Fuori quadro / Out of Frame: FRÄULEIN ELSE

Preview of the “Arthur Schnitzler e il cinema” series
More than 80 years have passed since Arthur Schnitzler confessed to a friendly ear, during the premiere of Der junge Medardus (Mihály Kertész, 1923): “I think the idea that a film can never be a perfect work of art, in the most proper sense of the term, is quite right. But who can deny that every good film contains a large quantity of elements typical of art: recitative above all, but also pictorial and poetic.”
This slightly detached and haughty opinion reveals an interest, following on from an initial rejection. An interest that was reciprocal. The Viennese writer was a passionate filmgoer: his diaries, his letters, and even the meticulous recording of his dreams are testament to this. Moreover, ever since the phase of the Autorenfilm, he actively worked in cinema, writing scenarios, adapting his own plays and novels, reflecting with uncommon originality on cinema’s unique expressive means. The cinema did not fail to recompense his willingness, bringing these famous and less famous works by the writer to the silver screen from the 1910s onwards: Liebelei (Flirtation), Reigen (La Ronde), Anatol (The Affairs of Anatol), Traumnovelle (Dream Story), Der junge Medardus (Young Medardus), Fräulein Else… Some of the most significant names in the history of cinema were involved in some way with these texts: from Holger-Madsen to Mihály Kertész, Cecil B. De Mille to Max Ophuls, and on to Stanley Kubrick. – Francesco Pitassio

The Viennese writer’s complex relationship with cinema underlies a series of events being planned for Udine, Pordenone, and Trieste in 2007 and 2008, realized thanks to the collaboration of various institutions active within the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region: Alpe Adria Cinema, Associazione Biblioteca Austriaca, Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche, La Cineteca del Friuli, Cinemazero, and Università degli Studi di Udine. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto are pleased to offer a taster of what will be presented.

FRÄULEIN ELSE (Poetic-Film, GmbH, Berlin, DE 1929)
Regia/dir., prod: Paul Czinner; scen: Paul Czinner, [Béla Balázs], dal romanzo di/from the novel by Arthur Schnitzler; f./ph: Karl Freund, Adolf Schlasy, Robert Baberske; scg./des: Erich Kettelhut; cast: Elisabeth Bergner (Else), Albert Bassermann (Dr. Alfred Thalhof), Albert Steinrück (von Dorsday, mercante d’arte/art dealer), Adele Sandrock (zia/Aunt Emma), Else Heller (Sig.ra/Mrs.Thalhof), Jack Trevor (Paul), Grit Hegesa (Cissy Mohr), Irmgard Bern, Antonie Jaeckel, Gertrud de Lalsky, Ellen Plessow, Toni Tetzlaff, Jaro Fürth, Carl Goetz, Paul Morgan, Alexander Murski; riprese/filmed: 1928-29; data v.c./censor date: 4.3.1929; premiere: 8.3.1929, Capitol, Berlin; lg. or./orig. l.: 2434 m.; 35mm, 2252 m., 90’ (22 fps); fonte copia/print source: Cineteca del Comune di Bologna.
Didascalie in tedesco / German intertitles.

Examining people at very close quarters came naturally to Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931). The son of a distinguished throat specialist in Vienna, he served himself as a practising physician before concentrating from the 1890s on writing plays, poems, and stories.  Cinema and the camera’s gaze might be thought a natural tool in the work he did, in the age of Freud, probing beneath Viennese society’s surface.  But there were reservations to overcome.  In 1912 he backed away from collaborating on a proposed Austrian film of his play Liebelei, fearing that association with the new, vulgar cinema might tarnish his theatre reputation; it was left to Denmark, and the director Holger-Madsen, to film the property the following year.
Over ten years later, Schnitzler had mellowed.  In 1926, he actively floated subjects for film adaptation, in particular his recent novellas Traumnovelle and Fräulein Else.  After a brush with G.W. Pabst in the early 1930s the first of these belatedly reached the screen as Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).  But with Fräulein Else, made with Elisabeth Bergner and Paul Czinner, consummation came far sooner.  Schnitzler was enraptured by Bergner from her stage work with Max Reinhardt, and it’s easy to see why.  In plays and stories he had developed a particular type of female character, the süsse Mädel – the sweet, unassuming girl who became entangled, at some cost, with far less innocent male partners.  Was not Bergner the süsse Mädel personified?  In Fräulein Else particularly, she stands before us as a child-woman, an elfin creature floundering, exquisitely and painfully, in an unfamiliar world of corporeal desire.
Paul Czinner’s adaptation of the novella is a free one.  Schnitzler funnelled the action into something close to an interior monologue, with characters seen through Else’s eyes.  Though Bergner is placed very much at its centre, Czinner’s film still widens the perspective.  The plot keeps Schnitzler’s awful simplicity.  Else is in St. Moritz, holidaying with an aunt and cousin.  All’s right with the world, until word comes that her father, a lawyer in Vienna, faces bankruptcy through speculating with clients’ funds.  Ruin can only be averted with financial aid from a discreet friend like the elderly art dealer von Dorsday (Albert Steinrück), who is conveniently staying at Else’s hotel.  Else presents her father’s request; von Dorsday counters with a request of his own...
In general, the treatment suits the name of Bergner and Czinner’s producing company, Poetic-Film.  Even the surprising shot of Bergner naked from the back does not ruffle the film’s psychological penetration.  Schnitzler’s reaction, noted in his diary, was mixed.  The beginning he considered good; the ending, overheated and silly.  He praised Bergner and Steinrück, but gave a black mark to Albert Bassermann (Else’s father).  Alas, we don’t know his opinion of Adele Sandrock, the actress playing Aunt Emma – she had been his mistress in the 1890s, in an affair which had scandalized Vienna.  None of this, however, stopped him plotting further film adaptations for the talkies. – GEOFF BROWN