293: Austria on Hollywood’s Screens

Archival Spaces 293:

Austria Made in Hollywood

Uploaded 15 April 2022

Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim in The Wedding March (1928, Erich von Stroheim)

Back in December, I reported on the Academy Film Museum Symposium “Vienna in Hollywood. The Influence and Impact of Austrians on the Hollywood Film Industry 1920s – 2020s.” Now, I have finally caught up with an excellent book that focuses less on Austrians in Hollywood and more on the image of Austria and Austrians in Hollywood cinema: Jacqueline Vansant’s  Austria Made in Hollywood (Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2019). A professor of German at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Vansant presents close analyses of fourteen out of ca. fifty films with Austrian settings, produced during the classical Hollywood period from the 1920s to the 1960s, noting that Austrian characteristics and stereotypes in these films were filtered through American perceptions and contexts, rather than the historical realities in Austria.  And like the checkered history of that country, American views of Austria have vacillated between positive, often nostalgically tinged images as a happy multi-ethnic empire of benevolent rulers and “sweet young things” and negative images, based on its decadent, even promiscuous, anti-democratic legacy.    

While images of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, appeared occasionally in American cinema prior to the mid-1920s, Vansant rightly points out that it was the man you love to hate, Erich von Stroheim who most lastingly influenced Hollywood’s Austria. In his two Viennese films, Merry-Go-Round (1923) and The Wedding March (1928), von Stroheim, critiques Austria under Emperor Franz Josef I as a decadent, anti-democratic society with a rigid class structure, while at the same time expressing an intense nostalgia for the pomp and circumstance of Austrian nobility. Unlike most biographers of von Stroheim, who have focused on von Stroheim’s wholly fictional biography as an Imperial military officer when he in fact was born an Austrian Jew and social outsider, Vansant analyses how the director employed contemporary American perceptions of Austria to develop moralistic narratives about the hedonism of the ruling class, thereby drawing parallels to America’s roaring twenties, while also nostalgically fetishizing aristocratic etiquette.

Evenings for Sale (1932, Edwin Marin)
Bing Crosby in The Emp[eror Waltz

In the following chapter, Vansant looks at four Paramount comedies: Evenings for Sale (1932, Stuart Walker), Champagne Waltz (1937. A. Edward Sutherland), Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Michael Curtiz’s A Breath of Scandal (1960). The first two films were situated in a post-World War I republican Vienna, untouched by economic hardship and political instability. Evenings for Sale features an impoverished but amoral aristocracy looking for financial support from American merry widows on European junkets and comes down on the side of American Puritanism, while Champagne Waltz pits Austria’s high culture (opera) against American low culture (jazz) in its central romance, its robust American male rescuing an old-world female and bringing her to New York. The Wilder and Curtiz films, on the other hand, imply that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was both racist and anti-democratic, in contrast to the down-home simplicity and moral strength of their American heroes.

The Great Waltz (1938, Julien Duvivier)

In the wake of the so-called Anschluß which unified Nazi Germany and Austria, several Hollywood films tried to construct metaphorically an Austrian identity – separate from Germany – through music and equestrian sport. In The Great Waltz (1938, Julien Duvivier), Franz Josef and Johann Strauss meet after the 1948 revolution to articulate their love for Austria, while the Franz Schubert bio-pic, New Wine (1941, Reinhold Schünzel), emphasizes the Austrian roots of the composer while drawing parallels between the repressive Austria of the 1820s, and the New Order of 1938. Finally, Florian (1940, Edwin L. Marin) utilizes its story of a royal Lipizzaner horse and its human companions before and after World War I to explain to Americans the plight of Austrian refugees after the Anschluß.

Erich von Stroheim in So Ends Our Night (1941, John Cromwell)

The demise of Austria in March 1938 was directly visualized in three Hollywood films. While So Ends Our Night (1941, John Cromwell) and They Dare Not Love (1941, James Whale) take diametrically opposed views on Austria’s guilt or innocence in supporting Adolf Hitler, Once Upon a Honeymoon (1943, Leo McCarey) is more ambivalent, even as it cautions Americans about the dangers of Nazism. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, Flotsam, So Ends Our Night uses newsreel footage to visualize Austrians enthusiastically cheering Adolf Hitler’s entrance into Vienna to tell its story of Jewish refugees harried across the map of Europe as the Nazi war machine marches on. Strangely, They Dare Not Love also utilizes newsreels, indeed takes its cue from The March of Time’s “Nazi Conquest No. 1” to argue bizarrely for Austrian’s victimhood and the restoration of an Austrian monarchy. Finally, Honeymoon has a democratically-minded American journalist trying to woo a naïve American golddigger who is planning to marry an Austrian aristocrat and secret Nazi, just as Americans in general needed to be convinced that German fascism was dangerous.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)
The Cardinal (1963, Otto Preminger)

