screened Thursday October 30 2008 on NYFA VHS in Astoria NY

TSPDT rank #827 IMDb

One of the seminal works of silent cinema, this love-triangle melodrama among vaudeville acrobats was lauded by no less than the likes of Jean Mitry and Gilles Deleuze for infusing German expressionism into the norms of classical film grammar (i.e. shot/reverse shot and subjective-objective cinematography). Historical importance aside, it’s a conventional affair with a cheap salvation ending, graced with excellent performances by Emil Jannings (a hard sell as a 250 lb. acrobat, but fun to watch for his strenuous conviction) and proto-vamp Lya de Putti as his cheating wife. Dupont would apply his considerable talents to a more interesting script with 1929′s Piccadilly, but the innovative lensing of the immortal Karl Freund, especially during the thrilling acrobatic sequences, keeps the mise-en-scene lively. Imagine having never seen a shot fly through the air before and you can get a sense of what audiences, critics and subjective lens film theorists went crazy about.

Want to go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Variety on the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Alexander Korda, Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Campbell Dixon, Sight & Sound (1952)
Carol Reed, Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Connery Chappell, Sight & Sound (1952)
David Lean, Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
Willi Forst, Cinematheque Belgique (1952)
They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films

Well guess what – you can watch Variety in its entirety on YouTube! And it appears to be the original European cut (see explanation and significance as follows):

When American audiences were permitted to see German filmmaker E.A. Dupont’s silent masterpiece Variety, it was the story of a carnival concessionaire (Emil Jannings), his alluring wife (Lya de Putti), and the handsome acrobat (Warwick Ward) who comes between them. Feeling doubly impotent because he himself had been a famous aerialist before suffering a crippling accident, Jannings fantasizes about killing his rival — and, finally, does so. After serving a long prison term, Jannings is released by a compassionate warden, who feels as though the poor cuckold has suffered enough. This, again, is what Americans saw. In the original European version of Variety, which ran nearly twice as long as the U.S. print, Jannings deserts his wife (Maly Delschaft) when de Putti enters the scene. Moreover, he never marries de Putti, meaning that his only hold over her when Ward steals her away is an emotional one. Dupont had fashioned an ironic tale of a man suffering betrayal after having himself betrayed. The American censors wouldn’t swallow that, nor would they pass the charming domestic scene wherein Jannings helps de Putti disrobe, unless the prologue involving Delschaft was chopped out and de Putti was transformed from mistress to wife. Though this sort of bowdlerization might seem like an artistic outrage, the American version of Variety is in fact superior to the original, especially in terms of pace; what seemed interminable in the German version zips along at an entertaining clip in the revised print.

~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

The strongest and most inspiring drama that has ever been told by the evanescent shadows is at the Rialto. It is a German film known as “Variety” and was produced by the Ufa concern in Berlin about a year ago under the direction of E. A. Dupont. In this picture there is a marvelous wealth of detail; the lighting effects and camera work cause one to reflect that occasionally the screen may be connected with art. While there may be some speculation concerning the appeal of this striking piece of work, because use of the tragic climax of the actual story, there is no doubt regarding its merit. Scene after scene unlocks a flood of thoughts, and although the nature of the principal characters is far from pleasing; the glimpses one obtains are so true to life that they are not repellent.

Emil Jannings, who is best remembered for his acting in “The Last Laugh” and “Passion,” fills the principal rôle. He is theatric at times, but his performance is a masterly one. He is not alone in this feature, and it may be a matter of opinion as to whether Lya de Putti and Warwick Ward, an English actor, are not even better than Mr. Jannings in their portrayals. Certainly Jannings has the least conventional rôle and more to tell by his expressions. However, Miss de Putti and Mr. Ward give an extraordinarily brilliant account of themselves and they rise to the occasion in episodes that are by no means easy to handle

This is a production which not only shows the way in which a story should be unfurled, but impresses one with the magic of the camera in picturing effects, such as the torrent of thoughts rushing through a maddened mind, and the views of the audience from the eyes of a hurtling trapeze performer.

- Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, June 28, 1926

This 1925 film remains the textbook example of German expressionism with its moody lighting, intimations of decadence, and fluid, subjective camera work (by the great Karl Freund). Yet the blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont. Emil Jannings, the standard-bearer of German masochism, stars as a trapeze artist betrayed by his mistress (Lya De Putti) for his younger partner (Warwick Ward).

- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Dupont’s most celebrated film (it was one of the most famous films in the world in 1925) unfolds in a long series of flashbacks from a prison straight out of a Van Gogh painting: prisoner No 28 (Jannings, with his back to the camera more often than not) is granted remission, and in return tells the story of his crime to the governor. The story itself is a banal triangle melodrama: a trapeze duo in the Berlin music-hall becomes a trio, and the lady switches gentlemen, driving the cuckold to murder his rival. The treatment, though, is something else again. Impressionistic lighting, lingering expressionist imagery, and giddily mobile camerawork are all pushed to unprecedented extremes, like Murnau on speed. Hard to take it too seriously, but the bravura style and Lya de Putti‘s coquettish performance remain as impressive as ever.

- Time Out

The plot of “Varieté” is a rather trite and conventional melodrama of heated passion and seething jealousy. However, this has always been popular subject matter with audiences. In Dupont’s hands, the film became an immediate success, and it won rave notices throughout Europe. It was a tremendous hit in New York City where it did a sensational business for over six weeks. Many cites in the United States were shocked by the film’s immorality, and Paramount deleted the first two reels (twenty minutes) entirely. The subsequent viewers in the other parts of the United States saw the censored version that was missing the opening scenes where the owner of the carnival meets the new dancer, deserts his family and moves to Berlin with his new girlfriend. The American sanitized version has him and his girlfriend as man and wife. Even in its censored version it retained its power and went on to become “the Best Picture Of The Year.” This film was also listed on the N.Y. Times “Top 10 Films of 1926.”

Variety (film reviews), June 30, 1926, states, “Opened at the Rialto, New York, June 27, for a run limited to six weeks, running time 92 minutes. “Variety” is a corking picture, made anywhere as it has been much in Germany. It has variety, so much, so many an American director may be only to eager to watch it the second time . . .”

“Varieté” was directed by Ewald Andre Dupont (E.A. Dupont), and the cast included Emil Jannings, Lya de Putti, Maly Delschaft, Warwick Ward, and Georg John. The screen adaptation of the novel was done by Dupont who once had been the manager of a vaudeville theater and was acquainted with carnival atmosphere. The film was also notable for its unconventional impressionistic use of swirling light and movement and spectacular camera effects. It was a tremendous success, stylistically influential, and brought Dupont to the attention of Hollywood, where, rather sadly, he ended up making mostly B-movies.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

Profile by Diana Savage

Article in Spanish by Antonio Belmonte in Pasion Silente

Deeper readings

It was not until The Last Laugh (Murnau, 1924) and, in particular, Variety that the subjective image passed into the language of the cinema, when the “objective-subjective” or “onlooker-lookd upon” equation became identified with shot-reverse-shot, both being used more and more extensively…

This method of narration, constantly opposing – or juxtaposing – the objective and the subjective, or, to be more exact, the descriptive and analytic images, has been the one most frequently in use since it was first established in Variety.

- Jean Mitry, translated by Christopher King. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Published by Indiana University Press, 1999. Pages 207, 214.  Also see pages 345-346 for a brilliant examination of subjectively expressive framing in one sequence from the film.

It is significant that Variete embraces the most up-to-date technologies in its presentation of this spectacle; for in the 1920s, the measure of a groundbreaking variety act lay in its use of technological innovation. As Michael Esser explains, for the filming of the scenes in which the camera follows the artists as they fly through the air on trapezes, a camera was strapped to trapezes opposite the actors in order to capture the movement and path of the acrobatics. Similarly, it was necessary to install many more lights than was usual in the Wintergarten to achieve the play of light that mimics the actors’ vertiginous movements through the air, and the rich star-filled sky of the cupola. To photograph a potential fall of Artinelli later in the narrative, the spotlight and camera running at slow speed were lowered by a cable; thus, when projected, the motion of the falling body would be fast. As Esser explains, Variete served as a vehicle for all of Ufa’s high-production values and aesthetic trademarks, including a rhapsodic display of the moving camera and a rich, drmaatic use of lights and lighting: “The moving camera, shadow-rich, dramatic light, the star quality of Emil Jannings, the erotic radiance of Lya de Putti, the rich, detailed architecture, the exotic fairground and, the finishing touch of German sentimentality” are all in the interests of publicizingUfa’s production potential. Notwithstanding the important role played by the studio in the produciton of Variete, it is also significant that Karl Freund was the cameraman, and was thus involved in the lighting compositions and constructions for the film. As in hiscollaboration with Paul Wegener on Der Golem, Freund used the material of the story to experiment further with the possibilities of his medium. These sophisticated technical strategies, in particular the use of light and lighting to mimic the movement of bodies through the air, are among the innovations of Variete. In this film, it is not only the camera, but also the potential movement of electrical light that creates a new, modern form of variety entertainment. These explorations of artificial light, in their marriage with the film camera, articulate the uniqueness and fascination of the film for contemporary audiences. As in the historical examples, when Boss, Bertha-Maria, and Artinelli perform in the Berlin Wintergarten, the excitement, energy and precision of their performance is reiterated in the most vanguard of technologies: through the conjunction of light, lighting, and camera…

