WEA Film Study Group, Sydney, Australia, 27 May 2012
The Joyless Street (Die Freudlose Gasse)
Germany 1925 151 minutes tinted silent
Directed by G.W. Pabst
DVD Source: NFSA. Editions Filmmuseum DVD on deposit from the Goethe-Institut. Production company, Sofar-Film; producers, Michael Salkind, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Roman Pinès; writer, Willy Haas from a novel by Hugo Bettauer; cinematographers, Guido Seeber, Curt Oertel, Walter Robert Lach; assistant director and editor, Marc Sorkin: assistant editor, Anatole Litvak; production designers, Hans Solhnle, Otto Eardman, Edgar G. Ulmer.
Reconstruction: Munich Film Museum 1989-2009: Stefan Drössler, Jan-Christopher Horak, Enno Patalas, Gergard Ullmann, Klaus Volkmer; DVD music score, Aljoscha Zimmermann. Funded by Projecto Lumière, part of the Media Program of the European Union; ZDF/arte film editorial department, Nina Goslar. Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Aspect ratio 1.33:1 (4:3).
Asta Nielsen (Marie Lechner), Greta Garbo (Grete Rumfort), Werner Krauss, (Josef Geiringer, butcher of Melchior Street), Else (Hertha von Walther), Valeska Gert (Frau Greiffer), Countess Agnes Esterhazy (Regina Rosenow), Henry Stuart (Egon Stirner), Alexander Mursky (Dr. Leid), Tamara Toistoi (Lia Leid), Robert Garrison (Don Alfonso Canez of Valparaiso), Einar Hanson (Lt. Davy), Mario Cusmich (Colonel Irving), Tamara Tolstoi (Lia Leid), Countess Tolstoi (Fraülein Henriette). English intertitles.
Vienna, 1921: the aftermath of World War I. Corruption and currency speculation are rife, uncontrollable inflation has robbed the middle class of their savings, food is scarce and the poor are starving. For some, prostitution is the only way to survive. While the elite and wealthy bourgeoisie are manoeuvring to maintain their social and financial dominance, Marie, Pabst’s main character, has drifted into casual prostitution to avoid starvation and earn money for her worthless lover Egon. When her better off friend Grete loses her menial office job after rejecting the advances of her lecherous employer, Madame Greifer, who runs a fashion shop as a front for her nightclub and bordello, offers to “help”. Don Alonso, a nobleman, is trying to seduce Regina Rosenow while persuading both her rich father and Marie’s father to put money into an investment swindle. The ambitious Egon is also trying to win Regina but she is interested only in rich suitors. He turns his attentions to the vampish older Lia, who is later found murdered. And day after day a long line of women waits outside the butcher’s shop for meat.
Pabst used right wing author Hugo Bettauer’s novel as a socialist critique of an economic system that no longer functioned. If the plot lines seem melodramatic, the situations were all too real. The screenplay was structured around four female characters representing distinct classes in post war Vienna: Else (homeless lumpenproletariat), Marie, Pabst’s main character (working class), Grete (destitute middle class) and Regina (nouveau riche upper middle class). Pabst transcends the clichés as he weaves eighteen other characters into the intersecting plot lines of his honest and confronting account of a nation in moral and economic collapse. So honest and confronting in fact that the film ran into political and moral censorship problems wherever it was shown. The Joyless Street has never been seen complete in public, not even at its premiere, when the theatre owner insisted beforehand on the removal of 400 feet.
Extreme and arbitrary outraged reactions in various countries resulted in The Joyless Street circulating in many different versions. As Paul Rotha wrote in The Film Till Now: “When completed it was ten thousand feet in length … France accepted the film, deleting two thousand feet and every shot of the ‘street’ itself. Vienna extracted all sequences in which Werner Krauss appeared as the butcher. Russia turned the American lieutenant into a doctor and made the butcher the murderer.” In England it was screened once only by the London Film Society before being banned. It is hardly necessary to add that it was banned in Australia. An enterprising U.S. distributor cut the film down to 59 minutes by deleting all the scenes that were extraneous to the Grete (Garbo) story arc.
Much of the interest in The Joyless Street centres on 19 year old Garbo’s performance. She makes an interesting contrast to the minimalist technique of the more experienced Swedish actress Asta Nielson playing Marie. Garbo is sometimes a little gauche but in the scene with her briefly owned fur coat Pabst coaxes from her the tangible ecstasy she would display in her impending stellar career. The Joyless Street would be her ticket to Hollywood.
