The Sunday Intertitle: Wax, Lyrical

The new restoration of WAXWORKS, out soon from Flicker Alley (US) and Masters of Cinema (UK), was screened in the online Il Cinema Ritrovato and looks amazing. You could step onto Paul Leni’s sets (and get promptly ejected) or stroke Ivan the Terrible’s beard (hard to say how he’d react, but you’d be taking you life in your hands). Fiona plonked herself ten-year-old fashion on the floorboards smack in front of our TV to soak up the expressionism at close range. You’ll ruin your eyes!

As a “Case Study” discussion hosted at the fest made clear, the German negative is lost, the original intertitles along with it, and the censor’s file, which usually contains records of what every title card says, came up empty. Drafts of the script survive, but differ significantly from the movie so don’t serve as a reliable guide. So we’re still dealing with the English-language intertitles in which, for what I suspect are censorship reasons, Jack the Ripper is incorrectly described as Spring-Heeled Jack. The Ripper murders were within living memory, and very unpleasant: SHJ seems not to have done any serious harm, just scared the crap out of people, and although he had been reported active as late as 1904, by 1924 there was probably less belief in him. His MO resembles that of the Men in Black in that it consists of unaccountable behaviour designed mainly, it would seem, to make an impression. He definitely DESERVES a waxwork, but Werner Krauss isn’t it.

We also learned from the discussion about the mysterious fourth figure: Rinaldo Rinaldi (third from the left — the figures are arranged in order of intended appearance). To my amazement he’s apparently played by the film’s leading man, William Dieterle, the Iron Stove himself, who acts as protag in each of the film’s embedded narratives. RR was a celebrated Italian bandit, and his story was to have been about him rescuing a kidnapped girl (hearts of gold, those bandits). But the money could not be raised and the sequence was never shot. A shortage of cash (post-WWI German mega-inflation) may also be the reasons Krauss’s Ripper sequence wound up so short. Though the version screened at the premiere seems to have been a good bit longer, the cuts don’t seem to have come from this section.

But as I say, though the vicissitudes of history prevent this original version from being reconstructed, what we get from the Deutsche Kinemathek and Cineteca di Bologna restoration is a far sharper and shinier vision, layers of accrued muck swept away so the movie greet us with startling immediacy.

2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Wax, Lyrical”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    Indeed. For an incomplete version of an unfinished film, it’s quite the thing.

  2. History is full of compendium films that got truncated (Tales of Manhattan, Flesh and Fantasy) but usually you can’t tell. Just Leni’s luck that he established his deleted character in the Waxworks display itself.

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