1930; by Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann; 73 mins
Watching this with two days to go til the inauguration of Trump as president of the US and a lot of us right now thinking that World War Three is on the horizon, it’s interesting to look at this and see Weimar era Berlin in a brief flush of harmony between the wars. Still in debt to the rest of Europe but having learned to get by and yet still blissfully unaware of the full horror of what they themselves would help to unleash by the decade’s end.
The film shows a day in the life of five people: Brigitte, Christl, Erwin, Wolfgang and Annie, young professionals, four of whom go out for a day (Annie spends all day in bed) because ladies’ man, Wolfgang, has the hots for Christl. The film follows their mucking about and various romancing as they spend a day by the lake. Written and directed to varying degrees of authorship by five gentlemen (Siodmak, Siodmak, Ulmer, Wilder and Zinnemann) who would go on to all be powerhouses of American cinema after they all fled the rise of the Reich and shot by the extraordinarily diverse talent of Eugen Schüfftan. It’s definitely a film by first timers but that’s part of it’s charm.
Kim Newman once pointed out that the much fawned-over ‘genre’ of social realism, of which this is an early cinematic example, is a relatively new one. Horror, fantasy, romance and sci-fi stretch back way earlier whereas the idea of dramatising the everyday is a relatively new form of storytelling. Certainly coming in the wake of German Expressionism and all it’s completely bizarre overall look, this experiment (to all intents and purposes) must’ve been a nice change. Happily this film was a big hit and there did seem to be, back in the day, a desire for people to see themselves up on the big screen. Apparently, there were queues around the block in Barnsley during the first run of Kes (directed by Ken Loach) because the locals were so stoked to see their own people in a proper movie. It’s easy to imagine, what with cinema itself still being a relatively new thing, that average Germans would feel excited to see themselves up on screen.
That and their city and environment; this is very much a city symphony – something which sort of still exists but isn’t anywhere near as prevalent as it used to be. The film is a celebration and exploration of Berlin at that time, so whatever goes on with the main narrative, the film will go off in a different direction and have a look at other citizens hanging around the streets and the beaches and the various monuments. The film is, in part, using the story of Brigitte, Christl, Erwin and Wolfgang as a microcosm. Ordinary people as part of an ordinary world, which, in hindsight, is a snapshot of that fleeting moment when that generation of people were at their best. Maybe we need such a film now.