- Das Haus in Montevideo
- Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt & Melodie der Welt
- Frauenarzt Dr. Prätorius
- Napoleon ist an allem schuld
- Die freudlose Gasse
- Crazy Cinématographe. Europäisches Jahrmarktkino 1896-1916
- Blind Husbands (Die Rache der Berge)
- Von morgens bis mitternachts
- Max Davidson Comedies
Edition Filmmuseum combines the treasures of the film archives with the knowledge of archivists, curiosity and passion for film history, and a wonderful independence from all fashionable trends. To complete the pleasure, the Filmmuseum series is bilingual: German and English (in Vertov's case with, also, the original Russian, of course). This is true not just of the subtitles, but also of the menus, texts, and most of the additional material. And the DVDs are region-free and can therefore be played all over the world. The publishers obviously have no wish to subjugate the series to the mechanisms of the market but aim at open access everywhere. The series represents a cooperation of (so far) ten film archives and the Goethe Institute's headquarters in Munich. The advantage of this arrangement is the access to the treasures of film history as collected by those archives not only prints, but also photos, scripts, posters, documents, books. The disadvantage is that the series does not follow a strict program of the kind that would normally be drafted by a chief editor or an editorial board. This disadvantage, however, has a positive aspect. The 49 DVD releases so far do not show a common understanding and canon of "classic cinema," as most other series do. So there's an aspect of surprise and discovery, an invitation to see unknown movies and to re-see known ones combined with the palpable fun of accessing film history. To run such a series indeed takes the passion, the enthusiasm and even the craziness of film archive directors. You can never guess what they're doing next. The great Henri Langlois (1914-1977), founder of the French film archive, the Cinémathèque française, and the model of a film archivist, would probably have joined Edition Filmmuseum with pleasure and satisfaction, even though German wasn't his language.
The Film Museum's first DVD collection, comprised of all the features and short films Kluge produced for the cinema from 1960 through 1986to be followed by a second collection consisting of primarily video, film and television material shot since 1985is both a thrilling and daunting encounter for those who have yet to discover the extent of Kluge's work. Fortunately, the beginning is not a bad place to start, since Kluge's earliest films are perhaps his most accessible and provide a manageable immersion into his characteristic obsessions and quirks, his refreshingly strange mix of high and low culture, and his juxtapositions of lofty intellectual abstraction with the most basely material of bodily humour. Starting with the early work also provides a slow immersion into what is a truly unique method of film construction, to use a metaphor Kluge prefers, one which becomes over time increasingly complex and seemingly arbitrary. A new viewer needs to learn to watch Kluge, and in some ways to be initiated into a new and exceptional kind of filmic pleasure. Resolutely Brechtian in this, Kluge considers it to be part of what he calls the "utopia of film" that even the spectator nurtured on standard Hollywood fareor its German counterpart in the horrid '50s Heimat filmscan learn new ways of enjoying which are not merely distracting (or "culinary" as Brecht would put it), but which combine the more aesthetic and visual pleasures of cinema with the less frequent but no less intense pleasures of learning, knowing, and thinking.
Munich Filmmuseum director Stefan Drössler sums up the house press approach: "At Edition Filmmuseum we present motion picture history above and beyond the well-known classics." Six national and three international film institutions in the German-speaking world teamed up three years ago to pursue this ambitious goal. Their efforts are backed by the Goethe-Institut, which has been helping from the get-go in selecting material and financing the project, and by the German cinema magazine film-dienst, which provides ongoing coverage of their new releases.
The 25 DVDs released to date are quite a mixed bag: "The assortment like your local arthouse programme reflects the whole spectrum of film history, of cinema subjects and styles," says Drössler. "We welcome whatever seems relevant to us and wouldn't stand a chance in the commercial arena." Thus far, the range of releases breaks down into the following categories: German Films, International Cinema, Documentaries, What Is Cinema?, Mixed Shorts, Adaptations and Silent Movies. It includes rediscovered treasures like Ella Bergmann-Michel's 1930s documentaries of social criticism, the superbly restored talkie comedy Das Haus in Montevideo and films about filmmaking itself, such as the documentary Schnitte in Raum und Zeit on the subject of film editing.