The dichotomy between Austria as an innocent victim of the Nazis and an enthusiastic Fascist collaborator also characterized two Hollywood wide-screen extravaganzas of the 1960s: Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965) and Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963). While the popular musical avoided all discussion of politics, except to create a dramatic raison d’etre for the von Trapp family’s Technicolor flight over the Alps, the fictional biography of an American church leader clearly accused Austrian Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of supporting and sympathizing with the Nazis.

Common to Hollywood’s version of post-Imperial Austria, as Vansant notes about The Sound of Music, is that “there is no mention of political dissent, no civil strife, and no Austro-Fascist government.” (p. 124) Like most of Hollywood’s costume films playing on foreign soil, films about Austria often revealed more about America’s collective fantasies than about the German-speaking nation along the Danube.       

Reginald Owen as Emperor Franz Josef I and HelenGilbert in Florian (1940, Edwin L. Marin)

292:  Film Erotica

Archival Spaces 292

Film Erotica in Papal Film Archives

Uploaded 1 April 2022

Trastavere at Night

My wife and I have been in Rome for the past ten days. Since this is not our first trip to Rome, we have forgone most of the Roman antiquities sites, and have focused on visiting libraries, archives, and private collections of art, including the Galeria Colonna and Galeria Doria Pamphili, still owned and maintained by two of Rome’s wealthiest and most prestigious families, both of whom have been supplying Popes to the Vatican for the last five hundred years. Unfortunately, many of the city’s most famous libraries, including the Biblioteca Casanatense and the Biblioteca Angelica are closed, possibly due to COVID, but who knows, since both websites say they are open. In both cases, we were told, “Non lo so,” when asked when they will open. However, we were vey lucky to see a virtually unknown rarity in Rome’s landscape, namely the Filmoteca de la Pape, or Papal Film Archives.

Getting into the Filmoteca de la Pape, – not to be confused with the Vatican film Library – was a major undertaking and took weeks of negotiation with the Brussels office of the Federation Internationale des Archivs du Film – before we got to Rome, and finally only a letter from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles got us into the facility. The reason it is so difficult to see this archive, is because it houses one of the largest collections of film erotica in the world, rivalling even the Kinsey Archives Collections. Its official name is the Filmoteca Erotica de Pape, but for obvious reasons the more neutral term is being used.

Goya’s The Nakjed Maja

The Papal libraries have of course been secretly collecting erotic images and books since the latter stages of the Inquisition, when Francisco Goya was summoned in 1815 for having painted The Naked Maja (1805). At the time, administrators in the offices of Pope Pius VII hoped to eradicate all such visual temptations to the flesh by confiscating or purchasing whatever they could find, destroying much of it, but keeping a percentage as documentation of the devil’s work. When Pope Leo XIII was informed by a papal spy in the offices of the Archbishop of Paris, His Eminence François-Marie-Benjamin Richard de la Vergne, in 1899 that the Lumiere Brothers were distributing pornographic films under the table, along with their more famous La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon and L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, papal authorities sprung into action, founding the Filmoteca de Pape as a compliment to a similar archive of pornographic photographs that had been set up in the 1850s, after profane images of naked male and female bodies began circulating. For a few years, there was a power struggle between the two archives, but eventually the Filmoteca de Pape won its independence.

Hoochie Coochie Dance

Wisely, the Papal authorities decided that it would not be politic to have such an archive within the confines of the Vatican itself, so a building was purchased in a back courtyard off the Piazza de Renzi in the Vicolo del Cinque in Trastevere. While official films of the Vatican are housed in the Vatican Film Archives proper, the Filmoteca de Pape collected blue material from the turn of the twentieth century to the 1970s. As a staffer told us, the Archive gave up acquiring new material at the time, because funds had been cut and the amount of pornographic material being produced morphed into an avalanche that could no longer be contained. According to the Filmoteca de Pape’s curator – understandably they wished to remain anonymous – the earliest erotic film in the collection is Fatima’s Coochie-Coochie Dance (1896), an Edison kinetoscope film, which shows a gyrating belly dancer.

