Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 5

Okay, 2 more movies last Monday. Here we go.

First up was the classic old film that introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world, The Blue Angel. However, this was the rarely shown English version (not sure if that's a good thing, but it's a different thing. There was an interesting introduction to the film where I learned a few things. First, early sound film did not capture the higher pitched voice of women very well, and Marlene Dietrich was cast in part because her voice was lower and was captured well on film. Second, the film was shot in German and in English with the same cast. The idea was that the German version would have exclusive play in Germany (and not have to compete with Hollywood films) and the English version would play in America to try to break into the American market. It was a success in its time, but the quick advent of subtitles doomed it to obscurity. However, because so many prints were made of the German version, the original negatives wore out and now every print is a copy of a copy, while the English version languished in a vault and is more or less pristine to make more prints from the original negative.

Now on to the film. I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen the German version. I can guess what's different. In particular, Emil Jannings' character (Professor Immanuel Rath) is a professor of English in this version, and forces his students to speak English. Second, Marlene Dietrich's showgirl character Lola Lola is an English speaker and forces people to speak English to her. I assume these are both adaptations for the English version. Other than that, I assume the story is the same. Rath's students sneak out to the club "Blue Angel" to see Lola perform. Trying to catch them in the act, Rath goes to the club, only to be embarrassed and smitten by Lola. Over several visits (and several drinks), he falls for her and proposes. She laughs hysterically (not the desired response), since she's pretty much a...well, they couldn't actually show true sluttiness back then, but she is by profession a woman of loose morals. Rath spends so much time at the Blue Angel his life falls apart and he loses his job. But he doesn't care, he marries Lola and starts life as a performer in their travelling show. A few years later, they return to his hometown to do the triumphant return show in the Blue Angel. Everyone's excited--except for Rath, who's mortified.

It's a good story, with a good moral (if a girl laughs at your marriage proposal, just walk away!), and somewhat shocking considering the era. But there are problems with the English version. Primarily, the German accents are so thick sometimes I wished it was just in German and subtitled. Second Dietrich has a thick enough accent that it's not so believable that she's a native English speaker who doesn't understand German. Worst, Kurt Gerron is almost unintelligible. For that matter, ever since seeing Prisoner of Paradise, I find it hard to watch Kurt Gerron without thinking about his tragic end in Theresienstadt, but that shouldn't be a criticism of the film. I'm just saying, is all.

Next up was a well done and exciting if somewhat standard bank robber thriller 12 Winters. It's based on a true story (but admittedly jazzed up for entertainment) of Klaus (Axel Prahl) and Mike (the always awesome J├╝rgen Vogel). They're two criminals who meet in prison. After they get released, they happen to run into each other (through a common friend) and start talking about what they've been up to. Turns out one (I think it was Klaus, but I might be wrong) has been up to robbing banks. They start plotting how to rob banks better, more efficiently, with no risk of getting caught. And, most importantly, without killing anyone (which is true of the real story, and one reason they're more sympathetic than the typical bank robber). For 12 years, working only in the winter (hence the title) they went on one of the most infamous bank robbing sprees in German history. They wore masks and although they were both middle aged jumped over counters like young men (one element that confused the cops and kept them off their trail). Klaus is very low key (in fact, he's in hiding), and rarely spends any money. Mike, on the other hand spends freely, and enjoys his wealth with the company of several women (another true element that was allegedly toned down for the film because his real lifestyle would be too over the top). A fun thriller. As I said, a little standard (there's hardly anything new about bank robbers on film), but fun nonetheless.
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