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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 5:15 am 
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Carl Mayer (1894-1944)

Screenwriter extraordinaire

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Writer. Nationality: Austrian. Born: Graz, 20 February 1894. Career: Sold barometers, portrait sketcher, stage actor; 1920 first script for film, Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari; 192730 lived in the United States; 1931 emigrated to England. Died: In London, 1 July 1944.

Although the man directed not a single frame of film-- nor composed a single shot-- an examination of Carl Mayer's filmography as a screenwriter quickly reveals a man whose effect on cinema is as profound as any (and every) director in the hundred plus years of the medium. Exclusively a screenwriter-- he never composed a single volume of prose or poetry-- his individual stamp (when one knows what to look for) is as profound on his films as the men who directed them... and this includes known masterpieces such as THE LAST LAUGH and SUNRISE, as well as lesser-known gems like Leopold Jessner's HINTERTREPPE or Grune's THE STREET.


Films as Writer

Die Frau im Käfig (Guter/Kobe, 1919)

Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1920) Eureka (R2) Kino (R1)

Johannes Goth (Gerhardt, 1920)

Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin / The Hunchback and the Dancer (Murnau, 1920)

Genuine: Die Tragödie eines seltsamen Hauses / Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire (Wiene, 1920)

Der Dummkopf / The Idiot (Pick, 1921)

Verlogene Moral / Brandherd / Torgus (Kobe, 1921)

Der Gang in die Nacht / Journey Into the Night (Murnau, 1921)

Schloss Vogelöd / The Haunted Castle (Murnau, 1921)

Scherben / Shattered (Pick, 1921)

Grausige Nächte (Pick, 1921)

Die Hintertreppe / Backstairs (Jessner/Leni, 1921)

Danton (Buchowetzki, 1921)

Vanina oder Die Galgenhochzeit / Vanina Vanini (von Gerlach, 1922)

Erdgeist / Earth Spirit (Jessner, 1923)

Der Puppenmacher von Kiang-Ning / Tragikomödie (Wiene, 1923)

Die Strasse / The Street (Grune, 1923)

Sylvester: Tragödie einer Nacht / New Year's Eve (Pick, 1924)

Der letzte Mann / The Last Laugh (Murnau, 1924) Kino (R1) MoC (R2) Ufa (R2)

Tartüff / Tartuffe (Murnau, 1926) Kino (R1) MoC (R2) Ufa (R2)

Berlin, Die Sinfonie einer Grossstadt / Berlin—Symphony of a Big City (Ruttmann, 1927) Image OOP (R0)

Sunrise (Murnau, 1927) Fox OOP (R1) MoC (R2) Ufa (R2)

Four Devils (Murnau, 1929)

Fräulein Else (Czinner, 1929)

Die letzte Kompagnie / Thirteen Men and a Girl (Bernhardt, 1930)

Stürme über dem Montblanc / Avalanche (Fanck, 1930) VZ-Handelsgesellschaft (R2)

Ariane (Czinner, 1931)

Der Mann, der den Mord beging / The Man Who Committed the Murder (Bernhardt, 1931)

Das blaue Licht / The Blue Light (Riefenstahl, 1932) Kinowelt (R2) Pathfinder (R1)

Mélo / The Dreamy Mouth (Czinner, 1932)

Emil und die Detektive / Emil and the Detectives (1931, Gerhard Lamprecht) Ufa (R2)

Der träumende Mund / Dreaming Lips (Czinner, 1931)

As You Like It (Czinner, 1936) DDHE (R2) Image OOP (R1)

Dreaming Lips (Czinner, 1937) (English language remake)

Pygmalion (Asquith/Howard, 1938) Criterion (R1) Second Sight (R2)

The Fourth Estate (Rotha, 1940)

Major Barbara (Pascal, 1941) Second Sight (R2)

World of Plenty (Rotha, 1943)


Forum Discussions

Der letzte Mann

Sunrise

Tartuffe


Web Resources:

Carl Mayer - filmhistoriker.de


Publications:

Books by Mayer

(Editor) Innsbrucker Theater-Almanach, Innsbruck, 1914.

Sylvester: Ein Lichtspiel, Potsdam, 1924.

Sonnenaufgang (script of Sunrise), Wiesbaden, 1971.

With Hans Janowitz, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (script), New York, 1972.


Articles by Mayer

World Film News, September 1938.

Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1938–39.


Books on Mayer

Tribute to Carl Mayer (pamphlet), 1947.

Hempel, Rolf, Carl Mayer: Ein Autor schreibt mit der Kamera, Berlin, 1968.

Kasten, Jurgen, Carl Mayer, Filmpoet: Ein Drehbuchautor schreibt Filmgeschichte, Berlin, Vistas Verlag, 1994.


Articles on Mayer

Wilhelm, Wolfgang, in Sight and Sound (London), July 1944.

Revue du Cinéma (Morges, Switzerland), Spring 1947.

Daugherty, Frank, in Films in Review (New York), March 1953.

Luft, Herbert G., "Notes on the World and Work of Carl Mayer," in Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television (Berkeley, California), Summer 1954.

Filmkunst (Vienna), no. 39, 1963.

Film Culture (New York), Summer 1965.

Bianco e Nero (Rome), July-August 1968.

Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1968.

Luft, Herbert G., "Carl Mayer, Screen Author," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Fall 1968.

Bianco e Nero (Rome), September-October 1968.

Bianco e Nero (Rome), November-December 1968.

Films in Review (New York), November 1972, additions in May 1973.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1979.

Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1989.

Cinema & Cinema, September-December 1991.

Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Spring 1995.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 2:13 pm 
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Quote:
By MAYER: books—

Sonnenaufgang (script of Sunrise), Wiesbaden, 1971.

Eureka also includes a PDF file of the English typescript of Mayer's screenplay. It's an interesting case study in the nature of the Murnau/Mayer collaboration because Mayer wrote the script in Berlin and wasn't in Hollywood for the shooting, and Murnau made a number of changes. There are things in Mayer's script that are not in the film, and a number of--mostly humourous--scenes in the film that are neither in Mayer's script or in the original story by Herman Sudermann.

Thanks for this post on Carl Mayer!


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2007 6:03 pm 
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Many thanks to my editor... meant to come back to this and finalize w links, streamline, et al.

The general ignorance about screenwriters, and lack of tribute, goes back to the dawn of the art film. Here you have a guy who was the driving force behind so much of what cinema was and still is, and like screenwriters of today, is almost never called out for laurels & individual recognition.

Carl Mayer was the mad scientist in the German film laboratory, and personally see him as a hero.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 10:44 am 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
The general ignorance about screenwriters, and lack of tribute, goes back to the dawn of the art film. Here you have a guy who was the driving force behind so much of what cinema was and still is, and like screenwriters of today, is almost never called out for laurels & individual recognition.

Carl Mayer was the mad scientist in the German film laboratory, and personally see him as a hero.

