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Silent German classics to be screened in March, April

Eight silent classics of early German cinema will be screened at the Hong Kong Film Archive cinema from March 20 to April 5.

The films include Ernst Lubitsch's "Madame Dubarry" and "Sumurun"; Robert Wiene's classic "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari"; and Paul Wegener's "The Golem".

The screenings are the third instalment in the "Early European Cinema" series presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

A seminar entitled "French-German Cinema of the 1920s", to be conducted in English, is also scheduled for March 20 at the film archive cinema.

Germany was among the pioneers of moving pictures, with Max and Emil Skladanowsky among the earliest inventors. However, German cinema in the early 20th century was dominated by imports of French, Italian and Danish productions. It was not until the end of World War I with its apocalyptic experiences that German cinema began to have a decisive influence on the new post-war generation in literature and arts.

German expressionism took over as the dominant trend in theatre and film production after World War I. The films of the 1920s established in Germany an art-film culture that still exists today.

Unlike French cinema, themes of alienation and insanity were common in German cinema in this period as were tyrannical figures, ghosts and monsters. German expressionist cinema was influenced by the expressionist tradition in the arts with the use of harsh and angular pictorial forms and visual distortions appearing in many of the films.

Robert Wiene's timeless classic, "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" (1920), probably remains the ultimate expressionist film. The film probes deeply into the psyche of the protagonists and opens new boundaries for the cinematic medium. It is the dark and brooding sets, not the acting, which conveys the film's despair.

Similar expressionistic architecture can be seen in Wegener's "The Golem" (1920), a classic based on the medieval legend of a clay monster being created by a Jewish Rabbi to save his people from mass persecution.

Lubitsch's skilfulness in portraying crowd scenes and his shrewdness in portraying the absurdity of the French revolution in "Madame Dubarry" (1919) made him "the great humaniser of history". This film not only brought international recognition to German cinema and Lubitsch's employer, UFA Studios - it also made stars of both Lubitsch and his Polish leading lady, Pola Negri.

"Sumurun" (1920) was one of Lubitsch's last European films before he was inducted into Hollywood. In what turned out to be his last screen appearance, Lubitsch plays a hunchback clown. The restored print has utilised material from Moscow, Washington DC and Prague.

Richard Oswald's "Weird Stories" (1919) is more minimalist, with simple sets and real locations. The film carries five horror stories, including Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat", Robert L Stevenson's "The Suicide Club", Richard Oswald's "Spooky", Robert Liebmann's "The Hand" and Anselma Heine's "The Illusion". This newly restored print is the result of two years' restoration efforts.

"Asphalt" (1929) is Joe May's last silent film and it may also be the last impressionist film, blending the French avant-garde with film noir in a semi-documentary style, bringing home the message that the city, with asphalt roads symbolising paths to moral decay.

In "Earth Spirit" (1923), Danish actress and producer Asta Nielsen plays a notorious courtesan who spares no one in her unscrupulous climb to the top, while in "The Strange Bird" (1911), she plays the daughter of an American aristocrat who falls in love with a bargeman. Nielsen's portrayal of the spirited young woman is sensuous underneath her tomboyish manners.

All screenings have live music accompaniment and English title cards.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% discount for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information call 2739 2139, 2734 2900 or visit or . Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009 or on the Internet at .

Ends/Wednesday, February 25, 2004
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