But the Munich museum publishers also put out comprehensive filmographies of individual directors. They've been working on an Alexander Kluge anthology for a year now in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and the German Federal Cultural Foundation: "Thanks to our partnership, we had a unique opportunity to release Alexander Kluge's complete works for the cinema as well as a selection of his TV productions and writings. This multimedia set opens up for the programming efforts of the Goethe-Instituts worldwide one of the most important personalities in the German arts of the past 40 years," revels Hans Kohl, director of production management in the Goethe-Institut's film division.
Alexander Kluge's Yesterday Girl (or Abschied von Gestern, 1966): I can't say enough about how great the Munich Filmmuseum Editions are. As for the Kluge releases, they are all on two discs with two films for the price of one. Heavy with extras and decent booklets, true gems in the boutique label world. I'm not about to review the transfers or even the films themselves, I just want to show my love and appriciation. But it's a really great film about the misadventures of a young woman (played by Kluge's sister Alexandra Kluge) from East Germany trying to make it in the west.
Rooting through their archives the ever-intriguing German label Filmmuseum have unveiled a couple of true rarities in the form of, arguably, the first two features ever to take football as their theme. Released barely months apart in 1927, Die elf Teufel - which translates as The Eleven Devils - and König der Mittelstürmer - King of the Midfielders - once again demonstrate Filmmuseum's urge for letting us in on something altogether unexpected. And yet, nominally, this double-disc set could very well be their mainstream title to date.
Die elf Teufel and König der Mittelstürmer are treated to their own individual discs on this Region 0 package. In both cases the presentations are largely fine, or at least within the context of what we should expect from films made in the late twenties. König der Mittelstürmer, in particular, is blighted by an excess of nitrate damage (at times it feels as though an unknown Norman McLaren short is invading proceedings), yet it's also the case that this ageing print is the only known one in existence. The important elements, namely the contrast levels and the overall clarity, are really quite fine. Neither film has been tinted, but then we're getting the photography shown off in a fine light anyhow, so this never becomes a problem. As to the soundtracks, both are available either in complete silence or with improvised piano tracks. Subtitles are also present for the intertitles, the ones for König der Mittelstürmer having been recreated given the damage which the print had incurred. Die elf Teufel, however, comes with its originals intact.
The extras content is limited to a single short documentary, but this piece is really quite intriguing and more than worthy of a place on the disc. Filmed in 1924, Duisburger Stadion takes a peak at the pitch in question and the Germany-Italy match which was played there that year. What's particularly interesting about this effort is not so much what's good about it but what isn't; clearly moving pictures representation of the game was rather limited back then as the static, uninteresting shots repeatedly hammer home. In fact, many of the more interesting details from the match - a broken arm, the fact that Germany lost - are either non-existent or completely glossed over. (As with the main features, there are again a number of subtitle options to translate the intertitles.)
Little known in the UK, Ella Bergmann-Michel is something of an unsung figure of the documentary movement. Operating in the early thirties, she amassed a small body of work which has now been treated to a definitive release courtesy of the Edition Filmmuseum imprint. As the title of the disc makes clear all are documentaries and were made within a small period of time. Previously Bergmann-Michel had been an abstract artist working on cubist/surrealist collages (an area which the attendant 1989 documentary delves into) and certainly all the films come with a distinctive sense of composition. Where Old People Live clearly takes a great fascination in its architectural subject, specifically its angles and curves. Similarly, Fishing in the Rhön laps up the ever changing textures of the water and the reflections this produces. Both films are ultimately quite different, yet there's undoubtedly the same logic at work behind them. Indeed, Election Campaign 1932, though incomplete, proves this further: its view of German politics as a series of abstractions and distant viewpoints makes clear Bergmann-Michel's apathy to the situation even as it remains so visually impressive.
