On the street where I live…

What beautiful thing is this? Only Karl Grune’s dizzying DIE STRASSE, the subject of this week’s edition of The Forgotten, available now at The Daily Notebook.

Maybe after I’ve watched every film illustrated in Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, it’ll be time to start on Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler? A daunting task, despite the smaller number of illos…

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16 Responses to “On the street where I live…”

  1. By a nice coincidence, NYC’s Museum of Modern Art will be showing this as part of a massive Weimar Cinema retro running through March of next year. (Friday night will be Hitchcock’s debut, “The Pleasure Garden,” which I honestly kind of thought was a lost film until I read it in the schedule a couple days ago.)

  2. Hitchcock’s second German co-production, The Mountain Eagle, is the lost one. You can find reviews of both films (!) in the early weeks of last year’s entries here at Shadowplay.

    It’s not entirely a coincidence: I was pointed to the retro and asked if there was anything there I could write about. And then I discovered a source for Die Strasse.

  3. Whoops – that’s what I get for not clicking over to check out the entry first.

  4. Kracauer’s FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER was the first theory book on film I read in entirety and it’s well written despite the fact that I don’t agree entirely on the sociological as opposed to aesthetic approach to film. Lang famously put that book down for accusing an entire generation for bearing the message of bad news that came soon enough but it’s actually fair enough especially on Lang’s final sound films which rejected his expressionist beginnings. It’s not very sharp on Murnau though who made the masterpiece of German Expressionism with Faust and whose(mostly shot on location) Nosferatu is the poster-film of that movement, moreso than Caligari.

    Scorsese’s Shutter Island is an ode to German Expressionism and the film-makers who were influenced by it, like Bergman, Hitchcock, Powell.

  5. david wingrove Says:

    Congratulations, Arthur S! You’ve convinced me.

    I’ve loathed all of Scorsese’s recent films (everything after THE AGE OF INNOCENCE) but it looks as if I’ll finally have to see SHUTTER ISLAND.

  6. The major thesis of From Caligari to Hitler, as I’ve seen it summarized, sounds like the dumbest idea a smart guy ever came up with, and he was simply factually wrong (misinformed by Han Janowitz) about the genesis of “Caligari” itself.

    Which is to say, I haven’t read the book. It’s probably better than I’m assuming. But the classic book on the subject whose stills gave me the big yearning was Lotte Eisner’s “The Haunted Screen.” Especially the stills for lost films, of course (even when Eisner says that the film was lousy), and the ones that are compellingly murky and full of the Stimmung because no good print was available. Arguably Eisner’s view of German film of the period was as narrow as Kracauer’s, but she had a wonderful eye and was perhaps less prudish than he was.

  7. That all feels quite astute to me.

    You know, it might be the Eisner book I saw that still in… both books are in the college library, so now I’ll have to check. Feel bad about not owning my own copies, but then, I need the space for movies!

  8. Scorsese has always been an expressionist but he’s always grounded it in reality, the same way that a film like AMOLAD is based on a true story of a pilot surviving a crash with strange visions and SHUTTER ISLAND is the anti-AMOLAD to a great degree, the inverse symmetrical response to that film’s hope of a bright future after the war. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE(where again a lighthouse is a key image) is also highly expressionist as is TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL(the fight scenes inspired by TALES OF HOFFMANN).

  9. …and Minnelli’s musical numbers.

    I think Scorsese’s an extreme example of a general truth: expressionism took over the world. Any time a filmmaker attempts to use sound and image to convey the emotion of a character rather than just present photographic reality, there’s some kind of connection to expressionism: any time we track in on a character thinking, that camera move has an expressionist effect.

    Ironically, the one Scorsese film to really exploit stylised sets is New York, New York, which uses them more to evoke a bygone era of cinema, which is then somewhat subverted by story and characters.

  10. And of course Murnau marries expressionism and realism. His last film TABU is shot on location with non-professionals and there’s expressionism in that movie and even NOSFERATU was mostly shot on real locations, then LAST LAUGH is Zola-esque naturalism which makes for hallucinatory realism. Tag Gallagher in his book has made a strong case for Rossellini being fairly expressionist too(the films which inspired him were Vidor’s THE CROWD and HALLELUJAH, hardly naturalist efforts and very German-influenced).

    The thing about SHUTTER ISLAND is that a lot of the “sets” of that film were done by CGI. The sets are literally illusionary and deceptive, unlike CALIGARI where its visibly weird and off-balance, this one has a semblance of realism in its design so all the more dangerous. The usage seems like a philosophy about CGI, I guess. Generally the more false the sets, the greater the realism brought in by the other elements(like Hitchcock using actual staff from the restaurant Ernie’s as extras in his exact set replica in VERTIGO) and vice versa. Jacques Demy was a great one for making real locations look like sets designed just for a musical number. So NY, NY has fairly naturalistic, if stylized performances and a honest portrait of relationships in an artificial world while THE KING OF COMEDY shot in 80s New York shows how reality is being challenged by a character who isn’t that far from the world of Expressionism, especially the final scene of SPIONE.

