Strauss, Schoenberg and Straubs

The Warner Archive Collection has issued a handsomely remastered version of “The Great Waltz,” a fanciful 1938 MGM biography of the Viennese composer Johann Strauss mostly directed by the French filmmaker Julien Duvivier on a pre-war visit to Hollywood. While Duvivier was in Hollywood, directing an international cast that included the Belgian music hall star Fernand Gravey, the reigning coloratura of Berlin, Miliza Korjus, and the German Jewish actress Luise Rainer, the Anschluss was happening back in Europe, an inconvenient truth that “The Great Waltz” seems at some pains to suppress — particularly in a magnificent final montage, reportedly staged by Josef von Sternberg, in which all the peoples of the Danube are depicted waltzing away to Strauss’s swirling tune.

The Warner release seemed like a good excuse to finally get around to Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet’s 1973 opera film “Moses und Aron,” which New Yorker Video brought out in a nicely appointed edition a few weeks ago. Once again, we are dealing with a great Viennese composer, Arnold Schoenberg, whose tunes may not be as snappy as Strauss’s but do provide a solid framework for one of the Straubs’s most rigorous investigations of representation in the cinema. A review and further wild speculation here, in the New York Times.

73 comments to Strauss, Schoenberg and Straubs

  • jbryant

    Ha, you beat me to it, Brian. I was watching, too, and had totally forgotten that scene (in fact, I wonder if it might have been cut out for time when I first saw it, back in the days when local affiliates showed movies — several minutes would have to go to fit it in a two-hour time slot).

  • Alex

    Simone Starace,

    I guess that “scene at theatre” was all I recalled. Thanks.

  • nicolas saada

    I have had the ultimate privilege to watch the complete RING conducted by Boulez and directed by Chereau in Bayreuth. It was in 1978 and it remains difficult to make justice ti this production through videorecording. I like DON GIOVANNI a lot, haven’t seen either of the Duviviet or the Straub. Great opera moments in film: the long shot on Kidman,s face during the overture of Wagner’s WALKURE in BIRTH, the opening of AGE OF INNOCENCE…
    I’ve always seen straub’s ANNA MAGDALENA BACH as a companion to Anthony Mann’s GLENN MILLER STORY. I Think both films share a truthfullness, an accuracy, that is visible in both Mann and Straub’s effort to film long musical sequences without artiificial interruption.

  • It is worth mentioning the influence of Straub-Huillet on Pedro Costa, who made a documentary on them “6 Bagatelas”.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDi8gahxuLY

    As well the minimalism of “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” seems to have had a strong influence on Costa, especially in regards to framing, the creative process and music in his documentary on French actress/singer Jeanne Balibar “Ne Change Rien”, and which the title comes from a line from Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer: “Let nothing be changed and all be different.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, I’m assuming that you mean a truthfulness and accuracy regarding the performances of the music within the film rather than regarding the life story of Glenn Miller.

  • Robert Garrick

    Nobody has mentioned “Carmen Jones” (1954), which is musically, at least, pretty faithful to the Bizet original. I saw it once, in a perfect scope print, at the old AFI Theatre in the Kennedy Center. This was about twenty years ago. I remember lots of tans and reds and oranges in the color scheme, and also lots of beautiful, graceful camera moves. Other than Max Ophuls in “Lola Montes,” I don’t think anyone was better than Preminger at moving the camera in the scope format.

    Bizet is also featured in “The Cocoanuts (1929), with the Marx Brothers.

    Then there’s “Mighty Mouse.”

  • Robert Garrick

    I think we should note the death of Peter Breck. The obits (if you can find one) talk about his TV work on “The Big Valley” and “Rawhide,” but I remember Breck as the rather odd looking star of Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” (1963). It is Breck who utters the immortal line: “Nymphos!”

  • Peter Breck is one of my favorite actors. He was an actor of intense physicality, acting with his whole body. You can see this in Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor”. Fuller would have had a hard time getting a performance like this out of other actors.

    Breck’s main career was in US television, starring in BLACK SADDLE and THE BIG VALLEY.
    His most important TV work is one of the least pretentious: THE BIG VALLEY episode THE NIGHT OF THE WOLF (Joseph H. Lewis, 1965). Both Lewis and Breck unleash their emotions, and a vortex of strange, nightmarish thoughts emerge. Warning: Very tragic and not for those suffering from gloom or depression.

    Breck appeared in a number of key Hollywood Liberal TV episodes:
    HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL (Lamont Johnson, 1958)
    THE OUTLER LIMITS: O.B.I.T. (Gerd Oswald, 1963)
    THE BIG VALLEY: THE WAY TO KILL A KILLER (Joseph M. Newman, 1965)
    THE BIG VALLEY: HIDE THE CHILDREN (Arthur H. Nadel, 1966)
    These are all powerhouse works.

