Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Virginians "Aunt Hagar's Blues"

Gordon Bowker in his Lowry biography Pursued By Furies states that The Virginians were one of Malc's early favourite jazz bands.

The Virginians were a satellite studio band of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra under the direction of Ross Gorman. Read more You can listen to another Lowry favourite "Aggravatin' Poppa" - the flipside of the above track on the Red Hot Jazz website.

The Virginians (Ross Gorman, reeds / director) — This small group of “hot” players from the Whiteman orchestra served as Victor’s house jazz band beginning in 1921 and used Whiteman-supplied arrangements. The band was conducted by Whiteman reedman Ross Gorman, best remembered today as the musician for whom Ferde Grofé scored the clarinet introduction to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Victor house conductor Edward King occasionally substituted as director beginning in October 1922, according to the Victor ledgers, primarily on those sessions at which the Virginians served as accompanists to Isabella Patricola and other singers. Read more about Paul Whiteman Bands

The song was written and recorded by W. C. Handy.

“Aunt Hagar” was originally conceived by Handy as a much slower, sadder dirge. He based it on a mournful musical motif he’d once heard sung by a washer woman as she hung clothes one cold night, singing, “yo’ clothes looks lonesome hangin’ on de line.”

Religious and biblical references are not unusual in his music. For instance, the biblical figure Hagar (an Egyptian) was servant to Sarah, wife of Abraham. Because Sarah was barren she gave Hagar to Abraham as concubine so that he could sire a child. In his autobiography Handy explained that, “negroes often spoke of themselves as Aunt Hagar’s children.”
Read more on Jazz Hot Big Step

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Henrik Galeen's The Student Of Prague 1926

This film was cited by Lowry as one of his favourite German films in a letter to Clemens ten Holder in October 1951.

The Student of Prague (German: Der Student von Prag) is a 1926 silent film by Czech actor and filmmaker Henrik Galeen. It is a remake of The Student of Prague (1913), directed by Stellan Rye. It is considered as Galeen's most important film since The Golem, which he co-directed in 1915 with Paul Wegener.

The film crew involved some famous names: Hermann Warm, who was one of the stage designers for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Günther Krampf, cinematographer of The Hands of Orlac; and the actors Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, who already appeared together in Caligari and Waxworks.

The film is based on a story by fantasy writer Hans Heinz Ewers and uses elements from Edgar Allan Poe's story "William Wilson" and tells of a student Balduin played by Conrad Veidt. Balduin bored with life, makes a deal with the satanic Scarpinelli played by Werner Krauss that in return for a fortune in gold Scarpinelli can take anything from his room. Scarpinelli takes the student's mirror image. Balduin becomes a benefactor to poor students, woos a rich heiress and lives a life of luxury. But a spurned lover causes him problems and he is haunted by his doppelganger until it kills on his behalf.

The entire can be viewed on Youtube.

Galeen's film was the second of four versions to be made and you can read more about the different versions on The Amazing Movie Show.

Henrik Galeen, who was possibly of Danish, Dutch or Czech origin, became an actor in the early German theatre and (from 1910) in the German cinema. He was very soon to widen his career in film and establish himself both as a screenwriter and director of some importance, especially in the development of the Expressionist movement during the 1920s. As Lotte Eisner, in her invaluable book on the German Expressionist film, The Haunted Screen , has pointed out, Expressionist stylization in the art direction for fantasy and horror subjects actually preceded by some years its notable popularization in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari of 1919; it appeared for example in the earliest version of The Student of Prague , directed by Stellan Rye in 1913, in which the actor-director Paul Wegener starred. The following year Wegener made his early version of the mythological film, The Golem , also employing a pioneer form of the Expressionist style in order to establish the medieval form of magic of this strange Jewish legend. He was assisted by Galeen as both scriptwriter and director, and Galeen also acted in the film. Read more at Film Reference

Henrik Galeen (seated in centre)

You can read more about the film on:

Classic Horror

Henrik Galeen's Alruane from 1929 can also be viewed in its entirety on Youtube.

