Monday, 4 May 2009

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

Every so often I have a look through the internet archive and find a treasure I either haven't known about nor seen before. The Internet archive is a fantastic resourse for public domain and out of copyright material, from books, feature films, cartoons, movie trailers and so on.

Last night I found a documentary, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) directed by Walter Ruttmann and co-written and partly shot (although uncredited) by the great lighting cameraman Karl Freund. What's fascinating about this film is that it shows a lost world, the height of the Weimar Republic, after the hyperinflation of 1923 and before the Nazis gained power in 1933. This is the era of George Grosz, the Bauhaus, expressionism and cabaret.

Karl Freund was the cinematographer for the German Expressionist films the Golem (1920), Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924) and Metropolis (1927). He then emigrated to the United States in 1929 where he was director of photography for Dracula (1931) The Good Earth (1937) and Key Largo (1948). He photographed over a 100 films and switched to directing for a short time.

But what films! - directing the Mummy (1931), a subtle film of the occult with Boris Karloff, Mad Love (1935) with Peter Lorre - an extraordinary film. He was an important link beween German Expressionism, the Universal Horror film and film noir.