed the names of the characters and the location of the story. Stoker’s widow sued, and the resulting settlement stipulated that all copies of the film were to be destroyed. Luckily several prints survived.
Nosferatu, a symphony of horror (1922) Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
Wednesday 7 September 2011 2pm – 3:03pm
Wednesday 7 September 2011 7:15pm – 8:18pm
Sunday 11 September 2011 2pm – 3:03pm
The last laugh
Dir FW Murnau 1924 (Germany) 90 mins (at 24fps) 35mm B&W
Emil Jannings, Mady Delschaft
Murnau’s 1924 film The last laugh is the equal of Nosferatu because of its innovations. It is one of the first films to employ a moving camera. To illustrate the tragic tale of status and its loss, Murnau concocted a mix of tracking shots, pans, tilts and zooms in what became known as ‘unchained camera technique’. Using visual cues to convey psychological states, he tells the story of a proud luxury-hotel doorman who is callously demoted to the menial status of a washroom attendant. Deprived of his uniform, and stripped of his dignity, his life slowly disintegrates. The story is simple but the technique of storytelling masterful. A truly silent film proceeding almost entirely visually, through pantomime, the first inter-title occurs 78 minutes into the film and only occurs because Murnau was compelled by UFA studios to tack on an illogical happy ending. Starring Emil Jannings (who went on to work with director Josef von Sternberg in The blue angel) and written by Carl Mayer, the film was a great hit in the US and attracted the attention of the Hollywood studio heads.
The last laugh (1924) Courtesy Transit Film
Wednesday 14 September 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Wednesday 14 September 2011 7:15pm – 8:45pm
Sunday 18 September 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Sunrise: a song of two humans
Dir: FW Murnau 1927 (US) 96 mins 35mm B&W
George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor
William Fox of Fox Studio saw The last laugh and decided to bring its German director to Hollywood in 1926. Fox believed in making directors the stars of his films and Murnau was given carte blanche to make any movie he wished, free of financial constraint. He did not disappoint. Stunning on a visual and narrative level, Sunrise is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time. It is an emotionally charged silent classic about a romantic triangle involved in an attempted murder. The story gives a compelling lesson about the fragility of relationships. Filmed in the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system (synchronised music and sound effects only), Sunrise received several Oscars at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, including one for star Janet Gaynor and for cinematographers Karl Struss and Charles Rosher. The original negatives for the film were destroyed in a fire in 1937.
Sunrise: a song of two humans (1927) Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Wednesday 21 September 2011 2pm – 3:36pm
Wednesday 21 September 2011 7:15pm – 8:51pm
Sunday 25 September 2011 2pm – 3:36pm
Dir: FW Murnau 1931 (US) 90 mins 35mm B&W
Anna Chevalier, Matahi
The release of Sunrise was followed by a series of setbacks and frustrations for FW Murnau. By 1929 he had become disillusioned with Hollywood and formed an unlikely collaboration with another disaffected director, the pioneering documentarian Robert J Flaherty. Shot on location in the relative freedom of Tahiti, Tabu was intended to combine Flaherty’s skill at working with indigenous actors with Murnau’s technical and visual mastery. However the two filmmakers didn’t mesh and by the time the cameras began to roll, the film was under Murnau’s total control. Filmed with a combination of naturalistic settings and expressionistic technique, Tabu is a south seas romance about a native girl who falls in love with a young man, despite the fact that she has been promised to the gods. Released in 1931, it shows the great director at the height of his creative powers – full of haunting imagery and exhibiting a sensuality and creative freedom unseen in previous films. A week before the film was scheduled to premiere in New York, Murnau was killed in a car accident, and one of the world’s great directors was lost.
Tabu (1931) Courtesy Transit Film
Wednesday 28 September 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Wednesday 28 September 2011 7:15pm – 8:45pm
Sunday 2 October 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Dir: Fritz Lang 1926 (Germany) 119 mins 35mm B&W
Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich
Lang’s most important work stylistically during the silent period was Metropolis, the study of an authoritarian society. The year is 2026. Metropolis is a futuristic Babel, a city where the capitalist elite live in luxury inside light-filled towers, while the proletarian masses struggle to survive below the surface, slaves to monstrous machines. Burdened with heavy-handed symbolism and naïve sentimentality, the screenplay of Metropolis is politically dubious. Fritz Lang’s direction, on the other hand, is astounding, inspiring countless sci-fi productions since.
