Archive for Paul Wegener

The Sunday Intertitle: A Collaborative Medium

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2019 by dcairns

Rabbi Loewe is a collaborative medium, summoning the demon Astaroth in DER GOLEM.

Masters of Cinema is releasing Paul Wegener’s epic about a great man with feet of clay, and I’ve done a video essay with Fiona for it, our first real collaboration of this kind. She read the narration of my DIARY OF A LOST GIRL piece but this time she’s co-writer and we read the VO in turn. Her researches turned up a crucial, forgotten female collaborator on the film.

Incidentally, the film is restored from the long-lost negative, and looks much, MUCH better than the YouTubey frame-grabs I’ve been forced to use here.

The movie is also going to be playing UK cinemas around Halloween, so don’t be surprised if it gets another Sunday Intertitle during Project Fear, our Euro-horror blogathon. The Blu-ray streets on November 18.

This was actually my second collaboration of this kind: Masters of Cinema are also releasing King Hu’s taut and exciting THE FATE OF LEE KHAN, and I co-wrote a video essay with the sublime Anne Billson for that one. Released on October 21st and available for pre-order.

Just a week later, on October 28th, FOX AT FULLER hits the shops, again with a video essay by me. This time I got Samantha Fuller to read her father’s words, which she does magnificently, so I seem to be sharing VO duties a lot recently. I’m reminded of the late Leonard Cohen’s observation on the effect of a female backing singer accompanying his voice: “Some dismal quality is neutralised.”

Jon Robertson produced all three discs, Stephen Horne video edited the essays on THE GOLEM and THE FATE OF LEE KHAN, and Timo Langer edited FULLER AT FOX.

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The Sunday Intertitle: “Eeeeeeeee–oooo”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by dcairns

Eeeeeeeeeee–oooooooo! ‘Tis the cry of the abominable arcti Paul Wegener in THE STRANGE CASE OF CAPTAIN RAMPER (RAMPER – DER TIERMENSCH aka RAMPER – THE BEASTMAN), and where has this movie been all my life? Daredevil pilot Ramper (Wegener) kisses his dear mother goodbye and promptly crashes his plane in the arctic wastes. Lost in the snows for years, he informs his expiring co-pilot of his intention to KILL HIS BRAIN to prevent himself suffering from loneliness. He becomes a beast — a shaggy, yodeling yeti. Finally captured by the crew of an ice-bound ship (who include Max Schreck among their number, violating the nautical rule about it being unlucky to sail on a ship that has Max fucking Schreck on it), he is brought back to civilisation as a sideshow exhibit, billed as “Teddy, the man-ape”. It could happen to you!

The version of the film I saw is in ragged shape, apparently telecined handheld, with jaunty English-language intertitles and scenes missing. But director Max Reichmann, who was new to me, does wonders with suspense and atmosphere, and Wegener is pretty effective as the hirsute hero. “Teddy” hasn’t actually transmogrified, apart from growing lots of facial hair, and nobody thinks to take off his fur coat, so the world is convinced he’s a “missing link,” or “found link” I suppose we would have to call him.

Another odd thing: between performances, Teddy is kept in a crate, lying prone, vampire-fashion, his fur and whiskers expanding to fill the whole box like styrofoam packing. It’s an odd manner of storage for a sideshow exhibit, although I guess Cesar the somnambulist never complained, but he wouldn’t, would he? There’s no particular historical justification for keeping apes in crates, but interestingly yetis sometimes are: one thinks of that episode of CREEPSHOW…

But can even a world-famous specialist in mental diseases cure a very hairy Paul Wegener who has deliberately KILLED HIS OWN BRAIN? Can you perform artificial resuscitation on a brain? Or maybe you can defibrillate it? Isn’t that what ECT is? Yes, I’m almost positive that’s right. In fact, we meet Professor Barbarzin, clad in all-over rubber insulated gimp gear, pulling the world’s biggest knife switch – Henry Frankenstein would plotz – and performing some strange electromagnetic healing ritual on a slabbed loon.

 

Teddy’s keeper is reluctant to allow treatment: if Teddy is cured, he goes from being a highly profitable beastman to some worthless schlub in a fur coat, a spectacle unlikely to pull a crowd, whatever Flanagan and Allen can prove to the contrary. Still, like all Central European empresarios trafficking in human misery, he has a heart of gold really, and consents readily after being threatened with a slavery charge.

Electrogalvanic brain therapy follows, and reason is restored, but maybe only halfway? Soon, Teddy/Ramper is breaking free from the Barbarzin Institute with the aid of a table leg and standing outside his mother’s door, pleading for admission, unable to understand that fifteen years have passed since he flew off into oblivion and I guess the old lady’s dead. Pretty strong pathos from Paul: he’s not just a golem, he can play other kinds of lumbering halfwits too. I fear I’m not conveying how moving this scene is.

Shown around town by a couple of drunken swells, the more Ramper sees of modern life, the more nostalgia he feels for his desolate glacier. Tragically, the copy in my possession cuts out in advance of the conclusion described in Mordaunt Hall’s contemporary review: somebody seems to have felt that truncating the movie so that it ends with Ramper being discovered in the drunk tank the next morning would serve as a sufficiently happy ending. Which says something about that anonymous somebody.

I would heartily recommend this film to lovers of polar ice, man-beasts, circuses, big Germans, mad science and yetis. Which ought to cover everybody.

Mordaunt Hall, something of a glacial imbecile himself, wrote: “Mr. Wagener’s acting is probably good, but much of the time one can only see his eyes. Mary Johnson supplies the childish beauty, but that’s about all. This picture was directed by Max Reichmann from a story by Curt J. Braun. The stage features include the Sixteen Roxyettes, dancers, and “Peer Gynt Suite.” The Movietone gives part of President Coolidge’s Gettysburg address.”

