The Monday Intertitle: The Greeks Have an Intertitle for It

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HELENA is a silent German two-part epic based on Greek mythology, directed by Manfred Noa and released, unfortunately, the same year as Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN. The public stayed away in droves every bit as big as those the filmmaker mustered to represent the fall of Troy. It’s as if a critic wrote, “If you only see one two-part mythological epic this year, make it Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN,” and the public decided to take that as an instruction.

A shame, for though Lang’s film deserves its place in history (or another, better place in history — not as a Nazi favourite but as a prophecy of the destruction wrought by war and hatred), Noa’s film is visually splendid and dramatically quite pleasing, though I would slightly fault his taste in casting the authoritative but not particularly ravishing Edy Darclea as Helen of Troy. But what are you gonna do? One man’s face that launched a thousand ships is another man’s limpet-studded wharf. Not that Edy D is a limpet-studded wharf. She’s fine, she’s just not sensational. She’s no Edie Sedgwick.

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Through a glass Darclea.

Unlike in that Wolfgang Petersen foolishness, the Germans aren’t afraid to bring the gods of Olympus onscreen, which is just as well, for they have a crucial role to play in Homer’s scenario. But we’re not treated to Olivier and Andress and Maggie Smith or their Teuton equivalents wafting about amid dry ice and columns, which might get kitsch. The divine figures appear only in visions witnessed by the mortals, which allows for plenty of stylisation and guards against FANTASIA syndrome. It’s a brilliant solution, and one that should be revived the very next time somebody does something mythic with gods in.

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 Filmed in the splendour of dactylic hexameter!

The only star name I recognize is Albert Basserman, who turned up in THE RED SHOES decades later. Maybe it’s the lack of star power that scuppered Noa’s bold enterprise. The film was rediscovered after many years considered lost, and deserves to be properly available. Check out Kristin Thompson’s ten best of 1923 (it’s my annual favourite blog event) and note just how few truly major silent dramas are available to buy in decent condition.

What else do we need? Oh yes, the promised intertitle, bilingual and wreathed in laurel leaves. Enjoy!

vlcsnap-2014-01-04-02h23m22s25STOP PRESS: Fiona: “What does that mean? You don’t tell us.”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Fiona: “Then you shouldn’t have posted it.”

STOP STOP PRESS: according to Google Translate the French means “You have the power to ward off the dark future. Tell me if I must leave for Cythera.” But it says the German means “Yours is the power to summon the dark future. Customer to me whether I should follow the call to Cythera.”

 

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9 Responses to “The Monday Intertitle: The Greeks Have an Intertitle for It”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Manfred Noa has, until today, been a grievous gap in my knoweldge of Weimar cinema. Thanks.

    Re: Darlcea. Noa may have been more interested in male flesh. The 10 minute clip at the top of my Youtube search reveals a more than passing interest in the well-muscled male body. I always thought people in Germany in 1923 were starving, but Noa seems to have recruited dozens of bodybuilders for the epic chariot race.

    He was Joe May’s son-in-law and died aged 37, right at the beginning of sound.

  2. Yes, it’s fascinating to ponder what his Hollywood career might have been like — because, being Jewish, he very probably would have headed west a few years later.

    Several of the lead actors are spectacularly muscled, in a way that’s unusual outside of Maciste films at this time — but no doubt Italian epics featured among Noa’s influences.

  3. Manfred Noa’s best-known film now, because of its historical significance (and I’m guessing it’s also one of the few that’s survived in some form), is “Nathan der Weise,” based on Lessing’s philo-semitic play. The play was not popular with the Nazis, of course, and I believe the film was suppressed shortly after its release in the early 20s. Starring future Jud Süss Jew-for-hire Werner Krauss! The “mysterious” Max Schreck is in it too. I haven’t seen it, but it’s available from Edition Filmmuseum.

  4. Nathan Der Weiss was suppressed DURING its first release, I think. It’s huge and impressively designed, but surprisingly Helena works better on the story/human level. Of course it’s a good story.

  5. revelator60 Says:

    Thanks very much for bringing this forgotten film to our attention. Homer has not been especially well-served by the cinema–the last memorable film I saw on the Trojan War was actually based on Euripides. That would be Michael Cacoyannis’s adaptation of “The Trojan Women.” Not a great film, but a great cast, with Irene Papas as a fiercely proud and wily Helen.

    Petersen’s misguided Troy was victim of a stupid reluctance to let myths be mythic, the same tendency that was behind the equally wretched King Arthur film released the same year. Applying Hollywood-style”realism” to such material is the sort of gimmick beloved by unimaginative filmmakers.

  6. I think I would be very nervous of filming the Greek gods if I had only Clash of the Titans as a recent example. But the Olympians in Jason and the Argonauts are quite good, perhaps because Niall MacGinnis underplays so beautifully and is so anti-typecast.
    But now I’ve seen Noa’s treatment of the divinities, I feel like I could handle Zeus & co with confidence! Now I just need a project that allows it.

  7. david wingrove Says:

    Was Edy Darclea by any chance related to Hariclea Darclea (or Darclee) the legendary Romanian opera diva who created the role of Tosca? She certainly looks as if she could have been!

  8. A good source of info here http://filmstarpostcards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/edy-darclea.html
    but “The film was her swan song. Nothing more is known about Edy Darclea, not even the date and place of her death.” But as it wasn’t her birth name, it’s unlikely she was related, more likely a fan.

  9. The google translation of the German seems spot-on to me. My French is less good, but “conjurer” sounds a lot like “conjure”…

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