Archive for Homunculus

The Project Fear Intertitles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 27, 2019 by dcairns

“The tenacity of Hansen has borne fruit. A heartbeat, a cry, the homunculus is born!”

From HOMUNCULUS (1916). HOMUNCULUS, which deals with a man without a soul, created by chemistry, is a strange film, and time has treated it… strangely. Asides from the chunks which remain missing, there are passages in which film decay and tinting and toning appear to have interacted willy-nilly to produce psychedelic solarisation effects unknown to both the Kubrick of 2001 and the Jack Cardiff of GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE. While clearly not what Otto Rippert likely had in mind, these unintended effects are certainly beautiful:

I would like to wander through these chrono-chromatic effulgences, so long as I could do it without, you know, getting any on me. I’m not sure it washes off.

Some of the original colour effects do survive, at least in part, and are stunning:

My blog-voodoo spell may have worked — it seems as if Boris Johnson’s dark pledge to effect Brexit by Halloween, via a magickal ritual known as the Westminster Working, has been thwarted. You’re welcome. But we must see this thing through to the end. Project Fear will continue to celebrate the dark side of European filmmaking — which still includes Britain — for one week.

“Take me… to her!” Here’s Faust in Murnau’s FAUST responding appropriately to a sexy vision.

“Your wife has a lovely neck.” NOSFERATU gets frisky. Have European horror films always been sexier than American ones? I want to say YES. Hammer would be a prime example — lustier than the Corman equivalents, though Hazel Court in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH does not lack in what Billy Wilder called “flesh-impact.”

And finally, Contrad Veidt in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS reacts to the sight of his beloved dog, which has the most problematic name of any screen canine outside of DAMBUSTERS.

The Sunday Intertitle: A Not-So-Modern Prometheus

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 25, 2015 by dcairns

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The once-lost German serial HOMUNCULUS (1916) is slowly becoming less lost — an authentic full restoration may never be possible, but we’re promised we’re going to be able to see the whole story in approximately the right order, one day.

I’ve been looking at the surviving fragments. Otto Rippert directed — I never saw anything else from his prolific silent career. But the writer is Robert Reinert, later director of the hysterical, psychotronic OPIUM and NERVEN, so that cued me to expect drama at a fairly high pitch, and I was not disappointed.

Hanns Heinz Ewers had already published his perverse novel of artificial life, Alraune (later filmed thrice) at this point, and of course there was Frankenstein as a role model. I was immediately struck, though, by an odd, and most certainly coincidental connection with THE OMEN.

The truncated episode one begins with two births, one natural and one unnatural. Scientists place a glass sphere inside a special curvy cabinet, and after an undetermined period of gestation, pull out a wriggling baby. That’s the unnatural birth. I presume I don’t have to explain the processes involved in kickstarting the natural one.

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Death! Dead the baby of love, while the science one lives. My Italian is excellent. Self-taught.

There’s a fuddy-duddy scientist who gesticulates a lot — since this section of the film is available only with Italian intertitles, this seems kind of appropriate. This guy strongly disapproves of artificial babies. But then the child born to his household dies in its cot, and he abandons his scruples, switching the corpslet with the thriving-but-unnatural kid from down the block. The stage is set for tragedy — and for Gregory Peck to do something similar in Rome, sixty years later. Obviously, this isn’t going to end well. Or soon. (the full serial is six hours.)

The creation of life is notably undramatic compared to similar operations in METROPOLIS and FRANKENSTEIN (even the Edison version of 1910), but the weird equipment is impressive, and since it has no moving parts and no recognized scientific principle seems to be involved, it hasn’t dated at all. I believe it.

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Carl Hoffmann’s cinematography is astounding. We’re still in tableaux mode, largely, but the lighting! Hoffmann’s later career includes major collaborations with Murnau and Lang, but he’s clearly a great artist already.

Der Sonntag Zwischen-Titel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by dcairns

“I destroyed a genuine one!” or something…

I was recently telling someone that maybe Italian intertitles are the prettiest, which I’d stand by, but there’s no doubting that the Germans knew what they were up to with cine-typography. This is from HOMUNCULUS, or one episode of it, an influential expressionist serial which survives only in fragments. Typically, the Italians go for beauty at any price, and the Germans go for brute functionality. But both express an underlying IDEA.

Bought this in a fit of madness from a bootleg DVD salesman in Union Square. He did warn me that it was untranslated, and my brain warned me that I don’t speak German, but it was too cheap not to buy.

Olaf Fønss – he’s homuncular and avuncular!

It was all worthwhile since I also got from the same source a copy of a super-rarity illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies — Lawrence Huntington’s THE VULTURE, with Oscar Homolka mutating into the titular scavenger. So that’s well worthwhile. Gifford has the film down as a William Castle movie, which seems to be one of his rare-ish factual errors, but I’m psyched to see anything somebody would mistake for a Castle flick. Might be better than a real Castle flick!