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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

SCHATTEN / WARNING SHADOWS (1923)

Subtitled ‘A Nocturnal Hallucination,’ this extreme, if soggy, silent film example of German Expressionism is more cited than seen. As with Robert Weine's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI/’19, writer/director Arthur Robinson tends more to his art design & trick effects than to plot, but with less successful integration of story, acting, mood & look. It’s also frankly hard to follow with Robinson largely going without explanatory surtitles. (There are introductory titles and, apparently, more narrative titles added for foreign release.) The basic idea comes thru as we join a wealthy court audience at a puppet show to watch a sort of Francesca da Rimini tale of infidelity. The visual gimmick is in how Robinson variously hides, reveals or misreads story points thru shadow, reflection or silhouette. But with a lack of surtitles to help clarify plot & relationships, along with the blasted condition of the surviving source material, our confusion makes it seem to move at a snail’s pace, while the ultra-stylized acting is off-putting & silly. (Where’s Conrad Veidt when you need him?) The cinematographer was Fritz Arno Wagner, so this must have originally been something to see, but so dramatically inert it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm watching this print.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Two very strange phallic elements in here: the hair styling of the errant wife looks like an erection on the back of her head; and, on her lover, what may be film’s most revealing pants with material so clingy you could measure the circumference of his testicles.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Lotte Eisner is far more enthusiastic in her classic look at German Expressionism, THE HAUNTED SCREEN. And while the book doesn’t have the cachet it once had, it's still worth a look if only for the well-reproduced stills. Judging by her comments, she saw a far better, more detailed print than what's now available.

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