Sunday 3 February 2013

Faust (1926)

The three horsemen of the apocalypse!
Perhaps there was no room for famine, or is it pestilence.
The missing one, whoever that is.

It's a magnificent and wonderfully visual film, so I'm once again going to tilt this toward pictures and captions, with bursts of comment between each.  When the pictures move, of course, they're far more ominous, merry and exciting, but I didn't want to enter the strange world of the animated gif, so let's enjoy what we have, shall we?

Mephisto looms over the town and blocks out the sun with his wing.
Plague issues from his loins

So Mephisto and the Archangel have a bet.  Can this demon tempt Faust, and so become Master of the Universe?  Probably, yes.

Elderly Faust looks on the dying, but cannot save them

Marlowe's Dr Faustus is a favourite character of mine, and one whose flaws I share.  The Faust of this film, and of the old German legend, has relatively little in common with him.  I do think this is what I'll look like when I grow old, though, and possibly long before that.

If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing with loads of fire and smoke.
Under these terms, everything in this film is well worth doing.
Here Mephisto rejuvenates Faust

Faust's attempts to use Mephisto's superpowers for good go pretty badly.  He tries to heal the sick, but can't bear to look on the holy cross, so people throw stones at him.  We've all had days like that, but Faust takes it really badly, and in a fit of pique flies all over the world being young and lusty.

Young Faust imagines his Heimat

Faust yearns to go home, and falls in love with a young lady called Gretchen.

Flirtatious Mephisto gazes through a window

Mephisto, meanwhile, flirts with her aunt.  They have cocktails together, and chase around most merrily.  Emil Jannings's Mephisto is the real stand-out performance here, because he gets to be so evil, so terrifying, and then so whimsical and ridiculous, before being utterly evil again.

Mephisto fixes himself a drink.
Gretchen's aunt looks on, smitten and bedevilled.

Mephisto fixes it for Gretchen's brother to have a sword-fight with Faust, then helps Faust win, and cries 'Murder' to the whole town.  What a jerk!

German films so often come down to this little word, shouted aloud.

Honestly, why does Faust hang out with this guy?  Obviously evil character is obviously evil.

The condemned Gretchen's cry stirs Faust to action!

Faust goes to the rescue of Gretchen and renounces his youth (handily his aged self has been trapped in a mirror all the while).  And then this happens:

No, no, Erzengel!  That's far too much text for one intertitle!

The above is, I should note, an exception.  Most of the captions are concise and beautiful, but the Archangel really lets rip at the end, telling Mephisto exactly where his evil scheme has failed.  The temptation has not destroyed all that is divine in Faust.  Not on your nelly.  It all comes down to one word, and I'll give you three guesses what that word is.

An excellent and exciting piece of cinema, though perhaps it sags just a smidgen (or perhaps just moves away from the story I wanted or expected to watch) when it turns into a (somewhat dubious) romance in its second half.  Very pleasing performances all round, and the thing that constantly surprises me in 20s films, tremendous special effects.  Clearly I need to raise my expectations.

P.S. From here on, I want to post two regular updates a week on Thursdays and Sundays, occasionally using Tuesdays for wild novelties (as you'll be seeing this coming Tuesday) or for films that don't fit my hundred-film-hundred-years thing, so films from too long ago, or from years I've already assigned to particular films.

Exciting stuff, and here it is on DVD, should you be seized by a compulsion

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