One of the supreme masterpieces of Weimar-era German cinema is set to make its Chicago re-premiere at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center on Sunday, October 2. Director E.A. Dupont’s Variete will screen in a new restoration with live accompaniment by the percussion-heavy three-man ensemble known as the Alloy Orchestra. Although I haven’t yet heard this new score, the Hollywood Reporter called it “indispensable,” and said the film is "the vintage restoration sensation of the year.” Considering that Alloy’s score for Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera is the greatest I’ve heard for any silent film, this upcoming screening should be considered essential viewing for local cinephiles.
Variete was Germany’s biggest box office hit of 1925. It came out during the height of the movement known as Expressionism but, in spite of the extraordinarily fluid camerawork of Karl Freund (Metropolis) and a clever plot about the sinister goings-on within a circus, Dupont’s movie actually feels closer to the social realism with which directors like G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box) and Josef Von Sternberg (The Blue Angel) would soon make their mark. The film begins with a prisoner, “Boss” Huller (Emil Jannings in an uncharacteristically restrained performance), breaking a 10-year vow of silence and telling a warden the tragic story, seen in flashback, of how he came to murder his unfaithful trapeze-artist wife (Lya de Putti). The whole movie is great but the highlights are the exhilarating trapeze sequences, the deft camerawork of which puts viewers in the middle of the action, creating a thrilling “you are there” effect.
Variete screens at the Logan Center for the Arts on Sunday, October 2 at 7pm. For more info visit filmstudiescenter.uchicago.edu
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