I was reading a review by Joseph Roth, the great Austrian novelist, of the 1924 screening of 'Der letzte Mann,' and, interestingly, he gives Carl Mayer, not Murnau, top billing as the "author" (Verfasser) of the film.

He calls Mayer "the only German film-poet. . . . He is not a poet in words but in images. The poet paints, sings, and speaks by means of words. The film-poet, as uniquely represented by Carl Mayer, paints, sings, and speaks in direct images. The fact that he authors 'manuscripts', that is, works with paper, pen, or typewriter like a writer, plays a completely subordinate role. . . . Carl Mayer receives visions like any 'seer', i. e., like any artist. But he communicates them to the director with the technical expressive means of the science of film. There is relatively little left for the director to do. He cannot 'compose' anew an image that is so clearly seen and so explicitly described by the author."

Significantly Roth mentions Murnau only in the third paragraph. The excerpts I have read of Mayer's screenplay for 'Der letzte Mann' confirm what Roth says.

This review is reprinted in the catalogue of the 2003 Murnau retrospective at the Berlin Filmmuseum. It is also available online at the Filmmuseum's website.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 11:54 am 
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Absolutely on the money-- this is what I keep stressing: that these great films of the silent era are renditions of the cinema that Carl Mayer enjoyed in his head. The Grune, Wiene, the Murnau, the Jessner, the Pick, Lamprecht, etc.. these films are all remakes-- of the films that Carl Mayer would watch fully completed, fully acted, fully composed and shot and directed, in his head. His scripts/scenarios were simply means of describing the film he had seen, sets of instructions on how to reproduce those films he'd been watching in his Minds Eye Cinema. I don't know how much more simple it can be put to get across the essence.

Read the treatment or screenplay for both THE FOUR DEVILS or SUNRISE that Fox provided for their sublime release of SUNRISE which was also used by all the licensees around the world for their pal releases: you see how completely the film was conceived and rendered right there in the script. You see all the instructions for camera moves, of superimpositions and other in-camera effects, etc, and you begin to realize how completely the film had already been conceived by the time they were handed to Murnau.

This isn't to take from Murnau's pictorialism and skill with mise en scene (and his sense of invention and innovation, his sense of film as High Art, his meticulous attention to detail combined with his huge, never sacrificed, perfectly integrated sense of vivid, throbbingly-real, emotionally vibrant soul... sometimes Murnaus images are so powerful you feel like you've stumbled into a private moment a bit too private--like opening the wrong door and bumbling into a couple amid a deeply private moment-- and really feel like you're a voyeur to something painfully real. I used to get that feeling all the time.). Murnau always was and probably will always remain my favorite director (I've never had another since I was little and first saw NOS at 10 yrs old... when I was 12 or 13 I entertained the idea of Whale being a bigger fave, but that was because so much of Murnau remained unavailable back then-- even NOS was hard to see).

But Mayer remains to this day perhaps the most impressive figure to me in the whole of the cinema. He was the great scientist, the visionary, the man who took the threads of cinema as they existed at the time of CALIGARI, threaded them through his mind. Because of the huge importance of CALIGARI; because of the importance of Expressionism in general; because of the importance of "puzzle pictures"-- open-ended and strange abstractions and visual symbols used as substitutes for real action which leave questions to be answered by the viewer (i e GENUINE, for example her bed surrounded by a series of rings... Twardowski wants to fuck her... she snaps off the bed and steps into an outer ring, to see if he'll follow her... he does... she goes him one more, into another, obviously more sxtreme or dangerous ring... he follows... overjoyed she leads him to the bed, throwing her arms around him with joyful kisses); because of the innovation of A Film With No INtertitles, amping up the depth of the pictorialism and richness of images; because of the importance of the blatantly subjective moving camera; because of the importance of Kammerspiels and New Objectivity films where the lessons, exaggerated and/or avant stylings, and huge richness and greatly impacting pictorialism of pre-'25 Expressionism were adapted to melodrama thereby "officialising" The Art Film--

because of all of these, which went on to have such a huge effect on gents like Ford, Sternberg, then Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, and Sirk, (not to mention so many glorious golden age horror films), the best years of the french cinema, as well as american noir... it's tempting to consider Carl Mayer as the most important figure in Quality cinema, or "arthouse" cinema, or whatever yo'd like to call the cinema of the masterpieces we here all love so much. he fact that he was NOT a director gives him that breadth of scope and impact across genres and phases and isms/schools, of which there were quite a number over the course of his period of activity.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2007 11:45 pm 
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Thank you for this great post! I only know of two Mayer screen plays that have been published--Caligari and Sunrise. Do you know of any others? I would love to see the screenplay for 'Der letzte Mann', from which I have seen tantalizing excerpts that confirm what you and Joseph Roth are saying.

As I mentioned in a previous post, in Sunrise there are some interesting deviations of the film from the screenplay, including whole episodes that were added by Murnau.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 14, 2007 1:30 am 
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As I said above, the treatment AND screenplay for FOUR DEVILS is on the Fox Dvd for SUNRISE. Whether or not this is on the Eureka I'm not sure, as I saw no reason to diddle with Pal video on this title where all non-R1 DVDs are just ports anyway of this material from Fox and UCLA on the sublime Fox disc, whose PQ is superior to the Pal releaes anyhow. It's just a bitch to get your hands on outside of buying that Fox box where it comes as a bonus disc or something. I got mine thru more devious methods viz a viz Fox' pr dept. I couldn't fuck around and waste time when it came to this title...)


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:20 pm 
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SYLVESTER (Lupu Pick, 1923/4?)

Markhax above had posted a question above regarding published screenplays by Carl Mayer-- and their availability-- and I can't believe I forgot to mention this masterpiece of masterpieces, which once was indeed published,complete with preface by Lupu Pick, the film's brilliant director (you catch a glimpse of him in a turn as a Japanese agent in Spione, the guy who gets sexually bamboozled by the blond and commits seppu-ku to atone his failure). I first discovered that the scenario was published as a piece of literature when reading Eisners HAUNTED SCREEN, which was my first introduction to the film itself, and it's glorious images.

It's time we get on the hunt for this utter masterwork's scenario-- if someone comes across a copy or see it for sale will they please contact me in pm? Finally seeing this monstrous film in it's formerly impossible-to-see entirety, with all shots of the umwelt restored to the narrative, has turned my world upside down. All your assumptions about moving camera, no intertitles, what are the primary masterworks of the german silent era... will be turned upside down when this most obscure (it wasn't always this way; in fact reading Eisners book this film seems to be the one with the most ink devoted to it.. though we already see her lamenting in her time that most commercial prints have had the character-less shots of the umwelt removed, a sin, since the film runs 66 minutes to begin with) of silent films is restored and becomes widely available. If it ever is.

