Sound of War (Part 3)

In “Stukas (1943, Germany)”, directed by Karl Ritter, dive bombers create shrieking, menacing noise, accentuating the furious velocity of attack. This unnerving noise is the sound of the infamous “Jericho Trumpet”, a wailing siren device mounted on the Junkers Ju 87 (“Stukas”). The historians said that purpose of this devilish siren was to intimidate ground enemies as the aircraft engaged dive bombing. This ‘trumpet’ symbolizes the velocity and intensity of Blitzkrieg of the Third Reich during the early stage of the war.

Continue reading “Sound of War (Part 3)”

Nine Films from Germany, Kobe, 1925

I found this full-page ad in one of the old issues of Kinema Junpo (September 21, 1925). The ad is by a film distributor, probably specialized in German films, to inform exhibitors its new acquisition from UFA. There are nine films listed:

 

Fredericus Rex (1921/22) directed by Arzen von Cserépy
Der Turm des Schweigens (1924) directed by Johaness Guter
Windstürke 9. Die Geschichte einer reichen Erbin (1925) directed by Reinhold Schünzel
Komödie des Herzens (1924) directed by Rochus Gliese
Pietro der Korsar (1925) directed by Arthur Robison
Die Andere (1925) directed by Gerhardt Lamprecht
Mensch gegen Mensch (1924) directed by Hans Steinhoff
Mikaél (1924) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Ich Liebe Dich! (1924) directed by Paul L. Stein

 

How many of these films do you know? Actually, I only knew Mikaél, and I bet you are in the same league as I was. Don’t worry; because, as far as I have researched, less than half of these films have survived, and only Dreyer’s silent drama is widely available for casual viewing. The last part of four-part Fredericus Rex is available on DVD, but the quality is not up to standard (the whole four-part does seem to exist in the archives). Only recently, the restored print of Der Turm des Schweigens (English title: The Tower of Silence) has been screened in several retrospective film festivals. That’s about it. The status of the other titles were either ‘lost’, ‘unknown’ or worse – no mention whatsoever in any place. But still, the pristine prints of these titles have traveled from Berlin to Kobe, Japan, some 90 years ago.

 

These films were made at the height of UFA’s golden age. In fact, there was the tenth film in this ad, and it was none other than Der letzte Mann (1924) by F. W. Murnau. The film received a full-page spot in the next page. This was the time of Der letzte Mann, Niebelungen, Tartüff, Faust and Metropolis. Back in 1924, a reporter for the German press Film Kurtur, visited the open-set in Neubabelsburg, Berlin, deeply impressed by the sheer wonder of film making art at UFA. There was a gloomy gothic tower from Der Turm des Schweigens, a breathtaking castle from Zur Chronik von Greishuus (1924), the wall from Der Niebelungen, and that apartment building in Der letzte Mann. The creative forces at UFA, from the visionary directors to the artistic-minded producers like Erich Pommer, from a band of legendary cameramen to the progressive art directors, gathered in the psychologically and economically tormented Berlin, and have created influential masterpieces after masterpieces. Yet, today, we have only a fraction of their output. For example, the director of one of the listed film above, Komödie des Herzens (1924), is Rochus Gliese, who went to Hollywood to do art direction in Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), one of the most innovative, beautiful open-air set in the history of cinema. And the art directors for Komödie des Herzens were Robert Herlth and Walter Röhrig, who were also part of Murnau’s team during the critical years of 1920’s. Can you imagine how these three artists, who created visually stunning images after images, at the height of their career, collaborated in this one film? Maybe the film was not a success, but still, it must have been worthwhile for us to study.

 

Some of these nine films found the exhibitors around Japan, as far as I can gather.

 

Here are some stills of the films I found.

 

Fredericus Rex (1921/22)
Fredericus Rex (1921/22)
Der Turm des Schweigens (1924)
Windstürke 9. Die Geschichte einer reichen Erbin (1925)
Komödie des Herzens (1924)
Pietro der Korsar (1925)
Mikaél (1924)
Ich Liebe Dich! (1924)
As for Die Andere (1925) and Mensch gegen Mensch (1924), I couldn’t find any reference, except something you could find in IMDB and a very sketchy plot outline for Die Andere … For Mensch gegen Mensch, something seems to have been so wrong about the story written by Norbert Jacques, but I don’t know what. Does anyone know?
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In jenen Tagen (1947)




Many film history books devote their pages on postwar German film industry to New German Cinema movement, usually citing the names of the auteurs like Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorff or Wenders, and drawing a parallel with French New Wave. Both movements shouted first and shot later: they both shouted their papa’s movies suck. For French New Wave, ‘papa’ was kindly named by François Truffois, – directors like Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allègret and Marcello Pagliero, and scriptwriters like Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, Jacques Sigurd, Henri Jeanson, Robert Scipion, and Roland Laudenbach (1). Young Germans were much more civilized: their Overhausener Manifesto just called it “conventional German cinema” and refrained themselves from bursting into name-calling (2).


