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November 10, 2006

Appointment in Berlin


Reading about the Berlin Film Museum in no way hints at this disorienting experience. Covering two floors, the design can be described as a cross between two of the most famous German silent films, Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I walked on a steel bridge on the third floor, virtually open above the second floor, facing large screens with the images of actors and actresses smiling or winking in huge close-ups. From there I entered a room with several television screens at tilted angles.

The museum exhibits film excerpts and artifacts from the beginning of film history to the recent present. Among my discoveries were Melies' contemporary Gaston Velle, as magical and in color. According to the museum, Fern Andra was the first to demonstrate the arts of self-promotion, setting the stage for Gloria Swanson, Marilyn Monroe, Paris Hilton, etc. A room devoted to Fritz Lang appropriately had a wall full of television screens featuring excerpts from Spies and the early Dr. Mabuse films. The room devoted to Nazi era film was unsettling, including artifacts regarding Jud Suss. Marlene Dietrich had rooms showing off some of her costumes, letters and photographs including a shot of her with Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl. In a room devoted to several key German actors, what got my heart beating was the exhibit of photos, letters and film excerpts of Romy Schneider. For me, the admission price was more than worth it to see some footage from the "Sissi" films that introduced the then seventeen year old star.

The museum also has exhibits devoted to science fiction films which I found of moderate interest. More fun, though again not directly having anything to do with German film, was the Ray Harryhausen exhibit with models from several of the films associated with the special effects innovator. Even after all these years, even with the advent of state of the art computer generated effects, the sword fighting skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts continues to thrill.

Two floors below the Film Museum is the Arsenel Cinema. I saw Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess, considered the first major example of "The Lubitsch Touch". With German titles, I lost the verbal humor of the film. Evaluated strictly on a visual level, there are cute moments, people looking through keyholes, high society and servants dancing a wild fox trot, and an early scene with Ossi Oswalda destroying everything in a room during a temper tantrum. I'm not sure how much more I would have liked the film had I seen it with English titles. For me, the Lubitsch films I like have been from The Love Parade through Cluny Brown. The film was shown with live piano. At the very least, I could enjoy that I saw in Germany a film made by the guy who filmed Hitler at a delicatessen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2006 12:37 AM


Curiously, Peter, what day were you there? I just got back from my honeymoon in Berlin, where I experienced the greatness that is the Film Museum on November 1st or 2nd, I believe. Best of its kind, I do believe.

Posted by: Aaron Hillis at November 10, 2006 11:14 AM

We arrived in Berlin on the evening of the 8th, and will be leaving for Thailand on the 12th. I am staying directly across the street from the Film Museum at the Mandala Hotel. I was at the Film Museum on the 9th.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at November 10, 2006 12:27 PM