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Friday, 1 January 2016

Der Kinoerzähler (5 Stars)

This is my first film of 2016, the first film that I've watched and reviewed. I chose the film carefully. I wanted to pick a film with content that signifies a new beginning. The 1993 German film "Der Kinoerzähler" shows the beginning of a new era in different ways. I admit that it concentrates on what is being left behind rather than what's beginning, but the two go hand in hand.

The film's title is difficult to translate, but IMDB calls it "The Movie Teller". It's about the man who used to present silent films to the audience. He used to stand and explain to the audience what was happening on the screen. Was that really necessary? I don't think such a man would have added to my enjoyment of a film, he would have annoyed me. The movie teller, who quite significantly remains unnamed throughout the film, is facing bankruptcy as his job will soon be obsolete. The film begins in the late 1920's in a small town near Berlin. The first films with sounds, the talkies, are being shown in the big cities, and soon his cinema, the Apollo, will follow suit.

Was the coming of sound to cinema an improvement or not? It's easy for people who live today, more than 70 years after the first films with sound, to answer Yes. We know nothing different, apart from occasional exotic films like "The Artist". Directors at the time, especially in Germany, dreaded the change and thought it would be the end of cinema. It did mean a change. It meant a big alteration in the role of the director, a word that can only be fully understood in the context of silent films. The director used to speak to the actors while they were performing, telling them what to do, which way to look, and even what to think. This stopped when he had to remain silent during the filming. The actors began to speak, but the directors were silenced.

It's also interesting to watch silent movies today. Look at the actors. They had a talent that's been lost today, or at least it's become rare. Their faces were so expressive. Their faces told stories. That's something that's become unnecessary for today's actors, because the dialogue does all the work for them. Today, when an actor expresses deep emotion on his face we're amazed and call it an Oscar-winning performance. 100 years ago everyone did it. It was a basic skill required by all actors.

The new beginning isn't just the coming of sound. It's also political change. The film continues into 1933, when Adolf Hitler came into power. The general public welcomed the change as a new beginning for Germany. Only a few people saw the other side, such as the Apollo's owner, a Jew. He was forced to sell the cinema for almost nothing. When he disappeared afterwards people in the town criticised him for running away.

Maybe a small flaw of the film is that we don't see swastikas at the Nazi gatherings. Germany was very sensitive in 1993, when the film was made. It was -- and still is -- illegal to display swastikas in public, and even film makers were very sensitive about showing them. The director could have asked for permission, but it would have delayed the film even more, so he went ahead without it.

Another new beginning is that this was the first film made at the Babelsberg film studio after German reunification. It's known today as the world's oldest film studio, in operation since 1912. During the years of German separation it lay in East Germany. It was frequently used to make films, but in the 1980's it sufferered from a lack of investment and only low budget films could be made. This changed after reunification. It's now not just Germany's oldest film studio, it's also the biggest and the best equipped.

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