Of course, what this is providing in all cases is texture, a word which should be integral to any consideration of Bergmann-Michel's filmic output. Yet it's not only the visual textures which are apparent, but also those which arise from the people whom she films. In many of the shorts we're dealing with what are effectively little subcultures, cinematic rarities (or at least within the context of the early thirties we are). We have the old folk of Where Old People Live, the unemployed in Unemployed and Cooking... and Travelling Hawkers, or the artist (and husband to the director) Robert Michel in Fishing in the Rhön. And the fact that all are so rare in cinematic terms only makes them come alive that little bit more. Certainly, it helps that Bergmann-Michel's empathy is never in doubt and that her reportage is essentially sober despite the visual qualities on display, yet ultimately it's the fact that we're afforded glimpses at Germany's unemployed in the early thirties, for example, which makes these works so endearing. Bergmann-Michel's films are always impassioned, always personal and as such come across as much richer works than this tag implies. What we come away with from these titles is not so much an appreciation of the manner in which she captures images (though this is no doubt a major talent of hers), but the images themselves: of the impoverished, of the innocent or, in the case of the shots of posters for Hitler's forthcoming election victory, of the unwittingly ominous. One of the latest releases from Edition Filmmuseum, the label have once again done themselves proud with Ella Bergmann-Michel - Dokumentarische Filme 1931-1933. All of her films - and the fragments - are in fine condition (certainly looking better than the excerpts used in the 1989 documentary) and demonstrate fine levels of contrast and clarity. Of course, damage is present in some instances (Travelling Hawkers... only exists as a 16mm work print), but never to the degree that affects our enjoyment. Furthermore, Edition Filmmuseum have also provided each of the titles with the option of being viewed either in their original silent form or with sparse, yet perfectly suited musical scores. Election Campaign 1932, in particular, makes effective use of piano accompaniment. As for the extras, this disc offers one of Edition Filmmuseum's best efforts yet. The 1989 documentary, Blue is the Beat of My Heart does a fine job of contextualising Bergmann-Michel's work, whilst the collection of fragments and outtakes only serve to make this release all the more definitive. The complete 35mm footage for Travelling Hawkers (totalling 46 minutes) is particularly revelatory.
Our award for the best DVD goes to the very first DVD release of the Edition Filmmuseum: the first sound film of Dziga Vertov, Entuziazm. Containing two differently synchronized versions of this masterpiece as well as an extended lecture-demonstration by Peter Kubelka of the reasoning behind his resynching of sound and image, this is an interactive package in the best sense that invites viewers into the discussion of how one paticular restoration is arrived at.
From a UK perspective the Edition Filmmuseum label is getting more and more interesting with each release. It would appear as though they're unearthing gems solely for our pleasure - the kind of thing that we perhaps wouldn't readily see on the shelves over here. First off we had Dziga Vertov's 1930 sound experiment Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), a fascinating adjunct to the director's better known Man With a Movie Camera, and now a second batch has introduced to the films of Mike and Alfred, a kind of German Jay and Silent Bob, through Westend and its attendant shorts, plus - in complete contrast - this particular silent venture from 1923, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Dichterjugend, which was believed lost for many years and received a fine restoration (as seen here) from the Munich Filmmuseum in 2005.
Essentially, Friedrich Schiller offers up the prestige period film 1920s-style. It's a handsomely mounted project - great care has clearly been taken over the costume design and other period trappings, plus there are sundry horses and cast members with which to fill the frames - and also a very serious one. Its subject is, of course, the famed author and poet albeit during his early years. We're getting the kind of biographical trick pulled off by MGM with Young Tom Edison, say, and as such a film which focuses on the formative influences as opposed to the famed achievements. In other words it's about how little "Fritzie" become Friedrich. Friedrich Schiller is still a film which plays remarkably well to this day. Goetz's efforts clearly shine through, making for a tightly formed and polished little gem. The fact that it's also something of a rarity - at least in the UK - only serve to make its occasionally moderate pleasures all the more appealing.
Released onto Region 0 by Edition Filmmuseum, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Dichterjugend clocks in at 101 minutes and is currently the longest known version in existence. Thankfully, Goetz's original screenplay also exists and as such this restoration also includes explanatory intertitles to represent the missing sequences. More to the point, it also looks really quite terrific, demonstrating excellent levels of clarity and detail. Certainly some scenes across worth than others given the film's age, but the variable levels of damage are rarely a distraction and never once detract from our entertainment. Also worth noting is the fact that Friedrich Schiller comes fully tinted and with barely a technical flaw. Of course, the quality of image makes it difficult to spot instances of edge enhancement or artefacting, for example, but then this never seems to be the case. All told, Edition Filmmuseum appear to have done as best as they can.