************************

This is the second film of the trilogy of Kammerspiels Carl Mayer had written (following the films' forerunner, Hintertreppe, which almost makes a quartet owing to the continuity of chronology and style running tyhrough all four... but Mayer wrote three in rapid succession and intended them all to be collaborations with one man--Pick) for the Rumanian emigre to germany, Lupu Pick. The first was Scherben (aka Shattered, which I also acquired the full hour-plus uncut version of.. comments to come), the second was Sylvester, the last was Der Letze Mann (aka The Last Laugh), which was obviously the more famous of the three owing to FW Murnau coming on during production as director, bringing his innovative cameraman Karl Freund, and of course Emil Janning's coming aboard giving a huge star turn as the doorman... and turning the film into an international sensation. Despite the incredible innovations and technique of Murnau/Freund in this last film, the fact of this film's eclipsing it's two forerunners has created the lamentably, hugely mistaken impression that this is the first or the only film in Germany where the camera was unleashed and became fully mobile, and that this was the first film rendered without intertitles.

The intertitle issue is something I've mentioned many times, and the credit of course goes to Mayer who'd been doing it since Hintertreppe, and continued with it in Scherben, Die Strasse (which has one establishing intertitle, sort of like LAUGH's single intertitle towards the end), Sylvester... by Der Letze Mann it was old news.

But it's the unchained camera issue which comes tumbling down like a deck of cards upon watching Sylvester. Listening to the German nancing among technicians like Carl Boese ("we already moved the camera in the 1920 Golem!", which is semi-true, as there is a tiny dolly-in to the king at court when he issues his decree about the ghetto), or proclamations about Dreyer's/Freund's moving the camera about a bit in Mikael in 24, all are amusing in light of this forgotten film which has probably by-the-stopwatch equal amount of ongoing moving camera (at least once the shots of the umwelt, the greater outside surrounding world, have been restored) as Last Laugh. And again, Laugh is simply an extension of the ideas expressed in Sylvester & Scherben. To see what I mean, imagine a scenario where, let's say for arguments sake, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was the first time cgi was considered to be used effectively in film; and historians stood up and declared the last installment in the trilogy to be the first film where cgi was used, forgetting about The Two Towers, the prior film etc. It's that flat out and egregious.

-- -- --

Sylvester has been my absolute holy grail for years. Finally getting my mitts on a copy of the complete film, untouched and unedited, running nearly 67 minutes, is just pure heaven for me. I got it from a history prof in France with whom I was connected by a member here, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Granted the film is badly deteriorated, and may well even represent the final state of the film today, whereby it may never even see the light of day for home video or even cinema or tv broadcast. As far as I know it's not been on tv, and it's never been on vhs. This print literally appears to have been taken from an archive in the middle of the night and put through a telecine machine and placed quietly back without anyone even knowing... it's not projected then videotaped because after the fiilms done spooling video noise-snow erupts. SO it was probably secret, improvised telecine on a rare, deteriorated print, with ancient tints in tact. The probelm is that all areas of shadow have been plugged up into solid blacks thru deterioration, rendering much of the night street scenes, the cemetary scenes, forest scenes, into literal black & white, with no gradients. But still, holy grail...

Like most of Carl Mayer scenarios, the tale is one of utmost simplicity, and the characters have no names (Man, Wife, Mother). This also is perhaps the first film told in real time, like Wise's The Set-Up: the film concerns a strech of time beginning at 11pm on New Years Eve (the english language title of the film), and ending just a few minutes after midnight... and the film runs 66 minutes.

The film begins with the famous quote re Tower Of Babel (Go let us confound them with languages that they may not understand each other, paraphrasing), and plunks us down into the city streets filled with revellers. There are no intertitles beyond that first card. The camera begins moving and drifting down the cobblestone streets, neon, confetti, it goes forward, pans, sometimes even goes in reverse after tracking forward again. Suddenly the motif of the greater world (Umwelt) is introduced... we cut to a deserted, blue-tinted lonely shoreline, waves crashing against the rocks. We jump back into the city, into some low dive bar filled with beatup looking old drunken revelers, We cut back to the street, track along until we come to a revolving door of a high class club (we see Jannings predecessor working the revolving door and welcoming the rich guests), we go inside and see them in their top hats tux and tails. The contrasts continue and we go into a low bar filled with working class folks, and go into the back room and find a happy husband and wife who run the place. Tehy're drinking & enjoying the night. After some more contrasts, returns to the ocean, a forest a cemetary, all deserted & empty, we see at their kitchen window the silouhette of the man's mother, and as the wife catches sight of the image against the frosted frozen glass there's no question that there's not much affection between her & her inlaw.

The night progresses with everyone drinking, including the little family unit which now includes mama who seems to be getting along smashingly with the wife, clearly making the man/bar owner very happy, and punch keeps getting imbibed all around. Continued insertions of these contrasting sections of lit/unlit populated/quiet places inserted against the family drama, with some of the wildest--and most extended-- tracking shots you'll see. Hubby goes out to help tend bar, as his wife falls asleep in the rear kitchen. from the punch. The drunken mother pets the sleeping wife, attends to their baby sleeping in a pram nearby. She drifts around the room, and starts staring at some small framed photos on the wall the man has placed there: one of himself and his wife in an embrace, another of himself and his mom. Something in her short-circuits... she drifts over to the sleeping wife and stands over her with her fist thrust in her face. The wife senseing something wakes up and sees her looming over her looking like she's going to sock her in the mouth.

The mother is drunk and goes off the deep end, and the differences between the two, seemingly kept in check for the night, boil over and erupt into a huge fight which brings the man back into the room to see whats going on. Both women latch onto either side of the man imploring him to get away from this crazy bitch... literally tring to tear him in half and take their half away with them. The two women begin going at it wo-mano-a-womano. Contrasting cuts back to the big impersonal world outside and we explore the world of the revelers, and the world of the natural planet itself, oblivious to this little insignificant, in the greater scheme, drama going on in this tiny bar on this dingy street.

Returning to the fight, the man loses it being torn in two directions and tears himself free from both women and leaves them to duke it out and storms into his room off the kitchen and slams the door behind him. More revelers. Accusations fly between the two women, and the wife begins thinking of her husband and grows concerned, as he has locked the door and wont answer to knocks. Pounding on the door, screaming, imploring him to come out. SOmething frantic in the wifes disposition tell us that this has happened before and that the man has warned that he cannot stand being pushed to this brink repeatedly.

In a wonderfully Carl Mayeresque touch of the odd/sublime/deeply symbolic-meaningful, a happily drunken crowd-column of the bar's patrons come marching to the rear area where this drama is playing out, led by a woozy middle aged man in his cheap new years best, with a gigantic rubber hand placed over his own hand, which he keeps at his forhead in a sublime salute with this fantastically euphoric drunken grin on his face.

Cut back to the streets... we dolly along the stones for awhile, picking out this and that, and we arrive at a clock on the street, at about a half minute to midnight. We begin tracking in slowly at the clockface, slowly until the face fills up the whole screen, which happens precisely at the stroke of midnight.

