Paul Leni

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HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

Paul Leni

#1 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Jul 25, 2008 12:44 pm

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Paul Leni (1885-1929)

"For my film Das Wachsfigurenkabinett. I have tried to create sets so stylised that they evince no idea of reality. My fairground is sketched in with an utter renunciation of detail. All it seeks to engender is an indescribable fluidity of light, moving shapes, shadows, lines and curves. It is not extreme reality that the camera percieves, but the reality of the inner event, which is more profound, effective and moving that what we see through everyday eyes, and I equally believe that the cinema can reproduce this truth, heightened effectively (...) I cannot stress too strongly how important it is for a designer to shun the world seen everyday and to attain its true sinews... It will be seen that a designer must not construct 'fine' sets. He must penetrate the surface of things and reach their heart. He must create mood, even though he has to safeguard his independence with regard to the object seen merely through everydays eyes. It is this which makes him an artist. Otherwise I can see no reason why he should not be replaced by an adroit apprentice carpenter..."

Filmography:

The Last Warning (1929)

The Man Who Laughs (1928) (R1, Kino)

The Chinese Parrot (1927) (lost film)

The Cat and the Canary (1927) (R1 Image Ent/Blackhawk, R1 Kino)

Rebus Film Nr. 1 (1925) (R1 Kino)

Rebus Film Nr. 3 (1925)

Wachsfigurenkabinett, Das (1924) (R1, Kino)
... aka Waxworks

Hintertreppe (1921) (R1 Grapevine VHS)
... aka Backstairs

Verschwörung zu Genua, Die (1921)
... aka The Genoa Conspiracy (USA)

Patience (1920)
... aka Patience: Die Karten des Todes (Germany: complete title)

Prinz Kuckuck - Die Höllenfahrt eines Wollüstlings (1919)

Platonische Ehe, Die (1919)

Rätsel von Bangalor, Das (1918)
... aka The Mystery of Bangalor

Dornröschen (1917)

Prima Vera (1917)
... aka Camille
... aka Kameliendame, Die (Germany)

Tagebuch des Dr. Hart, Das (1916)


Forum Discussions

(scattered mentions:)
The Roots of German Expressionism and Beyond

Silent Film On DVD

Kino

The Annotated Kino Catalog.


Web Resources

Paul Leni, The Forgotten Master, a well-felt tribute on The Missing Link outlining Leni's life and achievements in film, as well has his unjustly neglected status.

Wiki Page

imdb's Leni page

Film Reference's Lani page

filmportal.de's Paul Leni page


Books

Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler, Princeton, 1947

Eisner, Lotte, The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt, Berkeley, 1969.

Willett, John, Art and Politics in the Weimar Period: The New Sobriety 1917–1933, New York, 1978.

Bock, Hans-Michael, Paul Leni: Grafik, Theater, Film, Frankfurt, 1986.

Bock, Hans-Michael, Das Wachsfigurenkabinett : Drehbuch Von Henrik Galeen Zu Paul Lenis Film Von 1923

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HerrSchreck
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#2 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Jul 25, 2008 12:54 pm

One of the most unjustly neglected of silent-era filmmakers. Every bit the peer of his compatriots Murnau and Lang (and died 2 yrs before Murnua.. from blood poisoning via an infected/abcessed tooth no less, one of the most senseless wastes ever, ever..), he receieves almost no arthouse circulation whatsoever, and if it weren't for Kino and David Shepard, there'd be no sign the man even existed, as Kino & IMage are the only labels (that Im aware of) that have ever put Leni's films on dvd and/or vhs.

But if this thread can encourage further appreciation of the man and his films, even by a few, then.. well.. mission accomplished. But I more than heartily co-sign the following statement
Siegfried Kracauer, in From Caligari to Hitler, calls Paul Leni "one of the outstanding film directors of the post-World War I era," and refers to the Jack-the-Ripper episode of Waxworks as being "among the greatest achievements of film art." Yet Leni's name is familiar only to film scholars today.
The Jack the ripper sequence is truly mind-boggling, like a Picasso in constant motion, and for quite some time I considered it to be the greatest 5-10 minute strecth in silent film.

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Danny Burk
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#3 Post by Danny Burk » Sat Jul 26, 2008 10:41 am

And anyone who hasn't seen MAN WHO LAUGHS should run...run!...to buy it RIGHT NOW. An incredible film that has been in my top 10 list for many years.