Georg Wilhelm Pabst (1887-1967) was one of the most influential of all European directors. In The Joyless Street he introduced to German cinema an alternative to both Expressionism, as typified by The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu, and the desperate escapism of much of its contemporary product. The Joyless Street marked the beginning of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Reality) movement that took a cynical and critical look at the moral and economic shambles that was post-WW1 Germany and Austria. Pabst subsequently explored Freudian sexual psychology in Secrets of a Soul (1926); his other major German films include The Loves of Jeanne Ney (1927), Pandora’s Box (1928), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929), Westfront (1930), The Threepenny Opera (1931), Kameradschaft (1931) and a German-French co-production, L’Atlantide (1932). Moving to France he directed a version of Don Quixote (1933) and several others. He tried working in the Hollywood studio system in 1934 but after only one Richard Barthelmess film for Warner Brothers, A Modern Hero, he returned to make films in France. For reasons still unclear, during WW2 he chose to go back home to Austria where he made only three historical films, none related to Nazism. In 1955, to deflect accusations of “collaborateur”, he directed two specifically anti-Nazi films, The Last Act and Jackboot Mutiny.
The version of The Joyless Street that we screened in 2006, the only print available to us at the time, was considerably shorter than the Munich Filmmuseum restoration that we can now present in a DVD version.
Pabst and his editor cut two slightly different negatives of the The Joyless Street but extensive and capricious censorship everywhere resulted in many quite different versions. The first major recent attempt of restoration back to its original length of 3738 m was undertaken in 1989 by Enno Patalas at the Munich Filmmuseum who utilised prints from national archives in Paris (2309 m), London (2168 m) and Moscow (2950 m), all with intertitles in their respective languages. The length of the Moscow print looked promising until the discovery that it contained footage from other films. There was no usable German print. Patalas had the complete copy of Hass’s original shooting script but as Pabst had frequently extemporised during shooting, it would not prove as useful as first thought. All but five of the original intertitles, which had been found in Berlin in a can of offcuts, had to be reconstructed. Gaping holes in continuity had to be accounted for, which was not helped by the re-positioned scenes frequently encountered in all versions. Combining prints of varying quality made it difficult to achieve a consistent look for any length of time. As these prints being used in the reconstruction were from dupe negatives of the nitrate originals it was not possible to be certain where shots had been removed in the absence of tell-tale splices on the original negative.
A second, more successful restoration was undertaken by the Filmmuseum between 1995 and 1998 under Jan-Christopher Horak who requested from the museum’s international FIAP partners all surviving nitrate prints of the film. Twenty-one versions were offered: ultimately Horak decided to use the Paris, London and Moscow versions and two others, one from the Rome archive, the other the opportunistic 59 minute U.S. version bought from a junk dealer by George Eastman House which nonetheless contained some shots not found in any of the other versions. The original nitrate prints of the copies used by Patalas were brought to Munich to produce a new dupe negative.
The Munich research will continue, in the hope of locating even part of the missing 600 metres from The Joyless Street as other film archives around the world work to restore the heritage of earlier films which have deteriorated or are missing. Film and television industries are geared to production, publicity, distribution and exhibition. The fifth phase, preservation, which does not earn any immediate income is often neglected. Only 10% of silent film productions has survived because it was rightly assumed that they were no longer viable with the advent of the sound era. Of all films produced in the nitrate sound era 1930-1955 only about 50% survive in any form. Unprotected badly stored nitrate decomposes over time, the later acetate safety film deteriorates also, although more slowly. Early Eastmancolor prints started to fade even during their commercial life. The kinescopes of early live television productions were often routinely wiped for re-use. The effective life of digitised material is yet to be determined. It has been estimated that there is 35 million feet of inflammable nitrate film still to be copied in U.S. archives alone. The race to preserve even just the most significant material continues.
Pabst wieder sehen (Reviewing Pabst)
Germany | 1997 | 20:37 minutes | colour
Directed by Wolfgang Jacobsen, Martin Koerber, René Perraudin
DVD source: NFSA. An Edition Filmmuseum DVD on deposit from the Goethe-Institut. Eikon Media GmbH/arte/ZDF. Cinematography, René Perraudin. With Jan-Christopher Horak, Gerhard Ullmann, Klaus Volmer, Nicola Mazzanti. Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Aspect ratio 1.33:1 (4:3). German intertitles with English subtitles.
Archivists and restorers discuss their choices in restoring and reconstructing The Joyless Street. Included are illustrative scenes from the film. Side-by-side comparisons of different prints reveal significant variations in both content and image quality. Issues discussed include the lack of an archive copy of an uncut German-language print of The Joyless Street. Detailed German censorship records of an uncut original print are also missing. The shooting script and German censorship records of a cut version of the film are available to film archivists.
Atwill, Lee. G.W.Pabst. Boston : Twayne Publishers, 1977.
Drossier, Stefan. Tales of Reconstruction. An essay from the booklet accompanying The Joyless Street DVD set.
Elsaesser, Thomas. Weimar cinema and after: Germany’s historical imaginary. London; New York : Routledge, 2000.
Horak, Jan- Christopher. Reconstructing the text of The Joyless Years at:
Kollar, Michael. Senses of Cinema, Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 32 at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2004/cteq/the_joyless_street/
Rentschler, Eric (ed.). The Films of G.W. Pabst: an extraterritorial cinema.
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, c1990.