After celebratory cuts, we cut back to the back room, with the dude with the big rubber hand wobbling as the door to the husbands room has been wedged open, revealing the suicide of the man, who simply cannot stand being placed in this position any longer.

Cut back to the streets, which are emptying out.. litter of streamers, drunken passersby, tooting horns, wearing funny hats. etc. We see the sea again, and we coming down the long neon lit street a horsedrawn hearse coming to get the body of the man. A man in a ball mask helps load it up. More shots integrated with revelers, the streets, shots of a hearse moving across a cemetary, the streets winding down, and a final shot ofthe sea, which irises out... end.

----------------------

This film, almost more than any other, is Carl Mayer. It reflects his ongoing desire, an obsession really, to move the medium of film along whereby no dialog is neccessary whatsoever, whereby ideas, philosophies, ideas and convictions about the world we live on, can be expressed through images by themselves, and in contrast with one another. If Hitchcock considered silent films to be "pure cinema", i e not interrupted by the business of uneccessary chatter to fill in the blanks for less perceptive/aesthetically acute people, then Carl Mayer was manaically and heroically concerned with finding the purest cinema... Caligari aside, since Genuine (which I like owing to it's forerunner of these latter 'instinct' films) he'd been exploring means and meeting the challenge of rendering the most complex, sophisticated, and often deep yet deeply simple and profound, ideas and feelings, via a deceptively simple means of pure imagery reduced to the richest poetry. Which is the proper word as many will take varied interpretations from a work like Sylvester, which, like the works of Bresson, Tarkovsky et al in later years, operates in the purest of poetic means. The wonderful thing here is this isnt ambiguity for the sake of itself or for the sake of the avant garde... it's ambiguous precisely in the way that the world is ambiguous, that life in the world is ambiguous. Some people walk out of their house, see a succession of images that mean nothing to them. Others walk out and see the mosaic of life images and are moved to the bone, and try to express in some aesthetic form or another their feelings about the way the world has moved them. Rather than create the secondary work inspired by the world that motivates artist, Mayer seeks to create the whole world itself, in a perfectly compacted little nutshell, with no manipulation, no begginning middle and end... to duplicate for the viewer the inspiration he derives from observing the contrasts of simultaneous sadness, joys, obliviousness, fortunes and tragedies all lined up side by side. The way you feel about a work like Sylvester says just as much about you the viewer as it does about Mayer, whose work is completely absent of manipulation-- about as far opposite the cinema of today as can be imagined.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2007 11:04 pm 
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Thank you Schreck for this informative and tantalizing commentary! This one's a keeper!

I'm heartened to see the the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin has a copy that they lend out for non-commercial showings. I wonder if that was the source of your copy. Maybe someday it will be put on DVD. What you say about certainly makes a case for its historical and cinematic importance.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 2:46 am 
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mark you'd be in heaven with this published scenario, and of course, the film itself. I'm going to try my damnedest to hunt up some old copies. It obviously was once out there and widely available (translations I'm not sure about), and it's mentioned in Kracauer as well as the Eisner.

Eisner devotes pages just to rhapsodizing over the film itself-- I'd say close to ten pages devoted to Sylvester alone, with many illustrations from the film. I'd imagine a person of your advanced knowledge has read the book, so for further reading to refresh your memory I'd recommend The Haunted Screen.

On the Mayer end of things I also received a beautiful tinted copy on dvd-r (again, taken from "somewhere") of von Gerlach's Vanina. More on that and Scherben.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 11:44 am 
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An excellent article on Mayer, which discusses an item of interest: his involvement in the original concept for Berlin; Symphony of a Great City, and his backing out, disliking where the film went thematically.

International Dictionary of Film and Filmmakers, (2000) by Roger Manvell. Also gets a touch into his home life, his unstable father, and suspicions of insantity in Carl.

In it's list of published works, it mentions the scenario for Sylvester as coming in 1924 (I see the film listed as 24 but I'm beginning to suspect it as a 1923 film, not only because it's predecessor Scherben was a 1921 film, and Letze Mann was 1924), which would make sense, as coming out just a bit after the film came out and caused an artistic stir in Germany.


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HerrSchreck wrote:
mark you'd be in heaven with this published scenario, and of course, the film itself. I'm going to try my damnedest to hunt up some old copies. It obviously was once out there and widely available (translations I'm not sure about), and it's mentioned in Kracauer as well as the Eisner.

Eisner devotes pages just to rhapsodizing over the film itself-- I'd say close to ten pages devoted to Sylvester alone, with many illustrations from the film. I'd imagine a person of your advanced knowledge has read the book, so for further reading to refresh your memory I'd recommend The Haunted Screen.

Although I have owned Eisner for years, I am embarrassed to say that I had never read this chapter, although I have read and reread almost all the others, because they dealt with films I could see. I just did read it now, though, and see what you mean! Clearly a missing link--a big one-- in my knowledge of Weimar cinema. Her quotes from Mayer's screenplay give a good sense of his unique prose style and his profoundly visual mind. While I don't have access to the film, I checked and learned that MoMA has copy of the published screenplay. I'll make a point of reading it the next time I have the opportunity.

I found it really interesting that Sylvester includes a revolving door scene, although Eisner writes that Lupu Pick didn't have the genius to make of it what Murnau did in Der letzte Mann. That's one of my favorite sequences in all of Murnau's films--sheer poetry! Yet I am also reminded of what Joseph Roth said in his review of Phantom--which I quoted in a thread on that film: with a Mayer screenplay there's little left for the director to do! Eisner clearly believes the director did make a difference.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 4:08 pm 
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Well, depends what you're looking for (re the difference the director made). Note the obviously deep love Eisner has for this material, which seems equal if not greater than Der Letze Mann.

Murnau proved to the world that "the profound high art film" doesn't have to be seperate from the capital M Melodrama. Or even that experimental and adventurous technique doesn't mean that a film cannot be a complete and total crowd pleaser for even the most visceral of working men who went to the cinema to find confirmation for their own marginal existences.

Der Letze certainly is more "obvious" and "universal" in terms of the excellence it projects. The extraordinary amount of time Freund et al put into the breathtakingly gorgeous shots... and that's before the camera even moves. His sense of lighting and chiaroscuro were bar none the best in the silent cinema, and I include the French, Soviets, Scandinavians, and US in this. Not to mention other German masters like Wagner, Hoffmann. Freund in my view is probably the greatest cameraman who ever lived. Once he and Murnau got rolling together it was just kerpow... such meticulously set up, achingly beautiful pictorialsim... some shots look like they were labored over for weeks. This combined with the mysterious and haunting drifting camera-- and the power of the very direct melodrama-- set a standard which transformed cinema immediately raising the bar via this deep rich pictorialism imitated globally and immediately tagged as very "German". Pabst immediately picks up and runs with it-- thus every film from Ney forward sees him vamping on this (like everyone).

