Pordenone 2007 – days 2 – My first day with the 6-act structure

October 31, 2007 § 1 Comment

The thoughts:

  1. Plot structure of German films: too close to theater source
  2. Entertainment in American films means disregard for situation comedies, and a celebration of modern reality

The day’s program:

  • Buddenbrooks (Germany, 1923)
  • US Silent sponsored films: safety first !
  • Baby Brother (US, 1927), Wiggle Your Ears (US, 1929)
  • Il Piccolo Garibaldino (IT, 1909), I Mille (IT, 1912)
  • Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin: von der Schönhauser allee nach Hollywood (DE, 2006)
  • Paris Qui Dort (FR, 1923-25), Séraphin ou les jambes nues (FR, 1921)
  • Lumpen und Seide (DE, 1925)

Kammerspiel…in terms of plot construction, it’s astonishing how close to their theater source those German films were. Not only is the act structure written into the film (titles: “end of Act 1” – “Act 1” etc. –some american films did the same with “Part 1” etc., but one had always suspected it was more to indicate reel changes), it’s written into the plot: Buddenbrooks gives us an early example of that. It’s condensed a 1,100+ Thomas Mann novel into 85 minutes, but it’s kept the dramatic structure of a play intact. Because they don’t fit into the tight dramatic structure some key human elements are missing (the marriage for instance) or simply vanish (the child!). It’s still early but I’ll try a thought here:

American silent films tend to be constructed more around notion of psychological development rather than around ideas about the dramatic structure. German films seem to prefer dramatic structure over psychological content.

And indeed, the day’s other ‘Other Weimar’ film, Lumpen und Seide (1925), confirms this: it opens in a poor club, but once inside the rich apartment, there’s no leaving it, and the dramatic workings take over. “Pleasant entertainment” says the Pordenone catalogue (G. Brown) — not the same idea of “pleasant” as American films.

Entertainment in 1920s American films is at times hard to distinguish from a celebration of modern reality: thrills and individuals locked into formula drama (as opposed to semi-human pawns written into brilliant situation comedies)


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