Archival Spaces 275
Marriage in the Shadows (1947, Kurt Maetzig)
Uploaded 6 August 2021
Although I have been studying German cinema for decades, I’m less familiar with films from the German Democratic Republic, simply because for a long time it was just harder to see those films. The DEFA (Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft) was formed in 1946 and as an arm of the communist Socialist United Party (SED) maintained a monopoly until the demise of the GDR in 1990. Now Kanopy has made a very large selection of films from the DEFA collection at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst available, and I have been watching regularly. Recently, I caught up with an early so-called “rubble film” classic, Ehe im Schatten / Marriage in the Shadows (1947), directed by Kurt Maetzig. Starring Paul Klinger, it was the film debut of Ilse Steppat, who would later marry Max Nosseck, a German-Jewish director returning from Hollywood. In retrospect, I’m, surprised I never saw the film, given Ehe deals with the expulsion of German Jews from theater and film after 1933, a topic of my dissertation. While the black and white film is very much a melodrama in the Ufa style before and during the Third Reich, – Bertolt Brecht called the film kitsch – Marriage in the Shadows clearly states that anti-Semitism was rampant in the German population and not just imposed from above by the Nazis.
The film opens in early 1933 with a theater performance of Friedrich Schiller’s “Intrigue and Love” (Kable und Liebe, 1784), staring Elisabeth Maurer and Hans Wieland. The Jewish actress is blacklisted shortly thereafter, and inexplicably, the “Aryan” Wieland marries her in the belief that he can protect her. Hans, initially the second fiddle to her star, continues his upwardly mobile career in Nazi Germany, even though a Jewish colleague strongly suggests the couple emigrate. Flash forward to the days before the November 1938 pogroms: His career is going gang-busters, while Elisabeth is suffering from intense isolation; unable to appear in public, she expresses doubts about their marriage, but he again dissuades her from emigrating. Like her Jewish former costume assistant, she spends days at the Nazi Mixed Marriages Bureau, applying for ration cards. The film’s last third takes place in 1943, when Elisabeth is ordered to hard labor, and Jews are being deported “to the East.” Hans talks her into attending the premier of his newest film, ostensibly to cheer her up, where she charms a high ranking Nazi, who is unaware of her status. When he finds out, he orders her deportation, and the couple commit double suicide.
Marriage in the Shadows is dedicated to the German film star Joachim Gottschalk, who committed suicide with his Jewish wife and 9-year-old son in November 1941. Meta Wolf had been a successful young actress, when the couple married in 1930. Somehow, they avoided attention after the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws, because Gottschalk was only acting on local stages. However, in 1937 Gottschalk scored a huge film hit with You and I, so-starring Brigitte Horney, becoming with her the Ufa’s dream couple, idolized by millions of German women. Despite pressure from Ufa executives, Gottschalk refused to divorce his wife. However, when in April 1941 Gottschalk took Meta to the premiere The Swedish Nightingale, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels banned him from film work unless he divorce. Gottschalk refused, further infuriating Goebbels who ordered Gottschalk drafted and his family sent to Theresienstadt. Goebbels forbid anyone from attending the funeral, although Horney and a few brave colleagues did go, while the German public only learned of Gottschalk’s fate after World War II, although there were many rumors.
In adapting the Gottschalk story to film, Kurt Maetzig probably intuitively understood that only a melodramatic treatment about a tragic film star could reach a primarily female audience hardened by twelve years of anti-Semitic propaganda. Interestingly, Maetzig who was himself blacklisted by the Nazis in 1935, and whose Jewish mother committed suicide in 1944, moved the fictional couple’s suicide to 1943, probably so he could portray the effects of the Allied bombing of Berlin (blamed on the German Fascists) and the deportations of Berlin’s Jews, which only began days before the Gottschalks killed themselves. Simultaneously, Maetzig limits his visualization of Nazism to a few brief shots: the Brownshirts marching in 1933, a single S.A. man ordering civilians to loot Jewish shops on 9 November 1938, while several SS types appear during the final premiere; furthermore, Hans imagines Elisabeth’s deportation and incarceration in a camp by the SS, but in contrast to the reality of the 3rd Reich, there are no Swastikas visible, and only two tiny Nazi Party pins. Two years after the end German fascism, such symbols may have been too potent, possibly calling forth positive rather than negative reactions. Ironically, this dearth of Nazi symbols reinforces the film’s thesis that the German middle class, especially artists, were collectively guilty of turning a blind eye to Jewish suffering and opportunistically refusing to resist fascism.
