An early Christmas present for silent film fans in the form of some excellent news from the non-archive festival circuit. The retrospective strand at next year’s Berlin Film Festival will be devoted to Weimar Cinema – one of the most exciting, attractive periods in film history. Not only that but we can expect a sweep of some lesser-known titles, including new restorations.
According to the director of the retrospective strand, Rainer Rother: “Now, with this thematic look back, it’s time to turn our attention to the films that are not necessarily part of the inner canon.
“The diversity of the Weimar film landscape is best grasped via the works of filmmakers who are not usually counted among the great and prominent directors of the era. The variety of the films, by directors as varied as Franz Seitz, Sr. (Der Favorit der Königin, 1922), Hermann Kosterlitz (The Adventure of Thea Roland, 1932), and Erich Waschneck (Docks of Hamburg, 1928), is evident in the abundance of not only differing subject matter, stories, and characters, but also aesthetic approach. Looking at this legendary epoch in German film history from a new perspective reinforces its artistic reputation.”
There will be three themes running through the retrospective: “exotic”, “quotidian” and “history”. Here are some of the films that are promised:
- In Im Auto durch zwei Welten (1927-1931) Clärenore Stinnes and Carl Axel Söderström take audiences on a fantastic trip to exotic, faraway lands.
- In Menschen im Busch (1930), an early example of ethnographic cinema, Friedrich Dalsheim and Gulla Pfeffer observe the unspectacular daily life of a family in Togo, breaking new ground by allowing the subjects themselves to speak instead of relying entirely on off-camera narration.
- The short films of documentarians such as Ella Bergmann-Michel, Winfried Basse, and Ernö Metzner capture 1920s life in Berlin and Frankfurt.
- In Brothers (1929), director Werner Hochbaum looks at a proletarian family and an existence marked by material deprivation. The film, which was backed by Germany’s Social Democratic Party, gains great authenticity with its use of amateur actors, and setting it during Hamburg’s 1896/97 dockworkers’ strike provides a reference to the contentious political issues of the 1920s.
- Heinz Paul is equally critical and sober with his portrayal of fresh historical events in The Other Side (1931). Conrad Veidt plays a traumatized British captain in World War I in Paul’s unsparing depiction of the senselessness and barbarity of the trench war.
- Stills on the Berlinale website suggest we will also be able to see Die Unehelichen/Children of No Importance (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1925), The Song of Life/Das Lied vom Leben (Alexis Granowsky, 1931) and Milak, the Greenland Hunter/Milak, der Grönlandjäger (Georg Asagaroff, Bernhard Villinger, 1927)
New restorations presented at the Berlinale include:
- The mountain epic Fight for the Matterhorn (Mario Bonnard, Nunzio Malasomma, 1928)
- Robert Reinert’s monumental Opium (1919)
- A two-part film long thought lost – Urban Gad’s Christian Wahnschaffe (part 1: World Afire, 1920, part 2: The Escape from the Golden Prison, 1921), based on Jakob Wassermann’s 1919 novel The World’s Illusion.
“Across genres, the Retrospective will document the Weimar Republic’s zeitgeist and tackle issues of identity. The spectrum encompasses zesty film operettas and comedies full of wordplay, as well as films with strong social and political viewpoints. The films are incredibly fresh and topical,” says Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick.
As you would hope, we can look forward to live music with the silent films in the retrospective. Stephen Horne and Maud Nelissen, who need no introduction here, will be playing alongside Richard Siedhoff, an excellent young musician who has been accompanying silent cinema in Germany for some time now, and took part in this year’s Pordenone Masterclass. And the event would not be complete without Günter Buchwald, who plays and writes so beautifully for silent cinema and will be celebrating an astonishing 40 years in film accompaniment next year. This will be the perfect occasion to raise a glass to him!
There will be a book to accompany the retrospective, Weimarer Kino: neu gesehen, but it is German-language only, and we are promised supporting events at the Deutsche Kinemathek.
I hope to attend the festival and report back on the Retrospective, either here or elsewhere. So watch this space!