Imagine Jay and Silent Bob directed by Aki Kaurismäki, or perhaps even Beavis and Butthead, and you'll get somewhere close to the adventures of Mike and Alfred as collected on the disc Westend. As well as the 2001 feature Westend we also find a pair of their short film appearances, a superb presentation and a fine array of extras all courtesy of Edition Filmmuseum.
Whilst it may seem a mite odd to have Westend getting released by Edition Filmmuseum alongside such bone fide classics by Vertov and von Stroheim, they've nonetheless done an excellent job of getting the film onto disc. In presentation terms we really couldn't hope for better, with the graininess of the blown up Super 16 image intact and the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of its theatrical showing maintained. Westend also comes anamorphically enhanced, taken from a spotless print and demonstrating superb contrast levels. Of course, the clarity isn't always there, but then that's to be expected as it was hardly going to be inherent in the original. As for the soundtrack, here we find the original mono present as DD2.0 and in similarly fine condition. The score by Haifaboys comes across especially well and the dialogue never once struggles for audibility. Indeed, all told we're getting a presentation which looks to be offering the film as good as gets.
Furthermore, the special features content is similarly impressive. As well as the two shorts films (both of which would have made for a fine extras package in themselves), we also find a pair of interviews, the chance to listen to a number of songs from the soundtrack in their entirety, a brief photo gallery and even some DVD-ROM content. The major piece is the first interview which sees Mischkowski and Steinkühler taking turns to discuss Mike and Alfred's developments and relate various anecdotes from the films' respective productions. And though only 15 minutes in length, it proves to be a mine of information as we hear about the manner in which Westend has been interpreted by Spanish critics (it's all about Catholicism, apparently) to the various rejection letters the pair received from potential financiers. The second interview is more technically minded given that it's director of photography KaPe Schmidt who is doing the talking. At only five minutes, this piece is understandably the lesser of the two, but nevertheless Schmidt proves to be a succinct speaker and always gets straight to the point. Moreover, his technical input also adds an extra dimension not found in the other interview. The other additions are less essential than either the shorts or the interviews, but welcome nonetheless - as said, it's a fine all round package. And as a final note it's also worth pointing out that English subtitles are available on all special features where applicable.
Thanks to Peter Kubelka's rigorous and exquisite restoration, we are now able, finally, to actually look and listen to Enthusiasm. The Austrian Film Museum's all-region DVD is a joy to behold: two discs and two versions, Kubelka's demonstration of his own very particular principles of restoration, and footage of the Soviet Spinning Top himself.
"Entuziazm" is the first release of what will become a series of releases from Edition Filmmuseum, a collaboration between several film museums of the German-speaking parts of Europe. There are two versions of the film here: the unrestored print preserved in the former Soviet Union's Gosfilmofond and the more famous Peter Kubelka restoration from 1972. It is in fact not so much of a restoration as more of a re-synchronization, because the original print is totally out of synch and Kubelka tried to approximate the film Vertov intended it to be. Exactly because this film relies so heavily on sound, the contrast between these two versions is very illuminating, and I am very happy both versions are included here. Other than the re-synchronization, there has been no restoration of the images however, and the result is a pretty damaged film: full of dots, lines and speckles, although it's certainly more than viewable. I asked the Austrian Film Museum why they have done this and I got the following reply: "We are skeptical, though not opposed to digital image restoration; in this particular case, though, every further manipulation of the original film material (aside from a meticulous cleaning of the print and taking care of the perfect contrast and gradient balance of the transfer) was out of question since we wanted to preserve and present the film-as-an-artifact, a mutilated and battered testimonial to the fragility and durability of the celluloid medium."
This totally makes sense of course, especially in the case of this film, which has had a highly tumultuous history. The sound is characteristic of early sound cinema, with again no digital cleaning up, but preserving the original mono as it was intended. The extra's on the second disc are very interesting; the 65 minute documentary in which filmmaker Peter Kubelka discusses his re-synchronization and Vertov's approach to the film is almost worth the money alone. All in all this is a splendid package and very likely the definitive version of this remarkable film, so I'm very much looking out for the upcoming releases of this promising new label. 2005 has already been a great year for avant-garde film on DVD, but this release makes my year yet another bit brighter.
