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18 January 2017

Der brennende Acker (1922)

This week's film special is about the German silent film Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Murnau shot this drama right before his vampire classic Nosferatu (1922). Der brennende Acker is remarkable for its beautiful exterior shots and its all-star cast, including Vladimir Gajdarov and Lya de Putti. For many decades the film was considered lost, but in 1978 an almost complete print was found in the estate of an Italian priest. There also remains this beautiful series of postcards by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, published for the French release of the film, in France titled La terre qui flambe.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Maria (Grete Diercks) works in the household of Peter Rog and his father. Peter is in love with her and wants to marry her, but she instead loves his younger brother Johannes.

Eugen Klöpfer in Der brennende Acker (1922 )
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922) with Eugen Klöpfer as Peter Rog.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Peter Rog (Eugen Klöpfer) takes care of his dying father (Werner Krauss).

The Devil's Field


Der brennende Acker presents two households: that of the wealthy Count Josef Emmanuel of Rudenbergand the Rogs, a fairly prosperous farm family who live nearby.

When the old farmer Rog (Werner Krauss) dies, his hard-working son Peter (Eugen Klöpfer) attends him and stays at the farm after his father's death.

The other, younger son is the more worldly Johannes (Vladimir Gajdarov). He has great ambitions and he refuses the love of the servant Maria (Grete Diercks).

His ambition leads the handsome Johannes to charm Gerda (Lya de Putti), the daughter of the old Count Rudenberg (Eduard von Winterstein), who is also dying. Gerda helps Johannes to a job as the secretary of the Count.

Johannes discovers that the Count's second wife Helga (Stella Arbenina) will inherit the Devil's Field. Only he knows that the land sits on an untapped oil field worth a fortune.

Joahnnes turns his attention from Gerda to Helga. When she is widowed, he marries her. His greed leads to death and burning soil.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). At the farm of the Rog family. The housemaid Maria (Grete Diercks) eyes Johannes Rog (Vladimir Gajdarov), but he is only interested in money.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922) with Grete Diercks as the housemaid Marie.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau


In the 1920s Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931) was with Fritz Lang and G. W. Pabst one of the three great German film directors and Sandra Brennan at AllMovie writes that "To this day German filmmaker F.W.Murnau remains one of the most influential directors of cinema."

He made his directorial debut in 1919, the fantasy film Der Knabe in Blau/Emerald of Death (1919). His next films were also fantasy films: The three-part Satanas/Satan (1919), Murnau's first film with cinematographer Karl Freund and leading actor Conrad Veidt, and Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin/The Hunchback and the Dancer (1920), that marked the start of Murnau's collaboration with screenplay writer Carl Mayer.

With Schloss Vogelöd/The Haunted Castle (1921), filmed in only 16 days, Murnau already proved his ability to create an atmosphere of fear and horror, an ability that he masterly refined in Der Brennende Acker (1922) and his famous vampire film Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens/Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922).

His next film, Der letzte Mann/The Last Laugh (1924), utilized unique camera techniques that later became the basis for mise-en-scene. For this film, Karl Freund masterly operated the 'moving camera'.

Besides Der letzte Mann, Murnau's literary adaptations Tartüff/Tartuffe (1925) and Faust (1925/26) also rank among the classic films of Weimar cinema produced by Erich Pommer.

In 1926, Murnau moved to Hollywood to work for Fox studios. His first American film, Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans (1927), is considered to be the apex of German silent cinema, and won an Academy award for its artistic quality.

His next film Four Devils (1928) was turned into a happy ending and was equipped with a sound track. The same happened to Our Daily Bread/City Girl (1929/30).

Murnau returned to Berlin but his negotiations with Ufa did not lead to a result. In 1929, he travelled to Tahiti where he made the naïve love story Tabu (1931) at his own expense. Deep in debt, he returned to Hollywood, where Paramount offered him a ten-year contract.

Tabu became a box-office hit, but the week before it opened, F.W. Murnau was killed in an auto accident. He was only 42.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Gerda (Lya de Putti) and her maid (Leonie Taliansky).

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Count Rudenburg (Eduard von Winterstein), flanked by, left, his daughter Gerda (Lya de Putti), and right, his second wife Helga (Stella Arbenina).

Der brennende Acker


Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil or in French La terre qui flambe was considered lost for a long time. In 1978 an almost complete print was found in the estate of an Italian priest, who had organised screenings with his film collection in mental hospitals

Since then, Der brennende Acker is acclaimed for its visual quality, the contrast between the simple rustic farm and the airy and elegant castle. Thorkell A. Ottarsson at IMDb: "The film is quite dramatic and dark, even surprisingly dark at times. A superb film from one of the best directors of all time."

