German Prototype, More Reflections Still

I began talking about Fritz Lang, made more comments on more movies, especially old German silents, added more images: Lang, Murnau … have to cite GW Pabst!

GW Pabst films

I’d recently been showing classic movies to my girl friend. Now she’s in Canada so I watched Pabst’s Die Pandora’s Box alone. And I’d just seen Spies. But we had recently seen: The Three Penny Opera, The Blue Angel, M … And of course I’d seen most of those repeatedly before and many another. I’d heard of Die Blaue Engel since childhood. But I remember specifically the first time I ever heard word of mouth on German silent film: a classmate (1958 or so) had just seen Nosferatu, and had gone gaga! So I had to see that, and then The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

These stills are great, but you have to see sequences of images. Louise Brooks, for example, the Pabst Pandora figure: watching her move, watching her behave, is simply amazing.


Louise Brooks (as Lulu)

It’s simply wonderful that an American dancer became an indelible part of German cinematic art: the Expressionist flapper!

That reminds me of something else about the movie, trivial in relation to my subjects above but significance in other contexts: Die Pandora’s Box (and the other German films I’ve referenced) are so German (look at Dr. Schon in his monocle!) (these Germans with their Herr Doktor Professor to everybody! conditions everybody to be underfoot, an underling) … yet, as just noted, Louise Brooks, the protagonist, is pure American. And, time after time, the sound track channelled Tchaikovsky! How German can it be and be so Russian? soo romantic! and be so American?!

Hours, days later: I’m still watching this old silent, bits and pieces at a time. The sound track is very good, but it borrows from a panoply of early 20th-century music. Once upon a time, as an undergraduate I or any of my friends could hear ten seconds of any well known instrumental section, and announce, “Eighth Symphony, second movement, or Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, Dance of the Knights … Not any more: it’s been decades since my audio was present and properly assembled, and it’s been a long time now since my hearing was of a quality with my mind. (A few minutes later: yes, lots of Tchaikovsky, some Prokofiev too, some Liszt, some Stravinski … See? Lots of Russian! but very cosmopolitan, music from all over. Eubie Blake … which makes me suspect: the music may have been chosen by the DVD people U MI, Ann Arbor, not by Pabst at all.)

But I’ll say something still further on Pabst: the last acts of Pandora take place in London. Pabst’s Three Penny Opera paid Brecht to do his London play, his redo of Gay’s Beggars Opera. I love how the German artists of the 1920s and 1930s resonated with evil olde Merry England, with its fog, poverty, crime … Check out the DVD for Three Penny, listen to the Brecht and Pabst and Weil scholars discuss what happened: my respect for Pabst vaulted, my worship of Brecht modified. Jeez, some geniuses sure can be idiots!


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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