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Monday, December 26, 2011

ANNA BOLEYN (1920)

Even with a trail of successful comedies & dramas under his belt, including CARMEN/’18 and THE OYSTER PRINCESS/’19, ANNA BOLEYN was the big cinematic breakthrough for Ernst Lubitsch. Suddenly, a complete film vocabulary is joined to his matchless character analysis, story sense & visual wit. Under Lubitsch, the well-known story of Henry VIII & second wife Anne Boleyn has pomp & show, but also keeps an eye on the human-scaled foibles that turned courtship & the whims of fate into tragedy. (And it daringly makes a knowing villain out of wife #3, the clueless Jane Seymore.) The purposeful editing & natural feel for mise-en-scène are handled with new found confidence, moving us along in a lively fashion between public spectacle & private intimacies; still effective today in spite of the overly-enthusiastic perfs from leads Emil Jannings & Henny Porten. A cast of thousands (well, hundreds) provides extra luxury, as do the striking sets & fine lensing from Theodor Sparkuhl, who came to the States about a decade after Ernst. (Lubitsch undoubtedly helped him land @ Paramount.) Note the consistent use of various framing devices, a Lubitsch speciality, not only via doors, windows & arches, but with various lens masks directly on the camera to help accent & dramatize shots. A master was being born; and Hollywood took note, making him the first big ‘get’ from UFA/Germany when Mary Pickford grabbed him for ROSITA in ‘23.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Mary Pickford never got over the critical & financial success of ROSITA, which she grew to revile and even tried to suppress. (It survives in a compromised Russian print.) Yet, after seeing Chaplin’s A WOMAN OF PARIS/’23, Lubitsch had his anti-epic epiphany and moved to the sophisticated romantic comedies he’s still famous for.

DOUBLE-BILL: Why not try Donizetti’s operatic Tudors instead of another movie version. The gorgeous Russian soprano Anna Netrebko has made a specialty singing ANNA BOLENA and DG has her with the Vienna State Opera on DVD. Or wait for the up-coming MET version, already seen via HD-broadcast in theaters.

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