…Seen in its entirety, then, Variete sustains this tension between the moral decadence of modern industrial life and a celebration for the technological phenomena – such as cinema and variety shows – that produce it. This is not to say that through this irresolution Variete equivocates either its critique or its celebratino of a technologically inflected mass entertainment. On the contrary, the conflict adds a vibrancy and complexity to the film that makes it neither simply radical nor reactionary. By creating narrative tensions through eruptions of technological spectacle, Variety represents the Janus-faces advance to a technologically inflected modern Germany. On the one hand, the advent of such spectacular entertainment was genuinely thrilling to its audiences. On the other hand, such wonders disturbed preexisting value systems, namely, a moral universe underwritten by family and sexual fidelity. Thus, in Variete we see an outstanding example of the German silent film’s tendency to displace the mystical search for transcendental knowledge through representations of light onto an exploration of conflicts in the moral fabric of the secular, historical world.

- Frances Guerin, A Culture of Light: Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany, Published by U of Minnesota Press, 2005. Pages 204-205, 215

While the film celebrates the modernity of its own camera and editing techniques, it remains very ambivalent about the urban modernity, upward mobility, “Americanism,” and destabilization of traditional gender identities it so sensationally depicts. Variety, despite all its citation – and mobilization – of the forms of mass spectacle and entertainment associated with Weimar modernity, remains an “art film.” The German “art cinema” of the 1920s is characterized on the one hand by a certain aesthetic conservatism that reflects the ambivalence about film and mass culture on the part of intellectuals so well documented in Anton Kaes’s Kino-Debatte (“Debate About the Cinema”). On the other hand, the art cinema often manifests a political conservatism typical of large German industries during the 1920s, including the film industry, which was becoming ever more concentrated throughout the decade. By “political conservatism” I mean the generally anti-democratic, class-based hierarchical elitism characteristic of the dominant social gropus in the Weimar Republic. Hence the rather cynical (and strategic) contradiction of producing films ambivalent about mass culture and modernity that were themselves stunning spectacles made with all the technical expertise money could buy…

The German “art cinema” began around 1912 and is often called an Autorenkino, or “cinema of authors/auteurs”. By the 1920s, the German art film was only one of many products – and strategies – of a large, commercial film industry. It was certainly nothing very similar to the concept of a low-budget Autorenkino with oppositional ambitions that we associate with the “new German Cinema” of the 1970s. Certainly for Variety it is a debatable term, at least if the director Dupont is supposed to be the film’s “author”; the producer Pommer and the cinematographer Karl Freund were both arguably much more important for the film. Pommer intended Variety to capitalize on the mobile-camera techniques Freund ahd developed in The Last Laugh, the film Pommer wanted to use Freund again to film Variety, but for the director he chose Dupont over Murnau, apparently because he felst that the latter was unsuited to directing a melodrama so focused on (heterosexual) sex. It was also Pommer who persuaded Dupont to film the story in the new dynamic visual style that he wanted to market.

