267: Ufa’s Aryanization

Archival Spaces 267

The „Aryanization“ of the Ufa

Uploaded 16 April 2021

Der Kongress tanzt / The Congress Dances (1931, Erik Charell), Ufa’s worldwide mega-hit

Some historians have always understood the Third Reich as a dictatorship that suppressed democratic institutions and oppressed, even murdered its citizenry without due process, but as the example of Germany’s largest film company, the Universum Film A.G. (Ufa) demonstrated, a significant portion of the population, including the business community, the military and the judiciary were willing conspirators in the establishment of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party before Hitler was legally named Chancellor in January 1933. Even before the Nazi government passed anti-Semitic legislation, banning Jewish people from public life, the Ufa’s Board of Directors, in what the Germans call „voraus eilendende Gehorsamkeit” (anticipatory obedience) declared contracts with their German-Jewish employees to be null and void.

When the Nazis declared a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, it resulted in the destruction and looting of Jewish businesses by Brown Shirts, while innocent Jews were beaten and humiliated in the streets. Obviously, the Ufa’s Board of Directors could not have known that the fascist disregard for law would manifest itself in violence and death when they met on the morning of 29 March – the same morning the papers announced the boycott. But they did vote to fire no less than twenty-four prominent film directors, writers, and actors.  Attending the meeting were Ludwig Klitzsch (CEO), Ernst Hugo Correll (Production chief), Alexander Grau (Film Theatre Dept.), Hermann Grieving (Studio Operations, Accounting), Paul Lehmann (Newsreels, Advertising Films), and Wilhelm Meydam (Distribution), as well as some non-Board members and company lawyers, the latter responsible for dissolving contracts.

Alfred Hugenberg and friend in 1933

Although the company’s majority stockholder, Dr. Alfred Hugenberg, was a member of Hitler‘s cabinet, the Board minutes reflect a certain guilty reticence on the Board’s part, probably because the talent involved were their biggest moneymakers. Then there was the uncomfortable fact that one of their own, Meydam, was a so-called „half-Jew,“ who was not forced out until 1941. But, in fact, Joseph Goebbels had informed Klitzsch of Nazi plans for the 1 April Jewish boycott, before the papers announced it, so the CEO was prepared. As a result, Jewish Board members Salomon Marx and Curt Sobernheim were not even invited to the meeting and were officially removed shortly thereafter, „due to the national revolution in Germany.“ Marx, who had been a member of the Board since its founding in 1917, died in October 1936, after his private bank had been confiscated, while Sobernheim fled to Paris, where he was murdered by German occupation forces in June 1940, days after the Fall of France.

Rosa von Borsardy and Anton Walbrook in Walzerkrieg (1933)

On 29 March fifteen of Ufa‘s most important filmmakers were sacked, while the fate of nine others was tabled in the hopes of quietly keeping them, a hope that proved illusory.  Except for the head of UFA Distribution, Hermann Kahlenberg and five secretaries, all the axed employees were prominent film talent: two producers (Erich Pommer, Fritz Wechsler), four directors (Ludwig Berger, Erik Charell, Erich Engel, Vikor Gertler), four scriptwriters (Robert Liebmann, Hans Müller, Otto Hein, Fritz Zeckendorf), two composers (Werner Richard Heymann, Gérard Jacobson), three actors (Rosy Barsony, Julius Falkenstein, Otto Wallburg), a set designer (Rudi Feld) und two technical department heads (Gerhard Goldbaum, Georg Engel).

Most were, at that moment, in production: Erik Charell was in pre-production on an Odyssey film, while Pommer, Berger, Liebmann, Müller, and Barsony were making War of the Waltzes (1933), and Heymann and Jacobson were in post-production on Season in Cairo (1933). The latter was directed by Reinhold Schünzel, another „Halbjude“, whose contract had been renewed to finish the film before the end of April. Schünzel was able to continue working for Ufa as an „honorary Aryan“ (Goebbels) until 1937, then got into political hot water over the supposed anti-Hitler satire, The Land of Love (1937). Only Erich Engel, who was on the list for leftist sympathies, rather than racial „impurity,“ was able to continue his career in Nazi Germany after that fateful Ufa Board meeting.

Kurt Gerron and Dolly Haasin Dolly macht Karriere (1931)

Ultimately, many other German-Jewish filmmakers were victims of the Ufa’s policies, not just those specifically named in the minutes. For example, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch were also under contract in 1933, the latter actually suing Ufa for breach of contract. Ditto Fritz Zeckendorf. Film director Kurt Gerron was fired after he finished his film in May 1933. Gerron, who was also a well-known character actor, co-starring in The Blue Angel (1930), worked for the Nazis again in 1944, when as an inmate of Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, he was forced to direct a Nazi propaganda film about the happy communal life in Theresienstadt (1944), before being murdered in Auschwitz.

Ufa’s anti-Semitic blacklist, included other first tier talent, like producers Gregor Rabinowitsch, Arnold Pressburger and Alfred Zeisler, scriptwriters Irmgard von Cube, Otto Eis, Max Jungk, Felix Joachimson, the cameraman Otto Kanturek, composers Friedrich Hollaender, Bronislav Kaper and Franz Wachsmann, and actors Walter Rilla and Rose Stradner, and eventually Anton Walbrook, because he was gay.

The Rabinovitch-Pressburger films were international hits

One wonders how many lower-level film technicians (not named in the credits), – painters, carpenters, plumbers, gaffers, camera assistants, drivers, etc. – lost their livelihood in this anti-Semitic purge? Since the movie theater business had literally been founded in Germany as elsewhere by a generation of Jewish pioneers, it stands to reason that literally hundreds of employees in Ufa’s extensive first-run theater circuit were also fired. There are no statistics for Germany, but Klaus Christian Vögl has compiled figures for Austria after the so-called „Anschluss“ in 1938. In Vienna alone, the Nazis „Aryanized“ over eighty cinemas, which had a value of 6.6. million Reichsmarks.

Jewish Cinema in Vienna, 1938

Of the eighteen filmmakers fired by the Ufa on 29 March, at least five are known to have perished in the Nazi German genocide, i.e. almost one-third.  While Fritz Gertler actually survived the camps, Wallburg, Goldbaum, Zeckendorf, Jacobson, and Liebermann died at the hands of the Nazis. The others survived, with only some of them able to continue their careers in Hollywood or elsewhere. The Ufa’s decision to fire Jewish employees prior to any anti-Semitic government legislation sadly indicated the willingness of German private industry to accommodate the Nazis. Their action constituted literally the first shot in a war against European Jewry, genocide, and confiscated Jewish wealth financing Nazi Germany’s ultimately failed wars of aggression. 