  11. Scorsese directed the premiere episode of BOARDWALK EMPIRE for HBO Television, which had its initial broadcast in September. I have yet to see it, but I do know that the primary set used for the film was built on the Jersey shore at measurable cost. A friend has watched the first few episodes, and tells me that it’s pretty violent. But hey, it is Scorsese we’re talking about here, a director who has never shied away from the depiction of such.

  12. I happen to have seen the pilot of that series which was directed by Scorsese and it is extremely violent for television(and rife with copious nudity of the Leone-OUTIA variety), it’s the B-Movie he hoped The Departed would be and the acting especially by Michael Pitt is very good. One thing about the pilot(I haven’t bothered with the other episodes) is that the soon-to-be-notorious real-life gangsters like Al Capone(shown here as he is nowhere else) are approached like college kids about to make their mark. The most beautiful scene of course is the hommage to Scarface, the death of Joe Colisemo as he listens to a Caruso record, recreating the death scene that inspired the first scene of the Hawks masterpiece.

  13. I was underwhelmed by THE DEPARTED, saw it once and have no real desire to see it again. Of all the films Scorsese has directed in the past twenty years this for me has to be the most forgettable (and I have in fact forgotten nearly all of it). But, as a fan of HBO and as someone who has diligently and thoroughly watched a number of their offerings (on DVD mind you, I’m reluctant to invest in anything the cable companies have hawked in the past decade), I will watch both the premiere episode and the rest of what BOARDWALK EMPIRE has to offer. I concur that HBO is The Future Of Television, the storytelling that this premium cable network has unfurled with its number of notable series is the only thing that distracts me from the classic films of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties (from France, Germany, Great Britain and my native USA) which are my primary focus.

  14. I recall Mackendrick saying that in something as fantastical as The Ladykillers, any injection of unmodulated reality could be fatal. I kept that in mind while making Cry for Bobo, but the thing to guard against is the sterility of pure fantasy. As Renoir said, always leave a door open on the set, to let life in.

    The Departed was somewhat spoiled for me by the ending, but putting that aside, it seems a little stronger on second viewing. But I can’t see it as a film Scorsese cared deeply about, and I have trouble seeing much of his recent work as products of passion. I think his film preservation work and movie documentaries show more of his obsessive drive. But I do always enjoy the films visually, he’s still incredibly inventive.

    Yes, got to see Boardwalk Empire, plus The Walking Dead — at least the pilots.

  15. The odd thing about THE DEPARTED is that it’s a film that has a makeshift quality to it and the film’s very absurd ending is part of that, a recreation of all those fake happy endings in old Hollywood movies. It holds up remarkably well on repeated viewings and is probably the most interesting look at the modern police system as a pool of frustrated careerism(while the gangsters are not very interesting at all in this film). The structure of informers each on the pay of respectively the FBI, the State Police and the city police and fighting each other is very evocative of post 9/11 paranoia which of course puts the weight in its pessimistic vision. It’s the closest Scorsese has come to an actual genre film of the old-school and for all his championing of that school, Scorsese isn’t part of it all and THE DEPARTED clearly shows that and it’s a very frustrated film. SHUTTER ISLAND on the other hand is more operatic and fevered and probably his best since GoNY and his most fully realized genre effort.

    The pilot of BOARDWALK EMPIRE feels like an appendix to GoNY(which was initially intended as at least a trilogy of films) and it’s about a corrupt politician who exploits the suffragette movement, backs prohibition and then deals with gangsters to supply illegal liquor. It’s very “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, Buscemi plays the part with intensity but Michael Pitt as a WWI vet turned gangster is the real standout, his features resemble a prettier James Cagney. My one problem with TV shows is that it offers very little stylistic variation, like this series looks like it will be a grim affair like SOPRANOS whereas the 30s gangster classics weren’t grim at all.

    You know that there’s going to be some introspective scenes, actors staring silently at some landscape or at a corner of wall or some isolated object, or you drop hints that might be developed later and the like.

  16. Jack Nicholson running amok, and the formulaic moments like Martin Sheen talking about his kids right before he gets killed really hurt Departed as a good genre piece. The more profane characters like Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are good value, and the furious pace is enjoyable, although it’s all cut-cut-cut… The attempts at political subtext seemed far from worked-through.

    I really need Scorsese to make something he really cares about, and soon! The talent is still there, but since Gangs he’s like a director for hire, and he was never that. I think there are other filmmakers who can do that better, or at least when they’re doing it you don’t feel they’re wasting themselves.

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