Made at the tail end of the silent era, Galeen's Alruane was the third version of Hanns H. Ewers' weird novel, the earliest surviving one. Erotic overtones abound in this tale of a scientist (played by Paul Wegner) who collects the semen of a hanged man and impregnates a prostitute, to produce an unearthly child who later seeks revenge on her father. An obsessive, almost neurotic, piece of cinema, Alruane conjures up references to the fable of the homunculus and has the same sort of sombre, mythical qualities found in the films of Cocteau. In the demonic character of Alruane - played by Brigitte Helm (who took the part of Maria of Lang's Metropolis) - Galeen found an even better vehicle for the icy passion that proves so effective in the stark, cold world of silent film. Video Vista

Joe May's Heimkehr (The Homecoming) 1928

Joe May and Gustav Fröhlich (both sitting, from left to right) on the set of "Heimkehr" (1928)

Lowry describes Joe May's film Heimkehr(The Homecoming) as a "wonderful wonderful film" in a letter to Clemens ten Holder dated 31st October 1951.

Joe May (November 7, 1880 in Vienna - April 29, 1954 in Hollywood), born Julius Otto Mandl, was a film director and film producer born in Austria, one of the pioneers of German cinema.

After studying in Berlin and a variety of odd jobs, he began his career as a stage director of operettas in Hamburg before starting to make films from 1912 in Berlin. In 1902 he had married the actress Mia May (born Hermine Pfleger) and took his stage name from hers.

In 1914 he founded his own film production company, May-Film, and began to produce a successful series of crime films, whose detective hero went by the name of Joe Deebs. Some of these were directed by May himself, others by Harry Piel. (Around the same time May also worked on the Stuart Webbs series of detective films for another company). In 1917 he gave Fritz Lang one of his earliest breaks in the film industry as screenwriter on the film Die Hochzeit im Excentricclub (Wedding in the Eccentric Club) and Lang also worked on other May films at this time.

After the end of World War I in 1918 May's company built film studios in the Berlin suburb of Weissensee and in Woltersdorf a village northeast of Berlin in Brandenburg. There he went on to produce and direct a series of popular and exotic adventure films, among them the monumental three hour long Veritas vincit (1919), the eight-part series Die Herrin der Welt (Mistress of the World) (1919-20) as well as the two-part adventure film Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) (1921) starring Conrad Veidt and written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou.

These featured Mia May in leading roles and she regularly worked under her husband's direction in a number of melodramas like Tragödie der Liebe (1922/23) costarring Emil Jannings. Their teenage daughter Eva May (born 1902 in Vienna) tried to build her own career as an actress but committed suicide in 1924 after the end of her third marriage with the film directors Manfred Liebenau, Lothar Mendes and Manfred Noa.

Towards the end of the 1920s, May moved away from adventure films and produced more realist works, notable among them the World War I love-triangle Heimkehr (The Return Home) (1928) and the contemporary thriller Asphalt (1929). During the early years of sound film he worked as a producer for Erich Pommer at Ufa then for different production companies in Germany, Austria and France directing a series of multilingual versions in German and French among those is Ihre Majestät die Liebe / Son altesse l'amour (1930) one of the best musical comedies of the Weimar Cinema.

Joe May's film does not appear to be available nor are there any clips on Youtube or elsewhere. Here is a synopsis of the film:

Richard and Karl are German prisoners of war in Siberia. Since escape is almost impossible, they are unguarded and live an almost idyllic existence running a ferry. Richard misses his wife Anna greatly; he literally counts the days since he's seen her and tells Karl about her and their home in detail. When he decides to escape, Karl comes with him. While crossing a desert Richard collapses. He asks Karl to go on without him, but Karl refuses to leave his friend and carries him. But when Karl leaves to get water, Richard is recaptured and sent to work in a lead mine. Karl makes it back to Hamburg, where he meets Anna and occupies a spare room in her flat. Soon friendship deepens, and both he and Anna have guilt feelings about their attraction. Meanwhile the war ends, and Richard returns just in time to witness Karl and Anna's first kiss. After his initial anger, Richard goes to Anna's bed. She cries; he takes her in his arms; she returns his embrace; but when he begins to make love to her, she refuses his advances. Richard returns to the room where Karl pretends to be asleep. He takes a pistol and prepares to kill Karl; but as he holds the gun to Karl's head, he recalls his friend's carrying him across the desert and puts the pistol away. Realizing that "Nobody's to blame," Richard leaves Karl and Anna to each other and returns to his other great passion, life at sea on one of the great freighters that sail from Hamburg. Wikipedia

The film starred Lars Hanson and Dita Parlo in the lead characters of Karl and Anna.