Theresienstadt (1944, Kurt Gerron)

266: Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism

Archival Spaces 266

Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism

Uploaded 2 April 2021

Earlier this week, I participated in an online book launch at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (https://www.ithaca.edu/finger-lakes-environmental-film-festival) for Terri Simone Francis’s book, Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism (Indiana University Press, 2021). I was invited to be on the panel because as a young curator at George Eastman Museum in the late 1980s, I had helped preserve and make available to the African-American community several rare Josephine Baker films that seemingly only existed in unique copies in our archive. I noted that I had first encountered “La Bakaire” as a teenager in the 1960s in Germany where she appeared regularly on the type of Saturday night variety shows I detested.  After the Archive preserved Zou Zou (1934, Marc Allégret) and Princess Tam Tam (1935, Edmund T. Gréville), as well as some of the Folies Bergère footage, I presented Josephine Baker programs in Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, and Durham, NC; at Film Forum in October 1987 the crowds were so great that traffic came to a standstill in downtown Manhattan. Afterward, Jean-Claude Baker invited Bruce Goldstein, the Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold, my wife and myself for dinner at his 42nd Street after-theatre brasserie, Chez Josephine, a little more than a year after it had opened. Jean-Claude, who was at the time writing his own biography of his adopted mother (published 1993), became an acquaintance, who we would see on subsequent visits to New York.

Unlike several biographies about Baker, Terri Francis’s book analyses for the first time Baker’s film career, rather than her life, mixing close textual analysis with historical contextualization. Baker was in fact unique in that she had starring roles in several French films, at a time when her career possibilities in Hollywood films would have been limited to playing stereotyped, walk-on roles as a domestic or mammy. Instead, Josephine Baker moved to Paris in 1925, where she became a huge star at the Folies Bergère, sustaining a career there as a dancer and singer for fifty years. That fame was based on her infamous semi-nude banana dance, so that her public image vacillated between the demeaning stereotypes of black minstrelsy, the sexual allure of an ebony goddess, and liberated independent womanhood. To explicate the many different sides of Baker, Terri Francis employs the metaphor of the prism, which, with the changing light, offers ever different views.

Francis begins with a lengthy discussion of Baker’s banana skirt routine, explicating it as a potent symbol for primitivist and colonialist ideologies signifying persons of color, connecting her to nature, but also to underdeveloped cultures in relationship to supposedly superior white, modern European civilizations. Francis argues that the banana dance is not just a performance, as captured on film, but also performative, in the sense that Baker is simultaneously and self-reflexively satirizing her position as an object for white man’s desire. Indeed, her cabaret performances continued to negotiate these ambiguities and contradictions.

Siren of the Tropics (1927)

In the following chapters, Terri Francis presents close textual analyses of her three main features, The Siren of the Tropics (1927, Henri Étiévant and Mario Nalpas), a silent, Zou Zou, and Princess Tam Tam, in which Baker speaks fluent if vernacular FrenchAll three films offer a version of Baker’s own rags to riches biography, in which an untrained woman of color morphs into a European musical star. In her chapter on Zou Zou, Francis discusses the 18th century case of Alice Baartman, an African woman who was “exhibited” to British and French audiences, noting that Baker, like Baartman, was perceived as an exotic object, available to curious audiences for visual inspection. Significantly, while she is undoubtedly the star of these films, she is ultimately not the “love interest” for the white male hero. Indeed, Baker as Papitou, Zou Zou and Alwina, fantasizes about the European male object of her desire, but love remains unrequited, while the white male loves only whiteness. Francis demonstrates this mise en scene of gazes precisely by pointing to Jean Gabin in Zou Zou constantly looking away from Baker as she speaks to him towards her girlfriend, whom he desires. Thus, while her stage shows fore-grounded Baker as an object for white colonialist fantasy, her films visualize her subjectivity as a sexual woman of color, while keeping her within an ideological frame of European negrophilia. Politely kept in her place as other, Baker is left to continue her entertainment career or return to her roots, as she does in Princess Tam Tam. Clearly, while the French film industry was willing to have the dark-skinned Baker star in mainstream feature films, an impossibility in Hollywood, it, too, was worried about the specter of miscegenation, which remained a threat to white control of the colonialist imaginary.

Baker’s place in black film history, if mentioned at all, is usually that of a European outlier, divorced from the hard realities of white supremacist America, the race films produced at its periphery, or today’s more mainstream black films. Yet Francis, by focusing on the African-American press reception of Baker and her films, connects Baker directly to black film history, valorizing her as a hope for black cinema in America, but also demonstrating that she was consistently integrated into African-American social consciousness. In other words, Francis theorizes a bifurcated African-American cinema,. split between America and the African-American diaspora, where seminal figures like Paul Robeson and Melvin van Peebles worked.   

Princess Tam Tam (1935)

Finally, a note that in no way diminishes Terri Francis’s critical achievement: it is curious that Francis avoids any discussion of Baker’s well-known queerness, although such a discussion could have been easily integrated into her prism analysis as just another facet, and may even be supported in the text, e.g. in Zou Zou’s relationship to Claire, and, more obtusely in the white-white-black relationship triangles in the other films. Francis’s Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism, by melding textual analysis with historical contextualization, even showing how Baker remains an icon for contemporary entertainers, like Beyoncé, makes a seminal contribution to African-American film history.   

Still from Zou Zou (1935)

265: Love & Death in Cinema

Archival Spaces 265

Love and Death in “ism” Cinema

Uploaded 19 March 2021

I’m reading and reviewing for a German publication an excellent new book on Israeli cinema, Projecting the Nation. History and Ideology on the Israeli Screen (2020) by Eran Kaplan. I was particularly struck by a line in his chapter on Eros: “The real fulfillment of love and desire in the Zionist epic is death.” (p. 134) Kaplan describes “the New Hebrew” of the Zionist imaginary as having strong physical and masculine traits combined with “moral restraint: a saint with muscles,” – unlike the feminized, victimized and weak Diaspora Jew. The goal of nationhood consistently trumped private erotic happiness. Indeed, Kaplan characterizes all Israeli cinema’s depiction of sex and romance as inextricably linked to death, with only rare moments of tenderness and erotic pleasure.(p. 130)   

I instantly recognized “the pathology,” having in 1981 ascribed similar kinks in the national imaginary of proto-fascist and Nazi German films about the history of Prussia. “Love, Duty and the Eroticism of Death,” was indebted to both Sigmund Freud and Klaus Theweleit, whose seminal Männerphantasien, has been translated as Male Fantasies (1987). A German reviewer of the multi-volume exhibition catalog, Prussia. Attempt at a Reckoning) referenced my contribution, but was actually taking a swipe at Theweleit when he wrote: “With the help of the volume on “Prussia in the Cinema,” one can yet again be instructed in the relationship between Fascism and Sex…” (Die Zeit, 8-28-81) My essay constructed meta-narrative of German films, whereby the male hero falls in love with a woman, but then – despite the pleas of his love interest – realizes his duty to the nation/revolution and sacrifices himself in a Heldentod.

Does this mean, I’m equating Zionism with Nazism or Communism? Absolutely not, because I believe Zionism remained morally, if not always in practice, dedicated to democratic principles and has survived with democratically elected governments in Israel for 73 years;  i.e. it never entered a totalitarian phase. Totalitarian by design, on the other hand, were Communism and Fascism. Both enforced tight parameters on public eroticism and sexuality outside marriage. Zionism, too, apparently encouraged moral Puritanism.  But, think about it, why are Hollywood, French Cinema, Indian cinema obsessed with romance and erotic pleasure, while the cinemas of these three isms are machines of sexual sublimation?  

Zionist Histadrut Poster
Soviet Proaganda Poster

German films from Theodore Körner (1932, Carl Boese) to Kolberg (1945, Veit Harlan) propagated a fanatic patriotism, renunciation of individual happiness, total commitment to the state, the valiant and unflinching heroism of Teutonic men, the honor and rapture of a death for the Führer und Volk. Eros conquered by Thanatos; the life and death instinct, intertwined and always present, according to Freud. Narratives of sexual sublimation, of the organism surrendering to a death wish, of self-sacrifice for the Vaterland, permeate Prussian films, creating an idealized fascist German imaginary obsessed with death.

