Category Archives: German Film
Two words come to mind when I think of director F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh: staggeringly depressing. I don’t want to go all doom and gloom here, taking shots of despair with nothing more than a wedge of lime, but the movie is a downer and so is the mix to go with it. Bear with me if you’re prone to wild mood swings or crying jags provoked by black and white movies.
The synopsis here is simple enough. Because his superiors think he’s getting a little long in the tooth, a hotel doorman, played by Emil Jannings, is demoted to washroom attendant. He’s humiliated by the loss of the position, but even moreso when his uniform, a sign of status and prestige for a man in a working class neighborhood, is taken away.
Although he manages to steal the uniform back, you watch the doorman struggle through his almost catatonic misery during the rest of the film, and when it comes to looking heartbreakingly devastated and beside himself, Jannings is aces.
In fact, one of the most interesting things about the movie is that it doesn’t use intertitles – those slides that show dialogue or describe action in a silent film. And you don’t miss them at all. Jannings’ performance carries the movie and without a single word.
Well, almost. With fifteen minutes left in the movie to go, and the doorman deeply buried in his pit of desolation and sadness, I found myself biting my nails and wondering how the hell Murnau was going to resolve this. Was the doorman going to pull an Anna Karenina? Would it maybe cut to a street scene with an orphan begging for spare change, putting the doorman’s troubles in perspective? Or would this German film go Hollywood, giving the story a happy ending, tied onto the rest of the movie with an adorable and out of place pastel ribbon?
Well, I won’t ruin it by telling you how much cake and caviar the doorman eats in the final ten minutes of The Last Laugh, but it’s a lot. Anyway, before this odd ending, there’s an even odder message, the only words that fill the screen during the entire movie:
“In the place of his disgrace, the old man wastes away miserably for the rest of his life. And the story would end here. However, the author has decided to look after this person long after he has been abandoned by all the others, by giving him an epilogue, wherein things turn out – unfortunately – as they seldom do in real life.”
Pretty considerate of him, doncha think? A couple of times, I’ve spoken to filmmakers who liken their craft to “playing god” with the characters and worlds they’ve created. I usually leave these conversations wondering if being pretentious as hell is just a side-effect of a god-complex or if maybe I don’t understand the creative process at all even though I think of myself as an artistic type. But wait, I digress.
Filmmakers make choices constantly with their characters, and opting for a happy ending over real-life troubles seems pretty normal, at least in American film. But pointing out that this was a choice, that the character is really out there, somewhere else, feeling morose and drinking himself to death in a pool of his own tears, well. I don’t really know what to make of that.
But, hey, I liked the movie. And maybe I’m no LeVar Burton, but “don’t take it from me.” Watch it your own damn self. Just have a hanky handy, I’m telling you.
Here’s a scene from the movie and mix. The doorman lost his job the day before, but no one knows yet. Also, he’s still a little drunk from the night before, but don’t hold it against him.
The Last Laugh, 1924
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Starring: Emil Jannings
The Last Laugh mix contains:
1. Cone of Light, The Almighty Defenders
2. Express Yourself, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
3. The Right People / The Clash
4. Linda Munequita, Los Hijos del Sol
5. Smile / Madeleine Peyroux
6. Planet Telex, Radiohead
7. Dayton, Ohio, 1903 / Randy Newman
8. A Day in the Life of a Tree, The Beach Boys
9. Stay Free / Black Mountain
10. Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day, The Boswell Sisters
11. Castaway Waltz / Clarence Williams
12. In the Meadow / Clint Niosi
13. We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling / Of Montreal
14. My City Was Gone, The Pretenders
15. Big Daddy C., The Rentals
16. Lay Down in the Tall Grass / Timber Timbre
17. High 5 (Rock the Catskills), Beck
18. Night of the Vampire / The Moontrekkers
19. Until We Bleed, Kleerup featuring Lykke Li
20. Everything Means Nothing to Me, Elliott Smith
21. O’ Venezia Venaga Venusia / Nino Rota
22. Va Va Va Voom, Brett Smiley
23. Patitas / Davila 666
24. It’s My Thing (Part 1), Marva Whitney
25. Rocks Off, The Rolling Stones
The Cabinet of Caligari covers the three M’s: Murder, Madness and hypnotisM. You might think that if you’ve seen one film about a mad scientist-type who uses his henchman to do his bidding, then you’ve seen them all, but this one will bewilder and delight your corneas with its bizarre, askew-to-the-max aesthetics.
Caligari (Werner Krauss) first shows up at the fair, where he is showing off Cesare, his “Somnambulist” buddy who sleeps 24 hours a day in a coffin, at least, when he isn’t predicting the future or committing violent crimes. Francis, the hero of the story, is checking out the attraction with his friend, Alan. Apparently, constant sleep has the side effect of Knowing All, so Caligari invites his audience to ask good ole Cesare anything, anything! Alan asks Cesare when he will die, and Cesare answers, before dawn tomorrow. He didn’t even really have to think about it.
