Max Ophüls

Sc.: Curt Alexander, Jaroskav Kvapil, Max Ophüls, dall’opera comica «Prodana Nevesta» di Bedrik Smetana, libretto di Karel Smetana. F.: Reimar Kuntze, Franz Koch, Herbert Illing, Otto Wirsching. Mu.: Théo Mackeben, arrangiamento di Robert Vambery. Scgf. e cost.: Erwin Scharf. Su.: Friedrich Wilhelm Dustmann. Cast: Max Nadler (il sindaco), Jarmila Novotna (sua figlia, Marie), Hermann Kner (Micha), Maria Janowska (sua moglie), Paul Kemp (Wenzel, loro figlio), Willy Domgraf-Fassbender (Hans), Otto Wernicke (Kezal), Karl Valentin (Brummer, il direttore del circo), Liesl Karstadt (sua moglie), Annemie Soernsen (Esmeralda), Kurt Horwitz (il cantante), Therese Giehse (imbonitrice), Max Schreck (l’indiano), Ernst Zielgel, Karl Riedel, Richard Révy, Mary Weiss, Trude Haeflin, Dominik Loescher, Eduard Mathes-Roeckel, Max Duffek, Beppo Brem. Prod.: Reichsliga-Film; 35mm. L.: 2099 m. D.: 77’a 24 f/s.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

One of the leading male roles was assigned to Karl Valentin, a famous specialist in popular compositions and an artist as inseparable from Bavarian life as beer or caraway pretzels. Initially he refused: «I want nothing to do with the cinema. I’ve seen a film, just one – there was a poor soul who kept climbing up a chimney and then falling into a river. That’s a bit too low for me, you understand. Well, if you insist – if you put it in the contract that I won’t be asked to climb a chimney and that I won’t get thrown in the water – well, then I’d really like to try it. Oh, one more thing: it’s not a good idea to make me memorize the part. Because I’m sure I’ll forget it. At the most I can learn a few lines at a time. And I won’t be alone: Mademoiselle will be there to help me». «Mademoiselle» was a short and fat, middle-aged woman, who for years had stayed in the wings every time Valentin went on stage. Basically, she was a private «prompter», responsible for intervening every time the actor tripped up in one of his many sketches, which however he wrote by himself. […] Before each scene, I would explain the situation to him, in the presence of «Mademoiselle» of course. «You see the mayor coming who wants to collect the local taxes. Last year, you and your circus left town precisely because you couldn’t pay the tax. Now, your financial situation hasn’t improved much, and you are afraid that the mayor will forbid you to perform. So you’re going to try to discuss it…» «OK, that’s enough. I’ve got it.» During a brief huddle with Mademoiselle, he would decide himself what sort of evasive answers he would give to the mayor, and I let him: his improvised lines were much more colorful, more real than the ones in the script. Then we would start shooting. In just ten minutes, Valentin was so exasperated by the insistence of the mayor, that he got mad for real. The tone of the conversation got sharper and sharper, until Valentin, an enormous man with the strength of a hulk, threw a punch at the mayor that was anything but simulated. In the meantime, four cameras placed in strategic locations had filmed the scene from four different angles. All I had to do was pick the best footage. In that way, I got something very similar to the scenes performed by itinerant actors during the middle ages.

Max Ophüls , Spiel im Dasein, Stuttgart, Henry Goverts Verlag, 1959

Selling off bourgeois forms of representation at a fixed price, a concert of heterogeneous voices, cracks and breaks all over the building, and in all this, as Ophüls shows us, photography and cinema are not innocent: loss of the original. In a screechy voice, Therese Giehse urges the audience to have their photo taken – Baudelaire, Wedekind and Brecht in one: «Photogrrraaaph / It will be a wonderful memento for you / The image rrrrreflected on paperrrr / The amusement of truly elegant ladies and gentlemen / In Paris, Vienna, and Berlin / It’s not painted, it’s photogrrraaaphed / It’s not a sleight of hand, it’s not magic / It’s progress, it’s science». When Ms. Giehse says «fotografieren», it clearly has something to do with writing. Scratching the film, as in McLaren.

Frieda Grafe (1979), now in Luce negli occhi, colori nella mente. Scritti di cinema 1961-2000, ed. Mariann Lewinsky and Enno Patalas, Bologna/Recco, Cineteca del Comune di Bologna/Le Mani, 2002

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