The Kammerspiels prior to Letze are not in this vein-- that is, not filled with those shimmering, radiant images showing hitherto unseen amounts of preparation in terms of lighting, framing, gauzes, glass filters etc. They don't have that Murnau-esque look of a dream.

But to me this is entirely appropriate and the point of these films, not due to any directorial failings. (In terms of the doorman mentioned by Eisner in Sylvester, that's what I meant when I said 'we see Janning's predecessor operating the revolving door..'). Letze specifically engages you in the pathos of one man, his life, his suffering. It is very deliberate about its' melodramatic intentions, and there is no ambiguity intended whatsoever. What the film is sayng about the plight of a working man like Jannings is very clear and unmistakable.

Although I think it's absolutely incredible that the tour de force technical innovation of the wildly unchained camera in this Pick film was blooped right over in the film annals, certainly the static shots were not as gauzy & filtered (but they are wonderfully smoky, shadowy, lush with that hazy moody Germanic stimmung.. it is absolutely as Mayer says, a lichtspiel: light-play). And what Sylvester is "saying" is far more cryptic and subjective at least. It's trying to recreate the experience of observing life in a large impersonal world which cares little for tiny melodramas. It's making a statement not in the mouths or minds of any of the onscreen characters, and does it with no intertitles or dialog.. sheerly by contrast of pure images. It's kind of the Anti-Letze-Mann! Whereas during moments where the little tragedy begins to develop pathos, we get yanked out of the room and shown that this little scene means absolutely nothing to anyone but the people that it is happening to, that nobody knows about it... and that this fact is so ironclad-- and that there is a sort of aching beauty in that infinite fact-- that bemoaning the large impersonal lack of remembrance or attention coming from the always-turning world is pointless. And perhaps that sad aching beauty of the fact that our little dramas will always and only be ours and ours only... that is probably the whole point or "topic", or "intended experience" of the film. It's a state of equanimity about the facts of life that Mayer himself experiences-- an almost zen sense of celebrating one's smallness in the universe (versus western man's incessant desire to always be #1: "Gossip Girl: You're No-One Unless You're Talked About,"). He's trying to duplicate through condensation the same life-experience out of which he tweezed this state of equanimity.

This is a far more sophisticated mission to pull off with no intertitles than the simple melodrama provoking sympathy for a nice, endearing old doorman ruthlessly humiliated by a cruel world, and as Mayer & Pick pull it off with perfection, it's every bit the achievement as Der Letze Mann. Of course Sylvester wasn't going to click with the masses like Letze, but that's predictable. The fact that those scenes of the outside world were snipped-- from a film that was only 67 minutes to begin with-- says a lot about how ready the common man was for this experiment. Despite the experimentation with the camera, Letze is still a film anyone can enjoy. Sylvester is a film like no other, and truly is the purest of pure cinema!


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HerrSchreck wrote:
Freund in my view is probably the greatest cameraman who ever lived. Once he and Murnau got rolling together it was just kerpow... such meticulously set up, achingly beautiful pictorialsim... some shots look like they were labored over for weeks. This combined with the mysterious and haunting drifting camera-- and the power of the very direct melodrama-- set a standard which transformed cinema immediately raising the bar via this deep rich pictorialism imitated globally and immediately tagged as very "German". Pabst immediately picks up and runs with it-- thus every film from Ney forward sees him vamping on this (like everyone).

[. . . ]

Of course Sylvester wasn't going to click with the masses like Letze, but that's predictable. The fact that those scenes of the outside world were snipped-- from a film that was only 67 minutes to begin with-- says a lot about how ready the common man was for this experiment. Despite the experimentation with the camera, Letze is still a film anyone can enjoy. Sylvester is a film like no other, and truly is the purest of pure cinema!


Your eloquent descriptions of Sylvester are almost torture! I must see it!!

I am sure you know that Freund ended his career as the cameraman of "I Love Lucy." After working with Lang, Murnau, et al, it's like a variation of the career trajectory of the doorman in 'Der letzte Mann.'

Unlike Lang, Murnau said and wrote so little about his films, but I think the 'popular', the accessibility of his films to the masses even though he fashioned them as works of art, must have been an issue for him. That he used the folk version of Faust instead of Goethe, the itinerant cinema in Tartuffe, which becomes the medium of Moliere's play, seem to suggest as much. Certainly there is clear evidence that Lang thought this way, and he said as much in various lectures and interviews in the 1920s.


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Just to be sure we're clear, Freund was not the cameraman for Sylv. It was Karl Hasselman and I think old Guido Seeber handled some of it as well-- porbably the more static interiors versus the sweeping camera in the Umwelt.

Anyway I was deliniating the meticulous pictorialism of Freund in Der Letze Mann w the more instinctual and far more naturalistic treatment of the team that shot Sylvester.

Yes I knew about I Love Lucy-- but I don't see it as a humiliation whatsoever!! I see him carrying his sense of innovation and leadership straight through to the end, (as a heavy old guy by this point.. he gave up directing in the 30's after Mad Love, being short on the energy & stamina my hunch is.. which was a loss, considering the sublime Karloff Mummy & the aforementioned, both masterpieces).. You know of course he was responsible for the invention of the 3 camera shoot covering the action from all angles, which was vamped as the standard by other shows & networks for this format. It gave him a chance to relax and not move around from locations, studios/stages from project to project, as he got older. I was glad to see him grab his Oscar for The Good Earth, which is really a fabulous film which he poured his heart into.


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HerrSchreck wrote:
Just to be sure we're clear, Freund was not the cameraman for Sylv. It was Karl Hasselman and I think old Guido Seeber handled some of it as well-- porbably the more static interiors versus the sweeping camera in the Umwelt.

Anyway I was deliniating the meticulous pictorialism of Freund in Der Letze Mann w the more instinctual and far more naturalistic treatment of the team that shot Sylvester.

Yes, I understood that. But the screenplay for Sylvester, and of der letzte Mann, is often extremely specific about individual shots.

I don't know if anyone has ever done it, but I often fantasize about a systematic analysis of films according to camera, script, and direction, and to look for continuity in the production of practitioners of any of the three. It's probably nearly impossible to unravel the threads, since, after all, this was a collaborative art and so much happened on the set. (one can see this by studying Huppertz's copy of the 'Metropolis' script). Yet, certainly I do see visual continuities, in the films of Lang, above all in the treatment of space, even where he used different cameramen. And we know that Thea von Harbou did not include the kind of visual detail in her scripts that Mayer did.

Jürgen Kasten, who wrote a monograph on Carl Mayer, as you know, has an excellent article on the screenplay as literary genre in an anthology, written after his Mayer book, in which he talks about how useful screenplays can be for making a step in this process, and by comparing it to the finished film, get some sense of choices made in the act of shooting and editing. (I did this a couple of years ago with 'Sunrise'--as I mentioned in another thread.)


