Silents, Please: Screens of ‘The Last Laugh’ masterpiece at Rosendale Theater 9/1 | Cinema | Hudson Valley
Although forever known for his iconic 1922 German Expressionist horror masterpiece Nosferatus, the pioneering filmmaker FW Murnau (1888-1931) also created other classics of youth cinema, many of which, tragically, have not survived. One that fortunately, however, is from 1924 the last laugh, a prime example of the cinematic style called Kammerspielfilm (“chamber drama”), a silent-era German genre that depicts middle-class life. A major commercial success in its time, the film was included in critic Roger Ebert’s 2000 list of “great movies”.
the last laughwhich defies contemporary production standards by not using the standard pre-talkie narrative device of intertitles (aka title cards or dialogue cards), features actor Emil Jannings (The blue angel, the last commandment, the way of all flesh) in the lead role of a proud, longtime doorman at a prestigious hotel whose world is skewed when his advanced age sees him demoted to basement bathroom attendant.
“What really makes the last laugh Emil Jannings’ performance is special,” says Georgette Mattel, coordinator of the Rosendale Theatre’s monthly Sunday Silent series, now in its 10th edition. “It might sound like an insult to say this today, but it was truly made for silent film. It’s so expressive that it just carries the story, even without the title cards.
Watching the last laugh makes it clear why Jannings was such a superstar of the era, on par with his equally visually addicted contemporaries Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Theda Bara. A graduate of an illustrious career as a stage performer, the Swiss-born actor simply lights up the screen with his dramatic facial expressions and emotionally charged movements; Jannings loved the camera, and the camera loved him.
And it’s groundbreaking camera work, overseen by cinematographer Karl Freund (Metropolis1931 Dracula“I Love Lucy”), which makes even more the last laugh such an influential work. Credited as the inventor of the raging camera technique, Freund improvised during production, strapping the camera to his body or hanging it from high rigs to achieve footage never seen in previous films and pioneering methods now common panoramic shots, crane shots, tracking. , tilt and other procedures. The film certainly caught the attention of Hollywood, which, after its box office success, courted Murnau, Jannings and Freund. It was also beloved by the young Alfred Hitchcock, who witnessed its making and adopted Freund’s practices for his own films, calling it “an almost perfect film” and praising Murnau as “the greatest director the Germans ever had.” known “. The film’s art director was Walter Röhrig, who had previously helped create the surprisingly nightmarish aesthetic of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
“A lot of people just equate silent film with pie and slapstick fights like you see in Chaplin and Keystone Cops movies,” says Mattel. “I really think they’ll be surprised and amazed at how sophisticated and technically superior some of the movies were, and the last laugh is one of the best examples. If you are a movie lover, these are the roots from where modern cinema comes from.
the last laugh will screen at the Rosendale Theater in Rosendale on January 9 at 2 p.m. The show will feature live musical accompaniment by pianist Martha Waterman. Tickets are $6.