Metropolis (1926) Courtesy Potential Films
Wednesday 5 October 2011 2pm – 4pm
Wednesday 5 October 2011 7:15pm – 9:15pm
Sunday 9 October 2011 2pm – 4pm
Dir: Fritz Lang 1931 (Germany) 118 mins 35mm B&W
Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke
German with English subtitles
A child-killer is chased by police and also by underworld criminals who, disturbed by so much police activity and horrified by a crime so monstrous, prefer to mete out their own justice. Throughout M Lang maintains elaborate double structures, heightening the similarities between the two organisations – giving the gangsters a pseudo-legality while the police resort to illegality, using terror and blackmail in their search. Peter Lorre, in his first film role, gives a striking portrayal of a man driven by uncontrollable forces, finally hunted down like a terrified animal. Understated and filled with haunting images, Lang’s first German sound film was based on the real-life manhunt of a Düsseldorf child-murderer. The story is set in a Germany prey to, in Lang’s words, ‘the deepest despair, hysteria, cynicism and unbridled vice’ at a time when Nazi gangs roamed the streets as an alternative force of ‘law’ in a disintegrating Weimar Republic. Lang himself soon fled Germany for Paris, arriving in the US in 1936.
M (1931) Courtesy Praesens Film
Wednesday 12 October 2011 2pm – 4pm
Wednesday 12 October 2011 7:15pm – 9:15pm
Sunday 16 October 2011 2pm – 4pm
Dir: Fritz Lang 1945 (US) 103 mins 35mm B&W
Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennet
Five years after becoming a US citizen, Fritz Lang had masterfully directed a collection of film noir and crime dramas, including Fury (1936), You only live once (1937), Ministry of fear (1944) and The Woman in the window (1944). When he fled Germany to escape the Nazis, his work took on a darker tone, with revenge one of the primary themes. Scarlet Street is a key psychological noir – a bleak film in which an ordinary, middle-aged man succumbs first to vice and then to murder. Christoper Cross (Edward G Robinson) is an honest bookkeeper and amateur painter whose life changes radically when he develops an obsessive infatuation with a scheming prostitute/actress. Lang presents a dark world of deception, piling contradiction upon contradiction, uncertainty upon uncertainty, constantly undermining the reliability of visual evidence until the audience can no longer judge the characters, actions and motivations.
Preserved by the Library of Congress.
Scarlet Street (1945) Courtesy Universal Pictures & Library of Congress
Wednesday 19 October 2011 2pm – 3:43pm
Wednesday 19 October 2011 7:15pm – 8:58pm
Sunday 23 October 2011 2pm – 3:43pm
The big heat
Dir: Fritz Lang 1953 (US) 90 mins 35mm B&W
Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame
In the early 1950s, the revelations that crime in America had become big business, built on corruption at almost every level of life, shocked the population and inspired Hollywood to produce a new type of gangster film: one in which a lone citizen takes on the mob. Lang’s classic 1953 thriller takes such a scenario – a policeman probing the activities of a powerful syndicate – and out of it creates a Langian revenge drama. In this classic of film noir, a Homicide detective, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is bent on solving the puzzle of an unexpected suicide of a fellow police officer, even though he is told by his superiors to leave it alone. In the course of his quest, he becomes involved with the girlfriend of a psychotic hood. The tellingly complex visuals in The big heat offer a dynamic representation of Lang’s pervasive theme of the duality of good and evil.
The big heat (1953) Courtesy Park Circus
Wednesday 26 October 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Wednesday 26 October 2011 7:15pm – 8:45pm
Sunday 30 October 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
The blue gardenia
Dir: Fritz Lang 1953 (US) 90 mins 35mm B&W
Anne Baxter, Richard Conte
The first of Lang’s newspaper trilogy – also including While the city sleeps and ??Beyond a reasonable doubt? – The blue gardenia examines the press coverage of a sensational murder case in which a woman, Norah Larkin, goes on a blind date, gets drunk and awakes to discover that the man she went out with has been murdered, quite possibly by herself. A news reporter (Richard Conte) attempts to provoke the killer to come forward to clear her name, placing a letter in his popular column. Despite the obvious limitations of the material, Lang manages to make The blue gardenia his own, following the course of a misguided decision which snowballs out-of-control. Regarded as the film that established the end of the film-noir genre, the minuscule budget and meagre shooting schedule indicates the decline of Lang’s prestige as a Hollywood director.
The blue gardenia (1953) Courtesy National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
Wednesday 2 November 2011 2pm – 3:30pm
Wednesday 2 November 2011 7:15pm – 8:45pm
Sunday 6 November 2011 2pm – 3:30pm