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2007 1:49 pm 
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Found this beautiful shot of the street outside on the set of Sylvester, showing the clock that's tracked into upon the stroke of New Years.

Image

Further research is seeming to reveal that the printed script of Sylvester was the first scenario ever published for public/academic consumption.

Yet another wonderful Mayer tidbit/first.

Looking at the source page (with another image looking down the long winding city street), it seems there is a print sitting in the Tokyo archive that was copied (or borrowed by) the Bonn film silent festival, which showed Sylvester. For some reason I cant link direct to the page but if you follow the main page down the lower left edge and enter the film into the site Search, you'll see info regarding the showing, with relevant info. Seems Aljosha Zimmerman did the music.


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Scherben/Shattered (Lupu Pick, 1921)
_______________________________________________________

I know this is a bit overdue, as I'd mentioned I'd be doing this "soon" in my post on the stunning Sylvester (probably the single greatest triumph of back channel acquisition in all my years acquiring cinema from 'unofficial' sources). Anyhow, a complete copy over the atrophied vhs dupe Id had was acquired some time ago, and this assessment of this wonderfully grim work-- penned by Mayer, and helmed by Lupu Pick-- is long past due.

(and now look-- I got interrupted by the good woman; will finish later).

******************************************************

Told with a single intertitle, this film opens the ambitious trilogy written for Lupu Pick by Mayer, followed by Sylvester, and capped by Der Letze Mann, which was supposed to have been directed by Pick, who stepped off in pre owing to disagreements about the text.

This film Scherben ("shattered") essentially kicks off the species of film forever known thereafter by it's stage relative's pedigree: the Kammerspiel, or chamber play... a variety of stage play concerning a small, intimate cast, with the action confined to small, tight, surroundings.

The film concerns the goings on over the span of a brief stay of a railroad inspector lodging out at the mountain-forest house of one of his signalmen. The cast consists essentially of the signalman, played by the great Werner Krauss (in what I consider to be one of his greatest and most natural performances); his wife, and his daughter.

The film launches with one of the alltime greatest opening images in the history of the cinema, and one that has been riffed on endlessly: a long tracking shot, taken from the front of a moving rail car, with the lens aimed down at the tracks. Thus the pass-by of the tracks moves at the speed and direction of the spooling film stock, self-consciously establishing our transition out of our universe and into the world of the cinema-- an absolutely wonderful conceit loaded with cinematic, tactile-sensory significance: "welcome to the cinema", "the measure of time is shifting into cinematic time", etc. It's also a flat out wonderful moving camera shot... on an absolutely wonderful dolly of all dolly tracks. The camera tilts up to reveal what appears to be a moutainous Bavarian countryside, riven by these valley train tracks. The tracking shot is held for quite a bit as we soak in our transition into the literal cinematic landscape... by holding the shot rather than editing to more picturesque beauties, we experience the redundancy of the landscape, seeing it essentially as a rail worker might-- facing ever forward, advancing merely to advance. The beautiful image via this redundancy manages to become bleak as the shot is held and the unseen train propelling the shot continues forward, feeling neither fast nor slow... just a slow working forward. The coldness of the image cannot be underemphasized, the sense of a cold wind blowing, the snow on the mountainsides, the lack of any gradient or individual clouds in the bleak grey winter sky etc.

This is a film told essentially without intertitles save one. There are five more cards which are act markers that mark times passage/reel changes, in keeping with the tempo of a cinematic universe operating along cinematic time which jumps and slows as time drags and lurches ahead along with work, routine, boredom and tragedy.

We establish the routine of the signalman (Krauss) who, along with his family, lives-- in the middle of nowhere, completely dislocated from the rest of the world-- where he works: an anonymous section of track for which he is responsible for signal and maintenance operations. A small mountain home is given him to attend his duties. Scenes establish his signaling rail traffic, as well as inspecting his assigned stretch of track.

If there is a better metaphor for the drudgery of miserable work-life, I've not seen it. In some form or another, every man, every laborer, plays his part in keeping humankind moving along.. yet he himself (especially those of the time and class of Krauss' laborer) sees no benefit or participation via the engine whose wheels he greases. He is not a part of the world that he maintains. He lives a completely detatched, isolated, solitary existence. Krauss keeps the byway smooth so that people who are moving, going places, doing things, advancing, may do so-- he passes them along thru his little area of responsibility to that of the next man. The sum total of the effort of all these anonymous men keep the bourgoise traveller humming along successfully.

Scenes establish the bleak redundancy and drab colorlessness of the railman's home life. Krauss hardly makes eye contact with his wife and daughter. They go thru the motions of preparing meals, eating around the table, attending to the wash, with the appearance (as is common in many Mayer films, particularly another film from this period, Hintertreppe directed by Leopold Jessner and with sets by Paul Leni) of zombies. They lope to and fro in slow dazed drift, rarely speaking to each other.. almost excluding the possibility of an unforeseen event, thereby cancelling the need to speak a word about a single subject.

Mayer and Pick call attention to wonderfully fleeting senses of bleak atmosphere and the weight that freights every movement: a fantastic shot of the wife hanging her laundry in the cold winter air which shakes and whips the linens on the line. Shots of a dreary scarecrow, pathetic and paper thin, shaking in the wind, as innefectual as Krauss... no birds are even interested since nothing is growing in this gloomy season. A fantastically loaded shot during dinnertime, with the family round the table eating soundlessly, captured in the pitch blackness outside, the silouhette of tree branches whipping to & fro in the cold night wind just in front of the brightly lit window. The doom and gloom trees of every gothic horror movie to come in the future, not quite as exaggerated as they'd eventually become, foretelling the danger that is imminent. The next shot picks the family back up in an indoor shot around the dinner table. Suddenly the glass of the same window bursts open and litters the floor. A heavy cold wind-- strong currents beating at the house to break it-- has slammed a tree branch against the windowglass and broken the pane. It's at this point that he receives a message from the railroad teletype ticker (heralded by a shot of the wires on a telephone pole with electrical impulses hand animated on them, coloring them white in an on/off blink)... alerting him to the fact of the imminent arrival of his superior, the inspector, to conduct his periodic and routine appraisal of his stretch of the railroad tracks. As is obviously routine, and conditional with the acquisition of the signalman's lodgings, the inspector has his own always-available room on the premises, in which he will stay until his inspection in complete.

Krauss and his young daughter clean up the window glass and plug up the breach with a stopgap, place the swept up broken glass in a bucket and places it in the broom closet. Krauss goes on about his business, heading out to work to get a last look at his tracks before the inspector arrives.

--

The rest of the plot is as simple as it is inexorable.. as it usually is in Mayer. Versus Krauss' stooped, broken& rumpled, sad-eyed and whiskered blue collar laborer, the Inspector is dressed in a grey tweed suit, is clean cut and shaven, has class aspirations and, thinking he owns everything he sets eyes on within the signalmans house, is arrogant as shit. He looks upon Krauss as though he were made of a pile of excremement.

