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Unread post by Arndt » Tue Oct 13, 2009 1:09 am

Edition Filmmmuseum have released their DVD of DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE (JOYLESS STREET) and I feel fireworks should be going off, bells should be chiming and there should be a 40-gun-salute. After decades of obscurity one of the most important German films of the 1920s has been resurrected and is now available to buy on DVD in (almost) all of its original glory.
Critics like Paul Rotha, Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kracauer hailed DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE as a seminal work, marking the transition in German cinema from early-twenties 'expressionist' style to the Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) style of the second half of the decade. On top of that it was a blockbuster of its day, boasting an all-star cast with Asta Nielsen, Werner Krauss, Valeska Gert, Gregori Chmara and not least Greta Garbo in her only appearance in a German film. It catapulted its director Georg Wilhelm Pabst into the first rank of German filmmakers.
The only problem was that the film had all but disappeared. Because it deals with rather uncomfortable social issues, DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE was heavily censored wherever it went, losing inch by precious inch, until finally there were barely 60 minutes left of the film's premiere length of three hours. Since 1989 the Munich Film Museum have undertaken to reconstruct the film from all available materials. In 1996 a first version was ready to go on show. It was broadcast on French-German Arte TV in 1998. The DVD now released marks a preliminary end point of the restoration. There may still be 30 minutes to go to the premiere version, but the film has not been seen in such a complete version for a very long time.
And what a joy it is to watch this JOYLESS STREET! It is in all respects a masterpiece. The plot paints an opulent yet bleak picture of Vienna in the inflation years after World War I by intricately interweaving the stories of four women from different social backgrounds. They all centre around Melchiorgasse, the joyless street of the title. Money, the love or the lack of it, motivates every character in this film. There is nothing and nobody here that cannot be bought.
The acting is fabulous throughout, with Asta Nielsen's and Werner Krauss' performances particularly outstanding. A young Greta Garbo's ethereal beauty is breathtakingly and expertly captured on camera. The editing and camera work in general come across as very modern and it is only the sets that sometimes hark back to the 'expressionist' stereotype.
As if it were not enough to finally make this masterpiece available, the good folks at Edition Filmmuseum have added a second DVD full of goodies to the package. It contains two documentaries: PABST WIEDER SEHEN gives a detailed account of the film's restoration and DER ANDERE BLICK is an almost two hour long film essay on Pabst's work which contains many enlightening interviews with the director's erstwhile collaborators. Just like DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE itself, these documentaries can be enjoyed in English as well as in German.
There are also 14 minutes of "out- and intakes", camera tests and unused scenes as well as scenes from other films cut into the Russian version, and an audio interview (in German) with Pabst's former assistant director. The ROM section on the disc contains extensive materials about the film, including the novel by Hugo Bettauer it is based on, the first draft and two complete screenplays in facsimile (more than 700 pages altogether). Obviously a knowledge of German much enhances the enjoyment of this section. Of the two articles in the 20 page booklet Stefan Drössler's account of the film's restoration is also translated into English.
This kind of lavish presentation of films in their historical background has become a trademark of Edition Filmmuseum. Like no other publisher these days the Edition endeavours to preserve German film heritage, be it by releasing longed-for classics like in this case or be it by unearthing previously unknown treasures. Long may they continue to do so!
It should not go unsaid that the Austrian film archive have also just released a version of DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE. While that one only has the film on DVD, it comes with a 220-page book of materials. The music for the Austrian DVD was provided by experimental electronic imporovisationalist Burkhard Stangl. The music for the Edition Filmmuseum DVD was composed by German silent film stalwart Aljoscha Zimmermann for piano, violin and cello. It very competently creates a soundtrack from contemporary-sounding elements that I couldn't get out of my head even days after watching the DVD.
For me this is the DVD release of the year. I can highly recommend it.

http://www.edition-filmmuseum.com/produ ... Gasse.html
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders

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Unread post by DShepFilm » Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:20 pm

Thank you for this wonderful review. I got the DVD at Pordenone and now it goes to the top of the 'to view' pile. Stefan Droessler has indicated that he might be willing to license an American release.

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Unread post by BrianG » Wed Oct 14, 2009 7:34 pm

And thanks to your review this DVD goes to the top of my "to buy" list. I have seen the Austrian release, but didn't buy it because the book was in German and I wasn't crazy about the score. I was on the fence about buying the one from Edition Filmmmuseum, but after your review I'm looking forward to seeing it again with the Zimmermann score. Also, thanks for the details on the extras.

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Unread post by gordonovitch » Thu Oct 15, 2009 3:04 pm

I saw this film screened some 30+ years ago, and all I remember is that it looked terrible and was for some reason incoherent. I was there to catch a glimpse of Garbo (and even of Dietrich as an extra) but I had no idea I had only seen a third of it (explaining the incoherence). The Edition Filmmuseum release is a very big deal--I'm gonna have to wait until after Xmas. I'm gloomy about the prospects of a US release, but maybe...I send my thanks for the review along with the rest.

Gordon Thomas

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