The Filmoteca’s earliest French pornographic film is A L’Ecu d’Or ou la bonne auberge / At the Golden Shield or the Good Inn from 1908, which survived in a 9.5 mm copy. Unfortunately, many of the earliest films from the turn of the 20th century no longer survive, because the Filmoteca for decades did not have climate-controlled vaults, leading to nitrate decomposition, including as paper records indicate, close to 100 films, produced in the brothels of Buenos Aires and exported to Europe to be shown at stag parties, or what the Germans called “Herrenabende.” One Argentine film that has survived is El Satario / The Satyr, which may have been produced as early as 1907.Besides the French, who specialized gay and straight porn, sometimes in the same film, the Austrians and Germans were big producers. Another gem in the collection of the Filmoteca de Pape is Am Abend, a ten minute German film from 1910.

We were hoping to actually see a few examples from their rich collection of silent porn, but unfortunately COVID restrictions did not make it possible. Their new climate-controlled vaults, however, rival any of those in Italy.

291: Missing Movies

Archival Spaces 291

The “Missing Movies” Manifesto

Uploaded 18 March 2022

Missing Movies Poster

Recently, film director Nancy Savoca and screenwriting partner, Richard Guay realized that their 1993 film, Household Saints, could not be screened at Columbia University, because of copyright problems. Nancy eventually worked with her lawyer, Susan Bodine, and Ira Deutchman, the film’s original distributor, to make the film accessible again. But in the process, she realized that many independently produced films from the 1970s through the 1990s were similarly unavailable, often due to legal issues. She organized a panel discussion at a Director’s Guild of America event in November 2021, resulting in the creation of a new advocacy organization, “Missing Movies,” which has now published a manifesto  (https://missingmovies.org/the-missing-movies-manifesto/), and has begun fundraising.

Nancy Savoca

Missing Movies” was founded by Nancy Savoca, Richard Guayu, Ira Deutchman, Susan Bodine,  filmmakers Mary Harron and Shola Lynch, and Dennis Doros and Amy Heller. The last-named, parents of Milestone Films, who have for decades been a major force in film distribution and film preservation. Besides being a filmmaker, Shola Lynch is also the curator of the New York Public Library’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.  According to their new website, an advisory board has also been formed that includes Mira Nair, Maggie Renzi, Allison Anders, Maggie Greenwald, Dolly Hall, Allyson Nadia Field, Ruby Lerner, and Tanya De Angelis.

Mississippi Masala (1991, Mira Nair)

In the film archival world, there are always two issues confronting film preservationists: 1. Who has the original negatives or other pre-print material to produce new digital masters and 2. Who owns the copyright for public exhibition. In some cases, the film material itself has been lost, or only degraded versions are available, in other cases, the rights have been lost. This is especially true for independent features from the last forty years because such films were often sold to distributors for a limited period of time, e.g. ten years, with the rights then reverting to the original owner. But finding the owner can be tricky because rights are often bought, sold, or inherited by parties who are not necessarily in the business. Without rights from an owner, a film preservationist cannot legally make copies or preserve a given film title.

Annihilation of Fish (1999, Charles Burnett)

The “Missing Movies” Manifesto begins provocatively: “Movie audiences are being told that streaming has made the entire history of cinema available for a simple subscription fee – or at least a couple of dozen subscription fees. This is not true.” In fact, “Thousands of movies are either completely lost or are deemed too small to warrant the expense and are thus completely unavailable. This is especially true of work created by women and people of color.” The issue is that third-party rights-holders of independent feature films fear the cost of preservation and access. Today that means making digital masters and storing them in a safe environment, which because of the cost of computer storage and maintenance is a very expensive proposition. BTW, the cost of storage has not dropped significantly, despite the industry’s assurances that it would.

I also believe it is a truism that the number of commercially accessible films keeps shrinking. Of all the films made in history, only a percentage was even transferred to analog video technology, either from 35mm or 16mm. Given the relatively low cost of analog VHS tape, smaller companies could afford to bring older historical films into the market. Already the shift to DVDs drastically limited access, while the streaming market has further reduced access to film history’s riches.  

