Archive for the ‘German Cinema’ Category

(in German Die Freudlose Gasse)
Before I discuss the two films by GW Pabst let me put the film in proper context by briefly touching upon hyperinflation,  that existed in Weimar Republic.
Germany had to inflate its currency to pay the war reparations required under the Treaty of Versailles, but this didn’t cause hyperinflation. The German currency was relatively stable at about 60 Marks per US Dollar during the first half of 1921. But the “London ultimatum” in May 1921 demanded reparations in gold to be paid in annual installments of 2,000,000,000 gold marks plus 26 percent of the value of Germany’s exports. The first payment was paid when due in August 1921. That was the beginning of an increasingly rapid devaluation of the Mark which fell to less than one third of a cent by November 1921 (approx. 330 Marks per US Dollar). The total reparations demanded was 132,000,000,000 gold marks which was far more than the total German gold or foreign exchange. An attempt was made by Germany to buy foreign exchange, but that was paid in treasury bills and commercial debts for Marks, which only increased the speed of devaluation.

During the first half of 1922 the mark stabilized at about 320 Marks per Dollar accompanied by international reparations conferences including one in June 1922 organized by U.S. investment banker J. P. Morgan, Jr. When these meetings produced no workable solution, the inflation changed to hyperinflation and the Mark fell to 8000 Marks per Dollar by December 1922.
Although reparations accounted for about one third of the German deficit from 1920 to 1923,  the government found reparations a convenient scapegoat. Other scapegoats included bankers and speculators (particularly foreign), both of which groups had, in fact, exacerbated the hyperinflation through the normal course of their profit-seeking. The inflation reached its peak by November 1923, but ended when a new currency (the Rentenmark) was introduced.
A medal commemorating Germany’s 1923 hyperinflation. The engraving reads: “On 1st November 1923 1 pound of bread cost 3 billion, 1 pound of meat: 36 billions, 1 glass of beer: 4 billion.”(wikipedia)
“It’s strange how you can get booze on credit but not bread.”This quote is from Pandora’s Box(1929), which tersely encapsulates Germany’s Weimar Republic. The Joyless Street is also set during this tumultuous post-war Vienna. The city as Pabst saw was ‘a head that has no torso’. Plagued with skyrocketing inflation, the Austrian metropolis becomes the domain of every scurrilous form of profiteering. In such maledictory circumstances profiteers prosper.
In 1921 in the poverty-stricken part of town called Melchiorgasse in Austria inhabited by impoverished gentry and blue-collar workers, there are only two wealthy people: the butcher Josef Geiringer and his wife. Mrs. Greifer (literally her name means grasping) runs a fashion boutique and a nightclub patronized by the wealthier class of Vienna. Annexed to the nightclub is „Merkl“ hotel, a by-the-hour establishment, in which the women of the nightclub prostitute themselves in order to pay back their debts to Frau Greifer. The supporting characters include a poverty-stricken professor, his beleaguered daughter, an idealistic American Red Cross worker and a slinky harlot. Each character is photographed in a symbolic manner underlining his or her basic personality: the domineering butcher is photographed from a low angle, emphasizing his corrupt power, while the professor is lensed in long shot, highlighting the bareness of his apartment-and by extension, his life’.(Hal Erickson-allmovieguide.com)
Where despair rules can brothels be far behind? Every pfenning that a client put out was like thirty pieces of silver betraying some hopeless girl sunk low in  the economic mire.
The Joyless Street was the third film of Georg Wilhelm Pabst. The film is notable in the history of silent era film for a number of reasons. It made Greta Garbo an international star. Soon after this film was completed, Garbo was brought to the shores of the USA to star in films for MGM in Hollywood. It is also a film that marked the fame of Pabst as a creditable film-maker.
The film was directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and it is one of many films  concerning the plight of women in German society. The other films are Geheimnisse einer Seele (1926) with Lili Damita, The Loves of Jeanne Ney (1927) with Brigitte Helm, Pandora’s Box (1929), and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), the last two starring American actress Louise Brooks.
The Joyless Street tells the story of two women whose lives take different routes during the period of hyper-inflation in immediate post-war Vienna. One is the poverty stricken Marie (played by Asta Nielsen), who stumbles into prostitution while attempting to raise money for the man she loves. The other is Greta, the daughter of a struggling middle class bureaucrat, who resists the temptation of the easy money that prostitution offers.
At the end of the film, a sick and impoverished Else kills the butcher because he won’t give her any meat and the poor in the neighborhood, hearing the sounds from the nightclub, begin a stone-throwing revolt against the rich. In the ruckus, the building goes up in flames, killing a pair of beggars. In the end, only Grete seems to have any hope of someday rising out Melchiorgasse, because of her relationship with an American Red Cross officer.
Nielsen and Garbo