For although The Last Laugh had been a critical success, and while it had wowed and intimidated Hollywood with its technical virtuosity, it had not been an overwhelming box office hit. Proving Pommer’s calculations right, Variety did become such a hit, both in Germany and the United States. Early on German critics aw it as the film the German film industry had long awaited, one that could compete with American cinema; the German trade journal Kintematograph asserted that the film was sure to conquer “even the aloof Americans”… Variety was for a long time the one great success Ufa managed to achieve in the United States…

Although Kracauer writes about the film’s “realism,” neither the film’s rather generic melodramatic plot nor the dizzying effects of its camera work and editing for the trapeze sequences appear to today’s sensibilities to be especially “realistic.” Kracauer is right, however: in 1925 Variety was famous precisely for its realism. This reputation had much to do with its impressive “documentary” shots of Berlin and Hamburg: for example, the carnival in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, and in Berlin the Friedrichstrasse railway station, certain street scenes, and the interior shots of the Wintergarten. Shooting on location was still relatively rare in the German art film, which was famous primarily for its carefully constructed studio sets that could be illuminated so precisely and expressively. In this way Variety is clearly related to New Objectivity and associated trends of the middle and later 1920s in German film, photography, theater, literature, and painting. In which the attempt to move toward a documentary approach was noted.

…As Kracauer wrote in Die Angestellten (“The White Collar Employees,” 1929), the secret of New Objectivity was precisely that behind its modern façade, something very sentimental was often lurking. For all Variety’s modern technical virtuosity, the film is not merely sentimental, but very conservative in its critique of aspects of modernity. It participates in the cynical strategy of dressing its conservative message in the most modern of forms – given its commercial success, one might say that it is one of the most successful examples of the strategy. For the evil that destroys the good-natured family man, Boss, is clearly connected to his desire to be a star of the trapeze again – to be at the center of the spotlight of mass entertainment, the beneficiary of the appetite of the modern masses for spectacle and distraction…

The film’s cynical ambivalence about its own project creates a distance between narrative and spectacle that is reflexive. Its technical virtuosity is typical of New Objective fetishization of technology, and its use of a lurid, sensational melodramatic plot mirrors the move in New Objectivity toward more accessible narratives and toward an apparent embrace of mass culture. The film’s most famous cinematic techniques involve the use of mobile camera from subjective points of view, most impressively in the dizzying shots of the acrobats high above the audience in the Wintergarten, and these techniques tend to foreground themselves through a virtuoisity in excess of the needs of the plot. In addition, the film’s own constructions of looking are foregrounded, thematized quite explicitly – even melodramatically – in a collage of eyes that is intercut with shots of Boss on the trapeze at his most conflicted moment, as he is indeed being watched by everyone in the huge hall. It can be argued that even the melodramatic narrative itself reflects on the institution of the cinema (although perhaps unintentionally so): the protagonist’s precipitous rise from his origins as a “vulgar” carnival performer to a performer in a glamorous hall in which the upper classes ogle him is a trajectory that parallels the rise of cinema itself from despised lower-class entertainment to a more bourgeois one. But the comment on cinema is in that case quite negative, for it becomes a part of a topsy-turvy world of glittering mass celebrity that is marked as clearly dangerous and destabilizing.

… Although my emphasis here on reactionary, anti-democratic attitudes in the film would seem to align my reading with Kracauer’s overall verdict on Weimar cinema, I would like to stress where I differ with him: Kracauer (at least in his famous postwar book From Caligari to Hitler) has more or less the same take on “male retrogression” / “decadence”/”degeneracy” as the right wing in the Wiemar Republic did, namely, that it is bad, one of the serious flaws in Weimar culture. Variety sends a very clear – and anti-modern – message about modernity, democracy, and popular culture; linked to these targets is also another target: the emerging fluidity of gendered and sexual identities that many of us celebrate now (and rightfully so). Variety is in tune with elite opinion in Weimar when it demonizes that fluidity as “degenerate.” But perhaps this film’s fascinated obsession with that fluidity is ultimately of more interest than the strident attempt to make its disapproval clear.

- Richard W. McCormick. Gender and Sexuality in Weimar Modernity: Film, Literature, and “New Objectivity”. Published by Macmillan, 2001. Pages 73, 74, 75, 78, 79, 86t