To achieve his visual effects, innovative camera angles, and bold lighting, Murnau had two of the most renowned cameramen photographing the film. Fritz Arno Wagner filmed the first part and Karl Freund the second part, and the sets were built by the equally renowned Rochus Gliese.

Karl Freund, who began as a projectionist in Berlin and newsreel cameraman, worked for Ufa in the 1920s and gained the international reputation of being a master cameraman. His later credits include such classics as Metropolis, Der Lezte Mann/The Last Laugh, Der Golem/The Golem and Variété/Variety.

W. Morrow at IMDb describes beautifully his fascination for Der brennende Acker: "a sustained mood of wintry melancholy, perked by a number of understated but impressive directorial touches. There's business involving a document torn into little pieces that is poetic. When Murnau was at his peak, in such films as Faust and Sunrise, he would stage his effects on a much grander scale, but here he manages to create a beautiful moment with a few torn pieces of paper."

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). The old maid talks to the young servants about the Devil's Field.

Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Helga, Count Rudenburg's second wife (Stella Arbenina), and Gerda, the Count's daughter (Lya de Putti), in a fierce get together.


Der brennende Acker (1922)
French postcard by Edition de la Cinématographie Française, Paris. Photo: G.P.C. Publicity still for Der brennende Acker/Burning Soil/La terre qui flambe (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1922). Johannes Rog (Vladimir Gajdarov) arrives too late at the deathbed of his father (Werner Krauss), while, left, his brother Peter (Eugen Klöpfer), and right, the maid Maria (Grete Diercks), look on.

Sources: Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), John DeBartolo (Silents are Golden), W. Morrow (IMDb), Thorkell A. Ottarsson (IMDb), Yepok (IMDb), Filmportal.de (German), Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.

17 January 2017

Sophie Marceau

French actress Sophie Marceau (1966) became a European film star with a string of successful films, including La boum/The Party (1980), L'Étudiante/The Student (1988), Fanfan (1993), and La fille de d'Artagnan/Revenge of the Musketeers (1994). Internationally she became known with her performances in Braveheart (1995), and the 19th James Bond film The World Is Not Enough (1999). She received a Cesar for La Boum 2 (1983) and she won a Moliere award for a stage production of Eurydice in 1991.

Sophie Marceau
French postcard, no. 956. Photo: Patrick Davy.

La Boum


Sophie Marceau was born Sophie Danièle Sylvie Maupu in 1966 in Paris, France. She has a three-years-older brother, Sylvain. Her parents, Simone (Morisset), a shop assistant, and Benoît Maupu, a truck driver, divorced when she was nine years old.

She grew up far from the studio spotlights in the Paris suburb of Gentilly. When she was 14, she auditioned for a role in a film about teenagers called La Boum/The Party (1980) and director Claude Pinoteau gave her the leading role. After viewing the rushes, Alain Poiré, director of the Gaumont Film Company, signed Marceau to a long-term contract.

The comedy La Boum was a hit, not only in France, where 4,378,500 tickets were sold, but also in several other European countries. She also played in La Boum 2/The Party 2 (Claude Pinoteau, 1982), another hit, for which she received the Cesar for Most Promising Actress in 1983.

Then the 16-years-old actress bought back her contract with Gaumont for one million French francs, for which she had to borrow a lot of money. She went to study at the Ecole Florent in Paris, and focused on more dramatic roles. She played roles in the historical war drama Fort Saganne (Alain Corneau, 1984) with Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, the romantic drama L'amour braque/Mad Love (Andrzej Zulawski, 1985) with Francis Huster, the crime drama Police (Maurice Pialat, 1985), and the psychological thriller Descente aux enfers/Descent Into Hell (Francis Girod, 1986).

In 1988, she starred in the romantic comedy L'Étudiante/The Student (Claude Pinoteau, 1988) and the historical adventure film Chouans! (Philippe de Broca, 1988), based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac. That year, Marceau was named Best Romantic Actress at the Festival International du Film Romantique (International Festival of Romantic Film) in Cabourg for her role in Chouans!

Marceau next starred with Jacques Dutronc in Mes nuits sont plus belles que vos jours/My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989), which was directed by her long-time companion Andrzej Zulawski. The following year, she starred in her American debut Pacific Palisades (Bernard Schmitt, 1990) and in La note bleue/The Blue Note (Andrzej Zulawski, 1990), her third film directed by Zulawski.

