Sunday, February 5, 2012

From Morning Till Midnight (Germany 1920)

(Deutscher Text HIER!)

In 1920, just when The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari received its première, the shootings for From Morning Till Midnight (original title Von morgens bis mitternachts) started. But while Caligari became a groundbreaking movie of the German expressionistic era, Midnight failed. As far as we know today, no film distributor could be found, so there was no theatrical release in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Only one non-public showing is known, it happened for the press in June 1922 in the "Regina" cinema in Munich. The movie received its public première on December 3, 1922, at the Hongo-za cinema in Tokyo, after that it was seen as lost for many years. The copy was rediscovered not before 1962 and was bought by the Film Archive of the GDR. So finally Von morgens bis mitternachts received a German première in 1963 in East Berlin.

One parallel between Caligari and Midnight is obvious immediately: Both films make use of expressionistically painted sets.

But while in Caligari this makes sense, it does not so in Midnight, and it's interesting to see why this is.

Caligari deals with psychiatric stuff, the whole story is a sort of hallucination of a lunatic, so most of the set is irreal. The only "real" scenes are the ones showing the two patients in the garden and the foyer of the psychiatric ward - which makes clear that this is their real situation

Nothing of this in Midnight. The film tells a pretty simple story: A bank cashier (played by the great theater actor Ernst Deutsch, still a legend in Germany) can't resist the temptation. He takes the money from his cashbox, leaves his family and tries to live what he sees as the "big life". The film follows him "from morning till midnight" through a couple of stations: a luxury hotel, a high-class fashion shop, a bar, a sports arena, a gambling den. Of course this soon turns out to be a getaway.

In any of these stations a clock is shown, and each one of the scenes end up with the same symbolic act: A seemingly seductive woman turns into death and makes the cashier taking flight in panic and horror.

Finally, in the last station, a Salvation Army soldier rescues the cashier from the shabby gambling den and brings him to her parish hall.

She convinces the cashier to confess his sins. He does so in front of several other poor sinners, finally he throws all his stolen money to their feet. They snatch up all the money and run away, only the Salvation Army woman stays with him. But when she finds out that a reward of 5000 Marks is offered for the cashier, she runs out to the street to alert the next best policeman.

When the police enters to arrest the cashier, he shoots himself in front of a cross. After this he takes in a strangely contorted way the position of Christ on the cross. Above him the words "Ecce homo" appear - "Behold the Man", the words Pontius Pilate spoke.

The film is based on a theater play by Georg Kaiser from 1912, the screenplay was written by Herbert Juttke; Carl Hoffmann designed the set. Director Karlheinz Martin transferred the story to film without much changing. The shooting took place on a theater stage, and this is obvious from the beginning to the end - the actors are playing directly into the camera, "to the audience", as they knew it from stage. There are only few moments showing that the director had a clue about the fact that he was working in a different medium:

When the cashier visits a six-day racing and offers an enormous amount of money to the bicyclists to make them riding faster, their increasing speed is symbolized by a distorted image.

Another fine idea can be seen when the news about his flight is spread by telegraph: The letters are lined up along the wires and fly away.

And here a real scene is transferred into a painting:

These moments are very well-made and capture the true spirit of expressionism. But while Caligari keeps this spirit all the time, in Midnight, film-specific ideas like these are the exception. So, all in all, this movie is surely interesting for anyone who is interested in film history, but it's not a "big" movie or a must-see.

Recently, this film was shown in a Pittsburgh cinema with live accompaniment by a chamber orchestra. The event was sold out, which is pleasant because it shows that there is interest in silents and film history. 

From Morning Till Midnight is available on DVD, nicely restored by Filmmuseum Munich (Enno Patalas, Gerhard Ullmann and Klaus Volkmer). It has the original German intertitles, subtitles in English, French and Spanish language are available. The DVD comes with an informative booklet in three languages and has no region code, so it should be playable everywhere.

The original music is lost (if there was any), but the DVD offers two different new soundtracks. One is composed by Yati Durant and played by a chamber orchestra, the second one is improvised by Christian Roderburg and SchlagEnsemble H/F/M, recorded live at the International Bonn Silent Film Festival 2008 (and it's the better one).

1 comment:

  1. A brilliant, brilliant film. If you like 'Calgari', you'll love this one. It's as good, maybe even better. As mentioned above the expressionist style suits Calgari as an insight into the characters' reality, so it 'fits'. Here it's an insight into their emotions and as such is more disurbing. You can find it on YouTube in its entirety and it's well worth watching, really very gripping.