About E.A. Dupont

IMDb

German director E. A. Dupont was involved in his country’s movie industry almost before there was an industry; as early as 1911, Dupont was Germany’s foremost film critic. He began directing in 1917, with his first major commercial success, The Ancient Law, coming along six years later. In 1925, Dupont directed the influential German sex-triangle melodrama Variety, which still retains its classic status seventy years later, even in the heavily edited and severely reshaped version prepared for American release (in which, among many other alterations, the hero’s mistress was transformed into his wife). On the strength of Variety, Dupont was signed by Hollywood’s Universal studios; but only one Universal film, the saccharine Love Me and the World is Mine (1927), would be completed before Dupont headed for England. In 1929, he directed the Anglo/German epic Atlantic, a retelling of the Titanic tragedy significant only as the first European all-talkie. Dupont returned to the States in 1933, where he was assigned a dispiriting progression of “B”-pictures and programmers. Unhappy with the lack of opportunities afforded him in Hollywood, Dupont became a talent agent in 1940, a profession he pursued for nine years. Back in the director’s chair for a strange melodrama titled The Scarf (1949), which he also wrote, Dupont resumed his directing career in the ’50s once more with such results as 1955′s The Neanderthal Man. Just before his death in 1956, E. A. Dupont wrote and directed The Magic Fire, a biopic of composer Richard Wagner.

- Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Some directors are able to maintain a steady flow of talent in all their work. Others, like E.A. Dupont, are remembered for one outstanding moment in their career. Variété, or Vaudeville as it is also known, was one of the most exciting films to come from Germany in the 1920s. Dupont made many other good films, but his career as a whole is a rather tragic one. This was partly due to personal deficiencies and partly due to circumstances over which he had no control. Some European directors flourished in Hollywood; Dupont was not one of them.

Dupont worked outside the then-current German expressionist style, being more human and realistic in his approach to filmmaking. This was evident in his tour de force Variété, a tale of jealousy and death amongst trapeze artists. Its powerful realism, visual fluidity, and daring techniques, coupled with the superb performances of Jannings, Lya de Putti, and Warwick Ward, made it stand out in a year rich with achievement. The virtuoso camerawork of Karl Freund contributed not merely to the spatial and temporal aspects of the film but in the revelation of motive and thought. The uninhibited sensuality depicted by the film led to censorship problems in many countries. Inevitably, Dupont went to Hollywood, where he directed a not entirely successful Love Me and the World Is Mine for Universal. In 1928 he made two stylish films in England: Moulin Rouge, which exploited the sensual charms of Olga Tschechowa, and Piccadilly, with Gilda Gray and Anna May Wong (Charles Laughton made his film debut in a small role).

With the coming of sound, Atlantic, made in German and English, proved a considerable version of the Titanic story. But the two British sound films that followed suffered from weak acting that belied the striking sets. With Salto Mortale, made in Germany in 1931 and featuring Anna Sten and Adolph Wohlbruch, Dupont returned to the scene of his earlier Variété. Two more films were made in Germany before he found himself a Jewish refugee in Hollywood. Here his career was uneven. Factory-produced B pictures gave him no scope for his talents.

Dupont was dismissed for slapping a Dead End Kid who was mocking his foreign accent. This humiliating experience played havoc with his morose and withdrawn personality. He became a film publicist, a talent agent, and wrote some scripts. He returned in 1951 to direct The Scarf, a film of some merit for United Artists. Dupont also dabbled in television. He wrote the script for a film on Richard Wagner that was directed by his former protege William Dieterle in 1956. In December of the same year he died of cancer in Los Angeles. A sad case. Sad too to see the name of his great photographer Karl Freund on the credits of I Love Lucy.

—Liam O’Leary, Film Reference.com

Another biography by Thomas Staedeli
Focus on Dupont’s years in Britain at BFI Screenonline

About Lya de Putti

Lya de Putti was born in 1899 in Hungary to wealthy parents, her mother a former countess, and her father a Baron and a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. She began as a dancer in vaudeville and eventually became a ballet dancer in Berlin. She starred in many of the films produced by the German UFA company playing vamp roles. She went to Hollywood in 1926 where she starred in several films and died at the beginning of the sound era.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

Detailed biography by Thomas Staedeli

Lya de Putti has a MySpace page

About Emil Jannings

Emil Jannings ran away from home at the age of sixteen to become a sailor. After serving as an assistant cook he returned to Germany and became a professional actor on the stage. When he made his screen debut in 1914, he was an established and well-known stage actor. “Varieté” was made after his appearance in Murnau’s “The Last Laugh” (UFA, 1924), and he was acclaimed as the world’s greatest actor. His international reputation won him a Paramount contract in 1927. His thick German accent ended his American career with the coming of sound. He immediately went back to Germany to continue making films during the Nazi regime. He died in 1950.

