Friday, January 12, 2018

Weimar German culture seems to be trending.....

Weimar Germany seems to be trending..... I just came across a rather good article in Tablet magazine about the avant-garde performer Valeska Gert. "The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert," by Elyssa Goodman, looks at the influence of the "incomparable ‘dance performance artist’ who inspired entertainers from German Expressionism through to 1980s punk."

I've been fascinated by this strange artist ever since I saw her in the 1929 Louise Brooks film, The Diary of a Lost Girl. Despite Brooks' presence, Gert dominates the few scenes she is in. As Goodman notes,
"Gert began performing all over Europe, at Brecht’s cabaret The Red Revue, in Paris, in London, and elsewhere. She also moved her parody into a new medium, performing in film alongside a very young Greta Garbo in the 1925 film Joyless Street; in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Diary of a Lost Girl also starring American cinema sensation Louise Brooks; in the first film version of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera as Mrs. Peachum in 1931, and many others. Gert knew how to manipulate her face and her body to dominate a stage in her solo performances, and the same happens even when she’s on screen with multiple people, as in this scene from Diary of a Lost Girl: Her face twists, her eyes expand, her mouth bends and even if she’s not saying anything, you simply can’t look away."

I encourage everyone to check out Goodman's article HERE. It is a good read. Back in 2010, I also wrote a piece on Gert which you may also want to check out, "The Remarkable Life of Valeska Gert." It ran on Huffington Post.

And that's not all the news from Weimar Germany. The culture of this special period in history is being celebrated in a new book, Night Falls on Berlin in the Roaring Twenties by Boris Pofalla (Author) & Robert Nippoldt (Illustrator). It is due out in May from Taschen. The publisher description reads thus:

"It was the age of drag balls, Metropolis, and Josephine Baker. Of scientific breakthroughs, literary verve, and the political chaos of the Weimar Republic. After the best-selling Hollywood in the 30s and Jazz: New York in the Roaring Twenties, illustrator Robert Nippoldt teams up with author Boris Pofalla to evoke the fast-moving, freewheeling metropolis that was Berlin in the 1920s.

Like a cinematographic city tour through time, Berlin of the Roaring Twenties takes in the urban scale and the intricate details of this transformative decade, from sweeping street panoramas, bejeweled with new electric lights, to the foxtrot and tango steps tapped out on dance floors across the town. With characteristic graphic mastery of light, shadow, and expression, as well as a silver-printing sheen, Nippoldt intersperses portraits with cityscapes, revealing the changing scenery and dynamic hubs of this burgeoning and rapidly industrializing capital, as well as the extraordinary protagonists that made up its hotbed scene of art, science, and ideas.

With an eager eye on the eccentrics and outlaws that made up this heady age as much as the established “greats,” Nippoldt includes rich profiles not only of the likes of Lotte Reiniger, Christopher Isherwood, Albert Einstein, Kurt Weill, Marlene Dietrich, and George Grosz, but also for “the woman with ten brains” Thea Alba, “Einstein of Sex” Magnus Hirschfeld, and the city’s notorious criminal Adolf Leib. So, too, does the book contain special features for some of the most prominent cultural and political phenomena of the time, whether the most iconic film characters or the frenzied chaos of the Weimar cabinet.

Beyond the people and the places, the book captures above all the incomparable and ineffable spirit of time and place, of an epoch suspended between two world wars and a country caught between joie-de-vivre daring and the darkness of encroaching National Socialism. Before the night falls, Nippoldt shows it all to us: the bright lights and the backstage whispers, the looming factories and the theoretical physics, the roar of the sports hall and the hush of the theater, the songs of the Comedian Harmonists, the satire of George Grosz, and the gender-bending icon of Marlene Dietrich, lighting up a cigarette in top hat, tuxedo, and come-to-bed eyes."

Check out this video introduction to the book:

Or, check out this Taschen podcast about the new book:

But wait, there's more.... Just out on DVD from Kino Lorber is Rudiger Suchsland's documentary film From Caligari to Hitler. From Kino: "In the relevatory documentary From Caligari to Hitler filmmaker Rüdiger Suchsland explores the connections between the expressionist silent cinema of Germany and the subsequent rise of Nazism. The film illustrates Siegfried Kracauer's 1947 thesis that Nazism is anticipated in many themes found throughout Weimar cinema of the 1920s, whiles situating Kracauer in the philosophy and histories of the time. Looking at landmark films like Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, Metropolis, The Golem, and many others, Suchsland brilliantly tracks the concept of the charmismatic villain bewitching the people." (Reminds me of someone today.) From Caligari to Hitler got a ★★★ review on Video Librarian: "In fact, one of the documentary's major virtues is that it not only covers noted filmmakers such as Lang, F.W. Murnau, and Ernst Lubitsch but also serves as an introduction to movies in many different genres by other directors who are virtually forgotten today."

Of course, Louise Brooks made two of her greatest films in the Weimar era, the G.W. Pabst directed Pandora's Box (1929) and The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). The English film critic Pamela Hutchinson has written a newly released book, Pandora's Box, published by BFI Film Classics. I just got a copy last week, and read it promptly. It is really, really good - displaying graceful prose and lively thinking. If you haven't already done so, check it out.

And lastly, there is a new article about G.W. Pabst which ran in a Brazilian publication, Estadao Cultura. The piece is titled "Georg Wilhelm Pabst: A obra por trás do homem."

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