It is possible to see the quality of May's work in his film Asphalt (1929) which is available on DVD. However, I cannot find any reference in Lowry's work or letters to Asphalt, which doesn't mean that he didn't see the film, especially given his love of German films and his prolific viewing of movies.

E. A. Dupont's Varieté 1925

In a letter to ten Holder in October 1951, Lowry picks out Dupont's classic silent film as one of the greatest ever German films. Lowry says that nothing would have made him happier if Under The Volcano had been made into a movie in Germany.

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. Read an excellent write up on the film and the E.A. Dupont on the Shooting Down Pictures website

Unfortunately, the Youtube video referred to in the above article has been taken down. You can buy the American version from Grapevine Video.

You can also find a short video essay on Variety featuring commentary by Kristin Thompson, author of The Frodo Franchise and co-author of Film Art: An Introduction and Film History: An Introduction here:

Also check out a short post on Commentary Track by Helen Geib which details the censorship of the film in the USA.

George Cukor's Romeo and Juliet 1936

He had played the piano all night - how long was it since he had left the tavern early this morning? He started across the street away from the hospital and was nearly run over by a streetcar. Signs nodded past him: the best for less, Romeo and Juliet, the greatest love story in the world, no cover at any time. Malcolm Lowry Swinging The Maelstrom

Lowry is referring in the above passage from Swinging The Maelstrom to the 1936 George Cukor film of Shakespeare's play featuring Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard.

Despite the care and attention that went into its production, this film has never been highly regarded. At enormous expense an entire replica, based on first-hand photographs, of an Italian Renaissance city was constructed on a Hollywood back lot. No expense was spared to achieve historical accuracy. Professor Strunk was brought from Cornell University to insure academic respectability and the greatest stars of the day were cast in major roles: Norma Shearer as Juliet, Leslie Howard as Romeo, John Barrymore as Mercutio, Basil Rathbone as Tybalt, and so forth. The Capulet ballroom scene rivalled a Busby Berkeley musical extravaganza. Yet for all these good intentions, the film did poorly both at the box office and at the hands of critics. The leading players, it was said, were too old for the teenage lovers, and yet decades later Zeffirelli would be denounced for having cast actors who were too inexperienced for the roles. I believe the film should be cherished as a masterwork from antiquity: a bit archaic, a little rigid, slightly overdone, but, yes, still withal warm and good Internet Shakespeare

Monday, 1 March 2010

Georg Kaiser's Von Morgen bis Mitternachts (1917)

Lowry's works are littered with allusions to German Expressionist films and theatre. Chris Ackerley recently pointed me in the direction of one contained in Lowry's Swinging The Maelstrom (an early version of the published Lunar Caustic:

the interminable helpful nonexistent conversations going on all the bloody night, clinching one's case and pointing a solution, a way out to the light and freedom, though in the morning, which always turns out to be midnight, only the gulf is there as usual.

The allusion is to Georg Kaiser's play Von Morgen bis Mitternachts (From Morn To Midnight) 1917. Friedrich Carl Georg Kaiser, called Georg Kaiser, (November 25, 1878 in Magdeburg, Germany – June 4, 1945 in Ascona, Switzerland) was a German dramatist. Although he was highly prolific and wrote in a number of different styles, he made his mark as the most successful expressionist dramatist and, along with Gerhart Hauptmann, the most frequently performed playwright in the Weimar Republic. Georg Kaiser's best known plays include The Burghers of Calais (1913), From Morn to Midnight (1912), and a trilogy, comprising The Coral (1917), Gas (1918), Gas II (1920).Read more on Wikipedia

Lowry mentions this play in his famous letter to the Norwegian writer Nordahl Grieg dated 8th September 1931. He also makes reference in a 1951 letter to Clemens ten Holder that he helped with a production of the play at Cambridge whilst he was as student. In the same letter, he writes that he had seen Claude Rains in a production of Von Morgen bis Mitternachts. According to R.S. Furness in Expressionism, Claude Rains acted the role of the cashier in Ashley Dukes's Stage Society production at the Gate Theatre, London in 1925 based on Duke's translation of Kaiser's play.