But, according to film scholar Bernhard Groß (Die Filme sind unter uns), Hans and Elisabeth are also responsible for their own fate. Like the protagonists in Schiller’s bourgeois tragedy that opens the film, they suffer from hubris, rubbing her Jewishness in the face of the Nazi bureaucrats, and by refusing to emigrate, despite numerous opportunities. Their tragedy is that like many German intellectuals, they keep telling themselves things will not be so bad under Fascism, that they can mitigate the worst Nazi excesses, that they can protect themselves. Indeed, the film is based on a post-war novella by Hans Schweikert, It Won’t Be so Bad, who, by the way, was one of those opportunists who profited greatly from the film industry, though not an overt Nazi.
When Marriage in the Shadows opened in Hamburg in April 1948, Veit Harlan and his wife, Kristina Söderbaum, the notorious director and star of Jew Süß (1940), attempted to attend the local premiere, but were rebuffed. Like far too many Germans, they yearned to continue their lives without repercussions for their passive and active crimes. Thanks to American Military Occupation policy, which favored anti-Communism over de-Nazification, all but the worst German mass murders were allowed continue their middle class lives and careers without consequences. Meanwhile, Marriage in the Shadows became a huge hit, bringing in over 10 million viewers in all four zones of occupation. Gottschalk’s female fans, millions of them war widows who had lost husbands and sons, made it so.
Archival Spaces 274
Restoring Summer of Soul (… or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Uploaded 23 July 2021
The Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969 has been called “the Black Woodstock.” Held over a period of six Sundays in what is now called Marcus Garvey Park at 125th Street in Harlem, the Festival drew over 300,000 people and featured some of the biggest music acts of the era, including Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, the Chambers Brothers, the Fifth Dimension, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The Temptations’ David Ruffin, and Mongo Santamaria. A fantastic new documentary, Summer of Soul (… or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), directed by the musician-disc jockey-record producer Ahmir Khalib Thompson aka Questlove, not only captures the spirit of that signature event, but also contextualizes it within the African-American struggle for civil rights and an emerging “Black is Beautiful” cultural identity, adding modern interviews with participants on and off stage, as well as news film footage.
As the documentary makes clear, structural racism in America’s entertainment industry kept the video footage from receiving its full due, even though many of the acts had had huge cross-over hits that summer. At least four one hour (with commercials) compilations of the Harlem Festival were broadcast at the time. Produced/hosted by Tony Lawrence and produced/directed by Hal Tulchin with Jambe Prods., Ltd., one show was seen on the New York CBS affiliate WNEW-TV and CBS-KOOL-TV in Phoenix in July 1969. ABC broadcast a second show in September 1969 on WLS-TV in Chicago and probably some other markets, including Dallas, Miami and the South. A compilation was also shown in Europe, distributed by Storyville Films. Thus, while the film states that the videotapes remained unseen and unheard for over 50 years, rotting away in a basement until producer Robert Fyvolent acquired the more than forty hours of footage, the actual story of its “discovery” and preservation is more complicated.
The 3rd Harlem Cultural Festival, sponsored by Maxwell House, was recorded on 2” Quad videotape in summer 1969 by television director Hal Tulchin who put up his own money. Tulchin hired Tele-Tape Productions to supply a mobile recording truck, three Marconi Mark VII four Plumbicon tube color cameras. One tube each for the red, blue, green, and black & white, as well as a Norelco PCP-70 portable color camera with three Plumbicon tubes, red, green and blue for the hand-held shots of the stage and audience. All cameras were hard-wired to the truck. The Marconi cameras had their own vertical and horizontal aperture correction design, BBC qualified lens, producing a very high quality and detailed picture in both luminance and color. Filling the entire 4.2 Mhz NTSC bandwidth with information.