 

 

 

Have you seen my Buddhas?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2016 by dcairns

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I got the book Paul Wegener by Heide Schönemann out the Univeristy Library because it has lovely pictures, though the text is in German and this a closed book to me, even when it’s open.

Particularly striking were the stills from LEBENDE BUDDHAS (1925), aka LIVING BUDDHAS, co-written, directed and starring the GOLEM icon himself. Here’s one which reminds me of BLACK NARCISSUS ~

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I decided to see what I could find out about this orientalist super-epic — maybe even see the film itself. Unfortunately, the first thing I come across on the IMDb is a review by the late F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, usually a sure sign that a film has not survived the ravages of time. Sure enough, for once “Froggy” admits as much early on ~

‘Living Buddhas’ is officially ‘lost’ (who gets to make these decisions, anyway?), but about five and one-half minutes of footage survive in the possession of film collector Henry Nicholella, to whom my thanks for arranging their recent transmission on German television. The surviving fragments (on which this review is based) are non-consecutive, thus making a weird story seem even more confusing. Yet these few minutes contain some fascinating visual compositions which make me want to track down any more of this movie that might possibly exist.

A number of striking points in this open paragraph. Froggy actually gives plausible-sounding details about how he was able to see PART of this missing movie. And in fact, Henry Nicholella is a real person, author of Many Selves: The Horror and Fantasy Films of Paul Wegener. But I still have doubts: it’s possible Nicholella has discovered five and a half minutes of the lost film, and that he allowed German TV to screen them, and that Froggy somehow saw this transmission or a recording of it. But it’s also striking that all the images Froggy describes can be found in Schönemann’s book in the form of production stills, and these almost certainly also appear in Nicholella’s study.

Also of note here is the partial justification Froggy gives for his lifetime project of cramming the IMDb full of fake reviews for movies he can’t possibly have seen: “Who gets to make these decisions anyway?” He’s in rebellion against the experts (like Michael Gove). How dare anyone presume to know more than him? In a way, he’s right: Serge Bromberg’s rejection of the word “lost” is more nuanced — these films haven’t been found YET, but we shouldn’t presume their condition is permanent, since that cuts down on our chances of finding them.

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Froggy goes on ~

An expedition of European scientists to a Tibetan lamasery is led by Professor Campbel (who spells his name with only one ‘L’, possibly because he’s searching for the one-L lama). The rules for such movie expeditions require that he bring along his nubile young daughter; apparently lacking a daughter, he brings along his nubile young wife instead. He crosses paths with the High Lama (Paul Wegener) who is in the middle of conducting some hideous insidious invidious rituals which require the sacrifice of a nubile young female. Shall we say that complications ensue?

As depicted here (in the surviving footage and some intertitles), Wegener’s High Lama and his acolytes are endowed with genuine supernatural powers. (In the early twentieth century, there seemed to be a western vogue for attributing all sorts of supernatural abilities to Tibetan priests; thus we have James Hilton’s ‘Lost Horizon’ and several American comic-book superheroes who got their powers in Tibet. There’s also Tintin’s levitating lama. And did someone mention ‘The Champions’?) In the footage seen here, I was impressed by a sequence in which one of the lamas (not Wegener) sends his soul out of his own body. While he meditates in a semi-lotus position, a double exposure of the same actor ascends through his head (in Buddhism, the most sacred portion of the body) and passes upwards into a levitating halo. The effect is reversed when the lama’s spirit returns.

Froggy was a pretty witty writer at times. My favourite of his bot mots was the title for a review of another lost Paul Wegener movie, THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL: “Her muddy buddy is no fuddy-duddy.” Sadly, the IMDb got wise to that one and deleted it. I kind of don’t want Froggy’s life’s work to get dustbinned.

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Elsewhere, we see a tight close-up of Wegener’s face as he bends forward, extending his broad forehead towards the camera. A separate image is superimposed on his forehead, showing the Campbel expedition while the High Lama spies on them via the psychic faculty of ‘remote vision’.

I don’t have a still of this but I suspect Nicholella does. The next one is represented ~

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I was extremely impressed by another shot of a steamship at sea, in an empty ocean with no visible land. Suddenly, from behind the horizon, a gigantic image of Wegener’s Lama rears up and surveys the ship. Genuinely eerie, this … and made all the more effective because of Wegener’s sardonic expression and facial structure. Wegener had very prominent cheekbones, which made him well-suited to playing ‘alien’ characters from exotic foreign climes. I’ve seen colour film footage of Wegener from the mid-1930s; he had very bright green eyes, which photographed very well in the nitrate film stock of the 1920s: the blue in Wegener’s pupils drops out, making his eyes seem yellow and cat-like even in monochrome stock. Wegener was a very stolid actor, of limited expression (making him just right to play the Golem) but with that face he didn’t need a wide range of emotions.

Also seen all too briefly in these fragments is the ethereal Asta Nielsen, one of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear in films. There are also some impressive exterior shots of crowd scenes in Chinoiserie sets. The German actors in Chinese make-up look more authentic than one might expect, not remotely like the usual ‘Mister Wu, how do you do?’ Sellotape stereotype.

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Froggy rounds things off with a confirmation of his high level of integrity as a reviewer ~

I very seldom give ratings to films which I’ve seen only in incomplete versions … but, based on the very tantalising glimpses which I’ve seen here, ‘Living Buddhas’ is a brilliant film which deserves to be resurrected in its entirety. I’ll cautiously rate it 8 out of 10.

Good thing he’s cautious. We might not trust him otherwise.