Sophie Marceau
French collectors card in the series 'Portrait de Stars; L'encyclopédie du Cinéma' by Edito Service, 1991. Photo: Gamma Caption: Sophie Marceau, 1985, France.

The World Is Not Enough


In 1991, Sophie Marcerau made her stage debut in Jean Anouilh's Eurydice. She was awarded the Moliere Award for Best Newcomer.

Marceau began to make less dramatic films. She starred with Vincent Perez in the comedy Fanfan (Alexandre Jardin, 1993) and the Swashbuckler adventure La fille de d'Artagnan/Revenge of the Musketeers (Bertrand Tavernier, 1994). Both were popular in France, but received mixed reviews.

In 1994, she returned to the theatre as Eliza Doolittle in G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion. Marceau had her international breakthrough in 1995 when she played Isabelle, Princess of Wales in the historical epic Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995). The film was nominated for ten Academy awards and won five, including Best Picture and Best Director.

That year, she was also part of an ensemble of international actors in Al di là delle nuvole/Beyond the Clouds (1995), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders. In 1997 followed the title role in Anna Karenina (Bernard Rose 1997), filmed in Russia. She played Hippolyta in the Shakespeare adaptation A Midsummer Night's Dream (Michael Hoffman, 1999).

Arguably her best known role is the villainess Bond girl Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999), the third film with Pierce Brosnan as MI6 agent 007. Despite mixed critical reception, The World Is Not Enough earned $361,832,400 worldwide.

Marceau teamed up again with Zulawski to film La fidélité/Fidelity (Andrzej Zulawski, 2000), playing the role of a talented photographer who takes a job at a scandal-mongering tabloid and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric children's book publisher.

Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough (1999)
British postcard by EON Productions. Photo: Danjaq / LLC / United Artists Corporation. Publicity still for The World is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999) with Sophie Marceau as Elektra King.

Speak to Me of Love


From 2000 on, Sophie Marceau worked mainly in France. In 2002, she made her directorial debut in the feature film Speak to Me of Love, for which she was named Best Director at the Montreal World Film Festival. The film starred Judith Godrèche. It was her second directorial effort, following her nine-minute short film L'aube à l'envers (1995), which had opened the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival that year.

Marceau played a widowed nurse in À ce soir/Nelly (Laure Duthilleul, 2004), an undercover police agent in the romantic thriller Anthony Zimmer (Jérôme Salle, 2005), and the troubled daughter of a murdered film star in La disparue de Deauville/Trivial (2007), her second feature as a director.

Marceau played a member of the French Resistance in Les Femmes de l'ombre/Female Agents (Jean-Paul Salomé, 2008), and she teamed up with Monica Bellucci in the thriller Ne te retourne pas/Don't Look Back (Marina de Van, 2009) about the mysterious connection between two women who have never met.

She played a successful business executive forced to confront her unhappy childhood in the romantic comedy L'âge de raison/With Love... from the Age of Reason (Yann Samuell, 2010). Recent films include the thriller Arrêtez-moi/Arrest Me (Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, 2013) and the French-Belgian drama La Taularde/Jailbirds (Audrey Estrougo, 2015). In 2015, she was a member of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival.

From 1984 to 2001, Sophie Marceau was in a relationship with Polish/French director Andrzej Zulawski. They have a son, Vincent Zulawkski (1985). Later she was in long-time relationships with producer Jim Lemley, and with actor Christophe Lambert. With Lemley she has a daughter, Juliette Lemley (2002).

Sophie Marceau in L'étudiante (1988)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for L'étudiante/The Student (Claude Pinoteau, 1988).

Sources: Yuri German (AllMovie), Marceau.co.uk, Wikipedia and IMDb.

16 January 2017

Jarmila Novotná

Czech soprano Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994) was one of the world-renowned opera luminaries of the 20th Century. Her film appearances were unfortunately few and far between.

Jarmila Novotna
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6837/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Walter Firner, Berlin.

The Bartered Bride


Jarmila Novotná was born in Prague, Czech Republic in 1907. She studied singing with Emmy Destinn.

In 1925, the 17-years-old Novotná made her operatic debut at the Prague Opera House as Marenka in Bedřich Smetana's Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride). Six days later, the lyric soprano sang there as Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata.

The following year, she made her film debut in the silent film Vyznavaci slunce/The Sun Disciples (Václav Binovec, 1926), starring Luigi Serventi.