Alan meets his fate, just as predicted, becoming the poster child of a series of unexplained murders in town.
So, that’s the setup. Francis, do-gooder that he is, sets out to solve the crimes, while attempting to protect his fiance, Jane, from the murderer. And Jane plays the stereotypical role of Damsel in Distress, but with a touch of that “faraway eyes” syndrome that the Rolling Stones sang about once. Caligari straddles that familiar line between madman and psychotherapist-messiah, while spidery Cesare does what he can to deal with what appears to be a gnarly case of narcolepsy.
What sets this movie apart from all of the silent movies I have seen so far, and really most films in general, is how it looks, which is completely insane. It’s a real showpiece of German Expressionism, which may make you think to yourself, “Hey, I didn’t know they had acid in the 1920s!” There is not a line that isn’t askew, a door jamb that doesn’t give way to asymmetry. And that stylized approach suits Calgari, a film that questions perspective, reality and sanity.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920
Directed by: Robert Wiene
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Mix Contains:
1. St. James Infirmary / Sidney Bechet
2. Hurry on Now (Boub Remix) / Alice Russell
3. 30 Second Air Blast / The Almighty Defenders
4. Memories of the Ghetto, Augustus Pablo
5. Derelict / Beck
6. Ball and Chain, Big Brother & the Holding Company
7. Drippy Eye / Black Moth Super Rainbow
8. Policy of Truth, Depeche Mode
9. How We Quit the Forest / Rasputina
10. Traffic Boom / Piero Piccioni
11. Lullaby / The Cure
12. Four O’Clock in the Morning, The Hassles
13. Drag Stripper / Monster Zoku Onsomb!
14. One Man, One Vote, Frank Zappa
15. Gouge Away / The Pixies
16. Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
17. Something’s Got a Hold on Me / Etta James
18. After Hours / Joe Kickass
19. Security, Otis Redding
20. Fee Fee Fi Fo Fum / LaVern Baker
21. St. James Infirmary, Louis Armstrong
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has just the right mixture of robots and revolution to be considered a treasure from the early years of film. Lang’s dystopian vision of the future involves a privileged, prince-type character who ventures into the depths of a subterranean city populated by workers who can’t leave their machines. Along the way, you meet the city’s architect, a mad scientist, a robot-witch, and a priestess who resembles a young Emma Goldman.
Starring: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Why watch it: Before computers were invented, robots appear in this movie as part of the message that technology can be an instrument of control. Lang may have been inspired by the burst of factories during the early 20th century, but this idea is more relevant than ever. Also, with footage discovered in 2008, the restored version of this film is incredibly cohesive and poignant.
Metropolis Mix Contains:
1. I’m Coming Home / The Almighty Defenders
2. Look Up, Look Down That Lonesome Road / The Delmore Brothers
3. Clap Hands / Tom Waits
4. I Can’t Get Started with You, Bunny Berigan
5. Saint James Infirmary, Cab Calloway
6. Trouble in Mind / Fats Domino
7. Make Someone Happy, Jimmy Durante
8. Smokestack Lightning / The Yardbirds
9. Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gome, Ethel Waters
10. Stupidity Tries, Elliott Smith
11. Doctor Jazz, Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers
12. Drugs / Black Lips
13. Blue Yodel No. 5, Gene Autry
14. Long Tall Sally, Little Richard
15. Time / David Bowie
16. Alone in Kyoto / Air
17. Peace in the Valley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe
18. Pearl’s Dream / Bat for Lashes
19. Stillness is the Move, The Dirty Projectors
20. Shout, Sister, Shout / The Boswell Sisters
21. Blue Horizon, Sidney Bechet
22. Red Reflection, Spindrift
23. You Gotta Move / Sister Rosetta Tharpe
24. Ace Coltrane, Spindrift
25. Let’s Get it On, Marvin Gaye
26. (My Heart Goes) Piddly Patter Patter / Nappy Brown
27. Neutron Dance, The Pointer Sisters
28. Jigsaw Falling into Place, Radiohead
29. Glory Box / Portishead
30. Speed Trials, Elliott Smith
31. My Little Underground, The Jesus & Mary Chain
32. Back Street / Dale Hawkins
33. Wildlife Sculpture, The Generationals
34. Left Hand Luke, T-Rex
35. Oh! Sweet Nothin’ / The Velvet Underground
36. Fire, RJD2
37. Wire to the Walls / RTB2
38. 2 Wicky, Hooverphonic
39. Mr. Grieves, The Pixies
40. I’ll Get By, Ruth Etting
41. Boogie Woogie Baby, The Delmore Brothers