Crooked

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Production design sketches from WAXWORKS (1924) by Paul Leni. Scanned from the same book I got the ALGOL ones from. I have forgotten the name of the book but it had the worl “Architecture” in the title. I guess “Panoptikum” is a German variation on “Panopticon” — meaning a room designed to offer a clear total view from every position. Panoptica were popular as theatres and prisons in the Victorian era — Glasgow has a Panopticon, the theatre where Stan Laurel made his stage debut.

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Gaslight! From the Jack the Ripper episode. Here the Ripper, played by Werner “Caligari” Krauss in the film with spooky, soundless tread. I know it’s a silent film and everybody has a soundless tread, but Krauss’s is more soundless than the rest, calling to mind Victorian theories that Jack wore those new-fangled rubber-soled shoes to silently stalk his prey. Perhaps it’s because he’s a transparent double exposure. But here he looks like a muppet.

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More of the same. Gas lamps seem ideally suited to the acute scissoring angles of expressionist design.

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I kind of wish the movie were livelier — you can tell Leni was a production designer first, because he’s not so interested in narrative momentum, except as a pretext for moving on to the next set when he’s finished glorying in the present one. But the designs are so wondrous — particularly the Haroun Al-Raschid section with Emil Jannings — that one forgets about plot and just floats into the trippy environments, feeling rather like a double exposure oneself.

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8 Responses to “Crooked”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    It’s too bad the JR episode (the last) is the shortest–5 or 6 minutes of undistilled German Expressionism (I used to use it in classes to illustrate the concept). Also noteworthy for a William Dieterle performance.

    Leni’s Hollywood films moved at a pace we’re more accustomed to, and Laemmle lavished lots of moolah on them.

  2. Yes, and they’re strictly one-dimensional plot-engines, except for the splendid The Man Who Laughs, which I adore. Leni at Fox can be credited with setting up the model of laughs-scares which James Whale latched onto, but Whale brought his own brand of perverse humour which elevates his films.

  3. Danny Carr Says:

    I think the book is FILM ARCHITECTURE, edited by Dietrich Neumann. I am sad that it’s going for £141 new. I spilled an entire cup of coffee over mine the day I bought it and it’s now a crumpled coffee-coloured mess with half the pages stuck together. Sob.

  4. That’s the one! I suggest you steal it from the University Library oversized books section.

  5. Danny Carr Says:

    Tempting! I remember wrestling with the my conscience once when I discovered a book I’d borrowed from the Central Library was worth over £500 and had never been taken out by anybody else.

  6. Oh Jeez, my conscience would be pounding its fist on the mat in seconds.

  7. Wow, those drawings are wonderful. I still haven’t seen Leni’s THE LAST WARNING. I apparently like THE CAT AND THE CANARY a lot more than you do, but no doubt THE MAN WHO LAUGHS was his masterpiece. The character in WAXWORKS is called Spring-Heeled Jack, by the way, but is that just another name for Jack the Ripper?

  8. Not quite, although the two were often conflated. SHJ was an early 19th century character who terrorized the populace, breathing fire and leaping over rooftops. Best guess is he was a case of mass hysteria.

    Jack the Ripper was all too real, or at least the murders were.

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