True Love (1989)
True Love (1989, Nancy Savoca)

In any case, Nancy Savoca has cause for concern. Her debut film and a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, True Love (1989), made Annabella Sciorra a star, but is now on the organization’s list of “missing films.” Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991), a Venice Film Festival winner and another indie hit by a woman of color, and Mary Herron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) also make the list, which includes numerous classics:  Ali, the Fighter (1975, Bill Greaves), Annihilation of Fish (1999, Charles Burnett), Black Girl (1972, Ossie Davis), The Cool World (1964, Shirley Clarke), The Heartbreak Kid (1972, Elaine May), The Kiss of the Spider Woman (1986, Hector Babenco), Memory of Justice (1976, Marcel Ophuls), Nothing but Common Sense (1972, St. Clair Bourne), The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972, Gordon Davidson), Union City (1980, Marcus Reichert). Dennis Doros tells me that the actual list is already much longer than the thirty-plus titles on the “Missing” website, probably already in the hundreds of titles.

Heartbreak Kid (1972, Elaine May)

To begin the process of resolving this challenging situation, the “Missing Movies” Manifesto states that they “will work to demystify and help decipher the economic, legal, and practical hurdles that filmmakers face when they want to make their older works available.” Those challenges include: researching contractual rights, deciphering underlying rights, locating master materials, and making new digital masters. However, this is a very ambitious, long-term plan that will be predicated on financing. In the short term, “Missing Movies’” goals are much more modest and doable because they involve volunteer help:  1. Publicize the need to filmmakers, other stakeholders, and the public; 2. Identify “missing films” and create a database. 3. Create a guide for filmmakers to help them research films. 4. Create FAQs for common issues. 5. Create case studies of success stories involving renewed access. 6. Create a website for all the organization’s activities.

This program reminds me of very similar efforts we undertook with our Sundance film preservation partners when I was Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive. To get filmmakers screening their work at Sundance to think about making sure they have a plan for the long-term survival of their work was daunting. We held events at Sundance, put together brochures with an easy step-by-step guide, but filmmakers were usually more concerned with their next film. It is probably no accident that many of the participating filmmakers in the present endeavor are of an age when they actually do start thinking about their legacy and are therefore involved in what is a very admirable effort.   

290: Julien Duvivier’s Films of Religiosity

Archival Spaces: 290

Julien Duvivier’s Films of Religiosity

Uploaded 4 March 2022

Over the course of the years from 1927 to 1929, Julien Duvivier directed and wrote three films with overt religious subject matter, all of them very much personal projects, products of his Jesuit education:  L’Agonie de Jerusalem/Revelation (1927), Le divine croisière/The Divine Voyage (1929), and La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin/The Miraculous Life of Teresa of Lisieux (1929). All are included on Flicker Alley’s Blu-Ray Box Set, Cinema  Discovery, which I wrote about in 290. Ben McCann in his Senses of Cinema piece on Duvivier also mentions in his trio of religious films, Credo ou la tragédie de Lourdes (1924), which seemingly concerned an atheist medical doctor who witnessed miracles at Lourdes but is seemingly lost, and the Blu-Ray pamphlet does not include the title in its selected filmography.

Interestingly, just like his American counterpart in the religious pictures business, Cecil B. DeMille, Duvivier sprinkled very secular marital melodramas and comedies in between. While Duvivier’s gentle comedy of Belgian manners, Le marriage de Beulemans (1927), is all about class difference, his later two women’s melodramas, Le tourbillion de Paris (1928) and Mamam Colibri (1929), feature upper-middle class wives who eventually return home, humbled and humiliated,  after straying from their marital bed. DeMille’s marital comedies, e.g. Why Change Your Wife? (1920), and social melodramas, like The Golden Bed (1925), are, likewise, morality plays of strained or broken marriages that ultimately reaffirm the protestant ethic and marital fidelity. DeMille’s dramatizations of the Bible, whether The Ten Commandments (1923) or The King of Kings (1927), take the Bible at face value, God’s logos translated into Evangelical visions of Old and New Testament narratives, presented with spectacular special effects. 

Mamam Colibri (1929)
Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
King Of Kings (1927)

Duvivier proceeds differently.  Each of his deeply Catholic films offers a different meditation on religiosity, faith, and the acceptance of miracles. While L’Agonie de Jerusalem visualizes a personal conversion to the Catholic faith at the very site of Calgary, Le Divine Croisière illustrates the simple faith of a parish priest and his poverty-stricken congregation, personified in the refurbished image of Stella Maris. La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin faithfully portrays the life of a very young women, Thérèse of Lisieux, who joined the Carmelite order in Normandy and was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. 