However, Wikipedia contradicts Furness's comments:

The history of London's Gate Theatre Studio, often referred to as simply the Gate Theatre, is typical of many small independent theatres of the period.

Founded in October 1925 by Peter Godfrey, a conjurer and clown, and his wife Molly Veness, the theatre was originally on the top floor of a ramshackle warehouse at 38 Floral Street, Covent Garden. Then known as the Gate Theatre Salon (The Gate to Better Things), it could hold an audience of 96, and opened on 30 October 1925 with Godfrey's production of Susan Glaspell's Berenice, starring Veness as Margaret, 'the searcher for truth', and which ran for a fortnight.

With a series of challenging productions, including August Strindberg's The Dance of Death, the Gate struggled to survive without attracting any particular attention, until the Sunday Times critic James Agate, enthusiastically reviewing Georg Kaiser's From Morn to Midnight, urged his readers to apply for membership of the theatre and to go and see the production. But at the end of a scheduled three-week run the play was transferred to the Regent Theatre in King's Cross when Claude Rains took over the leading role from Godfrey.
Read more on Wikipedia

The review by James Agate is contained in his book Red Letter Nights and is dated March 14th 1926.

I am uncertain whether the 1926 production is the one Lowry is referring to because he writes to ten Holder that he had seen the play prior to him visiting Germany in 1928.

Interestingly, Kaiser’s From Morn to Midnight, was staged by Peter Godfrey for Terence Gray's Festival Theatre Cambridge in February 1928. The Festival Theatre on Newmarket Road, Cambridge, was founded by Terence Gray, the son of an Irish aristocrat, in 1926. Lowry would later have his poem "In Cape Cod With Conrad Aiken" published in the Cambridge Theatre Programme in March 1930.

The play was also turned into a film by Karl Heinz Martin in 1920:

The film version has the Cashier (played by Ernst Deutsch in Martin's film) in a small bank in W. (ostensibly Weimar) who is alerted to the power of money by the visit of a rich Italian lady. He embezzles 60,000 Marks and absconds to B. (Berlin) where he attempts to find transcendent experiences in sport, romance and religion, only to be ultimately frustrated. Kaiser's classic expressionist plays, written just before and during the Great War, often called for man to make a decisive break with the past, rejuvenating contemporary society. He eschewed characterization, and particularly character psychology, instead making his protagonists and other characters archetypes, employing highly anti-naturalistic dialogue often comprising lengthy individual speeches. Wikipedia

The film version begins with a bank clerk (Ernst Deutsch) becoming obsessed with a female customer (Erna Morena). His libido awakened, the clerk steals money from the bank only to discover that the female customer is in fact a respectable lady accompanying her son on a study tour. She is not the kind to drop everything for a few days' fun with a bank clerk on the run from the law. Horrified to learn that he has thrown his life away for nothing, the clerk flees and experiences a terrifying vision of death.

This causes him to return home to his wife and children only to reveal to them that he is on the run from the law. This revelation kills his wife stone dead. The clerk then kicks up his heels by betting on cycle races and cavorting with prostitutes and finishes the night with the salvation army where, inspired by the confessions of the down-and-outs he throws his money away. Sadly, this act of repentance comes too late.

The damage is done and the police are closing in on him thanks to a tip provided by a member of the salvation army who provides the clerk with another vision of death. With all hope gone, the clerk shoots himself and dies slumped against a crucifix with the words 'Ecce Homo' glowing above him. An inscription that means 'behold the man' and which is usually associated with the flagellation of Jesus suggesting that the clerk's fall from grace is less a story of moral failure than of a man broken by the world.
Read the rest of this excellent essay Apocalyptic Adolescence: 10 Works Of German Expressionist Cinema by Jonathan McCalmont on Video Vista

The good news is that I have just read that Karl Heinz Martin's film version of the play is due for DVD release. Read more on The Bioscope.

Chris Ackerley's Re-vamped Under The Volcano Website Now Live

I have recently heard from my good friend Chris Ackerley that his re-vamped website dedicated to Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano is now live.