Kolberg (1945) the Movie
Kolberg, East Prussia, 1945

While the transformation of Prussian history into German myth was well underway in 19th-century German poetry and popular literature, German commercial cinema quickly appropriated both its narratives and ideology. Isolated in World War I from the French competition, which had dominated film distribution before 1914, German film producers rushed to make patriotic films. However, the incredible financial success of Arzen von Cserepy’s four-part epic, Fridericus Rex (1920-1922), made only two years after the end of a bitter world war, established the Prussian film genre. No less than ten films between 1927 and 1942 starred Otto Gebühr as the legendary Frederick the Great (1712-1786), while more than 300 German films touch on Prussian history, from the Napoleonic Wars to Germany’s reunification under Bismarck.

Otto Gebuehr as Frederick the Great

After 1933, Prussian films drew historical analogies to imply that the Third Reich constituted the next reawakening in German national power. Its heroes were invariably military men, who had fought valiantly on the battlefields, or great “men” who through their deeds had contributed to the growth of national consciousness, while women were relegated to making babies. After 1945, Prussian films lay dormant for a few years, only to be revived in the 1950s, during the period of reconstruction and rearmament under NATO. Less authoritarian than their predecessors, Prussian films under Adenauer nevertheless retained elements of “patriotic” anti-Communism and patriarchy.

Prussian and Nazi cinema was more invested in patriarchy than other male action genres, like the American western, addressing a male subject, while denying the existence of female subjectivity. Not only were women consistently removed from the narrative as figures of identification, but their gaze too was rarely acknowledged. Woman’s desire, as positioned in narratives of heterosexual romance and sexual union, is consistently denied and ultimately eliminated, privileging narratives of male bonding and violent aggression.

Besatzung Dora (1943) Male Bonding

My meta-narrative of Prussian films functioned this way: 1. A love story develops in the course of which woman is revealed to be in conflict with the male hero’s military aspirations; 2. the hero realizes that his true duty lies in his sacrifice to the nation; 3. through the group dynamics of male-bonding, the hero experiences true brotherhood; 4. the hero finds the strength to embrace his fate as a martyr. Such a meta-narrative aspired to trace the imaginary trajectory of the German male’s sexual sublimation, from a renunciation of heterosexual union via an only barely repressed homoeroticism to an ultimate death wish. By positioning the male subject in this drama of Thanatos, Prussian films, especially those produced in the Third Reich, prepared young men for their imminent death on the battlefields, and thus represented an overt ideological manifestation of Fascism.

(1932)

The abandonment of sexual desire and heterosexual union promised in the fascist cinema imaginary a higher, spiritual form of bliss, dissolved within the national body politic. The individual body was robbed of its physicality and sensuality, co-opted into an idealized, fetishized Übermensch, integrated in the geometry of the Nazi masses. Eternal life guaranteed through ethereal union with the Nation, seen over and over in Nazi cinema images of fallen military heroes marching through the heavens. The trope is repeated in Zionist cinema, but with a twist: the Sabra masses are pioneers, marching to build, not destroy, like those jackboot bodies. And maybe that juxtaposition succinctly captures the difference between the two.

For those wishing to read a revised  English translation of my essay: “Eros, Thanatos, and the Will to Myth: Prussian Films in German Cinema,” in: Bruce Murray and Christopher Wickham (eds.): Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television (Carbondale: University of Southern Illinois Press

264: Restored Avant-Garde Films (NL)

Archival Spaces 264

Restored Avant-Garde Films from the Netherlands

Uploaded   5 March 2021

Joris Ivens in De Brug (Joris Ivens, 1928)

Between February 24 and March 9, 2021, the Eye Museum, Amsterdam and Anthology Film Archives, New York, are presenting a streamed film program, “THERE ARE NO RULES!: RESTORED AND REVISITED AVANT-GARDE FILMS FROM THE NETHERLANDS,” co-curated by Simona Monizza, Mark-Paul Meyer and Marius Hrdy. Originally scheduled as a theatrical series for April 2020 on the history of Dutch avant-garde film from the 1920s to the present – canceled due to COVID), –  the present online program focuses on three areas: pre-World War II avant-garde films, screened by the Dutch Filmliga, Dutch avant-garde work from the 1950s, and films by the contemporary filmmaker, Henri Plaat. These five, rare programs, each running about an hour, can be viewed for a nominal. http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/series/53327.

Edited by Ute Eskildsen and Jan-Christopher Horak, (Stuttgart, 1979)

Given my own long-standing interest in the 1920s European avant-garde, I viewed the first two programs, dedicated to works screened at the Dutch Filmliga (1927-1933). My own research in this area goes back to 1979 when I co-curated (with Ute Eskildsen) the 50th anniversary reconstruction of “Film and Foto,” an exhibition of European avant-garde film and photography, curated by Hans Richter and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Our show, “Film und Foto der 20er Jahre,” opened in Stuttgart, then travelled to Essen, Hamburg, Zurich, and Berlin, before Van Deren Coke remade the exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. My essay in the accompanying German catalog (translated into English for Afterimage in 1980), was the first film history to recontextualize European avant-garde filmmaking as a cultural phenomenon, consisting of production, distribution, exhibition, and reception, and not just as a valorization of isolated film artists. It was a methodology I subsequently applied to defining the first American film avant-garde in Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde (Madison, 1995).   

The present Filmliga program is divided into “Shapes” and “Structures,” although the reason for this breakdown is unclear, given that Jan C. Mol’s microscopic films bookend the two programs. Generally, the first program is about humans in relationship with nature, the second about city life. Founded in 1927 by Dutch intellectuals, the Dutch Filmliga was one of many film societies, like the Le Club des Amis du Septième Art in Paris, the London Film Society, and the German Gesellschaft Neuer Film, which hoped to support independent and avant-garde film in the face of American commercial cinema. As a result, the program includes not just Dutch films, but also German, French, and Belgian examples.

Uit het Reijk der Kristallen (Joris Ivens, 1927)
Kristallen in Kleur (Jan Mol, 1927)

Program 1 opens with Jan C. Mol’s From the Realm of Crystals (1927), which uses microscopic and time-altered photography to visualize the growth of various chemical crystals, including boric acid, potassium sulfate, and silver nitrate. Mol’s scientific film was championed by the avant-garde because it revealed the abstract beauty of structures in nature, which were invisible to the human eye but made visible through film technology. Mol’s Crystals and its color remake, Crystals in Color (1927), look surprisingly like abstract modernist art in motion. Henri Chomette had already included similar shots of crystals in his Cinq minute de cinema pur (1925), and, indeed, the trope of abstract art in nature was also mined by Jean Painlevé in France, and photographers Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Imogen Cunningham, among others.