One evening, Krauss is out upon his usual rounds. His wife is aroused by an unusual sound. Following the noises, she winds up at her daughters room. Her eyes widen as she squashes an ear against the door: the inspector is fucking her's & Krauss' virginal, impressionable little girl! Mother begins beating on the locked door, demanding to be let in. The daughter is frozen stiff with horror, posed like an obedient trembling puppy at the feet of the inspector, who simply gets dressed, unlocks the door, brushes past the mother, and ignores her raging protests.

When the truth comes in completely clear for mother, she races half-mad into the frozen nightime without a coat, apparently seeking either Krauss, or a place to pray, or both... and winds up freezing to death. Returning home to this tragedy, with the inspector and Krauss' daughter saying nothing as to the reasons prompting her flight into the night, the signalman can do nothing but bury her body all by himself, and continue with his duties and support his daughter.

Finally as the inspectors departure time arrives, Krauss' denuded daughter realizes that he has no intention of taking her with him, or any intention of a relationship whatsoever. Begging, pleading, throwing herself at him have no effect--he's moved only to push her the hell off of him. Finally she snaps, and a crooked & sinister smile overtakes her...

Stalking in to see her father, she confesses everything, the deliciously snide smile growing as she elicits more and more reaction from him, goading him, egging him, working him into a raging frenzy with all the intertitle-free lurid detail she can provide. Finally the grim proceedings ratchet out to their logical end-- death. Krauss' signalman, swimming in a red haze, heads in to the inspector's room and strangles him with his bare hands, with wonderful intercutting between the murder and the daughter enlivening with smiles brightening with the sounds of her betrayer's strangulation. A wonderful touch to the mise en scene's sense of gothic otherworldliness: as Krauss' enters the inspectors room, zombified, loping like frankenstein, the door closes on it's own, once he makes the center of the room, seeming to seal the inspector's doom.

Now Mayer's vision of the smallness of man, of the insignificance to the rest of the wide world of even the most earthshaking of events in the life of a single human being-- a theme taken up with greater dimension and effect in Sylvester-- comes into play. The faithful signalman, his world now shattered into a thousand unmendable pieces, takes his signal lamp and heads out into the evening. He makes his way out to a signal point, and flags down an oncoming passenger train with his lantern. We cut for the first time into the world of srrounding humanity-- the dining-cafe-club car in first class. The haute bourgoisie is sipping demi tasse, tea, drinks, whatever, decked out in their hi toned fashions and hairstyles. They pass condescending glances all around and at the train and at the very notion of the unexpected stop itself. We stay with them as the stop prolongs and becomes a fact of life, and their annoyance becomes mixed with curiosity. What is happening here after all?

The train crew are asking themselves the same thing-- gazing at the seemingly mesmerized old signalman standing there holding his lamp up and swinging it like a stoned robot for no visible reason they can detect. They lean out of the train cars to speak with Krauss' signalman. The passengers themselves have now taken notice of the funny looking little man down on the improvised stop on the tracks.

In a scene that was originally tinted blood red when the film was first released, Krauss speaks the single intertitle, animated in unfolding cursive handwriting: Ich bin ein Morder...

"I am a murderer"

Krauss' character seems to disappear into the haze of brake steam as the train resumes it's journey, with him onboard. We cut back to the first class passengers as a man who has heard the whole affair steps back into the dining car. Gossip and chuckles and obliviousness and inattentiveness as we spend a full few uninterrupted minutes with these strangers... children decked out in their finery being fed by mothers... paunchy men in tweed and silk returning to their port wine and plates of beef.

Finally an overhead outdoor shot capturing the passby of the train round a bend, watched by the daughter, now completely without mother or father, and seemingly and in all probability with child, and no man to take care of her-- utterly and completely alone. The train whooshes by her. In the cloud of steam exhaust, an in-camera fade dissolves to the bucket of broken glass back in the broom closet at the cottage, first superimposing then completely replacing the image of the daughter.

Shattered*


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 23, 2010 4:14 pm 

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Having just watched Der träumende Mund 1932, and before that Ariane 1931 and Fräulein Else 1929 (all of them directed by Paul Czinner, with Elisabeth Bergner) I can only add to the praise, Carl Mayer created variations of a psychological Kammerspiel in a totally original and very subtle style. I'm sure Herr Schreck will post something on those films one of these days.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 25, 2010 6:31 pm 
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Very much looking forward to that *cough* subtitled version of Dreaming Lips that is rumoured to be imminent.

Good to see you here, sir!

Clearly, Mayer didn't "invent" the Kammerspiel as a genre in and of itself, but in terms of the German screen, which took the intimate, small-cast format from the stage, I'd have to say that Mayer was the driving force in its adoption. Whither went Mayer, thither went the most important German films, at least in the 20's. First expressionism... then Kammerspiels... New Objectivity...

Of course it's a gross oversimplification, but has there ever been a single writer (who never wrote a single novel or short story) who drove a national cinema so profoundly?


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 7:38 am 
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I'd like to know more about the status ascribed to Mayer - on a broader basis than "Caligari", "Der letzte Mann" or "Sunrise" - in general at the time. That he is responsible for the scripts of some of the 20s films that we nowadays regard as being among the very best made at the time is without question; but reading through Kalbus' 1935 book, for instance (who is all in favour of the Kammerspiel), I got the impression that these films were mainly esteemed by the critics even then. "Sylvester" seems to have been quite a flop, for example. And I can't seem to find "Brandherd" even only mentioned in Kalbus or Kracauer ( I don't have Eisner at hand at the moment).

Somehow it seems that this situation hasn't changed so much today on a broader basis. You will hardly find "Ariane" and "Der träumende Mund" (both Kammerspiel films in spirit, as Serdar notes, though adapted for the sound era) mentioned as extensively as they obviously deserve even in today's accounts of late Weimar cinema, and the unavailability of many of the films on your initial list, their complete neglect even in the form of TV broadcasts or via Edition Filmmuseum (who seem to release any sort of obscurity rather than the Kammerspiel films) seems to indicate that speaking of Mayer as a profound driving force of the German national cinema is only true in terms of quality/modernity/inventiveness, as sad as this might sound. I have the impression that many of the Mayer films are more like the best hidden secret treasures of the Weimar cinema, though of course they are incredibly rewarding if one can manage to find them.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 1:14 pm 
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First of all, you have to remember-- midcentury scholarship, though which we flip for some NEAR-contemporary mention of a man like Mayer, relied on a combination of hazy memory (if the writer was around during the silent era) and/or the ability to get hands on prints of vintage films before there was a such thing as a preservation group or cinemateque. It's really not possible to grasp the full picture of what was happening in the 1920's by the writings of anyone, let alone someone writing beyond the 1920's.

