Blu-ray & DVD: Varieté (1925)
Widely regarded as a classic of German cinema, Varieté (1925) gets a 2k restoration and a soundtrack, but is Varieté the spice of life? 60 Minutes With sent Steve Woolley for a night at the circus.
So we get a black and white German film with English subtitles set in a circus? Just throw in Pennywise the Clown and you pretty much have the script of my worst nightmare. And yet…..
First off this is a revenge and redemption story rather than a circus movie. Director Ewald André Dupont based the movie on Felix Hollaender’s story of jealousy. Secondly it is a tale of trapeze artists but it doesn’t actually take place in a circus.
The story concerns “Boss” Huller – after having spent ten years in prison – breaks his silence to tell the warden his story. “Boss”, was a former trapeze artist, who following an accident is reduced to running a seedy side-show displaying ”erotic sensations” in a down at heel carnival with his wife. When he meets the orphan and femme fatale Berta-Marie who dances in his show, he falls for her siren charms and leaves his wife and young son behind to rekindle his glamorous life on the trapeze. Berta-Marie becomes his partner in a high flying act and they are later joined by the world famous trapeze artist Artinelli to form “Salto Mortale” a death defying aerial trio. The show becomes a sensation playing to packed variety houses before Artinelli seduces a more than willing Berta-Marie which then turns into a revenge story and as Boss is the catcher on the trapeze he literally hold their lives in his hands.
The set pieces on the trapeze are amazing, Dupont use of theatre settings instead of circus arenas means that the action takes place over heads of the audience and dispensing with using safety nets and creating real tension. Dupont also flirts with surrealism in some sequences involving variety theatre performances. The audiences are often bordering on the grotesque; their faces often resembling caricatures rather than human. However, Lya De Putti as Bertha is a stunner turning from orphan to exotic dancer/trapeze artist/party girl with ease. Warwick Ward as Artinelli is suave calculating seducer, while Emil Jannings runs the entire range of facial expressions as the cuckolded Boss Huller.
The restored version contains soundtracks by Stephen Horne, the Tiger Lillies and Johannes Contag. I found Horne’s version wavered from Jacques Brel to Swordfishtrombone era Tom Waits via Kurt Weill. The film would also make a good companion piece to the excellent Germany between the wars musical Cabaret.
- New 2015 high-definition digital restoration by the FWMS
- A selection of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies
- PCM audio on the Blu-ray
- Optional English subtitles for the German intertitles
- The complete American version of the film
- PLUS: A booklet featuring new writing on the film and archival images
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