Images d’Ostende (Henri Storck, 1929)
Dagjesmenschen (Henri Storck, 1929)

The next two films by Belgian film documentarian Henri Storck were shot on the beach at Ostend. Images of Ostend (1929) is a visual poem of sea and surf in the dead of Winter, searching for the abstract beauty of moving water, sand and wind, punctuated by signs of human activity: an anchor, a jetty, an abandoned fishing boat, rapidly edited to convey the rhythm of the sea. Daytrippers (1929), on the other hand, documents with a great deal of humor crowds of beachgoers from all social classes and of all ages congregating, playing, strolling, swimming, lying, and reading in the Summer sun; some wear bathing suits, others wade in their street clothes. Unfortunately, the first-named film is slightly over-exposed, leading to a loss of detail.

Disc 957 (Germaine Dulac, 1928)
In der Nacht (Walter Ruttmann, 1931)

French filmmaker Germaine Dulac’s Disc 957 (1929) and German avant-gardist Walter Ruttmann’s In the Night (1931) are very short films (5” & 6”), one silent, one sound, that attempt to visualize music. In both cases, the emotional power of music is equated with lyrical images of nature.  Dulac intercuts images of the forest and natural landscapes with animated images of sound waves, a revolving 78 RPM disc, piano hands, and a metronome, all to accompany an absent Chopin Prelude, which was probably played live, but is missing from this performance. Similarly, Ruttmann’s sound film intercuts images of a female concert pianist playing a classical piece with night time shots of lakes seen between the trees, running water, and the surf smashing against rocks.

Regen (Joris Ivens/Manus Franken, 1929)
Regen (Joris Ivens/Manus Franken, 1929)

Sandwiched between these two films is Joris Ivens and Manus Franken’s silent, poetic city film, Rain (1929). Film portraits of cities, beginning with Paul Strand’s Manhatta (1921) and Alberto Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heures (1926) were an almost universal phenomenon in the pre-war avant-garde, as documented the recent publication, The City Symphony Phenomenon (New York, 2019). Shot in Amsterdam before, during, and after a rain storm, Ivens’ camera searches out abstract visual designs in the concentric circles of water falling into canals, in a crowd of umbrellas, in the rack focus of raindrops on windowpanes, in ever-changing cloud formations. As Eva Hielscher notes in the above publication, the rain creates reflective surfaces that act as screens, “generating a new and modern mediated vision, not unlike cinematic perception.”(p. 253)

De Brug (Joris Ivens, 1928)

The second Filmliga program continues the theme of city symphonies with Joris Ivens’ The Bridge (1928), a poetic view of a movable, steel-constructed railroad bridge in Rotterdam as it is raised and lowered to allow for river traffic below. De Brug is in fact a visual symphony of moving machine parts, rhythmically cut on movement within the frame or the moving camera, whether the trains rolling over the bridge, the bridge’s machinery and steel girders in motion or the abstract design of vertical and horizontal planes. The beauty of modern technology is, of course, another ubiquitous trope of the modernist film avant-garde, as demonstrated by Laszlo Moholy Nagy’s Impressions of Marseille’s Old Port (1929), Eugène Deslaw’s La Marche des machines (1929) and Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929), among many others.

Fragment Nul Uur Nul (1928)
Hoogstraat (Andor von Barsy, 1929)
Doordeweekse Dag (1932)

Three other city symphonies follow: Andor von Barsy, Simon Koster, and Otto van Neijenhoff’s Fragment Zero to Zero (1928) uses the repeated image of a clock to document human activity in a city over a twelve-hour period, beginning with industrial work and ending with urban leisure time activity. Andor von Barsy’s Hoogstraat (1929) is an “absolute film,” documenting Rotterdam’s famous shopping street, intercutting pedestrians and street vendors with storefronts. The numerous shop window mannequins point to another favorite visual trope, especially of the Surrealists, as inspired by Eugène Atget’s pre-WWI images of Paris. Sadly, Hoogstraat’s picturesque neighborhood was completely obliterated by Nazi bombs in 1940, giving the film added documentary value. Finally, the anonymous and charming Weekday (1932) uses a uniformly subjective p.o.v. camera to illustrate a commuter having breakfast, dressing, then taking a taxi through city streets to work.

Diepte (Frans Dupont, 1933)

The outlier in the second program is Frans Dupont’s animated Depth (1933), which as the film tells us is “an absolute film about harmony; not a representation of a particular subject.” The film intercuts abstract circles and rectangles, some of which connote an urban landscape, with animated portraits of a man and woman, interrupted by a live action scene of a smoky card game. It is an experiment in creating three dimensions from two, but remains mysterious.

In any case, this excellent primer on the 1920s-30s European film avant-garde is available for viewing through March 9th.  

263: Jaimie Baron: Reuse, Misuse, Abuse

Archival Spaces 263

Jaimie Baron: Reuse, Misuse, Abuse

Uploaded 19 February 2021

In her first book, The Archive Effect: Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History (2014), Jaimie Baron analyzes the effects of appropriating archival film and video footage on historical representation. How do the meanings of archival images change when they are inserted into new contexts?

In her new monograph, Reuse, Misuse, Abuse. The Ethics of Audiovisual Appropriation in the Digital Era (2021, Rutgers University Press), follows up with a more focused discussion of the ethics of visual appropriation. This discussion is certainly timely, given the fact that there are now literally billions of photographs and moving images digitally accessible on the internet, which users are downloading for their own audiovisual works, oftentimes without contacting the real or implied rights-holders. There is a supposition in “remix” or “Read/Write Culture” that montages of previously published quotes fall under fair use or artistic freedom, without digging deeper into the ethical issues such appropriations raise. This is particularly the case with documentary and actuality footage, where personality and privacy rights beyond copyright come into play.

Basing her argument on Vivian Sobchack’s work on ethical gazes engendered by death, Baron differentiates in her introduction between various, layered gazes: that of the original producer, that of the filmmaker appropriating visual material, that of the viewer of the newly contextualized use. She expands this taxonomy of gazes to include audio material, for which there is no corresponding audial term.  Baron notes that “every re-use of a pre-existing recording is, on some level, a “misuse” in the sense that its new use was not intended or at least not anticipated by its original producer.” (p. 8)

Suitcase of Love and Shame (2013, Jane Gillooly)

In Chapter 1, “(Re)exposing Intimate Traces,” the author turns to home movie footage, which was originally produced solely for private, intrafamily consumption, but is now routinely recontextualized by a host of documentary filmmakers, utilizing someone’s private moments as public evidence. The degree to which the appropriationist’s attentive gaze protects their subjects, by blocking a voyeuristic impulse, revealing or hiding identities, or making public that which was secret, are all a measure of ethical behavior. The complex ethical questions of such appropriations are revealed in the example of Jane Gillooly’s 2013 film, Suitcase of Love and Shame, which uses audio recordings of a couple’s secret love letters, placing the viewer “in the ethically compromised position of the eavesdropper.” (p. 41)  By protecting the anonymity of the filmmakers, though, Gillooly presents an ethical occluded gaze.”

From the North (2015, Dominic Gagnon), depicting the “Other.”