- John DeBartolo, SilentsAreGolden.com

One of the great pleasures of film-going in the mid-1920s was to see the latest film starring the well-known German actor Emil Jannings. Of all the theater people who lent their talents to the new

medium, he was arguably the greatest. In the 1920s he created a gallery of historical characters as well as people of his own time. Just after World War I, German films were not welcomed in the Allied countries, a fact advertised by numerous distribution companies. One of the first films to break this embargo was Ernst Lubitsch’s Madame DuBarry. Made in 1919 by an industry remarkable for its technical skills and the high artistic quality of its product, it was not released in the United States and western Europe until years later. Jannings portrayed Louis XV of France, making an impact that was to continue through his career.

Jannings furthered his popularity and status by making a number of films with the actress Henny Porten and the director Dmitri Buchowetzki. By 1924 he had established a worldwide reputation as a great actor. He starred with Conrad Veidt and Elisabeth Bergner in Paul Czinner’s Nju and as the jealous trapeze artist in E. A. Dupont’s Variété. His association with F. W. Murnau lead to the three masterpieces which will be his monument: Der letzte Mann, Tartuffe, and Faust. In Der letzte Mann he gave what most consider his greatest performance as an old hotel porter too weak for his job, who is reduced to working in the basement lavatories. His smug Tartuffe was full of subtle nuance, while his Mephistopheles was played with a slightly humorous cynicism that still suggested the blazing anarchy underneath. Even with an ego as great as his talent, Jannings subordinated himself to the disciplines of his art.

No finer tribute could be paid him than that from his old director, Josef von Sternberg: “Jannings had every right to the universal praise that was his for many years, and his position in the history of the motion picture is secure, not only as a superlative performer but also as a source of inspiration for the writers and directors of his time. This in my opinion is the highest compliment within the scope of an actor to earn.”

About Karl Freund

Profile on International Encyclopedia of Cinematographers

During a career that lasted nearly 50 years, cinematographer Karl Freund contributed his artfully innovative camerawork to more than 100 German and American films, including the classic Metropolis and the solid Key Largo. Unfortunately, superlative examples of filmmaking are not the sole entries in Freund’s filmography. Numerous forgettable or already forgotten comedies, romances, and musicals are also present, a perhaps inevitable consequence of Freund’s long career. Symptomatic of his commitment to perfection was his refusal to discriminate a “programmer” from a masterpiece, which provided many of the films he lit and shot with their only noteworthy feature: excellent cinematography.

In the 1920s Freund worked at Ufa, Germany’s great government-supported film studio, where he collaborated with Murnau, Lang, and others on a number of the films that collectively created the golden age of the German cinema, films such as Murnau’s Der letzte Mann and E.A. Dupont’s Variety. For the revolutionary Der letzte Mann, the camera became both narrator and character, relating and interpreting the story of the demoted doorman so lucidly that title cards were superfluous. Freund and scriptwriter Carl Mayer enriched the simple plot of Murnau’s film with artistically purposeful camera movement and lighting that set the expressionistic sobriety of the film proper against the high-key clarity of its controversial epilogue.

—Nancy Jane Johnston, Film Reference.com

About Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft)

Pommer, who had won an international success with Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), gave his directors a large degree of freedom, preferring to concentrate on increasing Ufa’s export business by guaranteeing a cinema of quality, which would be saleable abroad. As a result, Ufa directors produced some of the greatest films of the era, including Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1923–24), Michael (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1924), Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, F. W. Murnau,1924), Varieté (Jealousy, E. A. Dupont, 1925), Ein Walzertraum (The Waltz Dream, Ludwig Berger, 1925), and Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul, G. W. Pabst, 1926). This was accomplished by hiring Germany’s best directors, expanding the Babelsberg studios outside Berlin to become the most modern facility in Europe, and bringing together a team of technicians, art directors, and cameramen who were encouraged to experiment. Among the innovators were cameramen Karl Freund (1890–1969) and Fritz Arno Wagner (1891–1958). The giant studio sets, innovative lighting designs, optical tricks (Schüfftan process), and daring camera movements in the films of Murnau, Lang, and Dupont would not have been possible without an atmosphere Kreimeier has described as that of a medieval “Bauhütte” (cathedral builders’ guild). Unlike American studio stars, Germany’s best known actors, including Conrad Veidt (1893–1943), Emil Jannings (1884–1950), Werner Krauss (1884–1959), and Brigitte Helm (1906–1996), were never contractually bound to the company, each working only intermittently for Ufa.
- Jan-Christopher Horak