From the Manger to the Cross (2013)
Quo Vadis (1923)

While various „Passion Plays“ had been popular at the end of the 19th century and Pathé and Gaumont ‘s Life of Christ (1905-1906) remained in distribution for years, overtly religious films were few and far between, both in Europe and Hollywood. The first wave of religious films appeared shortly before World War I with Sidney Olcott’s Kalem Company production, From the Manger to the Cross (1913), which eschewed the painted sets of earlier passion plays and included many scenes shot on location in Palestine, followed by the Italian import, Quo Vadis(1913), produced in eight reels and running an incredible two hours and fifteen minutes.  Based on the monumental novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, first published in 1908, Quo Vadis’s success encouraged the production of feature-length films worldwide. A second wave of religious films began appearing in the United States in 1924, after the incredible success of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, which itself was cashing in on a wave that had begun in Europe a year or two earlier with the Italian-produced epic, The Bible (1922), and the Austrian-produced Sodom and Gomorrah (1922). Internationally, a host of other Christian films were produced, including Natan der Weise (1922), I.N.R.I. (1923), Quo Vadis (1924), Moon over Israel (1924), Ben-Hur (1925), and Noah’s Arc (1928), the failure of the last-named film indicating that the wave was spent.

L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)
L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)
L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)

L’Agonie de Jerusalem relates the conversion to Christianity of a French anarchist and atheist, who is blinded in a Parisian riot and returns home to his deeply religious parents, who literally live on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem. Although there is a strange subplot concerning an anarchist plot to blow up the damns on the Jordan River, – Duvivier again mixing genres – the film’s main action concerns the prodigal son’s halting acceptance of God, his sight restored on Good Friday after he dreams of seeing Christ’s passion at Golgotha. Much of the film was shot on location in Jerusalem, allowing Duvivier to present numerous biblical sites and stories, including Christ giving a blind man his sight at Jericho and Judas kissing Christ in the garden. All of which gives credence to the anarchist’s conversion in those “holy” places. Seeing the light, the hero joins a modern-day procession recreating the Passion ad locum. Today, we can feast our eyes on tourist views of late 1920s Jerusalem.

Le divine croisiere (1929)
Le divine croisiere (1929)
Le divine croisiere (1929)

While Christ’s Passion is at the center of L’Agonie de Jerusalem, Le divine croisière centers on a firm belief in the Virgin Mary, also known as Stella Maris or „Our Lady Star of the Sea.“ A wealthy ship owner forces his crew to sea in an unseaworthy vessel and seemingly lost. The ship owner’s daughter, however, is devoted to Stella Maris – she is restoring a painting of her in the parish church – and convinces the townspeople to send out another ship, the Stella Maris, and thanks to the crew’s fervent prayer to the Virgin, they find the lost ship and return home. Unlike the previous film, there are no Biblical recreations – Stella Maris’s painted image does come to life at one point – but the film is suffused with religious faith while observing religious and other family rituals of a small fishing village with an almost neorealist eye and certainly an anthropologist’s.

La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)

Finally, La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin is ostensibly a bio pic of the then newly sanctified St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  The film begins with her parents, who both attempted unsuccessfully to join the Carmelite Order, but raised five girls, four of whom eventually join the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, as the Carmelites are officially known; their first monastery, the Stella Maris Monastery, was founded on Mount Carmel. The parents, Zélie and Louis Martin were canonized in 2008, the first set of spouses ever to be declared saints. But it is the passion of Thérèse, who suffers pain, isolation, boredom, guilt, cold, and deprivation. She enters the Order at the age of fifteen, receiving special permission from Pope Leo VIII, her anguish at losing her sister Pauline to the Order, then her own entrance into the Order. Duvivier visualizes the Church’s religious rituals around Thérèse’s Postulancy and Novitiate with ethnographic accuracy, while the film‘s most dramatic scenes involve Thérèse’s self-doubts, her wringing with the devil, and her death at the age of 27 of tuberculosis in 1897.     

Similar to Duvivier’s use of dissolves and superimpositions in his silent melodramas to visualize subjective states of mind, Duvivier makes use of similar techniques here to stage religious epiphanies, e.g. Louis Martin with a cross, his suffering equal to that of his daughters. Even within realistic film narratives, then, Duvivier profitably employed expressionistic devices to give material form to faith.  More than twenty years later, Duvivier would recreate the village priest from Le divine croisière in the guise of Fernandel as Don Camillo.

Don Camillo (1952, Julien Duvivier)