In “Speaking Through Others,” Jaimie Baron discusses the issue of ventriloquism, placing words in the mouths of an appropriated subject often for comedic effect, leading to either a playful, satirical or denigrating gaze. As these various gazes indicate, such appropriations are often harmless because they involve public figures, such as politicians. Indeed it is often a matter of power relations. When the target of the appropriation is someone who holds less power than the monteur, the appropriation may slip into exploitation or, worse, racial ventriloquism, as in the case of Dominic Gagnon’s of the North (2015), which appropriates from You-Tube First Nations footage: “Gagnon’s film solicits an objectifying ethnographic and potentially denigrating gaze vis-á-vis the unidentified Inuit people in the clips he appropriated.” (p. 89)

Halimuhfack (2016, Christopher Harris)

In the following chapter, “Dislocating the Hegemonic Gaze,” Baron is concerned with original footage that may have been unethical to begin with, but is viewed critically through the appropriation, rendering it ethical, by disrupting the original gaze. She demonstrates, e.g. how Christopher Harris’s Halimuhfack (2016) disturbs the white gaze on persons of color by spatially layering images and text to subvert any residual stereotyping inherent in the white gaze. Utilizing the example of the gay-themed Falling in Love… With Chris and Greg: Work of Art! Reality TV Special (2012, Chris Vargas, Youmans) and Soda Jerk’s feminist project, Undaddy Mainframe (2014), Baron then discusses the disruption of the straight and male gaze, respectively.   

Undaddy Mainframe (2014, Soda Jerk)

As the title indicates, “Reframing the Perpetrator’s Gaze,” discusses footage that is a priori unethical, because it reflects the gaze of criminal perpetrators, for example, Nazi documentary footage. Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished (2010) reedits Nazi Propagandakompanie (PK) outtakes of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 to transform into an accusatory gaze the unethical and dehumanizing gaze of the cameramen who are in a position of absolute power in regards to their incarcerated Jewish subjects. Brian L. Frye’s experimental film, Sara Nokomis Weir (2014), on the other hand, appropriates in a reformative gaze a seemingly unethical victim video, People vs. Kelly, to advocate for the perpetrator whose harsh sentencing may have been unduly influenced by the video’s sentimental montage of images of the victim.

A Film Unfinished (2010, Yael Hersonski)

In her final chapter, “Abusing images,” Baron takes a completely different track, analyzing the complex moral and ethical issues of a white artist appropriating an iconic image from African-American history. In the case of Open Casket (2017), a painting by Dana Schutz, the artist appropriates not only the image of the mutilated body of Emmett Till in his casket, based on a photograph by a black photographer, but also the “endangered gaze” of all African-Americans looking at the image:  “… the endangered gaze is not encoded in the act of photographing but is nevertheless elicited in the act of looking at the image – but only for Black viewers who have lived the experience of being visibly Black in a racist society.” (p. 162)  The abusive appropriation occurs because the white artist’s gaze is protected, yet she hopes to communicate suffering she herself cannot experience. While the painting resulted in justifiable African-American protests, Baron’s argument may engender some controversy, given that it posits an inability of whites to empathize with black suffering. Much less sticky is Baron’s closing example, the proliferation of antisemitic Anne Frank memes, which openly solicit an endangered gaze from their audience to joke about the Holocaust.

In the final analysis, Jaimie Baron argues that while appropriation of images in a remix often lead to very productive outcomes, the remixer should always place themselves in the shoes of the subject to decide whether they would mind someone taking your images, whether their remix is an ethical use of appropriation? Jaime Baron’s Reuse, Misuse, Abuse thereby takes us beyond the mechanics of what used to be compilation films into the age of digitality, where the ease of appropriation now demands a moral stance. It is all too easy these days to appropriate perfect copies, making the moral obligation towards the original subject and/or filmmaker all the more important, that is Baron’s plea. That makes this an important book, actually Pflichtlektüre for digital film scholars, filmmakers and curators wishing to produce ethical programming.

Fran Allison, clip from Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947-1957), one of America’s most popular Children’s TV shows.

262: International Holocaust Day

Archival Spaces 262

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Uploaded 5 February 2021

On 1 November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated 27 January as “International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” in order to commemorate the liberation by Soviet Russian forces of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 27 January 1945. According to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is two-fold: to serve as a date for official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education throughout the world. UN Resolution 60/7 also specifically rejects any form of Holocaust denial, and encourages national and local governments to physically preserve geographic sites of the so-called “Final Solution.” Finally, the resolution condemns all forms of religious intolerance, as well as incitement to violence against any minority ethnic or religious communities.

I began this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day by tuning into a virtual concert on Zoom, sponsored by the German General Consulate/Stephan Schneider and the Holocaust Museum L.A./Beth Kean, which featured pianist Morris Ernst playing selections from various composers who had been driven into exile by the Nazis, including Arnold Schoenberg, Walter Arlen, Eric Zeisl, Arthur Lourié, as well as Viktor Ullmann, who was murdered in Auschwitz. Walter Arlen is still with us at 100 years(https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/blogs/archival-spaces/2019/08/16/happy-birthday-walter-arlen).

Jessica Jestain: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

In the evening I watched The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017,Nki Caro), one of now over 1000 films that touches on one aspect or another of the Holocaust. The color film, starring Jennifer Chastain, relates the story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński, a Polish zookeeper and his wife, who were responsible for rescuing several hundred Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. An international co-production, shot in the Czech Republic with American funding, the film focuses, like Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg), on the “Righteous among the Nations,” those non-Jews who risked their lives to save victims of the Holocaust. The film is certainly worth watching, although as some reviewers opined, the animals are handled with more emotion than the emaciated ghetto inhabitants. The exception is Shira Haas, the diminutive Israeli actress who shined in TV’s Shtisl (2013- ) and Unorthodox (2020), who steals the show as a pubescent girl raped by two German guards. But the ending, which finds the Polish family reunited and undamaged offers a feel-good moment for audiences and allows them to forget that the Jewish survivors invariably lost their whole families and often remained traumatized for life. Visualizing the Holocaust is fraught with difficulties, even when intentions are good.

The first Holocaust film I ever saw was Erwin Leiser’s Mein Kampf (1960). I was eleven years old when my parents went to a drive-in to see the film, leaving us children in the back seat to sleep. I didn’t. I watched, understanding little. However, the images of naked women being chased into the gas chambers were burned into my brain, making me worry about my own family. But it was in college when I saw Night and Fog (1956), Alain Resnais’ short documentary that the true horror of the Holocaust hit me. I had to run to the bathroom to puke when the shot of the mountains of hair came on the screen. I felt the materiality of those objects as stark symbols for the absent lives, snuffed out in an industrial process of genocide. The power of Resnais’ film lay in its highly poetic commentary by Jean Cayrol over  images of the abandoned camps at Auschwitz, endlessly tracking along barracks walls, showing mountains of suitcases, shoes, clothing, and hair, all that remained of millions of victims. By then, I also knew my dad had been a concentration camp survivor, though not a death camp. It is one reason I became a life-long student of the Holocaust, beginning with my dissertation on anti-Nazi Films.

Nuit et Brouillard (1956)

The first Nazi Konzentrationslager (KZ) camp I saw was Terezín/Theresienstadt, which I visited with my parents in 1965 when I was fourteen. Because it was an old garrison town that had been converted to a ghetto, I didn’t completely comprehend that the town had been a death camp. Much later I saw the Nazi documentary Theresienstadt (1944), wrongly identified for decades as Hitler Gives the Jews a City, and Alfred Radok’s The Distant Journey (1950), which used stylized imagery to visualize the town’s horrors. Not that any single film can make sense of the Holocaust. Indeed, the Holocaust cannot be adequately visualized in any one film and the Nazi KZ sites themselves only give an inkling of the genocide unless accompanied by educational tools. But memorial sites can have an emotional impact.

