Plagiarism Corner

“However, the Golem sets are far removed from the Caligari designs. The houses with their stiff, very tall, very narrow gables recall authentic medieval buildings; the design is a barely abstract interpretation of an unsanitary and overpopulated ghetto. In addition, and this is another contrast in expressionist films, a formal correlation exists between the sets and the costumes. Here the high gables parallel the Jews’ pointed hats.”

I really love Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design by Leon Barsacq, quoted above. It’s one of the first proper film books I owened, along with Brownlow’s Hollywood: The Pioneers. I sold both books at some point, then bought replacements because I felt I needed to own them.

So I was kind of scandalized when, researching DER GOLEM for a forthcoming piece, I stumbled upon the following passage in Lotte Eisner’s earlier The Haunted Screen ~

“This explains why the sets of The Golem are far removed from those of Caligari. The original Gothic forms are still somehow latent in these houses with their steeply-pitched thatched roofs. Their angular, oblique outlines, their teetering bulk, their hollowed steps, seem the none too unreal image of a distressingly insanitary and overpopulated ghetto where people actually live. The narrow gables are somehow echoed in the pointed hats and wind-blown goatees of the Jews, the excited fluttering of their hands, their raised arms clutching at the empty yet restricted space.”

Both works are translated: Roger Greaves did Eisner’s English-language version, Barsacq (a talented production designer) was translated by Michael Bullock and his book revised and edited by Elliott Stein. I strongly suspect that if you go back to the French editions, the phrases “a barely abstract interpretation of” and “the none too unreal image of ” will come out identical, proving not only that Eisner is a better writer than Barsacq, but that her translator is better than his translator.

It was the bit about the beards that made me realize I’d read these thoughts before. It’s a bit tenous, the beard argument, not one of Lotte’s finest.

Oh well, maybe this is becoming an OCCASIONAL SERIES, since I already gave Bogdanovich crap for recycling another journalist’s interview with Leo McCarey. If I reread all my favourite film books will I find a pilfered passage in each? How disillusioned can you get?

6 Responses to “Plagiarism Corner”

  1. Speaking of Elliott Stein, here’s something I wrote a while back about Becker’s ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE:


    “ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE was ostensibly about a lost lottery ticket but in fact this served as little more than a pretext for Becker to give a sympathetic portrayal of the film’s working-class milieu and the young couple of the title, played by Roger Pigaut and Claire Maffei.” – Roy Armes, FRENCH CINEMA SINCE 1946 (1966)

    “Though ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE involves a search for a lost lottery ticket, the plot is no more than an excuse for an affectionate study of the misunderstandings, quarrels, and reconciliations of the young couple of the title, and the everyday details of their lives in a working-class suburb.” – Konstantin Bazarov, WORLD FILM DIRECTORS (1987)

    “ANTOINE ET ANTOINETTE has a plot of sorts concerning a lost lottery ticket, but Becker’s main interest in this beguiling romantic comedy is the neighborly bonds of everyday life in a working-class Paris suburb.” – Elliott Stein, Village Voice (2002)


    Think these commentators were reading each other? Stein even reproduced Bazarov’s error about the film being set in a suburb. And the film sounds more fluffy and romantic with each repetition.

  2. Wow, it certainly looks like it! Double plagiarism!

    Now I’m wondering if we can somehow shift the blame from Barsacq onto his translator. But that doesn’t sound too plausible…

  3. Even when it isn’t as obvious as in these cases, writers on film history surely rely on other sources continuously. No one has a good enough memory to be the historian that readers and editors expect.

  4. Yes, and usually it isn’t the prose that tips you off, it’s the repetition of other writers’ mistakes…

  5. This is very fishy indeed.

    What does Barsacq mean when he says that the formal correlation between the hats and the tall steeples renders The Golem’s design in opposition to expressionism? isn’t a unified design style essential for expressionism in the broadest sense of the term? Wouldn’t a lack of formal correlation be more in contrast to expressionism?

  6. I think there’s confusion, created by me, in the edit: the words “This explains” in Barsacq refer to something in his previous paragraph. The hats/gables resemblance is not being cited to prove the film isn’t expressionistic, at least I don’t think it is.

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