First things first:
Holy Mother of Heaven-- WHAT A RESTORATION. I thought I had previously known the extent of the existing elements and the eventual possibilities concerning what a modern day chemical/lab film restoration in Germany capped off with the standard high quality Kline-o-fied wetgate HD telecine and MTI'ing of the stored digital image for splices & speckles etc, and the usual hi-bit resto of audio elements... the standard resto route. I thought at best we would wind up with an image looking somewhere between the CC's PANDORA and M. In other words not as bad as the defocusing in the 2nd or 3rd gen (at best... if not just a hugely deteriorated nitrate w Very Little Hope) print used for PAND, but just short of the resto which gave us the M we have today... which is not as rich in definition, preserved detail, resident contrast as, say TESTAMENT MABUSE, but certainly better than PAND. This owing to the fact that I'd seen what the old BFI looked like as an improvement in transfer versus my old Janus Films VHS from the stone age. All these made from the dupe neg which survived all the controversy and suddenly turned up intact sometime after the 50's, not sure when. But based on the look of my VHS I didn't have high hopes for this film being all THAT much better based on the condition of the dupe neg. I did know the neg was complete so therefore, presuming this would be used, no composite would be needed as the basis for resto.
Cut to late Sunday night , the disc spinning-- JAWS AGAPE. HOLY SHIT!! This film looks unbelievable. It looks like it was made 2 days ago. Simply gorgeous. The audio is (for the era, and versus other Klangfilm products from the same years) crisp and clear with genuine high end. The image is absolutely breathtaking, and surpasses the rich black & white of TESTAMENT (not to mention TEST is a composite print with sections relying on a far inferior print to fill gaps either censored of missing from the primary resto nitrate). YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE HOW BEAUTIFUL this film has been made to look and sound. That dupe neg has been restored and now looks like a fucking camera negative. It is simply one of the most beautiful black and white film experiences one can have on home video, end of story. Fritz Wagner's roving camera is simply breathtaking, and so much of the technique, which I always thought reminiscent of his masterful work with Pabst on JEANNE NEY (capturing performances and movements in mirrors, long straight tracking, often in near pitch black conditions through little pools of light here & there with those sublime little bumps and jiggles here and there). As to the film, the increased visual experience greatly increases the cinematic effect-- not to mention the sound. I have shifted from thinking this is a visually-stunning Good Film, to thinking that it is a Great Film that is a cinematographic masterpiece. One of the reasons this film can be so off putting to some is that it is in long sections A SILENT FILM... though it is supposed to be a musical! Added to this is the fact that many of these sections concern frivolous zones of plot (in which it is not even clear to the viewer what is actually happening, not to mention why) .. and why they are given so much attention... some of these questions are still hard to answer. i e the series of robberies leading up to the wedding. We hardly know who these characters are in the first place (at least to a 1st time viewer), and then we see them in long silent sections hauling items on the street, in long extended sequences, whereas their purpose and identity has been blooped right over--- or if noted, given the amount of time & importance onscreen as the pouring of a glass of beer.
The sublime effect of this for me is what turns out to be a sense of Distancing, the lack of investment that talking heads love to go on and on about when discussing Brecht. The fact is that we experience these spaces with the same mental anarchy and lack of Significance that the characters do. They dont think too much about why they're hauling a grandfather clock, or whether the wedding will be a shambles by morning: they simply must do it without thinking because Boss has told them so. We roam those dark menacing, moody city streets along with them with the same sense of emptiness and meaninglessness.
Enough of that shit. Which leads me to Point Two:
When in god's name are CC going to get commentary for Weimar German Cinema right? These two purple nurples from Cornell & Harvard are just about as bad as those vapid Co2 chimneys spouting & steaming crap all over PANDORA. These two guys always sound like the Two Most Annoying Guys At A Party (where their dates/wives bond with each other via the shared experience of trying to sink all the way down into couch cushions in embarrassment as Dinks #1 and 2 go on and on and on in Very Serious Tones about Nothing, Really), or the Two Biggest Sophomore Douche Bags in the lobby at Film Forum around mid-November as NYU semester hits it's stride and the kids have Settled Into Their New Away-From-Mom Identity.
