Ernst Lubitsch

Sog.: dalla pièce omonima (1892) di Oscar Wilde. Scen.: Julien Josephson. F.: Charles Van Enger. M.: Ernst Lubitsch. Scgf.: Harold Grieve. Int.: Ronald Colman (Lord Darlington), Irene Rich (Mrs Erlynne), May McAvoy (Lady Windermere), Bert Lytell (Lord Windermere), Edward Martindel (Lord Augustus), Helen Dunbar (duchessa), Carrie Daumery (duchessa di Berwick). Prod.: Ernst Lubitsch per Warner Bros. Pictures. DCP. Bn.

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

By 1925, Lady Windermere’s Fan, which was first staged in 1892, had become a pièce de résistance on both the European and American stage. Lubitsch made the play his own through a process of unfaithful adaptation. This, not only because none of the many aphorisms which spring out of the original text flow in the (as usual, few) intertitles; nor because the coup de théatre which Wilde reserves for the end of the second act (the scandalous Mrs Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, rather than her rival as we had believed) is here revealed in the very first sequence, changing surprise for suspense (we know what the characters do not, and take pleasure in the spectacle, waiting for the bomb to go off). Lubitsch’s infidelity towards Wilde is the challenge between two kindred spirits, both of whom know the depth of appearances and the imperative of artifice. His daring substitution strategy means turning the wit of Wilde’s words into a visual texture: fleeting glances, searching binoculars, swift curtains, boxwood fences accurately fitted to conceal or reveal, a geometry of untrustworthy perceptions. It’s a matter of spatial disproportions: closeups vibrant with passion as well as fatuity (“I’ve a bit of news that may interest you / I love you”) cut briskly to long shots of huge art deco settings, where a girl’s eye may find itself at keyhole level. It’s a matter of time contractions: a seduced man tails his seducer in a single frame, against a pure pop art backdrop, on a horizontal perspective just like in early cinema, or in the Nouvelle Vague, or in Paul Thomas Anderson. Above all, the play on appearances conceals the fact that the greatest comedy of American silent cinema isn’t actually a comedy. Guido Fink wrote that “comedy is just a different way of looking at the same things”: So Lady Windermere’s Fan can be just a different way of looking at Stella Dallas (as the audiences at Cinema Ritrovato will have the opportunity to attest), if the narrative climax is still a mother’s Silent Sacrifice and Stifled Tears. Then, of course, this Mrs. Erlynne is someone who always lands on her feet, and on the very threshold of her self-sacrifice she will find a Lord Augustus waiting to be dragged away, in a whirlwind perfumed with ermine and Shalimar. Life, Oscar Wilde wrote, is far too serious a thing ever to talk seriously about it.

Paola Cristalli

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