But one of their papas was, without a question, Helmut Käutner. His films of 1950’s, such as Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende eines Königs (1954), Des Teufels General (1955), or Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (1956), must have failed to resonate with younger kids who were trying to digest the questions of “zone boundaries”, “rearmament” or “Elvis”. To many, Käutner’s socio-political stance was that of avoidance: avoiding the questions of the Nazi past, as if making such ‘waves’ would have not serve anyone any good. Käutner had been avoiding the question since his days during Nazi era. His Romanze in Moll (1943) and Unter den Brücken (1945) never give a hint of the shadow of Gobbels: his films looked away from the harsh reality of everyday destruction. Some called him defeatist. His postwar films were interpreted as translation of ‘political conflicts into the heightened terms of (unfulfilled) romantic love’ (3). However, I think these interpretations truncate his delicate imagery vapidly.

The story of In jenen Tagen was narrated by a car, – an abandoned wreck among rabbles of postwar Berlin, now being ripped apart for scrap metals. This car saw lives of people during the dark years of the previous decade, from 1933 to 1945. In the manner of Tales of Manhattan (1942), we are guided through the seven different stories of the seven different owners of the car – a wife who realizes her husband has to flee the country, a girl in love with a ‘degenerate’ musician, an old couple who saw the darkest reality in ‘Kristallnacht’ … its camera captures vivid, honest, but astonishing images of everyday life.

The most visually striking of this omnibus is the second story, about a girl and a musician. The Buschenhagens, an affluent upper-middle-class family, befriends a composer of modern music, Wolfgang Grunelius, and its naïve teenage daughter, Angela, has a crush on him. When Wolfgang returns from the concert tour, Angela suspects her mother is having an affair with Wolfgang, upon discovering her mother’s comb in his car. During a family picnic with the composer, Angela tries to reveal the secret, but before she speaks up, Wolfgang reveals he was banned from composing music. She loses her words and shoves the comb into the back of the glove compartment of his car. This is probably set in late 1934 or 1935, since Wolfgang speaks of the incident of Hindemith, which occurred in November 1934. The picnic scene is particularly memorable: it is filled with natural sunlight, providing a pastoral, peaceful background. Angela’s father is particularly in a good mood, mumbling about a trip to Italy. Angela tries to break into the conversation with insinuating words, which are only to be deflected by her mother. This anchor-less flow of conversation is suddenly shattered and silenced by Wolfgang’s revelation. A series of intense zooming closeups explores the core of loss, loss of words, loss of reaction, and loss of dignity.




The film was produced under dismal conditions. The camera was on lease, the entire film was shot on location (all German studios had been destroyed), and the equipments and the rigs were so scarce that the crew had to rely on whatever was available to them. I mean, it sounds like Italian Neo-realism, French New Wave, German New Cinema, or indie films of ’90s, doesn’t it? And that is so refreshing about this film. The look and feel of the film is certainly that of the films decades later. There are beautiful reflections of trees on the car’s windshields (apparently Käutner and the cameraman Igor Oberberg aimed at the reflection, not the actress behind the wheel), the freely mobile camera doing a 180-degree ‘vertical’ scan of the tree line, Bach’s music being layered over Angela’s discovery, and a stark composition of the broken window, the desperate old couple and the dark street of Kristallnacht. The contemporary review appeared on Die Zeit (June 1947) praised the film, but it is rather curious that it cited technical deficiencies (probably referring to ‘new-wave-style’ filmmaking) and German’s inability (or inappropriateness) to debate about the condition of modern men (it had been only two years since the end of Nazi atrocities). If not for these inevitable cultural isolation plus widening political polarization inside Germany in the following years (and Cold War), this film might have been recognized differently. Some find this story self-serving and avoiding to answer critical ‘questions’ about responsibility – after all, there is no Gestapo-type sadist in this film – but I wonder if there had been any other way to start rebuilding the nation’s lost cultural ground. If anything, Käutner had never been good at such things and never was. Who is? I wonder.

(1) Francois Truffaut, “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema”, Cahiers du Cinéma, 1954

(2) “Oberhausener Manifesto”, English Translation

(3) Sabine Hake, “National German Cinema”, 2002


In jenen Tagen (1947)

Camera-Filmproduktion

Directed by Helmut Käutner

Written by Helmut Käutner and Ernst Schnabel

Cinematography by Igor Oberberg

Starring Gert Schäfer, Erich Schellow, Hans Nielsen, Carl Raddatz



Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as “fair use”. These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).