Otto weekend has spilled out into the week and looks like swamping it altogether! What is it with Shadowplay and these unpleasant Viennese? First Fritz Lang (above) rampages through here (mentally, I picture him gallumphing in one of those party costumes where it’s supposed to look like you’re riding an ostrich— he attempts to maintain dignity by wielding his riding crop with Prussian savagery) all through Nibelungen Week. Now it’s the turn of Otto P, another exponent of the Mad Kraut school of direction.
Both, of course, are very considerable film genius types.
(Thanks to Scott Marks’ “KPBS Film Club of the Air” for the memorable image.)
To inaugurate Otto Phase Two, I’ll start with a little anecdote from Bambi Versus Godzilla, a collection of essays by professional word-carpenter and deceased liberal David Mamet. D.M. was approached by Otto “The Man With the Foam-rubber Cummerbund” Preminger for some abortive project or other, and in the process, and anecdote passed from one brain to the other.
OP: “When I voss makink EXODUS,” (okay, enough with the accent) “I needed a crowd of ten thousand people, to celebrate the founding of Israel. And I couldn’t afford to pay them.”
“What did you do?” asked the young playwright.
“I charged them.”
Ads were taken out: “Be in a movie! Only five dollars!”
This is the peculiar kind of genius that has often caused Otto to be dismissed as a huckster rather than an artist. While holding in one’s mind the idea of Otto as a major artist (along with the image of him in foam-rubber belt and Fritz Lang in ostrich costume), I suggest we also make space for the crafty showman aspect of his personality, a major feature of the OP persona and an influence on the films he made — in the same way that Kubrick’s work was influenced by his desire to emulate the success of the biggest box office hits of all time — BARRY LYNDON/GONE WITH THE WIND (check out the identical death of the firstborn), THE SHINING/THE EXORCIST, AI/ET. The intent may sometimes have had to do with vulgar commercialism, but art got in the way.