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Michael
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 12:09 pm

#4 Post by Michael » Tue Jul 29, 2008 8:33 am

Danny Burk wrote:And anyone who hasn't seen MAN WHO LAUGHS should run...run!...to buy it RIGHT NOW. An incredible film that has been in my top 10 list for many years.
I agree. I picked up the DVD last weekend. A boy with a gigantic grin carved into his face, forced into a freak sideshow. The heart of this very emotionally intense and haunting film is a sweet love story between that "freak" and a blind woman. The very luminous editing struck me very much, it moved from one scene to the next in such a dreamy flow. Plenty of images piercing right through like winter icicles glistening in the lamppost light. Duchess Josiana looked very much like young Madonna, she was sublime in that film, I LOVED her face as she viewed the Man Who Laughs - the watery switch back and forth between her face and the Man's.

And the dog named Homo. God, what a film.

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Finch
Joined: Mon Jul 07, 2008 5:09 pm
Location: Edinburgh, UK

#5 Post by Finch » Tue Jul 29, 2008 10:14 am

I too got this film last week and agree with everyone else that it's right up there with the best of the lot (The General, The Passion of Joan Of Arc, Der letzte Mann, City Lights) and want to encourage people who are curious about this film but concerned about the available DVD to rent or buy it: it really is a very good transfer and a good package from Kino overall.

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tojoed
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:47 am
Location: Cambridge, England

#6 Post by tojoed » Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:09 pm

Mr Finch wrote:I too got this film last week and agree with everyone else that it's right up there with the best of the lot (The General, The Passion of Joan Of Arc, Der letzte Mann, City Lights) and want to encourage people who are curious about this film but concerned about the available DVD to rent or buy it: it really is a very good transfer and a good package from Kino overall.

Yes, indeed. All the Leni films from Kino are in good packages and I would say are essentials for any silent film lover. My personal favourite is Waxworks, but I would love to see The Last Warning.

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Tommaso
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 10:09 am

#7 Post by Tommaso » Fri Aug 01, 2008 6:49 am

Watched "Waxworks" again last night on an Italian disc from the Ermitage label which I bought on my holiday trip there, because the cover advertised it as "edizione in originale e con dodescali italiani", which for me implied a disc that would finally come with (re-constructed) German titles and optional Italian subs, allowing me to dumb that Kino disc (in fact, the Ermitage disc of Lubitsch's "Bergkatze" has the same info and actually IS in German). Well, a big let-down: intertitles are only in Italian, and the optional Italian subs only apply to the on-screen English texts. In other words: the same as the Kino disc, and clearly to be avoided unless your Italian is better than your English...
But it didn't stop me from being amazed at the film again: all things considered, I agree with everyone about the Jack the Ripper episode, but still the most amazing aspect for me is the end of the Ivan part: Veidt's mad turning and turning around of that hourglass must be one of the most impressive cinematic expressions of a psychological cul-de-sac ever committed to film. Now I only wonder what that originally planned, but never realised Rinaldo Rinaldini episode would have been like.

I also found a nice quote by Leni (from 1925) in a German book entitled Pioniere in Celluloid-Juden in der frühen Filmwelt, which might be translated as follows:

"My architect annoys me. He is stubborn, slows down work and always interferes with the lighting. Sometimes I want to get rid of him. And if his name wasn't Paul Leni, this would have happened already. But you cannot justify suicide because of an architect!"

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HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#8 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Aug 01, 2008 9:33 am

I dont know if a print of the film Waxworks exists with the original German intertitles.. the restoration that came out of Cineteca Bologna/L'Immagine (the resto used for the Kino) etc is a composite of two vintage nitrate prints: a B&W print for English speaking markets, and a tinted French market print. The Kino disc has original vintage intertitles.. i e they're not electronically recreated, so I don't know that you'll ever find a disc in German that's going to provide you anything but electronic, replaced (over the english or french) intertitles. If you grabbed a German 'recreation' of a domestic release, it'd probably be subbed.. but if you did find one with replaced intertitles, you'd probably want to keep the Kino so you at least have a full vintage print with nothing replaced-- i e real history. This english print of the film is a piece of history: it was a pivotal thing for Leni-- it blew Hollywood away and got him his contract with Universal!

I actually quite like the Kino disc, but I do admit I turn the color down when I watch it as I don't like superstrong tints.

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Tommaso
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#9 Post by Tommaso » Fri Aug 01, 2008 10:25 am

Yes, I was aware of the situation, i.e. no original German prints/cards being available. I just couldn't imagine that FWMS would do a resto and NOT provide at least a variant with recreated (from censorship cards or script) intertitles. This would interest me simply because very often details of the original meaning get lost in translation (Lubitsch being a prime example). To have the titles in English (especially if like here they come from an original print) is not a big deal, of course, and the film is pretty self-explicatory anyway.
Do you happen to know whether the shots themselves are the same as in the probably lost German prints, or do we have an 'alternative', perhaps lesser 'export' version here as in the case of "Faust"?

