Tag Archives: Tinted footage

CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

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DIRECTED BY: /(version prepared by Giorgio Moroder)

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: Freder, son of the man who rules Metropolis, discovers the plight of the subterranean workers who make the city run when he falls in love with a proletarian female preacher; his new lover is replaced by a robotic imposter who intends to lead the workers to ruin.

Still from Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a powerful candidate for the List, but Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis isn’t.  Kino’s 2010 “Complete Metropolis” restoration is now the definitive version of the film; Moroder’s re-imagining, with its synth-pop soundtrack and vocal intrusions by 1980s rock acts like Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler and Pat Benetar, is a curiosity.

COMMENTS:  Set in a massive, mostly underground city that’s equal parts Futurist dreamscape and Babylonian pleasure garden, Metropolis is an unqualified, iconic Expressionist masterpiece, and if you want to turn down the sound and watch it while listening to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga mp3s, that’s not going to destroy its visual splendor.  Whatever questionable choices “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” composer Giorgio Moroder may have made with the proto-techno soundtrack that he added to this restoration (more on that score later), this Metropolis looks like it’s been struck from a pristine print, and it’s as feverishly hallucinatory as any other version.  The decision to tint most of the scenes works wonderfully (and may even have reflected Lang’s original wishes; tinting was not at all uncommon in 1927).  The colorization is tasteful and intelligent, with scenes on the surface bathed in radiant sepia, while the underground sequences utilize shadowy shades of steel blue and grey.  This process retains the film’s monochromatic scale, simply shifting the palette towards the blue or the amber spectrum.  Moroder added additional color effects for a few scenes; some of the equipment in mad scientist Rotwang’s laboratory glows with electricity, and when he transforms his robot into the image of Maria, the automaton’s eyes shine with an inhuman, metallic blue glint.  Because some segments of Metropolis were lost, Moroder also Continue reading CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

PAUL LENI’S WAXWORKS (1924)

Kino International included ‘s 1924 Waxworks in its German Horror Classics collection.  While the usual Kino craftsmanship has gone into remastering and merchandising, the inclusion of Leni’s breakthrough film is a bit of a misclassification.  Waxworks is not a “horror” film.  It is representative of what may possibly be the most experimental period in the medium of film: German .  This style exploded with Robert Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), which turned out to be an even more influential film than D.W. Giffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915).

Leni was among the apprentice filmmakers and artisans profoundly influenced by Caligari. That inspiration came to fruition in the anthology film Waxworks (screenplay by Henrik Galeen, also responsible for Golem-1920 and Nosferatu-1922). Leni’s breakthrough film is no mere carbon copy of Caligari.  Indeed, Waxworks is something of a yardstick for what an anthology film should be.  William Dieterle (later an esteemed director whose credits include 1937’s Life of Emile Zola, the superior 1939 remake of Hunchback of Notre Dame, and 1940’s Dr. Erlich’s Magic Bullet) plays several characters, including the poet hired to write an article about wax figures of historical tyrants in a sideshow museum.  This framing sequence segues into a fantastic, carnivalesque omnibus.  In the first segment, Emil Jannings play Al-Raschid.  In this introductory Caliph vignette, Leni’s design work with Max Reinhardt is at its most impressive and expansive.  The ambiance is, paradoxically, both larger than life and remarkably introverted.  Fanciful, intricate roads wind and turn, leading to the Caliph’s aberrant belfry.  Gloom-laden canvases, crackling signs, and a towering wheel are remnants of a spidery, crepuscular  bacchanal.  Caligari‘s design is comparatively static next to this fluid, humorous, and transcendental Arabian tale.

Still from Waxworks (1924) gives a harrowing, anemic performance as Ivan the Terrible.  Angular and clammy, this segment is a paranoid fable which ends with a stark, memorable scene of the scourged despot forever turning the hour glass, convinced of his fate (death by poisoning).  Leni’s use of Eastern Orthodox iconography, inhabiting a shadowy world, is refreshingly and expressively idiosyncratic.  Helmar Lerski’s cinematography, which proved to be a considerable influence on Eistenstein, aggrandizes Ivan’s maniacal state.

The Jack the Ripper finale has been much discussed and is more a sketch than a climax. plays the infamous Whitechapel serial killer who dominates the shadows, blade in hand, awaiting the poet and his lover.  This surreal whisper was originally intended to lead into a fourth narrative based off Vulpius’ “Rinaldo Rinaldini.”  Although the dreaded captain’s wax likeness can be seen in several scenes, budget restraints forced that narrative to be deleted.

After Waxworks, Hollywood beckoned.  Considering what was to follow in Hitler’s Germany, Leni’s departure from his homeland may have saved the Jewish artist, but, most cruelly, fate prematurely deprived him, and us, of his life and art.