Chris describes the website as follows:

This website, intended to be a widely available non-profit venture, complements the earlier A Companion to 'Under the Volcano' (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1984), co-authored with Lawrence J. Clipper, and my later "Plenty of Obscure Points": A Supplement to A Companion to 'Under the Volcano' (Malcolm Lowry Review 49 & 50 (Fall 2001 & Spring 2002)). Thanks in no small part to the generosity of UBC Press, the site contains the corrected text of both the Companion and Supplement, as well as a growing number of cross-links to complementary photographs, illustrations, annotations and tangential notes.

Chris's Companion to 'Under the Volcano' has been out of print for sometime which means the new website is a welcome resource for anyone who hasn't read the companion.

Chris explains the aims of the site:

The aim of these hypertext annotations is twofold: firstly, to offer the beginning reader of Under the Volcano a commentary, page by page and point by point, to find the information needed to clarify the many difficulties the text presents; secondly, to offer the more sophisticated reader a challenging consideration of those difficulties. In principle, then, each note is written to present the relevant facts clearly and concisely, before moving on to consider their wider application.

Please drop over to Chris's site which will make for a fascinating read!

Arthur Robison's Warning Shadows (Shadows Schatten - Eine nächtliche Halluzination)

Malcolm Lowry mentions Robison's film in La Mordida (316):

Sigbjorn remembered the film Warning Shadows where the lovers stood at the end and watched the Stealer of Shadows ride away on a pig.

Lowry also discusses the film's shadow effects in his notes to his later screenplay for Tender Is The Night(The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry 59):

Shadows should be used, sometimes circling, sometimes greatly attenuated, sometimes vast and menacing.....

Arthur (Artur) Robison was born June 25, 1888, in Chicago as the son of a German-American family. (The biographical data are spare and based on contradictory short portraits from the 1920s that cannot be checked.) He attended schools in the USA and Germany where the family returned to in 1895. After graduating from school in 1906, he studied medicine and obtained his MD degree in Munich. For a short while, he worked as a medical practitioner in Berlin. "As early as 1911, however, I felt the need to perform on-stage. At first, I studied languages and then I returned to America, where I worked as an actor at a German-American theater for almost a year." (Robison, 1928). Read more at

Lowry's mention of Robison's film fits into a pattern of allusions made by Lowry to German Expressionist cinema noted by several commentators including Patrick McCarthy and Chris Ackerley.

German expressionist cinema was at its height in the 1920s, and few films embodied the movement as much as Warning Shadows. Directed by Arthur Robison, this classic tale of psychological horror remains his best known work, celebrated for its outrageous visual style and notorious for its attempt to make a purely visual feature film - in other words, a film with no intertitles (except, of course, the opening credits).

A mysterious traveler and illusionist who performs shadow puppetry arrives to provide some entertainment at an otherwise routine dinner party. The host of the party is already mad with jealousy over the presence of his wife’s four suitors, but when the puppet show begins, passions overtake reason and reality is not what it appears to be. Shadows, reflections and silhouettes are the dominant imagery, and the film boasts the extraordinary camerawork of Fritz Arno Wagner, the German cinematographer who is renowned for his work with Fritz Lang (Spies, M) and F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu).

Warning Shadows has long been considered a landmark work by champions of the German cinema. Lotte Eisner, in her book "The Haunted Screen," declared that director Robison "handles phantoms with the same mastery as his strange illusionist," while Siegfried Kracauer, in "From Caligari to Hitler," simply stated that Warning Shadows "belongs among the masterpieces of the German screen."
Kino Video

If only one film is chosen to epitomise German cinema's fascination with the artistic use of shadows, then WARNING SHADOWS must be the first choice of example. The predilection for shadows, reflections and the theme of the doppelganger runs steadily through the majority of German releases during this era. This sense of dualism can be found in Der Student von Prag when Balduin is pursued by his own image; in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when the eminent doctor is also shown as a fairground barker; the split personality of the angelic master-criminal Dr. Mabuse der Spieler to the majestic rendition of Goethe's Faust by F.W. Murnau. Film provided a suitable medium to capture the qualities of this other worldliness, where shadows and reflections could take on a life of their own. Classic Horror

Read more about the film here:

Audio Video Revolution

Film Sufi

Classic Horror