The image of the Kino is actually quite fine, but even with the colour and contrast turned down, the digital tintings look extremely unnatural, at least if one is used to such magnificence as the latest "Nosferatu" or "Brudeferden", which are perhaps unfair comparisons. But also "Warning Shadows" looks far more convincing, so I hope FWMS will re-do "Waxworks" sometime in the future. But for the moment, Kino will do.

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Svevan
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 7:49 pm
Location: Portland, OR

Re: Paul Leni

#10 Post by Svevan » Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:26 pm

In the Annotated Kino catalogue thread, Schreck mentioned some details about Shepard and Kino's falling out being the result of, at least in part, a situation involving The Cat and the Canary disc. I wonder if Schreck could tell the story here, I'm interested!

I just watched the film on Netflix instant play, and every aspect seemed fine (as fine as Instant Play ever gets; there's a good chunk of silents available there, some Dreyer, Lang, Griffith) except for a strange frame-dip that occurred about every 5 minutes: the whole frame would dip slightly and the bottom of the frame would appear at the top, as if a projectionist had misaligned the projector in the shitty "arthouse" theatre I attend locally. Is this a result of the resto, the transfer, or is it a Netflix issue? Though slight, it was very annoying and seems like an avoidable problem.

This was my first Leni and I really enjoyed the pov shots in the beginning and the inventive cross-fades and double exposures. For how "talky" this film is, I found I enjoyed the scenes of dialogue thanks to the performances which were 85% of the time pitched to the right proportion of seriousness and absurdity (Aunt Susan/Flora Finch excepted, though the script doesn't seem to know what to do with her in the second half). I especially liked the serious-faced Arthur Carewe, whose presence was always soothing even as he was forced into the background of the story.

The combination of three disparate plot elements (ghosts, lunatics, murderous cousins) causes the craziness quotient to skyrocket in the middle, with each strand posing an equal yet distinct threat; it made me dizzy trying to guess where the movie was going, in a good way. Yet even as I was aching for a conclusion that made sense, the solution was a little too Scooby-Do for me. However, the ingenuity and wit that gets us there is superb; for the pulp-y subject matter and confined environment, it's a visually layered film. Looking forward to more Leni soon!

Funny note: when you scroll through the film with the Netflix instant play browser, you'll see images from the 1973 Cat and the Canary instead of the '27 one. Provides an opportunity to compare the two films, I guess!

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Svevan
Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 7:49 pm
Location: Portland, OR

Re: Paul Leni

#11 Post by Svevan » Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:01 pm

Not much Leni love around here nowadays (where's Schreck been?), but I just saw Waxworks and enjoyed it quite a bit. It may be my mental state (tooth just pulled, vicodin, etc), but I didn't love the movie. Certainly the expressionist sets and costumes, the demented stories and acting, all make the film a real looker, but just coming off my first viewing of The Last Laugh, I found Waxworks psychologically light in comparison (we're talking Murnau though).

That doesn't make it a bad movie - the Jack the Ripper sequence is excellent and trippy, deliberately misaligned double exposures recreating the look of a dream better than the many contemporary dream sequences that do not resemble my dream life, at least. I think the Ivan sequence is really excellent as well, with many different locations (torture chamber, Kremlin, wedding ceremony, etc) and the paranoid and skeletal Conrad Veidt consuming the screen. What a presence.

The structure of the film reminded me of Der Mude Tod, with its two lovers frame story bleeding into the vignettes via the actors; Der Mude Tod is a fine film of course, but I found the frame story so much more compelling than the individual stories. This is quite unlike Waxworks, where the frame story is thin and the vignettes are the reason to watch the film. Another comparison is in the plastics of each film: Leni's sets and framing seem more advanced and intricate, and therefore meatier than Lang's, but I think the difference there is one of emphasis (moreso than the difference of only 3 years between their releases, according to the IMDB): Lang has a deeper thematic motivation, developing at an early year his interest in fate and fatalism, while Leni is content to tell three stories about lovers who are separated, and then reunited, and that's that; the intense and layered images are Leni's aesthetic focal point, not the story.

Waxworks is a great example of expressionism, and even while I prefer Caligari for its consistency, this was fun and exciting to watch. It also made me appreciate the much more mobile camera in The Cat and the Canary, which I spoke about above. I enjoyed both films and echo the Leni recommendations.

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HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

Re: Paul Leni

#12 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Mar 16, 2015 4:15 pm

Well, five years late but here's Schreck and here's some Leni love:

Paul Leni: Loss of a Jolly Master.

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