Asta Nielsen portrays Marie as a slightly “lost”, faded beauty, face caked with too much make-up and in love with the much younger Egon. Not fully comprehending what is happening to her, she drifts into prostitution to raise money for the man who shows no interest in her.
The role of Marie is played by the 35-year-old Nielsen was one of Scandinavia and Germany’s premier actresses and this was one of her last films while the other actress was the 20-year-old Garbo who had just made Stiller’s The Atonement of Gösta Berling (1924) and was on the brink of stardom. In rather fortuitous circumstances Pabst found Garbo and the director in Berlin and signed her up for the film.
Garbo plays the daughter of a bureaucrat who loses every penny of his pension on the stock market. The loss forces them, at first, to take in borders. Their first tenant is the son of a wealthy American in Germany to study. The elder of the two daughters and the young man fall in love at once. The affair is doomed, however, because the girl, seeing the harm their lessened social status causes the father and her sister, is forced into becoming a chanteuse in a brothel. She is saved from the fate of many of the other girls at the last minute.
Pabst drew a very different performance from Garbo to the one he garnered from Nielsen. Greta, the character, although placed in much the same situation as Marie – unable to obtain meat during a food shortage, in dire need of money, tempted by prostitution – is a younger, more privileged woman. Garbo’s performance, in contrast to Nielsen’s, imbues her character with great vitality… When the American officer agrees to rent a room so that the family will be capable of paying its living expenses, the pores of her body seem to pulsate with a contagious exhilaration. As Louise Brooks, another actress who was touched by Pabst’s genius, said of Garbo, “she gave him the purest performance of her career.”(quoted from by Michael Koller)

The war was over, defeat its German portion. The social changes were about to push the stolid mercantile class known as Kleinburger ever lower. Self-pity of this class one might see in films like The Last Laugh, New Year’s Eve and The Street. “Die Strasse” of brothels has been a favored milieu for German film makers. Pabst was ‘ the humanitarian, and not the “psychologist,” in the “freudlose GassGasse” (the street without Freud). His sensitiveness placed this picture of the stricken above…the more typical German directors: he was not moralistic. His Viennese origin substituted delicacy for delikatessen; he did not compound the pathos on the recipe of “Mehr! Mehr !“( “Pabst and the Social Film,” by Harry Potamkin, originally appeared in Hound and Horn in 1933)
The present film has a ring of truth and brilliance of a genius in the making all of which owe to his own experiences in post-war Vienna. It helped him to provide a vivid document in charting the moral and economic collapse of a recently great society. Pendant upon this are films like Pandora’s Box and The Blue Angel(1930). The cabaret in which Lola Lola had men panting for more, in this film has a  brothel instead. The madam also controls the adjoining night-club and clothes shop. Who keeps her in business? The needy and the curious obviously. Among the latter are the military officials of the American Relief Fund, as well as a sleazy foreign investor who visit the night-club to experience what Viennese women are ‘really’ like.  The economic collapse has taken the kid gloves off from the wealthy and they are shown as grasping as ever. They feed on those less fortunate than themselves. If the madam should be as grasping it comes as no surprise. For every prospering madam there shall be those who have given up the will to succeed. Marie is one such. Her love for Egon merely is one way street and he is more interested in two other women; an older one who supplies him with the means to raise money and the younger Regina, the woman he truly loves, who wants it. Regina tells her suitor, Egon, that only money can make her happy. And she is happy for him to prostitute himself to get money for her. Love as you can see still makes the world go round even in such desperate times.
When completed the film was ten thousand feet in length…. France accepted the film, deleting two thousand feet and every shot of the ‘street’ itself. Vienna extracted all sequences in which Werner Krauss appeared as the butcher. Russia turned the American Lieutenant into a doctor and made the butcher the murderer instead of the girl.
(Ack:allmovieguide,senses of cinema-Michael Koller, June 2004)
With: Asta Nielsen, Werner Krauss, Jaro Furth, Einak Hanson, and Veleska. Gert.
Notes: Script by Willy Haas from a book by Hugo Bettauer. Cinematography by Guido Seeber and Robert Lach.
Original running time: 145 mins
(Original length: 12,264 ft.) Premiered 18 May 1925 in Berlin, Germany. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. / Asta Nielsen’s character was edited out of early USA release prints. Rereleased in 1937 with synchronized music and sound effects as The Street of Sorrow. The film was restored by the Munich Filmmuseum in 1999.

