Varieté [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th July 2017).
The Film

Once a famous trapeze artist until he broke both his legs in a fall, Boss Huller (The Blue Angel's Emil Jannings) now works as the barker of a seedy Hamburg circus showcasing beauty contests of "Parisian dancing girls" (actually homely local girls' school dropouts) and is resentful of the enforced drudgery of his life with his wife (The Last Laugh's Maly Delschaft) and newborn son. One night, a seaman brings with him a young girl he has named Berta-Marie (Buck Privates' Lya De Putti) after the "cursed" freighter of which they are two of the few survivors of a fever that befell the crew and passengers (including the girl's mother) in Cape Verde. Despite his wife's protests, Huller hires the girl as a dancer and gives her a bunk in their trailer. Huller resists his attraction to the girl until she throws herself at him, and he is unable to hide their ensuing illicit relationship from his wife when he grows jealous of the lascivious gazes of the customers. Huller quits the Hamburg circus, abandons his wife and child, and reestablishes himself at the Berlin fairgrounds in a new trapeze act with Berta-Marie as his partner. The more upmarket Berlin Wintergarden is to host the more popular Artinelli Brothers trapeze act until Artinelli the younger ('s ) arrives with news of the tragic death of his brother during their previous engagement. A dispirited Artinelli remains in Berlin drowning his sorrows until his assistant tells him of Huller and Berta-Marie. Huller is reluctant to join the act but Artinelli is attracted to Berta-Marie and the feeling is mutual, so she uses her feminine wiles to make Huller putty in her hands (he is already darning her stockings and doing the housework), and the Three Artinellis make their debut in the Berlin Wintergarden to tremendous success. While a newly-flush-with-cash Huller spends his evenings gambling – the other players note that he is lucky in cards and in love – Artinelli sets about seducing Berta-Marie who initially resists his forceful overtures but eventually relents. When one of Huller's poker rivals spies Artinelli and Berta-Marie in an embrace, he makes sure that Huller is the last one to find out that he has cuckold's horns, and Huller's possessiveness turns murderous.

Based on the novel by (adapted twice before in 1912 and 1921, and again in 1954), Varieté was neither the first nor the last Jannings vehicle which presented him as paranoid about the faithfulness of his paramour (always an ill-advised union), but the predictable story in the hands of adapter/director Ewald André Dupont is a masterwork of German Expressionism. Utilizing Max Reinhardt-esque sloping perspective sets by The Man Who Knew Too Much's Alfred Junge and The 39 Steps' Oscar Friedrich Werndorff, as well as superimpositions and double exposures familiar to German cinema of the period – with photography by future Hollywood exiles Karl Freund (Metropolis) and Carl Hoffmann (Faust) along with trick photography by Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face) – Dupont distinguishes himself from contemporaries like F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, and Fritz Lang by employing the same technology and stylistics towards conflating the voyeuristic nature of audience spectatorship with that of the protagonist under whose paranoid gaze the other members of the love triangle are always "performing." In keeping with the increasing visual sophistication of German cinema in the twenties, Dupont is able to draw out sequences to the breaking point in a manner worthy of Alfred Hitchcock (particularly the scene in which the audience awaits Huller's discovery of a drawing depicting him with cuckold's horns which becomes the "bomb under the table") through editing with a sometimes staggering amount of shots per scene (for the time) comprisin multiple points-of-view and cutaways in contrast to the "objective" stasis of the opening sequence which sets the rest of the story as flashback. Long available in its abridged American version from Paramount that ran roughly fifteen to twenty minutes shorter (depending on the framerate), the 2015 restoration of Varieté is a rediscovery for English-speaking audiences who may know Dupont better for his Hollywood work-for-hire projects like The Neanderthal Man.

Video

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is derived from a 2015 German restoration carried out by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung utilizing a nitrate print of the abridged American version for the body of the film, missing scenes and original intertitles from a nitrate print from the Austrian Film Archive, as well as additional shots from a dupe print held by the Munich Filmmuseum and a dupe negative from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Missing intertitles were digitally recreated from the text of the German censor record. The restoration was first issued on Blu-ray in Germany followed by a UK release. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed widescreen image looks quite crisp underneath a layer of faint vertical scratches with a few soft images an effect of the patchwork restoration while others are part of the original cinematographic style as they appear during POV shots to heighten the protagonist's mental state.

Audio

Kino Lorber's release includes the choice of two musical scores: the Tiger Lilies score in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo from the German edition, and an exclusive orchcestral score performed by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo (the UK edition has different scores in addition to the Tiger Lilies track. In no need of restoration, these tracks are without any issues. Optional English subtitles are available for the German intertitles.

Extras

The unrestored American version included in the overseas releases is not included here, but the disc does include anice visual essay by Bret Wood (10:35) in which the disc producer discusses director Dupont's visual sophistication, the complexity of the gaze in the film, shifting perspectives, and the use of vertical composition to establishing shifting dominance. The making-of (7:28) featurette is actually a behind the scenes look at the creation of the Berklee Silent Orchestra score. Also included is a bonus feature Othello (79:43) from 1922 by Dimitri Buchowetzki starring Jannings as Othello and Putti as Emilia with Ica von Lenkeffy as Desdemona. The source is an American print from Ben Blumenthal's Export-Import company (one of the first companies to import German cinema after the first world war), and is unrestored and presented in standard definition.

Overall

Long available in its abridged American version from Paramount that ran roughly fifteen to twenty minutes shorter (depending on the framerate), the 2015 restoration of Varieté is a rediscovery for English-speaking audiences who may know Dupont better for his Hollywood work-for-hire projects like The Neanderthal Man.

 


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