68. HÄXAN [HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES] (1922)

AKA The Witches; Witchcraft Through the Ages

Must See

“Such were the Middle Ages, when witchcraft and the Devil’s work were sought everywhere. And that is why unusual things were believed to be true.”–Title card in Häxan

DIRECTED BY: Benjamin Christensen

FEATURING: Benjamin Christensen, Astrid Holm, Karen Winther, Maren Pedersen

PLOT: The film’s narrative segments involve the betrayals and accusations of witchcraft that destroy a small town in medieval Europe, and the monks who instigate them. Most of the film, however, consists of Christensen’s free-form discourse about the history of witchcraft and demonology.
Still from Häxan (1922)

BACKGROUND:

  • Christensen was an actor-turned-director with two feature films (The Mysterious X and Blind Justice) under his belt when he made Häxan.  He later moved to Hollywood, but he never recaptured Häxan‘s magic, and most of his subsequent films have been lost.
  • The film spent two years in pre-production as Christensen researched scholarly sources on medieval witchcraft, including the Malleus Maleficarum, a German text originally intended for use by Inquisitors.  Many of these are cited in the finished film, and a complete bibliography was handed out at the film’s premiere.
  • In the 1920s and afterward Häxan was frequently banned due to nudity, torture, and in some countries for its unflattering view of the Catholic Church.
  • Some of the footage from this film may have been reused for the delirium sequences in 1934′s Maniac (along with images from the partially lost silent Maciste in Hell).
  • In 1968, a truncated 76-minute version of Häxan was re-released for the midnight movie circuit under the title Witchcraft Through the Ages by film distributor Anthony Balch, with narration by William S. Burroughs and a jazz score.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The scenes set at the Witches’ Sabbaths are overflowing with bizarre imagery.  The most unforgettable example is probably when the witches queue up and, one after another, kiss Satan’s buttocks in a show of deference.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In making Häxan, Christensen dismissed the then-nascent rules of classical filmmaking and turned it into a sprawling, tangent-filled lecture based on real historical texts.  This already makes the film unique, but the use of ahead-of-its-time costuming and special effects in order to film a demonic panorama right out of Bosch or Bruegel, and Christensen’s irreverent sense of humor as he does it, is what makes it truly weird.

Scene from Häxan (1922)

COMMENTS: In 1922, even before the documentary had been firmly established as a Continue reading 68. HÄXAN [HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES] (1922)

GEORGES MELIES ENCORE

The films of Georges Méliès are testosterone for surrealists. In 2008 Flicker Alley and the esteemed Blackhawk films released The First Wizard of Cinema, a mammoth 5 disc, thirteen hour collection of Méliès’ surviving films. It was the DVD event release of several years. In 2010, the same forces have released a supplemental collection of 26 newly discovered shorts, aptly entitled “Encore”.

Understandably, this is not the event from two years ago, but it is an essential, released addition in the appreciation of Méliès’ unique art.  Contemporary viewers with preconceived notions of the term “film” may be thrown off by the aesthetic mindset from a turn of the century experimental filmmaker. Get over it and don’t look for narrative in the post-Edwin S. Porter sense of the word. There is much to savor here when transported into Méliès’ very different world.

First, there are two films here that were at one time mistakenly attributed to Méliès, but were in fact directed by the Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon in the Méliès style (he was often compared to Méliès). Chomon, who worked for the smae company as Méliès (Pathe), specialized in color tinting and “The Rose Magician” (1906), with its washy blues, yellows, streams of flowers and painted backdrops, including a giant seashell, exudes a heady, exotic nouveau flavor. “Excursion to the Moon” (1908) is clearly a homage to Méliès’ famous “A Trip to the Moon” (1902). Sublime golds, oranges, pinks, greens and blues permeate “Excursion”. Chomon beautifully utilizes snowy imagery, sleep, mushrooms, space rockets, explosions and a snow covered face in the moon, which has to be seen to be believed. Taking nothing from Méliès, the two Chomon shorts may be the most significant discoveries in this collection.

Still from Melies Encore (2010 DVD)As for the actual Méliès pictures, “The Haunted Castle” (1896), which is not related to Poe, begins in a castle set with a bat (on strings, of course) that transforms into the Devil himself (complete with horns and costume which looks like it was bough from L.S. Ayres). Old Nick waves his hand and a giant cauldron appears. He follows this with some black magic business, summoning forth a servant and a maiden, who emerges form the cauldron, then quickly disappears. The servant, then the cauldron, then the Devil himself all disappear.  Two Continue reading GEORGES MELIES ENCORE