A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Wildcat (Ernst Lubitsch, 1921)

Pola Negri in The Wildcat
Rischka: Pola Negri
Commandant of Fort Tossenstein: Victor Janson
Lt. Alexis: Paul Heidemann
Claudius: Wilhelm Diegelmann
Pepo: Hermann Thimig
Lilli: Edith Meller
Commandant's Wife: Marga Köhler

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Hanns Kräly, Ernst Lubitsch
Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Art direction: Max Gronert, Ernst Stern

One of Ernst Lubitsch's last films made in Germany before he departed for Hollywood, The Wildcat, is subtitled A Grotesque in Four Acts, which is only mildly suggestive of its giddy absurdity. It doesn't resemble any other Lubitsch film I've seen, except in its uninhibited delight in playing with the medium. Pola Negri, usually cast in serious romances and initially burdened with a "femme fatale" label when she joined Lubitsch in Hollywood, here demonstrates a marvelous gift for knockabout comedy as the titular wildcat, the bandit's daughter who falls for a womanizing lieutenant and manages almost to bring an Alpine military fort to rubble. Working not only in actual snowy Alpine locations but also in some of the wackiest studio sets ever built, Lubitsch pulls out all the stops, using a mad variety of matte shots that frame the action at odd angles and in ridiculous compositions. The fort itself bristles with cannons from every corner, and its interiors are full of mad curlicues. The action is no less outlandish: At one point, the bandits breach the fort by using Negri as a kind of human battering ram. And when Negri's Rischka deserts her bandit husband to pursue the lieutenant, she returns to find a stream trickling out of their hut, created by the tears the bandit has shed. Sheer nonsense, but a kind of unknown classic of silent comedy, on a par with the work of Mack Sennett in its pioneering exploitation of the medium. Lubitsch would temper his imagination, but you can still see foreshadowings of the comedy tricks he would bring to less madcap work.

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