Terezin/Theresienstadt. All Nazi work camps featured this slogan: “Work Makes You Free.”

Travelling to Italy to see my parents in 1979, I and a fellow student stopped in Dachau at my suggestion. We spent several hours in the camp and museum, then talked for hours about German history as we drove on to a village in Austria where Thomas’s grandmother lived. I explained to him that Dachau was much like Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, the work camp where my father was incarcerated, but that inmates were not expected to survive. They were not extermination camps, like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor. At his grandma’s I noticed several photos in the sitting room with young men in SS uniforms. When Thomas asked his grandma about them, she started beaming, proudly explaining that her husband had been Gauleiter; two of her sons (T’s uncles) were in the elite SS unit, Leibstandard Adolf Hitler. Thomas was in such shock that he had developed a psychosomatic illness by the time we got to Italy. Thomas associated his grandmother with care-free summer holidays as a child, and only now realized that his immediate family belonged to the front line perpetrators.

Auschwitz/Oswiecim

My own epiphany about the true extent of the Holocaust and the industrialized nature of the Nazi genocide came when I traveled to Oświęcim/Auschwitz in 1988.  I had binge-watched Claude Lazmann’s Shoah (1986) on video, before screening it at George Eastman Museum, but even that film didn’t give me a sense of the monstrous geographic space of Birkenau’s death camp. First going to Auschwitz I (work camp), the tour began with a short Russian documentary, made in 1945, which did not even mention the word Jew and featured a Catholic funeral. Finding the death camp (Auschwitz II) also took some energy, since there was no signage anywhere. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the size of the camp. The ramp was over a mile long. Just stunning. Another shock was to see that ordinary Poles were living in the house of Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, while other Poles lived in newer housing within 100 feet of the gas chambers. Seeing the real camp also made me realize that some of the most famous Holocaust films failed to differentiate between work and death camps, including classic examples, like Wanda Jakubowska’s The Last Stage (1948) or Gillo Pontecorvo’s Kapo(1960).

Given the fact that 63% of Millennials and GenX do not know that six million died in the Nazi genocide, we can never have enough films about the Holocaust.

Kapo (1960, Gillo Pontecorvo)

261: My Fifty Years in Film Studies

Archival Spaces 261

My 50 Years in Film Studies

Uploaded 22 January 2021

Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein)

After my freshman year at Ohio University, which ended prematurely with the Ohio National Guard occupying campus in the wake of the Kent State killings, I transferred to the University of Delaware, because my parents had moved there from Germany and I was able to attend as an in-state student. I still wasn’t sure whether I would declare English or History my major, but I did have to find off-campus housing, due to lack of dormitory space. One of my three flatmates at the Colonial Gardens Apartments was Joe Johnston, who had ambitions to become a filmmaker, so the apartment began filling up with film books, which I started to peruse. Do you mean one can actually study this stuff?  I was intrigued by the mixed media – images and texts – of most film books at that time, but sensed only much later that this was in fact a new field, not overcrowded with dozens of dissertations on Shakespeare or the Franco-Prussian War.

Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1943, Sergei Eisenstein)

I was not a film buff but a reader, although I had started going to Ohio U’s excellent campus film programs the year before, seeing a number of Ingmar Bergman films, which perplexed me, as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968), which infuriated me. And I did have an early epiphany about film’s power when I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. A Space Odyssey (1968) in high school, which baffled and impressed me. In any case, in January 1971, the middle of my sophomore year, the University of Delaware instituted a new experimental “Winterim” program which allowed students to take a 1-3 credit, pass/no record course on a topic of interest, outside of the usual academic requirements. Joe and I discussed signing up for a lecture/film series dedicated to Sergei M. Eisenstein, then he disappeared to New York. I, of course, had no idea what I was getting myself into or that film study would morph into a fifty-year professional career.

The Eisenstein course consisted of afternoon sessions, where Gerald R. Barrett lectured and discussed the assigned readings, followed by evening lectures and screenings open to the public. We met for the first time on January 6, 1971, with a screening of Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944), accompanied by UD Professor Stephen Lukashevich’s lecture on Eisenstein’s use of Russian History, and ended with a screening of Dovzhenko’s Earth (1930) and a lecture by Professor Barrett, summarizing the two week course. Barrett, who was teaching in the English Department as an ABD, had organized the course and was particularly interested in film studies, later becoming my first mentor.

Jerry Barrett, George Stewart, top left, ca. 1974

There followed in quick succession, Ivan the Terrible, Part II (1946), Strike (1925), Potemkin (1925), Ten Days That Shook the World (1928), Pudovkin’s Mother (1926), The General Line (19239), ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1932) and Alexander Nevsky (1938). While most of the lectures were given by UD professors from the departments of history, art history, and music, Martin A. Gardner, a New York film critic, and John B. Kuiper, Head of the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress, presented talks on Russian drama and The General Line, respectively. John had written his dissertation on Eisenstein at the University of Iowa in 1960. Ironically, I had no memory of him when we met four years later at LOC, while I was visiting as a George Eastman Museum intern; nor could I have anticipated that he would become my boss at GEM thirteen years later.

John Kuiper, 1980s.

That lack of memory was probably connected to the fact that I was indeed totally over my head. Not only were all the prints dupey 16mm copies, probably rented from Audio-Brandon, but the silents were also shown without musical accompaniment, as was the practice at the time; no restorations with full orchestral scores. Hardly a great introduction for someone who had never seen a full-length silent film. That Eisenstein’s films are intellectually challenging, goes without saying,  even if you possess the critical vocabulary, which I certainly didn’t. But I was fascinated, especially Potemkin, and Mother, the latter possibly because it more closely conformed to my underdeveloped viewing experience.

The assigned readings included excerpts from Arthur Knight’s The Liveliest Art, Ivor Montague’s Film World, Dwight MacDonald’s essay on Eisenstein and Pudovkin, as well as selections from Eisenstein’s Film Form, Film Sense, and Film Essays. The readings were also difficult for a beginner, especially the Eisenstein texts. I read, but it would take several years of rereading and reviewing before I actually understood.

Another student in the Eisenstein course, George Stewart, became a life-long friend, and we both followed up by taking Jerry Barrett’s “Intro to the Art of Cinema” course in the Spring semester of that year. For that course, I wrote a final research paper on the Czech New Wave, which had been getting a lot of press in America at that time. I had been in Prague until five days before the 21 August invasion in 1968.  When I went to pick up my paper at the end of the semester – a habit students no longer engage in – Barrett ask me, whether he could publish it in a book he was writing on teaching film studies. The book never appeared, but now I was hooked, deciding to make film my career. I subsequently took a number of other film courses with Barrett and started writing film reviews for the UD student paper, The Review. I admit, I liked to see my name in print and loved watching movies. I was just waiting for Jay Cocks to move on at Time, so I could take his place.

Winter 1971, behind the Colonial Gardens, Newark, DE. Photo by Joe Johnston

260: Paul Leni’s Waxworks

Archival Spaces 260

Restoration of Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924)

Uploaded  8 January 2021

A courageous little distributor of classic and silent films, Flicker Alley has just released a blu-ray-DVD dual-format edition of Paul Leni’s canonical Das Wachsfigurenkabinett / Waxworks (1924), directed by Paul Leni. This new digital restoration, carried out by the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin and the Cineteca di Bologna, offers a completely new visual experience. I had previously seen a number of different 35mm prints while researching the German-Jewish photographer/cameraman, Helmar Lerski, but all of them originating from the nitrate master positive at the British Film Institute. Seeing Waxworks in this new digital version revealed many visual details previously hidden in the patina of the emulsion, but digitality has its own pitfalls.

Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss in Waxworks (1924, Paul Leni)

Waxworks is considered by film historians to be a “pure” Expressionist film, like The Cabinet of Caligari and Genuine (1920)all films defined by their expressionist décor, visual design, and acting style, in contradistinction to more realistic Weimar era films, like The Last Laugh (1925) and Metropolis (1927), which have been said to display expressionist lighting and camera angles. Interestingly, Waxworks, as the last pure expressionist film, is also the first to highlight expressionist lighting, as it would be inherited by American film noir, thanks in no small part to Jewish émigrés from Berlin. Not surprisingly, Waxworks opens, like Caligari, on a fairground, a place of wonder in German cinema, as well as the first home of cinema.

Waxworks (1924, Paul Leni)

Waxworks relates the stories of three historical figures, depicted in a fairground wax museum, Haroun al Rashied, the Caliph of Bagdad, Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper. In the film’s frame story the attraction’s owner hires a young journalist to create stories for his wax figures, which in their cinematic incarnation are played by Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, and Werner Krauss, respectively, the three most famous actors of the era, while a young William Dieterle impersonates the writer. Interestingly, the three stories are not weighted evenly in terms of length – indeed a fourth episode, Rinaldo Rinaldini was never shot, due to budget issues, although the figure is clearly visible in the attraction’s line-up – nor are the episodes stylistically similar beyond some expressionist features.

Emil Jannings in Waxworks

The 1001 Nights sequence is relatively evenly lighted (except later night scenes), in order to highlight the outrageous set design, a riot of intestinal passageways, rotund architecture, oversized balloon-like headdresses, and obese bodies. The shorter Ivan the Terrible story intensifies the gaze on elongated, tortured bodies, their agony inscribed on faces in high-key lighting. The final Jack-the-Ripper sequence turns the journalist narrator into a subject, as he dreams, the serial killer is stalking his sweetheart, the proprietor’s daughter. Only roughly five minutes in length, the sequence is a densely constructed series of superimpositions, in which the hero and heroine are haunted by the phantom image of Jack, the Ripper. Not only are the episodes shorter, but their central characters are progressively less developed with Werner Krauss literally a ghost without a solid body.

Georg John, Conrad Veidt in Waxworks
Werner Krauss in Waxworrks

According to Jürgen Kasten’s Der expressionistische Film (1990), the Berlin premiere version of 12 November 1924, began with the Ivan episode, then Jack, then Haroun al Rashied, but was changed shortly after. Budget issues and a lawsuit by the screenwriter Henrik Galeen delayed the production which probably began in Summer 1922, and caused the elimination of Rinaldini, with shooting completed in November 1923.

William Dieterle, Olga Belaja in Waxworks

It has long been my contention that Helmar Lerski, the film’s cinematographer has been unjustifiably ignored in favor of Paul Leni’s highly stylized and abstracted sets. While comedy and playful set design dominates the first story, the Ivan and Jack episodes, in particular, allow Lerksi to create filmic space solely with light, through high key close-ups and intensely lighted figures within a black frame. This manipulation of cinematic space through light matched Lerski’s practice of making close-up photographic portraits, for which he often used black velvet, wide-angle lenses, and a battery of Jupiter lamps and mirrors, to eliminate all superfluous visual information, and thus better explore the landscape of the face. The Jack the Ripper sequence’s almost cubist visual design, layering superimposition over superimposition, would not have been possible without Lerski’s framing of bodies against black backdrops.

Waxworks

The new restoration’s carnivalesque tinting and toning seem to emphasize the intense pools of light that structure the images (excepting the Haroun al Rashied episode), but digitality also flattens out space, thus intensifying the effects of Paul Leni’s abstract stage and costume design. Indeed, the tinting turns even scenes with movement from background to foreground into two-dimensional spaces, given the saturation of the tints. The digital image flattens space, obliterating any sense of fore and background, because scanners remove grain and sharpen all data, eliminating depth cues based on focus. But viewing habits are changing, so many may prefer such images.

Apart from the two discs (DVD & Blu-ray), the set includes a handsome booklet, an audio commentary by Adrian Martin, an interview with Julia Wallmüller from the Deutsche Kinemathek about the restoration, a conversation with Kim Newman, as well as a bonus of Paul Leni’s short crossword puzzle films, Rebus-Films Nr. 1 (1926).     

Conrad Veidt in Waxworks

259: Dutch Films in the 1930s

Archival Spaces 259  

Cinefest: 33rd Film Historical Congress

Uploaded 30 December 2020

The 17th International Festival of German Film Patrimony, sponsored by the Hamburg Cinegraph, was accompanied by a film historical conference from 20 – 22 November under the heading, “Cinema, War and Tulips. German-Dutch Film Relations.” As in the case of the film festival (see Archival Spaces 257), the Congress took place online, but during regular business hours in Hamburg (9:30 AM GMT), which meant this reviewer in California pulled three all-nighters, something I haven’t done since college.

The keynote, titled “Panorama, Academy and Archive, German-Dutch Film Relations,” was given by Ivo Blom, a professor in Amsterdam and former curator at the Eye Institute. Blom noted that Dutch images of Germany and German images of the Netherlands have always been based on stereotypes, even if many Dutch people worked in Germany over the years (Truus van Alten, Ernst Winar, Jaap Speyer), while many German-Jewish refugees fled to Amsterdam in the 1930s. However, the rich history of German-Dutch production, distribution and exhibition, has yet to be written, e.g. by analyzing the Eye’s pre-WWI Jean Desmet Collection or the Filmliga Collection of avant-garde film.

Independent scholar Thomas Tode followed up with a discussion specifically of the Dutch and German film avant-garde, beginning with the thesis that the Dutch masters (Rembrandt) in art were fascinated by light, an obsession shared with filmmakers, like Joris Ivens, who has started his career studying optics and working on the design of the Kinamo, a lightweight 35mm camera that became the workhorse of avant-garde filmmakers, like Ivens, Moholy-Nagy, Luis Trenker, Hans Richter, and Alexander Hackenschmied. Next, Rommy Albers, Head of the Dutch Film Collection at EYE, discussed the career of Haro von Peski, a little known film director and producer, who after directing two films in Holland, set up a production company in Berlin in 1931, Majestic-Film, which produced 13 films under van Peski (the company continued to produce films until 1939). Peski returned to Amsterdam in 1935 but was not able to produce any more films under the Majestic label.

Kinamo 35 mm movie camera
Rain (1929, Joris Ivens)

The afternoon sessions began with EYE researcher Annette Schulz’s talk on Rudi Meyer, the German Jewish film producer who was responsible for numerous exile films in the 1930s and became a prominent film distributor in the Netherlands after surviving Auschwitz, also producing films in the 1950s by Gerard Rutten and Bert Haanstra. André Van Der Velden, a professor at the University of Utrecht, discussed the rivalry between the Dutch Tuschinski owned cinemas in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and the German UFA-owned Rembrandt (Amsterdam), Luxor (Rotterdam) and Asta (Den Haag) cinemas.    