These guys are pretty incredible... I admit I stopped about one third of the way thru so there may be some epiphany somewhere along the lines, but it's just pure embarrassment... that these two dudes are oblivious to. At first it's really funny, as one guy is definitely (I think the Cornell dude) the Follower, and many of his statements are very measured, and are very nearly questions, i e "How do we feel about this scene? Do we agree about whether or not There Is Distancing Here? Oh and since there is no dialog in THIS scene, is it ok for me to say I like it since Distancing during brief silent camera moves is sorta tough... and to even look for it would be sorta stupid?" or "Do we Need Distancing all the time?" & "DId we clarify whether or not Stuff Without Distancing All Sucks, and if yes is that Everything That Doesn't Have Distancing... maybe we should turn the mic off & talk first??" One seems to be in charge of determining the flow of conversation, and the In's & Outs of Whether or Not whether something is Brechtian/Involves Distancing (good Brecht cinema) or is Not Brechtian/and causes you to Get Involved In the Film (bad Brecht Cinema). The extreme aesthetic gymnastics and conditional preconditions of performance requirements to squeeze a piece of cinema in or out of the "Brechtian", the frivolousness of the supposed rigidity of so many of these arguments and theories, filled with level after level of What Will and Will Not Do, based on the art of one playwright-- whose art (to begin with) was a total hybrid element, was filled with naivete, based on (at that time) the man's perceived place in society as a Walking Talking Center Of The Universe and ever in flux dpending on what year or day of the week you happened to catch im in (and in front of whom he was speaking)-- reveal the tenuousness of the Brechtian Rules, and utter absurdity when looking to discuss the art of the cinema and a beautiful piece of work like Pabst DREIGROSCHENOPER. I shut the commentary off since not once did I hear the gents speak of the film as a unified piece of cinema unto it's own self, which MUST be the case, even when dealing with a filmmable novel, much less a stage play. I didn't hear a single utterance following these affectionate spankings of the film "but of course the cinema does not lend itself, and will not ever well lend itself, to this kind of conceit, and never has.." I've never heard commentary for an adapted work run this amok into the intellectual woods.
Nor did I sense an understanding of the hopelessness of Brecht's position: much of what we consider or call Distancing had, running beneath it, simply a desire to express a revulsion for the bourgouise audience. He knew or sensed that at the individual level this works because each audience member likes to believe that they are the one bourgeoisie that Gets It, that they are the one member of the Indicted Class that is innocent of all charges, and that the rest of the audience are indeed A Big Part of the Problem With The World. And on a personal level this is Brecht acting this same fantasy out for his audience. The audience uses such plays to feel like they are Doing Something, participating in a key momentum in Indicting The Guilty of Society and therefore proving their own innocence by simply Getting The Point and Agreeing with the humanistic thrust of the play (then go home and forget about it). Brecht, being the creator of the play and thus the Boss of the Whole Affair, has to act in bigger and far more public strokes of rebellion-- he must keep a few steps ahead of the audience, and so therefore his puts down his own play as old news, or co-opted. Like Punk Rock before punk rock. All the later investing of intellectual aesthetics to Distancing as a mechanism of plot melodrama to increase possibilities by closing off specificities of trait/history/character/place/plot etc is not the overriding factor here. What Brecht was looking to do with the film, which was indeed based on a melodramatic story with real characters with very definite traits, was to try and piss all over public expectations, and to crunch the possibility of turning his work into a commodity. Like the rumors that Cobain was going to make IN UTERO completely unlistenable as he hated his success, or the appearance of his own ascension into the bourgeoisie. Thus as an act of public spectacle Brecht attempted to say "3PENNY is my work with which I may do whatever I please... and thus I may destroy it if I wish by turning it into hardcore (ie Marxist prop)," which may have been a luxury he felt he had since he was not then in the film business. The act of potentially flushing someone elses Big Biz 800K RM capital (the films budget) down the toilet may have seemed an appropriate piece of agitprop for a spotlight loving/despising/loving-yet-more egomaniac like Brecht, but in my view, the truth is it would have been far to easy on his part. A better statement would have been for him to burn his own proceeds from the film or the play (since the royal.ty finance was so notoriously slanted in his favor versus Weill, he sure had enough of it to flush)... that would have been real performance art. Lighting an independent film studio aflame by zapping it's big budget production into the shits and ruining them, without suffering yourself and continuing to Live Nice is pure chicken shit phony chumpery. The many had moments of incredible insight and literary genius, but let's face it, he could be an asshole with a length of lower gut longer than the blue Danube. And what the whole episode teaches the observer is that all revolutions really do eat their makers. When they succeed they stop being revolutions, and their instigators become clowns if they still run around petulant and unhappy after having seen their cause succeed. They expose themselves as less wise as was originally assumed-- they lose depth, and they become Permanent Professional Fonts Of Bile, and one note wonders.
While Brecht wasn't exactly a one note wonder, we do see him engaging in wonderfully full and complex cinema, and fully functional too, as in HANGMEN ALSO DIE with Lang. An absolutely beautiful script, filled with character, structure, plot, suspense... all the trappings (despite the fact that it's creation was not smooth sailing).
Typical Brechtian Bull-Shit: he never saw the film, but didn't approve of it. This is a man who-- by 1930 at least-- clearly did not understand the rigorous cinematic demands of creating a pleasurable film out of 3PENNY. And using these Brechtian barometers-- complete with all the conditional whistles and bells and Stage Conceits and ex post facto theories about Distancing-- as as jury over Pabst's admirable effort (notwithstanding made while plunked down in a terrible fucking condition mind you, put there by Brecht himself)-- as these two professors/authors do, it's just misguided, and so adolescent and unwise it has no place on this disc, which has been awaited for so long.
On the OTHER hand, the documentary, the intros with Rasp, the Rayns article... they are all ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC, and really do service to the need to admire the musical for all of it's innovation in so many areas, while noting Brecht's questionable desires and motivations when it came time to adapt to a film.
And that TRANSFER!!!. All in all a great package, commentary notwithstanding. And the fact there is a typo on the back of the box i e "...presentation noting the differences between the ENGLISH version and the French version." I think they may mean the GERMAN version vs the French version.