  • That’s:
    HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL: THE TEACHER (Lamont Johnson, 1958)

  • The classical music concert film CARNEGIE HALL (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1947) has some opera arias, although it is mainly instrumental. CARNEGIE HALL is one of Ulmer’s best works. But it is little known, perhaps because the director is so associated with noir.
    CARNEGIE HALL resembles the Straubs’ ANNA MAGDALENA BACH a lot. Both have first rate performances by classical musicians; both frame those performances visually into interesting, geometrically complex compositions.
    *
    Antti: “Michael Powell tv opera interpretation worthy of rediscovery: HERZOG BLAUBARTS BURG / BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE”.
    I saw a first rate version of this opera on US Public TV circa 1970. Suspect but am not sure it was the Powell version. Would love to see this again. “Open! Open!”, as the heroine sings, about the doors in Bluebeard’s castle.
    *
    David Hare,
    Thank you very much for sharing the Max Ophuls film. He is such a great.
    *
    I loved ARIA, when it was released in 1967. It differs from most of these films in that it contains “music videos”, set to opera pieces. Favorites: the videos by Ken Russell and Derek Jarman. Wish music videos set to classical music would become more common.

  • Gregg: “PARAMOUNT ON PARADE Italian tenor Nino Martini”

    Nino Martini made other films too. MUSIC FOR MADAME (John Blystone) is a nice little B comedy-drama movie, with Martini as an aspiring tenor, and Joan Fontaine as an aspiring classical composer.

    It is not Ophuls. But it is a very pleasant hour, with Fontaine’s composer being treated in a non-condescending, feminist way. And Nino Martini has a truly extraordinary voice: a thrill to listen to.

  • Barry Putterman

    PARAMOUNT ON PARADE! NOW we’re cookin’ with gas!!

    At some point Paramount must have intended to try to make a star out of Nino Martini. Early in the film he is shown arriving in Hollywood and is greeted and introduced to the audience by none other than Maurice Chevalier. And that is all that you can usually see of him in the film nowadays. His number, along with a few others, was shot in color and the sound discs for the color numbers are now lost. So the film is now shown (when you can find it) in truncated form with only the black and white sequences intact. However, the Museum of Modern Art once showed the UCLA print which has the color sequences in the film. Alas, without the sound.

    PARAMOUNT ON PARADE was that studio’s all-star early sound musical, and Chevalier is all over the film. Including the number directed by Lubitsch where he and Evelyn Brent do a marital argument set to the music of the apache dance. Johan will be interested to know that Lillian Roth is in the film doing “Anytime’s the Time to Fall in Love” alongside Buddy Rogers. There is also Clara Bow singing “I’m True to the Navy.” AND, my own personal favorite (indeed, one of my all time favorites), Nancy Carroll emerging from a giant shoe box to do “Dancing To Save Your Soul” accompanied by eccentric dancer Al Norman and the Abe Lyman Orchestra.

    Martini never made another movie for Paramount. In fact, in addition to the film Mike mentions, he only made three other movies in his entire career. One of which was Mamoulian’s THE GAY DESPERADO. Another of which was one of Terence Young’s first films ONE NIGHT WITH YOU.

    I wouldn’t expect to see PARAMOUNT ON PARADE out on Blu-ray any time soon. But for anybody interested in early talkie musicals, it is a must find on the bootleg market.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Re ARIA: I think the film’d be a 1987 release rather than 1967. As I recall the Godard sequence seemed intended to parody — in a peculiar, non-erotic way — the bodybuilding sequence of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and the Altman expressed a truly staggering hatred of the audience (which confirms his treatment of audiences in films like BREWSTER MCCLOUD and NASHVILLE, and provides an interesting counterpoint to his more frequently commented on love for performers). The Julien Temple, filmed in a famous gaudy hotel that’s midway between LA and San Francisco, was silly exuberent fun. The others didnt make much of an impression. I also don’t recall how well the pieces served the music.

    Mike mentions John Blystone’s MUSIC FOR MADAME. Having recently read James Curtis’ massive Spencer Tracy biography, I’ve been wondering if any posters here made their way up to Westwood over the last month to catch the Tracy rarities screening in a UCLA series. Blystone directed a couple, apparently among the better of Tracy’s Fox quickies.

  • Two important cycles of opera films, neither of which may have contributed much to the art of the cinema:

    Italian opera films of the 1940s and the 1950s were popular, made on a big budjet, with spectacular scenes shot in the best opera houses, with big artists such as Beniamino Gigli, including opera adaptations (I PAGLIACCI), biopics (PUCCINI), and opera-related stories (CASA RICORDI).

    Soviet opera and ballet films became important during Stalin’s final period when film art was crushed. Made right after Stalin’s death, BORIS GODUNOV can be seen as an Eisensteinian reflection of the terror of the immediate past. An interesting companion piece, also directed by Vera Stroyeva, may be KHOVANSHCHINA which I haven’t seen.