Saturday morning began with Bundesarchiv archivist Evelyn Hampicke discussing the ambiguous career of Fritz van Dongen, the Dutch actor who was featured in at least two Nazi propaganda films, which communicated racist ideology, before emigrating to Hollywood, where he changed his name to Philip Dorn and became an upstanding anti-Fascist in numerous anti-Nazi films.  After the break, Timur Sijaric, a doctoral candidate in music at the University of Vienna, lectured on the film music of Alois Melichar for the Hans Steinhoff Nazi bio-pic, Rembrandt (1942), which was wholly shot in the occupied NetherlandsInterestingly, Sijaric notes that the composer utilized verboten 12-Tone techniques in his composition for Rembrandt, but Goebbels hated the film anyway, and it failed with audiences, despite being one of the most expensive German films of the war years.

Komedie om Gekd (1936, Max Ophuls)

Next, Kathinka Dittrich van Wehring, who received this year’s Reinhold Schünzel Prize, spoke about her efforts to research German refugee filmmakers in Holland, when she directed the Goethe Institute Amsterdam in the 1980s, and in her 1987 dissertation. Van Wehring noted that the home office of the Dutch government banned any anti-fascist topics in films, so the features made by German émigrés were apolitical and mostly harmless entertainment. In the afternoon session, Tobias Temming spoke about the image of Germans in post-1945 Dutch feature films, while Katja S. Baumgärtner, a doctoral candidate at the Berlin Humbolt University, discussed an East German documentary, Women in Ravensbrück (1958), co-directed by the Dutch-German team of Joop Huisken and Renate Drescher.

Alleman (1963, Bert Haanstra)

Sunday morning began with Anke Steinborn, an academic at the Viadrina University of Frankfurt/Oder, discussing Bert Haanstra’s use of Rembrandt lighting. Next, Karl Griep, former director of the Bundesarchiv’s film department, presented a classic content analysis of the image of Holland and the Dutch in German post-war newsreels, noting that stories about sports far outstripped any other topic. Finally, Anna Schober de Graaf discussed the use of identification figures  (taxi drivers, pedestrians) in Dutch post-war documentaries to create empathy, while independent researcher Michael Töteberg reviewed the film careers of two Dutch producers who helped jumpstart New German Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, namely Rob Houwer and Laurens Straub.    

Michael Kohlhaas (1969, Volker Schloendorf, produced by Rob Houwer)

Despite a few very minor technical glitches, Hamburg’s Cinegraph, the Eye Institute, and the Bundesarchiv should be congratulated on this conference on German-Dutch film relations, which despite a degree of heterogeneity certainly pointed the way towards further research in this under-exposed area of film history. A publication in German is forthcoming.

258: Edward Stratmann (1953-2020)

Archival Spaces 258

Edward Stratmann (1953-2020)

Uploaded 17 December 20

Edward Stratmann, my colleague and friend, has died. His distinguished career in film archiving began almost at the same moment in the same place as mine, making us life-long fellow travelers on a remarkable professional journey into what was then still a field in its toddler stage. Even though we were never close friends in the 45 years I knew Ed, we had a relationship of mutual respect while he worked for me that turned into a deep sense of caring and warmth, once I left Rochester. Edward was one of the most down-to-earth people I ever met, absolutely honest, loyal, discreet, and extremely good-natured. In the rarified academic atmosphere of the museum, Ed was a nuts-and-bolts practitioner, who learned film preservation from the bottom up.

Born November 29, 1953 in Biloxi, MS at Kessler Air Force Base, he moved to Rochester with his large family, where he graduated from high school and attended Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1975, he started working for Seymour Nussbaum, the facilities manager at George Eastman House, then transitioned to the film department. It was in September 1975 that I came to Rochester on a National Endowment for the Arts post-graduate internship in the film department, where I spent a year working for the legendary James Card. Ed was already reporting to Assistant Allan Bobey, so he would often hang out with us film dept. grunts, including projectionist Bob Ogie, while Card was often absent.

George Eastman Museum

When I returned to Eastman Museum in 1984, Ed was handling vault management and shipping, as well as sometimes projecting films when no one else was available. I almost immediately took over programming the Dryden Theatre from Kay Mcrae, Director John Kiuper’s secretary, so I had to work closely with Ed to traffic prints. At that time, as later after I had become head of the department, I spent a lot of time hanging out in Eddie’s Dryden Theatre office, usually to have a cigarette break (still smoked back then), since I could always rely on him having a smoke.

The Bluebird (1919, Maurice Tourneur

In 1987, I asked Edward to become our preservation officer with the title of Assistant Curator. Although he had no professional training, I knew he was a quick learner and I was confident we would learn together. One of our first projects was Maurice Tourneur’s The Blue Bird (1919), a beautifully tinted nitrate print from the Cinémathèque Française. Ed also started accompanying me to the Association of Moving Image Archivists conferences, where he happily mingled with other film preservation technicians, soaking up their expertise. In 1998, I had the privilege of successfully nominating Eddie for AMIA’s Dan + Kathy Leab Award, given to film archivists for their contributions to the field of film preservation.

The Lost World (1925, Harry O. Hoyt)

But the project Ed was really passionate about was the reconstruction of The Lost World (1925) with stop-motion animation by Willis Obrien. We had a very good tinted 16mm print, which had been cut down for its Kodascope release, which we blew it up to 35mm, producing the most complete negative available, though still only 40% of its original length. Then in 1992, we discovered a 35mm nitrate material in Czechoslovakia, probably struck from the original foreign negative. I left Eastman before the lost material arrived, but Ed followed through, working with Paolo Cherchi-Usai to crowd-source $ 80,000 and eventually produce a magnificent new negative and print that was now missing only about a reel, much of it consisting of shortened titles and only one major sequence, namely the attack of cannibals. The reconstruction premiered in 1997 and was one of Edward’s proudest achievements and a major contribution to film history.

Print

While continuing his work overseeing the Film Department’s film preservation work, Ed also became a teacher after the founding of the Jeffrey Selznick School in 1996. As the instructor of record for the school, Ed was lionized by the students, especially because of his story-telling prowess. Ed organized annual student trips to John E. Allen, to the Library of Congress, to Syracuse Cinefest, where Ed would invite me to give impromptu talks to the students. Since its founding, the school has graduated more than 280 archivists from twenty-eight countries in its one-year certificate and two-year Master’s programs. Just how much the students idolized Ed became clear when more than seventy-five alumni attended his retirement party, held in May 2016 in conjunction with the Eastman Nitrate Film Festival. Indeed, many of today’s most prominent younger generation moving image archivists received their training with Edward, including Rita Belda, Jared Case, Liz Coffey, Brian Graney, Andrew Lampert, James Layton, Heather M. Linville, Regina Longo, Brian Meacham, Anke Mebold, Paul Narvaez, Cyndi Rowell, Ulrich Rüdel, Vincent Pirozzi, Christel Schmidt, Albert Steg, Dwight Swanson, and Katie Trainor.

Jeffrey Selznick Students, 2013

Seeing Ed in 2016 at his party, I realized his health was extremely fragile and was the main reason for his retirement. However, until this last week, I was unaware of the fact that he had been in and out of the hospital several times this last year. Edward Stratmann passed on 10 December 2020 in Greece, New York. For me, it is the end of an era.