The Tele-Tape truck had a full control room and two High Band Quad machines. The director created two simulations live versions. The first 2” machine recorded a line cut of the performances on stage from the four cameras, as well as mixed audio on the audio track and ambient audio from the audience on the Cue track. The second Quad recorded an ISO cut, which was a camera shooting the crowd from the perspective of the performers. There were microphones on stage picking up crowd noise that was recorded on the main audio track. Audio from the production board mixer was recorded on the cue track from the Norelco, and ISO audio straight from the production board mixer since multi-track location recording was not yet possible. On high profile performances, both Quad machines were recording the line cut and mixer audio as a backup. Six reels of 90-minute Quad tape were shot per day.
Hal Tulchin tried for years unsuccessfully to find financial backers for his “Black Woodstock,” which he had copyrighted. In the early 1980s, Tulchin dubbed each of the Quad masters onto 1” Type C” on Ampex VPR-2’s, using 60 min tapes and small spot reels. For some reason he didn’t use 90 min 1” tape stock, thus breaking up the original reels. The quality of the analog dubs was also lower at 300 lines. The tapes remained stored in Tulchin’s Bronxville basement for decades.
In 2004, Joe Lauro of Historic Films licensed all the footage and actually distributed clips, e.g. of Nina Simone, for several years and also teamed up filmmakers Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon to create a documentary but failed to find adequate financial backing. One company they pitched was Newmarket films, whose lawyer was Robert Fyvolent; he personally bought an option for the footage from Tulchin shortly after. In 2011 Tulchin made a new pitch, working with Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions (Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown) to sell the project. In June of 2012, a sample of the 1” tapes were sent to DuArt Restoration for evaluation, but their Video technician, Maurice Schechter, determined these tapes had baked in quad artifacts, so the original quads were pulled from Tulchin’s basement. Fourteen of the 2” tapes and log sheets were sent for transfer and restoration. The Quads were found to have incredible detail, resolution, saturation, and sound, but eventually Jigsaw walked away. Tulchin died in August 2017 without having realized his dream of a “Black Woodstock” film. In October 2015, DuArt Restoration closed down and the fourteen original quad tapes apparently ended in the dumpster.
Before Tulchin died in September 2017, Fyvolent exercised his option and formed Mass Distraction Media to produce a documentary, probably bringing in Joe Kamen and RadicalMedia soon after, since that company asked the AMIA Listserv for suggestions to do transfer work on 2” Quads. Since Schechter Engineering had purchased DuArt’s video lab, Maurice Schechter and Bill Seery of Mercer Media were contracted to transfer all surviving 2” and 1”, baking and cleaning the quads to mitigate any back coat issues and from the decomposed foam seals of the Scotch Aqua shipping cases. The 1″ tapes had the Scotch flange removed. The analog video output of the quad was fed into a Snell and Wilcox decoder, which created a 10bit uncompressed SDI stream. This was a huge challenge, since detail from the 4 tube cameras can create a mirage of visual artifacts, dot crawl, cross color and loss of resolution. After several more steps to capture the audio. the SDI signal was captured by AJA to a 10bit uncompressed interlaced NTSC / 24bit 48Khz PCM quicktime file. Unfortunately, some of the performances had been on the lost 14 tapes. Fortunately, Schechter found the hard drives from the 2011 transfers and donated them to Radical. At this point director Questlove was brought in to supervise color timing and editing.
A decision was made to finish the film in 4K at 24p, blending down the 30 frame NTSC ( AKA 29.97 ) of the original digitization to 24 Frames, while keeping the 4×3 aspect ratio, thereby creating some digital artifacts. The producers apparently wanted the feel of photochemical film, giving it a “more vintage film” look that contrasted with the modern interviews and buttressed the filmmaker’s thesis that the historical event had been willfully neglected for decades.
Make no mistake, Questlove and the producers have created an extremely moving document that itself becomes evidence for the institutionalized racism suffered by people of color in this country, while celebrating the unbelievable joy of music. Nevertheless, one can hope that the unedited and correctly transferred footage of this amazing event will one day become available in all its visual glory.
Thanks to John H. Mitchell Television Curator Mark Quigley for help on researching this blog, to Joe Lauro for an interview, and to Maurice Schechter who spent hours explaining the technical aspects.
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