    Chinese model operas of the Cultural Revolution period have to be seen to be believed. The one I have seen is TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN BY STRATEGY. Mind-boggling.

  • jbryant

    Recently saw a couple of BRANDED episodes directed by Larry Peerce, and it reminded me that his father, opera singer Jan Peerce, popped up in SOMETHING IN THE WIND as a jailer when Deanna Durbin gets thrown in the clink, and they do a duet from “Il Trovatore.”

    And how about the phenomenon of opera singers in non-singing roles, like Kathleen Howard henpecking W. C. Fields in IT’S A GIFT and THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, or Michael Bartlett opposite Claudette Colbert in La Cava’s SHE MARRIED HER BOSS, or Salvatore Baccaloni in Quine’s FULL OF LIFE?

    Or opera singers in non-operatic singing roles? — Frank Tashlin’s wife, Mary Costa, was a noted opera singer who made her own mark in film history as the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY.

  • Oliver_C

    Opera features prominently, and rewardingly, in Kenneth Lonergan’s much-belated Margaret, though Lonergan seems uninterested in mirroring the film’s diegetic artistry with his own mise-en-scene (as Edward Yang did with the boy’s photographs in Yi Yi, say).

  • Robert Garrick

    Peter Breck’s other big film starring role was “The Crawling Hand” (1963). That’s a title right out of the Joe Dante playbook, and Breck does a fair amount of “whole body acting” (thank you, Mike Grost) in it.

    Meanwhile, here’s another important obit from yesterday’s editions. This is from the Los Angeles Times:

    ****Bill Hinzman, 75, who was working as a cameraman on the 1968 horror movie “Night of the Living Dead” when director George Romero plucked him from the sidelines to play a zombie in the opening scene at a cemetery, died Feb. 5 at his home in South Beaver Township, Pa. He had rectal cancer. Hinzman went on to direct and produce horror films, and remained a popular draw at horror conventions through last year. His daughter Heidi Hinzman said he wanted to be cremated. “He always joked about that, saying if we buried him he would just come back,” his daughter told the Beaver County Times.*****

    Back to me: That is one of the great scenes in the history of horror, and Hinzman deserves to be remembered here. Let’s hope he rests in peace, and we don’t have to pour gasoline on him and burn him.

  • Peter Breck was believable as a “regular guy”: a conventional fellow. His TV episodes often have him making disturbing discoveries about the normalcy he has always taken for granted. He can find that normalcy is often filled with mediocrity. And that normalcy masks horrendous moral, social and political failures.

    The surface of the world cracks for him, and gulfs are revealed. It reminds one of Philip K. Dick novels, where reality collapses. Or the scene at the German embassy in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, where the hero discovers that “evil is real. It’s actual, like cement”. (Surely one of the high points of the American Novel.)

    The best work of Peter Breck still speaks powerfully to us today.

    SHOCK CORRIDOR is still something of an undigested film. It is full of political focus on still unresolved social problems, such as racism. Like EUROPE 51 (Rossellini), it offers challenges to how we might live, that are still unmet today.

  • Brian Dauth

    Mike G: I love thinking of SHOCK CORRIDER as “something of an undigested film,” a phrase that could apply to much of Fuller’s cinema. Thank you for making me smile and think at the same time.

  • Shawn Stone

    Barry,

    The sound disc for Harry Green’s “Isador the Toreador” opera parody from PARAMOUNT ON PARADE turned up in 2010.

    http://tinyurl.com/7p7enmq

    Maybe Nino Martini on disc is out there, somewhere, too.

  • Barry Putterman

    Shawn, looking back on the MoMA experience, I think that “Isador the Toreador” was shown in color AND with sound at that screening. But this was well before 2010. So some kind of clarification would be necessary to explain that. And, of course, the finale with Chevalier and the chorus girls doing “Sweeping the Clouds Away” was shot in color, but has always existed in black and white in the circulating prints.

    Maybe Nino Martini on disc will turn up someday. As Jack E. Leonard would say; “I certainly hope so, for your sake, mumble mumble mumble…” However, I suspect that auteurists are more egerly anticipating the disc for the Edmund Goulding sequence with Jean Arthur, Gary Cooper, Fay Wray, Jane Bryan and others, mumble, mumble, mumble…

  • jbryant

    I like how the Lawrence Tibbett vehicle THE ROGUE SONG has 40 votes on imdb, despite being a lost film. Apparently, more nonagenarians are casting votes there than I would have suspected. Most of the reviews are of the soundtrack, which still exists, but one person writes as if she’s actually seen the film.

  • Peter

    I agree with Simone about Rossellini’s Giovanna d’Arco al rogo. Excellent film.