Friday, 6 October 2017

Here’s Connie! Der Gang in Die Nacht (1920) with Richard Siedhoff, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Day 6

"Where does the art of the writer end, and the art of the director and the actors start? One doesn’t know. Everything is intertwined. Everything is – there’s no better word for it – complete…

Willy Haas, Film-Kurier (no. 277, 14 December 1920)

If Der Gang In Die Nacht (Love’s Mockery) was Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s only film we’d probably rate it a bit higher than we are able to in the context of his later work. All the same I was surprised at its controlled composition and feel although it varies in tone from comedy to weird.

For me this is a better film than say The Haunted Castle from the following year but that could also be down to the uncanny presence of Conrad Veidt who’s eyes, hands and, indeed forehead… are transfixing throughout. Murnau makes the most of his gaunt asset from the get-go when he arrives by boat, standing tall with sightless eyes, seeing more than we know… a foretaste of Count Orlac on the ship.

Doctor Eigil Börne (Olaf Fønss) is engaged to doe-eyed Helene (Erna Morena, her out of Von morgens bis mitternachts), until he gets distracted by the charms of music-hall performer Lilly (Gudrun Bruun-Stefenssen) who, by combining charm with a faked ankle injury manages to get her man. The Doctor quits his promising city work and becomes a GP in a remote costal area far away from the tattling tongues of the metropolitan elite…

At first all is well and the two love-birds enjoy healthy walks and jokes about feet until, that is, the dramatic appearance of Conrad as Der Maler – an artist who has gone blind and is seeking a cure from the remarkable country doctor.

As usual the promotions team got carried away... give him two years and he'll scare you alright!
 The sequences showing the return of Maler’s sight are very effective and once the artist can see again he’s drawn to natural beauty all around including Lilly who, to be fair, has also more than noticed him. Now… this can’t go well for the three of them and we shouldn’t really forget poor Helene wasting away back in Berlin.

The narrative lets the film down but the atmospherics eventually win through as passions are stirred, the doctor performs miracles and love does indeed make fools of them all. Veidt stands out, natürlich, but this is still a well-shot film if not a “complete” single-vision… yet it’s now one that has been stunningly well-restored. And I mean stunning!

Richard Siedhoff  accompanied with elegance and edge and also enjoyed himself with Der Golem (detailed below).

We also watched: a third collection of Nasty Women including the gloriously kick-ass Texas Guignan.

Harry Solter’s The Taming of Jane (1910) featured an odd courting ritual involving a cowboy trying to lasso his intended into forced matrimony… maybe they’d been inspired by Asta Nielsen’s dance in Afgrunden or maybe this was indeed the norm in the land of the free? Then again, as with all the films in this delightful strand, the women are smarter than the men. Which is not difficult someone said...

George Le Soir’s An Up-to-date Squaw (1911) was another victory for les girls this time with a fashion-conscious squaw who can’t resist westernising her wardrobe…

The Taming of Jane (1910)
Texas Guignan brought the house down in Jay Hunt’s The Night Rider (1920) when, deciding she needs to take a husband to help prevent cattle rustlers, she lassoes one chap only to then find a much better option: “wish I’d seen you first!” she exclaimed and half the audience laughed!

I like Texas a lot and she is so assured in her characterisation and whip smart in delivery; this was a delight with a plot that served its sense of humour well.

The Circus Imps (1920) was surely an inspiration for Todd Browning as two cheeky girls run away to the circus and hang out with the freak show. The Dog-Faced Boy is shocking but no more so than when the two kids – Katherine and Jane Lee - share a bath and a pot of jam!? Not in our house they didn’t!

Neil Brand was our compositional cowboy and he corralled this feisty herd with the practiced poise of William S Hart himself.

The Duel After the Masquerade by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Tableaux Vivants was a fascinating experiment and one of the most delightfully immersive experiences of the week so far. Valentine Robert has spent years collating film sequences that are based on artworks from the religious work of Gustav Dore (natch!) and James Tissot to recreations of historical scenes such as Archibald Willard’s The Spirit of ’76 (c. 1875) and the Assassinat de Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday (engraved in 1793).

The paintings inspired films which then inspired other films and the visual language became passed down morphing from its illustrative origins to more cinematic copying: Alphonse de Neuville’s Franco-Prussian War painting, Les Dernières Cartouches (1873), was the basis for scenes in films by Lumière (1897), Méliès (1897), Pathé (1899), Gaumont (1898 and 1907).

Of course, “art” always provided and excuse for showing a nudity and the film of the 1900s embraced that as new media always does.

Stephen Horne improvised with great subtlety and variety through these various scenarios. This was no gentle picture show, there’s an impact and edge to some of this art which still challenges.

Duel after the Ball (1908)
One of the treats of the week was also a restoration of Heinrich Galeen’s Der Golem (1915) or at least what remains of a film thought lost until the recent discovery of the second reel. It is very similar to the 1920 version and Paul Wegener’s costume and menace are tantalisingly in place but there are differences in setting – this is the modern world and an altogether different “origin”.

The film is not complete – just 24 precious minutes but, as with the Murnau and Now We’re in the Air we have something!

Der Golem brings something new to the party.

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