The Sunday Intertitle: Gothick

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DIE AHNFRAU — translated awkwardly as “The Ancestress” — is a 1919 Gothic melodrama by Luise and Jacob Fleck, made in Austria. It has a crumbling castle, a crumbling lord, an eligible daughter, a long-lost son, a wandering troubadour, a bandit chief, a family curse and the titular wraith (three of the aforementioned are actually the same character, but I won’t say who).

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This is one of the windiest silents I’ve ever seen, and that includes THE WIND. Every time the principles venture outdoors they are hilariously buffeted by howling gales. This has the positive effect of providing a naturalistic alibi for the cast’s rhetorical flourishes: presumably they have to use hand gestures to make themselves understood over the roaring hurricane.

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Some nice ghosting from Liane Haid.

The restoration is a touch bitty, which leaves this blogger with lingering questions. After a brief series of introductory shots setting up the dramatis personae with titles attaching cast names to characters, we cut straight to the chubby phantom, waving her limbs in that phantasmal way she has. Then the aging patriarch wakes up in a lather. If this were a modern film, I would have no trouble interpreting what I just saw, but it took me a second to process the fact that a film of this age apparently began in a dream sequence, only revealing itself to be such when the dreamer awakened. This would be revolutionary for the period, so long as it isn’t simply the result of missing or misarranged footage…

Later, Haid recounts an adventure in which she was rescued from abductors by the strolling musician, and the film chooses to present an illustrative flashback without any introduction. The jarring time-leap was momentarily confusing to me, which makes me think it must have blown their minds in 1919. It looks exactly like the projectionist has loaded the wrong reel. Again, are we sure this was the original arrangement, or has the movie become more avant-garde due to a dropped shot?

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“Illusion from Hell. You are not my Berta, everything in vain, I will not let you!” So says the fan-subtitle.

Elsewhere, Wiener Kunstfilm (no sniggering) has slapped an ungainly, mismatched freeze-frame on the end of the movie to compensate for an abrupt finish, so my faith in the presentation isn’t total (it looks to be a product of a sixties restoration), but if the pieces are in the right order, the Flecks can be credited with advancing film narration in fascinating ways. The story of this Regieehepaar (directing-couple) is a fascinating one, from what I can piece together from the IMDB: they made films into the thirties, Jacob survived internment in Buchenwald and Dachau, got released somehow thanks to William Dieterle, and the pair made one film in China in 1941, China’s only collaboration with western filmmakers before the revolution.

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3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Gothick”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Idea for a fiction: A long-lost artist returns (from the grave or an earthly self-exile) and finds he’s celebrated as a genius … based on wildly inaccurate restorations / translations / reconstructions of his work. Can he correct his legacy? Would he? Should he?

  2. Do you know Kafka’s Dick? Alan Bennett restores the author to life in this play, and he’s horrified to discover that not only did Max Brod not carry out his instructions, he’s become famous and is now a word in the dictionary.

    But yes — does Alexander Nevsky really have a freeze-frame ending, ahead of The Four Hundred Blows, or did the Russians add that much later?

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Maybe all the good ideas ARE taken. A while ago I was intrigued by the old fad for hermitages with professional hermits on great estates, and it turned out Tom Stoppard got there already (and I’m wondering if he was the first).

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