In 1928 she starred in Verona as Gilda opposite Giacomo Lauri-Volpi in Verdi's Rigoletto and at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples as Adina opposite Tito Schipa in Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. In 1929 she joined the Kroll Opera in Berlin, where she sang Violetta as well as the title roles of Giacomo Puccini's Manon Lescaut and Madama Butterfly.

When talking pictures arrived, she headlined in German films like Brand in Der Oper/Fire in the Opera House (Carl Froelich, 1930), with Gustaf Gründgens, Der Bettelstudent/The Beggar Student (Victor Janson, 1931), and the film version of The Bartered Bride, Die Verkaufte Braut (Max Ophüls, 1932).

Hal Erickson at AllMovie on Die Verkaufte Braut (1930): “The original libretto, involving the comic misadventures of two mismatched couples, is given a respectable amount of attention, but the film's biggest selling card is the photographic dexterity of Max Ophuls, who never met a camera crane he didn't like. Since filmed opera was seldom big box-office in 1932, Ophuls concentrates on the farcical elements of the story; especially worth noting are comic contributions by Paul Kemp and Otto Wernicke, who seldom let their German film fans down. Curiously, star Jarmila Novotna, whose ‘live’ appearances in The Bartered Bride were much prized by contemporary critics, doesn't come off all that well in this film version.”

Other films followed such as Nacht Der Grossen Liebe/Night of the Great Love (Geza von Bolvary, 1933) with Gustav Fröhlich. In January 1933 she created the female lead in Jaromir Weinberger's new operetta Frühlingsstürme (Spring Storms), opposite Richard Tauber at the Theater im Admiralspalast, Berlin. This was the last new operetta produced in the Weimar Republic, and she and Tauber were both soon forced to leave Germany by the new Nazi regime.

Jarmila Novotna, Paul Westermeier and Hans Heinz Bollmann in Der Bettelstudent (1931)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 128/4. Photo: Aafa Film. Publicity still for Der Bettelstudent/The Beggar Student (Victor Janson, 1931) with Jarmila Novotna, Paul Westermeier and Hans Heinz Bollmann.

Jarmila Novotná
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8811/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Atlantis-Film. Publicity still for Frasquita (Carl Lamac, 1934). Collection: Didier Hanson.

The Last Waltz


Jarmila Novotnà returned to Czechoslovakia to star in the film Skrivanci pisen/Lark's Songs (Svatopluk Innemann, 1933).

In 1934, she left for Vienna, where she created the title role in Franz Lehár's operetta Giuditta opposite Richard Tauber. Her immense success in that role led to a contract with the Vienna State Opera, where she was named Kammersängerin. She also appeared there with Tauber in The Bartered Bride and Madama Butterfly.

In the cinema, she starred in the Austrian operetta film Frasquita (Karel Lamac, 1934) with Heinz Ruhmann, the Austrian romantic thriller Der Kosak und die Nachtigall/The Cossack and the Nightingale (Phil Jutzi, 1935) with Iván Petrovich, and in the French-British operetta film La dernière valse/The Last Waltz (Leo Mittler, 1935), which was made in two language versions.

She then left the film industry to concentrate on her stage work with the Viennese State Opera. After the Anschluss of Austria, she had to leave Vienna.

In January 1940 she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, as Mimí in Puccini's La bohème. From 1940 to 1956, Novotná performed regularly at the Met.

In 1946 she returned before the cameras in a straight dramatic role in the Hollywood production The Search (Fred Zinnemann, 1946), starring Montgomery Clift. The Search is a semi-documentary film on the plight of WWII orphans. Novotná played a Czech mother who has lost contact with her young son when they were in Auschwitz and she now travels from one refugee camp to another in search of him.

Novotna's then played turn of the century diva Maria Selka in the biopic The Great Caruso (Richard Thorpe, 1951), featuring Mario Lanza. The film traces legendary tenor Enrico Caruso's ascension from adolescent choir singer in Naples to the uppermost ranks of the opera world. Mario Lanza's tenor voice made this film one of the top box-office draws of 1951, and this helped to popularise opera among the general public.

On TV she appeared in The Great Waltz (Max Liebman, 1955), which charts the life and times of composer Johann Strauss, Jr. She also played Hans’ mother in the TV musical Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (Sidney Lumet, 1958), starring Tab Hunter. Her last screen appearance was as an interviewee in the documentary Toscanini: The Maestro (Peter Rosen, 1985).

At 85, Jarmila Novotná passed away in New York in 1994.


Jarmila Novotna in Skrivanci pisen/Lark's Songs (1933). Source: Radio Santos (YouTube).


Jarmila Novotna and Keith Andes in The Great Waltz (1955). Source: Vai Music (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.