Archive for April 12, 2020

The Easter Sunday Intertitle: The Mill at World’s End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 12, 2020 by dcairns

This is the magnificent but slightly baffling opening sequence of Karl Grune’s AM RANDE DER WELT (AT THE END OF THE WORLD, 1927). Grune is a somewhat obscure German silent director — are ANY of his films commercially available? DIE STRASSE is known mainly for one atmospheric still photograph.

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Really incredible sets — but few of them — the film takes place entirely in and around a windmill standing on the border between one fictional, unnamed country that looks exactly like Germany, and another fictional, unnamed country that looks exactly like Germany. Everything is lovely except for the enemy spy in the midst of ou miller family, and then — war comes!

The film stars Brigitte Helm, in Good Maria mode, sadly, and the Iron Stove himself, Wilhelm Dieterle, later a terrific Hollywood director, here a lumbering German actor, with sculpted features and an over-stuffed torso. Most of the principal cast spend the entire film dusted in flour, a fashion choice that should be adopted more widely. It makes them interesting. You can’t look away from any performance that’s being delivered through a chalky coating. Try it and see.

This should be a gripping little thriller — Grune has the unchained camera on his side — but everything is a bit ponderous and would-be-allegorical. It doubtless plays better on the big screen.

Everything is splendidly designed, except maybe intertitles, which I suspect are modern replacements, and the bucket-headed military uniforms, Hugo Boss was unavailable. But when a hand knocks on a door, the elaborate wooden panelling has been crafted to create the impression of sound waves radiating out.

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Elsewhere, stacks of flour sacks create threatening shapes, and the colossal cogwheels slowly grind overhead in a suitably menacing way.

The man responsible for both sets and costumes was Robert Neppach, previously unknown to me. His movie career ended with the rise of Nazism and he escaped to Switzerland.

When one of the good guys escapes disguised as a soldier, he appears to greet another uniformed man with a Hitlerian salute.

And, wearing a big daft nappy, DEATH bestrides the land.

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