Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Tomorrow: All Through the Night
Sunday, January 14, 2007
An adaptation of a Victor Hugo novel, Veidt plays the role of Gwynplaine, a nobleman's son, who is kidnapped by a political enemy and mutilated by a gypsy "surgeon" who carves his mouth into a hideous grin. Left behind by the gypsies as the flee the country, Gwynplaine wanders through a landscape of hangman’s gallows and snowy cliffs surrounding by poor people freezing to death in the snow. After rescuing a baby from her dead mother’s arms, he finds shelter with an old man who takes pity on him and his charge. Years later, Gwynplaine and his “family” have become a traveling circus act, in which he plays a clown, laughed at and taunted by the audience. He and the blind girl (Mary Philbin The Phantom of the Opera) fall in love, but they almost lose each other when Gwynplaine is drawn back into the world of political intrigue. He becomes the plaything of a jaded duchess (Olga Baclanova Freaks), and his enemies renew their efforts to control him.
If silent movies are too remote and melodramatic for you, this film may change your mind. Like many films of the time, it does seem to move rather slowly since we are used to a faster pace and more action, but The Man Who Laughs is visually quite beautiful in the way that German Expressionist films always are and Veidt’s portrayal of Gwynplaine is impressive. Considering that the only tools a silent actor really had were his facial expressions and his body language, Veidt managed to convey a great emotional expressiveness through only his eyes and hands, much of his face maintaining a continuous smile throughout the film. (From the photo, you can see how Veidt’s Gwynplaine must have been the origin for the Batman character The Joker).
Created in the same vein as other Universal successes like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera (adaptations of other French novels in which a disfigured man looks for love from a sympathetic woman), Carl Laemmle hired two influential artists of the German Expressionist School: actor Conrad Veidt and director Paul Leni (Waxworks). German Expressionist aesthetics, as seen in The Man Who Laughs, laid the foundation for several popular American film genres such as noir and Universal horror films like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.
The Kino DVD has several extras, but for me the most intriguing was a German short entitled “Filmstadt Hollywood” which contains home movies of Conrad Veidt relaxing with fellow European emigres Greta Garbo, Emil Jannings, Paul Leni, Carl Laemmle, and Camilla Horn.