But we do know: that following Caligari, Expressionism was in vogue, and even those directors who didn't make formally expressionist films, tweaked and integrated bits and pieces of the conceit and folded them into their works. And the Kammerspiel, following the early Mayer scripts with Jessner, Pick, etc, became very much in vogue... even the individual conceits specifically drawn in Mayers writing.. no intertitles, subjectively moving the camera, bizarre "intuitive atmospheres", etc, became to greater and lesser degrees either in vogue for awhile or hi-art flourishes that continue to this day as hallmarks of the quality art film.

It's simply unquestionable that Mayer had a profound effect on the direction the German cinema took. Although some of the films mentioned may not have been gigantic hits with the public, directors, producers and studio heads were certainly watching, and appropriated these conceits en masse or bit by bit into works that would have large play on the world stage. Obviously Sylvester was not a blockbuster, but Pommer (and Murnau) were certainly blown to pieces by it, and wholly took the style for a long run of films (some of which Mayer was involved with) that were better known. Surely this is no mystery. We're talking infuential with the movers and shakers of quality German cinema, not influential with the German public seeking out mindless melodrama. And on these terms Mayer was without question the most important screenwriter of his era. Sylvester was the first film script ever published on it's own, as a treatment worthy of individual study.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 2:37 pm 
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I agree on all points here, but it's indeed important that you clarified that Mayer was a driving force for 'quality cinema' in the first place, and perhaps it should be made more pronounced that the popular conception of the Weimar cinema producing mainly this kind of quality cinema might be not quite correct, similar to the German cinema of the 70s, which wasn't really dominated by the likes of Fassbinder or Herzog, although these deservedly are mentioned for making the films that the era will be remembered by and who received most critical attention at the time. The taking-over of individual bits of new stylistic achievements of inventive figures like Mayer into the mainstream or a newly formed broader 'genre' is something that has always happened (some bit of Ingmar Bergman is always lurking in the 'arthouse cinema' of our time, it seems), and perhaps that's not even a bad thing.

So my post was not intended to question the importance of Mayer, but rather to ask about our perhaps too idealized, or better, one-sided conception of the Weimar cinema. That said, and in full awareness of things like the two soccer films released by Filmmuseum for instance, I'd say that those 'mindless melodramas' you mention are probably still far ahead of most similarly 'commercial' stuff that came afterwards, both in Germany and elsewhere. The cinema promoted by Pommer and others excelled, if not always in substance, then at least in style and production values, and even the less important films have much to make them interesting because of this alone. But as I said elsewhere, the fascination that the time and its films has for us may come from a certain quality of 'freshness', because we don't see this style in modern films anymore. In this respect I wonder whether film-viewers in 100 years will rave about current Hollywood blockbusters in a similar way, and for similar reasons.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:45 pm 
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Tom, I'm not clear who you're seeking to correct as having
Tommaso wrote:
our perhaps too idealized, or better, one-sided conception of the Weimar cinema.

Simply because the big, less subtantive (or impacting) crowdpleasers of the time aren't being discussed-- at least not as much, although the films of Lang, Leni, Weine, Murnau, etc, were considered big events decking out the big filmpalasts, some of which could absolutely be included in this category-- doesn't mean that folks here are not aware of their existence and need to be reminded that they did.

Tommaso wrote:
I'd say that those 'mindless melodramas' you mention are probably still far ahead of most similarly 'commercial' stuff that came afterwards, both in Germany and elsewhere.

I'm not sure where you're headed with this, but I think what you're saying is that the fluff of the German silent era is superior to the fluff of the sound era....? Is that the gist? If that's the case, that's a generalization I don't want to go near.

Tommaso wrote:
The cinema promoted by Pommer and others excelled, if not always in substance, then at least in style and production values, and even the less important films have much to make them interesting because of this alone.

Pommer is responsible for Caligari, the ascendance of Mayer, Decla Bioskop, most of Lang and Murnaus greatest masterpieces, the work of Joe May (Indian Tomb, Asphalt), plus masterpieces like Melodie des Herzens, The Blue Angel, Alraune, Geiger von Florenz, on and on and on. Nobody needs to be reminded that the driving force behind Ufa and Decla was probably the greatest producer who ever lived!


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 26, 2010 6:31 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
Tom, I'm not clear who you're seeking to correct as having
Tommaso wrote:
our perhaps too idealized, or better, one-sided conception of the Weimar cinema.

Simply because the big, less subtantive (or impacting) crowdpleasers of the time aren't being discussed-- at least not as much, although the films of Lang, Leni, Weine, Murnau, etc, were considered big events decking out the big filmpalasts, some of which could absolutely be included in this category-- doesn't mean that folks here are not aware of their existence and need to be reminded that they did.

You make me sound like a lecturer, which I certainly didn't intend. Still, I'm not sure that everyone (and I'm not having you in mind, Schreck) is fully aware of the impact and success of, say, the Harry Piel films, even those that still exist, i.e. those made during the sound era mostly. And seeing the silent "Zirkus Beely" amounted to a major revelation for me. Or take the series of the "Fridericus"-films with Otto Gebühr, already starting in the silent era. Just two examples that spring to my mind without a lot of consideration. The lack of discussion of course has to do with the fact that these are even more impossible to see nowadays than the works of the filmmakers you mention, if they aren't lost anyhow like most of the Piels; but to me it increasingly seems that we need to consider such totally 'different' forms of filmmaking more in order to get a fuller view of the Weimar era. In this respect something like "Der Bettler vom Kölner Dom" is at least somewhat instructive.

HerrSchreck wrote:
but I think what you're saying is that the fluff of the German silent era is superior to the fluff of the sound era....? Is that the gist? If that's the case, that's a generalization I don't want to go near.

The problem for me here is that I'm not sure what exactly represents the fluff of the German silent era for you. But to answer your question: I rather had the crowdpleasers of the Weimar sound era and early Third Reich era in mind, especially in comparison to the fluff made in the 50s in Germany. The latter are most often mindless entertainment, the former often seem to be timeless examples of a lost style, with some of them easily being the equivalent of the Lubitsch musicals made in America at the time. I think of the Harvey/Fritsch films in particular, but too often they have been dismissed as fluff rather than seen as great art. I tend very much towards the latter, of course, but it's an opinion not necessarily shared by all writers on the subject, and it's far easier to defend "Der letzte Mann" than "Die drei von der Tankstelle" in terms of some notions of 'high art' (read: serious stuff that wants to make you think about it). That Pommer cared to equally invest such different films with all the expertise and style that UFA was capable of at the time is a very great achievement, and indeed this probably makes him 'the greatest producer ever lived'. Nothing but great works if considered on their own terms. So when I spoke of 'less important Pommer films' it was meant only relatively, in comparison to the much-talked about masterpieces by Murnau and Lang for instance; or to clarify (I hope): much as I love something like "Bomben on Monte Carlo", it's simply not quite in the same league as these, though it's pretty great in itself.


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