Kubelka's right, naturally: films do need to be seen projected on a screen in a dark theater. But if you're living far and away from a cinematheque, second best is better than none. And second best is DVD.
That makes a new DVD series, "Edition Film Museum," produced by the afore-mentioned Austrian Film Museum in cooperation with other German-language film museums, all the more valuable. The first title's just out: Dziga Vertov's 1930 film, Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), which, as the back cover reads, "was praised by artists like Charlie Chaplin, was subsequently forgotten, and rediscovered by the avant-garde movement of the 1960s."
What's doubly interesting is that Peter Kubelka has overseen the restoration (the two-disc release includes the original print held by the Gosfilmofond, Kubelka's restoration and Joerg Burger and Michael Loebenstein's doc, Restoring Entuziazm); doubly interesting because Vertov understood immediately that advent of sound opened up radical new possibilities for cinema, a concept Kubelka touches on in relation to his own work.
I'm intrigued enough to have been emailing the Austrian Film Museum's Franziska Schuster over the past few days. "The first person who came up with the idea of a joint DVD Edition Film Museum was the director of the Munich Film Museum, Stefan Drössler," she writes. "He initiated the association of German-speaking film museums and archives to release films on DVD which are very rarely exhibited due to marginal market interest. These films belong to the valuable stock of the participating archives and are, notwithstanding their rare screenings in film theaters, of utmost significance for the history of film."
And how is the Edition going about selecting its titles? "Every participating film archive and museum is free to designate films as contributions to the Edition," replies Franziska Schuster. "This way, the Edition benefits from the experience and expertise of all the participants as well as from the focus of their particular film collection. The association will remain open for more institutions to join and deepen the pool of available 'content.' Besides silent pictures, which will, without a doubt, play an important role in the edition, there will be a focus on independent films from the 60s, 70s and 80s, as well as on selected currents in contemporary cinema. From our own archive at the Austrian Film Museum, we will be releasing more Soviet Revolution films, such as the 1930 Vitaphone version of Battleship Potemkin (the only existing sound records from that version are in Vienna), as well as other films by Dziga Vertov, and maybe also Pudovkin, Dovzhenko and others; and we'll be releasing important works from the avant-garde and experimental cinema of the 1960s, 70s and 80s."
By the way, it should probably be be noted that there'll be subtitles in English and German, occasionally other languages as well, and that these are Region 0 releases, PAL format, yet if you're in the US and your player and TV are relatively new, there should be no problem (though you might want to check).
The first DVD release by the Austrian Filmmuseum, they've set the ball rolling with a fine two-disc set. Disc one houses two versions of the film, whilst the second is reserved for some intriguing special features. Beginning with the films themselves, we're offered the chance to see both the un-restored print which was preserved in the Soviet Union's Gosfilmofond and the re-synched version which Peter Kubelka prepared in 1972.
As for extras, the key addition is a 63-minute documentary in which Kubelka explains and demonstrates his restoration efforts. Despite the length - and the fact that the piece is essentially filmed in a single take - he proves absolutely riveting and still enthusiastic after all these years. He takes us through the film in its original form, explains his various pieces of detective work and also manages to throw in a discussion of Vertov's themes and methods. Indeed, at first I was disappointed by the lack of a commentary, but it soon becomes apparent that all you'll need to know is found here. (Note also that Kubelka speaks in English throughout, there also being the option of German subtitles.)
Elsewhere on the disc we also find two minor additions, but welcome ones nonetheless. Vertov Filmed in Person compiles various instances of the director appearing in front of the camera, whilst Vertov Exhibition 1974 is similarly self-explanatory. Here we find filmed material from the exhibitions opening totalling 12 minutes, material which includes a brief speech by Vertov's wife and editor, Elizabeth Svilova. (This piece is in Russian and German with optional English subtitles.)
As said, it's a rather fine inaugural release and one which bodes well for future Filmmuseum titles. From the inner sleeve of this particular disc we are promised that these should include the efforts of, amongst others, Orson Welles, Erich von Stroheim, Richard Oswald, E.A. Dupont, G.W. Pabst, Niklaus Schilling and Sergei Eisenstein.