Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Lubitsch in Berlin The Oyster Princess/I Don't Want to Be a Man|
Actors: Victor Janson, Ossi Oswalda, Harry Liedtke, Julius Falkenstein, Max Kronert
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Comedy, Drama
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About time we had some German comedy!
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 12/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After many fine releases of German silent films, many in the Expressionist genre and generally serious dramas by famous directors like Fritz Lang, Murnau and Pabst, it's very refreshing to see some comedy from another legendary director from Germany, namely Ernst Lubitsch. This new release by KINO Video of the "Lubitsch in Berlin" series showcases a cross-section of Lubitsch's work from the years 1919 to 1921, before he became well-known in the US, to where he later emigrated. This DVD showcases two of Lubitsch's early comedy work, and it's worth noting that he was co-writer of many such comedies as well as director. Seeing these comedies today, it becomes quite obvious that Lubitsch was ahead of his time and stood apart from his German contemporaries where comedic styles are concerned. These two comedies have been described as `absurdist comedy' and in "The Oyster Princess" this is particularly evident in the way that everyday things are exaggerated to the extreme, often when least expected, while still keeping to a plot and keeping up a good level of sophistication. The style of humour is very different from American slapstick and comedy most of us are familiar with, but I'm sure there are plenty of scenes that will still get some laughs and smiles from everyone. Failing that, then the star of both comedies, Ossi Oswalda, cannot fail to enthral and delight an audience. Called `the German Mary Pickford' Oswalda certainly has the same vibrant and expressive nature, but perhaps with less of the Pickford `sweetness' about her. In any case, Ossi Oswalda is irresistibly entertaining throughout both of these short but busy comedies, and her supporting cast in "The Oyster Princess" is also very effective and enjoyable to watch. I was also impressed by the particularly good orchestral score which suited "The Oyster Princess" perfectly, and the simple plot of an oyster-farmer millionaire finding a suitable marriage mate for his spoilt daughter has a nice twist at the end. The second, shorter comedy, "I Don't Want to Be a Man" has a traditional piano score, and may be less `absurd' than "The Oyster Princess" but is still very effective as Ossi decides to spend a night out on the town dressed as a man, only to find that she'd rather be a young lady after all. Picture quality is also very good and both films are simply great fun to watch, as well as filling an important gap in the history of German silent films.
Visually wild, madcap comedies from a pre-subtlety Lubitsch
Michael Gebert | Chicago, IL USA | 12/23/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The comedies in Kino's "Lubitsch in Berlin" set are more funny-strange than funny haha, but the strange is so unique and striking that you may not mind that the humor tends to be on the goofy level of The Monkees tv show. The mature Lubitsch style is so consistently smooth and sophisticated that you'd never guess the same hand had been behind these wild, chaotic, lavishly cartoonish films, which look more like something made by a Tashlin or Jerry Lewis let utterly loose than a wry, sophisticated comedy of manners like Heaven Can Wait or Ninotchka.
The earliest films in the set are the pair of short features on this disc starring one Ossi Oswalda, apparently known as the German Mary Pickford, though her knockdown comedic persona suggests Mabel Normand or other gals who blended right in with the boys at Keystone, and her rounded figure is somewhere west of Mabel and east of Fatty. The tone of the comedy is very much like Keystone or other American film comedy of the time-- aimed at mischievous 12-year-old boys of all ages, with comics going through the motions of dramatic situations, but not really investing any dramatic weight in sex, marriage, money, class or anything else grownup. But it's Keystone with sets by Max Reinhardt's theater, a level of rococo visual elaborateness utterly unlike any American film comedy.
In The Oyster Princess Oswalda's a spoiled American brat first seen smashing all the furniture in the room with great gusto. Her indulgent tycoon papa decides that what she needs is a titled European husband, and so they are led to a candidate in an impoverished prince living in a coldwater flat in New York. (The irony is that Lubitsch would shortly become professionally involved with an actress, Pola Negri, who was one of those who made marrying a prince standard silent diva behavior.)
The prince's valet is sent to check out the American heiress, but annoyed at his reception, eventually decides to play the part of prince himself. You can imagine this as the premise of a 30s Lubitsch comedy, sophisticated and delicately risque about sexual attraction across class lines, but that would be nothing like the slapstick romp that follows, which is more like letting a manic four-year-old loose in a mansion. There's a great deal of running around to relatively little comic end, though frequently it's quite beautiful when, say, masses of servants march in lockstep through the fanciful sets. This visual invention-- which again calls up comparisons to graphic artists (Seuss, Cliff Sterett's abstract Sunday comics for Polly And Her Pals) more than any other filmmaker-- makes The Oyster Princess far more of a treat than its goofy clowning would be in a plainer-shot comedy.
Less visually extravagant, but a little more realistic and solid, is the second shorter feature on the same DVD, I Don't Want To Be a Man. Ossi is bored and petulant, a very strict tutor has been sent to watch her, she dresses like a man to escape and go on the town, and winds up spending the evening at a jazz club with her tutor.
There's a germ of a Victor/Victoria-type comedy here, but it's somewhat flubbed by the fact that it's so hard to read the sexual politics in the attraction between the "male" Ossi and her tutor. I Don't Want To Be a Man shows Lubitsch coming closer to the real world, but as would have been the case if Keystone had tried to adapt Edith Wharton, say, he doesn't yet know what to do with it. And, most crucially, he doesn't yet have the actress capable of being more, dramatically and sexually, than a hyperactive tomboy. With his next film, the preposterous and Count Floyd-worthy Eyes of the Mummy ("What do you mean there's no mummy in it?"), he would meet that actress-- Pola Negri."
Great Early Lubitsch Double Feature.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 12/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As disappointed as I was in the dramatic titles in Kino's LUBITSCH IN BERLIN series, this comic double feature more than makes up for it. It clearly shows that Lubitsch's true talent lay in comedy not dramatic spectacle and these movies serve as a blueprint for his later career in Hollywood. THE OYSTER PRINCESS (1919) is an outrageous farce about an overly pampered American tycoon ("I am not impressed" is his favorite reply) who tries to find a prince to marry his spoiled and impetuous daughter. I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN (1920) is an early version of VICTOR/VICTORIA as a young woman dressed as a man has her guardian fall in love with her.
Both films give Lubitsch the opportunity to score satirical points taking on such targets as the American nouveau riche, impoverished aristocrats, and male and female stereotypes. Both films also feature German silent comedienne Ossi Oswalda who looks like Mary Pickford but behaves like Mabel Normand. She is an absolute delight especially in MAN as she challenges the roles men and women are assigned by society. The pictures are crisp black and white transfers with incredibly witty intertitles which clearly show that Germans do (or did) have a sense of humor. The musical accompaniment by Aljoscha Zimmerman (PRINCESS) and Neil Brand (MAN) complements both films perfectly.
My only criticism of this disc is that the movies are too short (PRINCESS is 64 min while MAN is only 48) whereas the dramatic ones in this series seem to go on forever. Proof once again that comedy was Lubitsch's true forte. This DVD (along with THE WILDCAT which is positively outrageous) belongs on your shelf as a perfect example that slapstick can be sophisticated and that other countries beside America could produce excellent silent comic fare."