Friday, July 31, 2009

Two Ladies.


Hello, Jose from "Movies Kick Ass" here. On July 31st, 1919 the Weimar Constitution was approved in the German Empire giving path to one of the most complicated eras in European history.

Weimar was a limbo of sorts between both World Wars, time during which Germany sunk in political and economical problems, but flourished culturally; Brecht, UFA, Expressionism and Bauhaus were a few of the things that came out from this period.
But thinking of a perfect way to sum up the entire history of Weimar only two people come to mind: Sally Bowles and Lola Lola.

They are the "heroines" from their respective films. Sally in "Cabaret" and Lola Lola in "The Blue Angel".
They are linked by their profession (cabaret performers/aspiring actresses), their exuberant sex appeal and their love of divine decadence.

But beyond the obvious comparisons (it's obvious that Lola and UFA films inspired Christopher Isherwood who wrote the book "Cabaret" is based upon...) there is something fascinating about how both these women embody Weimar history.
Sally and Lola take special pleasure in luxurious goods. One fur coat in "Cabaret" goes through all the phases of hyperinflation; first it becomes an almost guilt-inducing device of desire and consequentially turns into a life saving object covering her medical expenses.

Then there's the whole issue of how cabarets blossomed amidst the upcoming political chaos brewing with the Nazi party.
Isherwood, who wrote about homosexual experiences from autobiographical facts, came to Berlin because being gay was still illegal in his home country.
Sally in "Cabaret" is involved in a love triangle with two other men who also have feelings for each others.

Sex got so out of control in Weimar that a law was passed forbidding pornography. This whole issue in fact triggers the plot in "The Blue Angel" as a bitter professor (Emil Jannings) visits a cabaret to prevent his students from visiting it.

Sally and Lola became iconic characters for the actresses who portrayed them, but more than that they should be seen as fascinating representations of history through different eyes. Lola was a portrait of her times, Sally is a postmodernist vision.

Interestingly enough the very nature of their professions announces their eventual cinematic relevance; the word "cabaret" comes from the Latin "camera" (which means "small room") which later gave name to the photographic device.
If their whole history is contained in something as elemental as a word, then a line from "The Blue Angel" sums up the way in which the characters' incite public reaction.
"You've got a false conception of your profession" says someone to Lola. He might as well have been talking about the way the modern world has come to perceive Weimar.

7 comments:

Tim said...

Just a couple of days ago, I saw Salon Kitty, a weird and mostly unpleasant 1976 Italian Nazi sexploitation film (itself a weird and mostly unpleasant subgenre, but that's neither here nor there). Though I have very little nice to say about it, there is a great character along the lines you've described here: Kitty Kellermann, played by Ingrid Thulman (one of Ingmar Bergman's regulars!), a brothel-owner who nicely sums up the Weimar era in all its opulence and exaggeration, and the reasons that Weimar was so easily devoured by the Nazis. I don't have much reason to suggest that anybody should ever watch this film, but a student of latter-day responses to 1930s Germany would have a field day with it.

mrripley said...

i am going to say something sacreligious but i preferred liza in new new york new york that is were i would give her my 1977 best actress award and in 1972 best actress would be diana ross lady sing the blues.

NATHANIEL R said...

mrripley... it's not entirely sacrilegious since Minnelli is terrific and nom-worthy in New York, New York as well. So just give her two Oscars instead ;)

NATHANIEL R said...

Jose I'm glad you wrote about this. The Weimar Era is so fascinating. I wish i could remember the name of the exhibit but there was a great one in NYC a year or so ago that was all about Weimar era portraiture. The characters from Cabaret are all so embedded in my psyche that I kept thinking of them sitting for portraits and imagining them hobnobbing with the people represented.

Tim it's going on my queue... even if it is mostly weird and unpleasant. I hadn't heard of it and sounds worthy of a peek.

Jose said...

Thanks Nate! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Researching for this piece I realized there was so much to write about Weimar and so much was left out (I didn't even get to talk about the men in the movies!)It's amazing how so much happened in a mere 14 years. I say enough Holocaust movies, when they have so much to talk about Weimar!

anna said...

If you haven't seen it already, you might also find this relatively recent German film interesting: Love in Thoughts (Was nützt die Liebe in Gedanken) by Achim von Borries.
It's set in Berlin (and the surrounding area) in 1927 and stars Daniel Brühl, August Diehl and Anna Maria Mühe.
It's no masterpiece, but I enjoyed it quite a lot.
Actually, a video of the first 8 minutes is available online:
http://www.spike.com/video/love-in-thoughts/2683905

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