Survival Status: Print exists in the Munich Filmmuseum film archive; also in private film collections [16mm reduction positive].

* The name “Frau Greifer” literally means “Mrs. Grabber”, a metaphor for the stranglehold that poverty and prostitution have on women who fall into that way of life.
* The actress playing Elsa is Hertha von Walther (1903-1987), who looks very much like Marlene Dietrich, giving rise to the false rumor that Dietrich has a bit part in this film.

Similar Movies
Les Bas-Fonds  (1936, Jean Renoir)
The Lower Depths  (1957, Akira Kurosawa)
Na Dne  (1952, Andrey Frolov)
Austeria  (1983, Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Ninotchka  (1939, Ernst Lubitsch)
Diary of a Lost Girl  (1929, G.W. Pabst)
Geheimnisse einer Seele  (1925, G.W. Pabst)
Westfront 1918  (1930, G.W. Pabst)
Paracelsus  (1943, G.W. Pabst)
Romance  (1930, Clarence Brown)
Inspiration  (1931, Clarence Brown)
Don Quixote  (1933, G.W. Pabst)

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Based on a Heinrich Mann novel by name Professor Unrath (film changed the title to Der Blaue Engel)  The Blue Angel’s fame now rests as the springboard for Marlene Dietrich. Originally it was intended as a showcase for the talented Emil Jannings as his talkie debut. He had returned to Germany from Hollywood in 1929, after winning the first Best Actor Oscar for “The Way of All Flesh” and “The Last Command,” and he brought over Josef von Sternberg, his “Last Command” director. This veteran actor of the silent era (The Last Laugh, Faust ) in his portrayal of Professor Immanuel Rath has left a memorable performance. This movie deserves it place among 100 Best films for all the right reasons.

It is 1925. In a momentous period of time in the social history of Germany everything that we associate with the failings of the Weimar republic, von Sternberg has with his masterly visual story-telling, set before us a society turned upside down. It is nghtlife that is more alluring than the plain as day honesty of the kleineburger who must feed his family. Economy is in shambles. In this state of things Lola Lola, a cabaret singer with her dubious morals is in her element as Prof. Rath, the pedantic scholar with his puritanical upbringing is at a disadvantage. A pillar of the society in a small German port town his routine one may precisely tell by the town-clock. He teaches English in the local gymnasium (boarding school) and It is on such a disciplined man the parents have laid their charge knowing he shall see to their future. But the defeat of a war, and the conspiracy of forces economic, political and all that come in the wake of a war, is beyond any one’s control. Licenciousness of despair is more powerful than the self-righteousness of any man however high his position may be, a sad truth we see time and time again. The Blue Angel as a film works on the premise.
Emil Jannings plays the tyrannical Professor Immanuel Rath — or “Unrath” (“Garbage”), as his students call him. He lives alone, with a caged bird by his side and a maid who grudgingly works for him. Boys shall always be boys and there cannot be anything common with their natural high spirits, and the authoritarian figure. His classes are always boring and they have their own ways to amuse themselves. When confiscating a postcard passed around by his students of a cabaret singer named “Lola Lola,” he discovers that the boys have been frequenting the nightclub called “The Blue Angel” to see this dancer perform.

