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Archive for September 18th, 2011

by Allan Fish

(Germany 1931 110m) DVD1/2

A ship with eight sails and fifty cannons

p  Seymour Nebenzal  d  Georg W.Pabst  w  Bela Balazs, Leo Lania, Ladislas Vajda  operetta play  Bertolt Brecht  play  “The Beggar’s Opera” by John Gay  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner  ed  Hans Oser  m  Kurt Weill  art  Andrei Andreiev

Rudolf Forster (Mackie Messer “Mack the Knife”), Fritz Rasp (Peachum), Carola Neher (Polly Peachum), Valeska Gert (Mrs Peachum), Lotte Lenya (Pirate Jenny), Reinhold Schünzel (Tiger-Brown), Wladimir Sokoloff (Warder Smith), Herman Thimig (Vicar),

The general consensus regarding Pabst’s take on the legendary Brecht-Weill operetta is that it was a noble failure.  In terms of keeping the feel and satire of the theatrical original it’s not an unfair decision (the truest Brecht film remains Kühle Wampe).  Yet could the original play have worked as a film any more than the 1952 version of its predecessor, Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, did with Olivier as Macheath?  I for one don’t think so, and one must also recall that there was a time when Pabst’s film was very highly regarded indeed.

            Now we know that many of the changes that Brecht objected to in the infamous legal case against the makers were partially proposed by Brecht himself, and while some of Weill’s songs faced the chop, it would hardly be the last time where a screen musical would lose some of its score; take Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, for one.  Yet perhaps the most vital statistic to take into account when discussing the film’s power was the Nazis banning of the film and destroying of the negative in 1933, so that for years the film was out of circulation and existed only in the memories of those who remembered the original screening.  Luckily, prints that went abroad weren’t under Nazi jurisdiction and it was restored in the early 1960s, but by then it was the age of West Side Story, of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Weimar Germany was but a memory.  I say Weimar Germany, for though the film is ostensibly set in turn of the century London (updated a few decades from the theatrical version), it’s really a comment on the status quo in turn of the thirties Berlin.  What’s more, as the proposed English version never came into being and the French version lost much of its bite, one became all the more aware that the film, as with the play, must be performed in German. (more…)

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