Werner Hochbaum

[Varietà di provincia] T. alt.: Die amsel von lichtental. T. int.: Suburban Cabaret. Sogg.: dalla pièce Der Gemeine di Felix Salten. Scen.: Werner Hochbaum, Ernst Neubach. F.: Eduard Hoesch. M.: Ludolf Grisebach. Scgf.: Alfred Kunz. Mus.: Anton Profes. Int.: Mathias Wieman (Josef Kernthaler, Bauzeichner), Frida Richard (Josef’s mother), Hans Moser (Josef’s father), Luise Ullrich (Mizzi), Oskar Sima (Franz), Olly Gebauer (Sophie), Anton Pointner (lieutenant Höfelmeyer), Otto Hartmann (lieutenant von Daffinger). Prod.: Styria-Film, GmbH Wien. 35mm. L.: 2616 m. D.: 96’

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

The first of four films which Hochbaum made in Austria: the subject matter is genuinely Viennese, Felix Salten’s stage play Der Gemeine, a scenario about the transition to the 20th century and, at the same time, a scathing critique of the militarism of the epoch. Hochbaum takes up the atmospheric and thematic grounding, but with a leap in time, which can also be read as a comment on the then-contemporary authoritarian regime in Austria. He transfers the plot to the year 1913, the lead-in to the First World War. Vienna, which likes to appear charming, slightly frivolous, and cosmopolitan in the cinema of the early 1930s, presents itself in Vorstadtvarieté as a place of self-delusion, of brazenly taking advantage, and of broken dreams. The story begins in the pleasure-seeking environment of the Prater amusement district. Mizzi Ebeseder, the daughter of popular cabaret singers, toys with the idea of a stage career at the family-owned variety theater. Singing is bliss for her. Her fiancé, though, architectural draftsman Josef Kernthaler, sets a clear ultimatum: for her to go to the stage would mean their immediate breakup. The conflict sharpens when Josef is drafted into the army. His comrades’ moral laxness, the economies of desires, the buzz and tinsel of the theater make him freeze completely. His world, which knows no nuances, is cracking at the seams. The phantasm of purging is on the rise. Josef’s demands pull the rug out under Mizzi: she staggers, wavering between singing her number and the promise of marriage, between city and country, between a stage costume and a soldier’s uniform. Her space in life is caving in, and not only hers. To this, Hochbaum responds with a highly mobile and subtle camera. It creates its own spaces, sometimes lyrical, holding on faces, oriented toward the play of visual details, “because things are easier to photograph than emotions”. This was a credo that he had learned from the cinematic polymath he appreciated most, Béla Balázs. The censors did not let Hochbaum get away lightly with his filmic statement about Vienna. The tragic ending had to be reinterpreted into a happy one, and the movie was stripped of its subtitle. It had been A song of Austrian humanity.

Elisabeth Büttner