In those times when despair rode the highway pushing the solid burghers to the wall, Professor Rath has a righteous mission: he must save his wards from the corruption with ‘million dollar’ legs and just the same casts seductive spell. He visits her in her lair. And It must have been the longest walk ever taken by a self-respecting professor to lose his way back.  The professor falls under the novelty of a woman as strange as Lola Lola. Her legs are unlike anything he had ever seen or imagined. With her low throaty voice, languorous eyes and supple body she teases him into submission: and in her smile she holds promise of every kind of lascivious knowledge. He was no match for her. Her easy morals would soon show his own, in a poor light. It doesn’t take long for the pedagogue to lose everything that had hitherto made his world secure, -his respectability, his job. The film’s poignant,- and very subtly played, bitter emotional climax comes in the famous scene where Rath puts on a clown makeup before a stage mirror to take his minor, humiliating part in Lola’s show. Any lesser actor would have overplayed it but Jannings gives it naturalness, and all the pathos is left for the viewer to feel and the film is deservedly a tribute to him. No one can save Professor Rath now. He shall never find his way back again as Germany would never return to her old ways in a manner of speaking.
When Lola informs Rath that she is leaving him for another man in the troupe, he flees from the night club and seeks refuge in his old classroom at the academy. Rejected, humiliated, and destitute, he ends his life in the very spot where his path to ruin began, at his old desk.
The film was banned in Nazi Germany in 1933, as were all the works of Heinrich Mann and Carl Zuckmayer. Yet it is well-known that Hitler viewed the film every night in his private cinema, and was mortified when Dietrich crossed the Rhine in American Army uniform a few days before his suicide.

Lola Lola’s nightclub act has been parodied on film by Danny Kaye (in drag) as Fraulein Lilli in On the Double, Madeline Kahn as Lili von Schtupp in Blazing Saddles and Helmut Berger in Luchino Visconti’s The Damned.

A stage adaptation by Romanian playwright Razvan Mazilu premiered in 2001 at the Odeon Theatre in Bucharest, starring Florin Zamfirescu as the professor and Maia Morgenstern as Lola Lola.
Memorable Quotes:

Kiepert: You must drink. I’m not paying for your art.
Lola Lola: They call me Lola.
[to stuffy Professor Immanuel Rath, who is dressed in a clown suit]
Lola Lola: Your boys should see you now.
Lola Lola: Falling in love again/ Never wanted to/ What am I to do?/ I can’t help it.

*  Marlene Dietrich’s screen test for this film survives. In it, she upbraids an unidentified piano player for his bad playing and sings two songs, the first of which is “You’re the Cream In My Coffee.”

* This was Emil Jannings’ final English-language film (it was released in both German and English versions – see Alternate Versions).

* Marlene Dietrich (Lola Lola) was, contrary to common belief, not the “star” of the film. She was not even a known actress. She was one of several students at an acting academy who were auditioned by director Josef von Sternberg for the role. Each of the girls was told to bring with them “a naughty song” which they would perform. Dietrich was so nervous and so sure that she would not get the role that she showed up without a song.

* Many actresses from the stage and screen were considered for the role of Lola Lola. Early contenders were Gloria Swanson, Phyllis Haver, Louise Brooks, Brigitte Helm, Lya De Putti, Leni Riefenstahl, Lotte Lenya, and many young German starlets.(imdb)

Similar Movies
Cabaret  (1972, Bob Fosse)
Pandora’s Box  (1929, G.W. Pabst)
Variété  (1925, Ewald André Dupont)
Belle of the Nineties  (1934, Leo McCarey)
Lola  (1981, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Diary of a Lost Girl  (1929, G.W. Pabst)
Grihalakshmi  (1938, H.M. Reddy)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Morocco  (1930, Josef von Sternberg)
The Last Command  (1928, Josef von Sternberg)
Shanghai Express  (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
The Scarlet Empress  (1934, Josef von Sternberg)
Blonde Venus  (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
Dishonored  (1931, Josef von Sternberg)
The Devil Is a Woman  (1935, Josef von Sternberg)
Seven Sinners  (1940, Tay Garnett)
Other Related Movies
is related to:      Blonde Venus  (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
Dishonored  (1931, Josef von Sternberg)
Morocco  (1930, Josef von Sternberg)
The Scarlet Empress  (1934, Josef von Sternberg)
Shanghai Express  (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
The Devil Is a Woman  (1935, Josef von Sternberg)
A Fool There Was  (1915, Frank Powell)
Frederick Hollander’s songs include “Falling in Love Again,” which became Dietrich’s signature tune.
Directed by     Josef von Sternberg
Produced by     Erich Pommer
Written by     Heinrich Mann
(also novel)
Carl Zuckmayer
Karl Vollmöller
Robert Liebmann
Josef von Sternberg
Starring     Emil Jannings
Marlene Dietrich
Kurt Gerron
Music by     Friedrich Hollaender
Cinematography     Günther Rittau
Editing by     Walter Klee
Sam Winston
Distributed by     UFA
Paramount Pictures
Release date(s)     1 April 1930 (Germany)
Running time     99 minutes
Country     Germany
Language     German/English
(ack:imdb,all movie,wikipedia)

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