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Program 6 | Die Freudlose Gasse

Saturday, June 4, 2022, 9:30 a.m., Dryden Theatre

Die Freudlose Gasse [The Joyless Street, Street of Sorrow] (Germany 1925)

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Writers: Willy Haas, based on the novel by Hugo Bettauer
Producers: Michael Salkind, Romain Pinès
Cinematographer: Guido Seeber, Curt Oertel, Walter Robert Lach
Set designers: Hans Sohnle, Otto Erdmann
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Greta Garbo, Countess Agnes Esterhazy, Werner Krauss, Henry Stuart, Einar Hanson, Gregori Chmara, Karl Etlinger, Ilka Grüning, Jaro Fürth, Robert Garrison, Tamara Geva, Valeska Gert, Hertha von Walther, Mario Cusmich, Max Kohlhase, Sylvia Torf, Alexander Murski
Production company: Sofar-Film-Produktion GmbH (Berlin)

Silent, tinted, 75 min. at 17 frames per second (original version 148 min.)
English language intertitles

Print source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY

Musical accompaniment by Philip C. Carli

A landmark in the history of German cinema, The Joyless Street marked a turning point from Expressionism to New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit). G. W. Pabst is the filmmaker most frequently associated with this movement that relied on realistic details, and it is exactly in The Joyless Street, Pabst’s first major success, where his style emerged at full. The film also marked the beginning of Greta Garbo’s international career, and being her only work in Germany, partnered her for the first and last time with such legendary performers as Asta Nielsen, Werner Krauss, and Valeska Gert.

It is not rare to find a complete nitrate print of a sound film. Untouched silents are scarce. While it is difficult to cut dialogue inconspicuously, a silent film could be reedited beyond recognition. The Joyless Street was butchered in its native Germany, as well as in France, Austria, Soviet Union, and the US—every country had its own ideas about what to cut. There have been several reconstructions using elements from many archives (including the one we are showing), but no complete original prints are known to exist.

The US distribution version, Street of Sorrow, is nearly twice shorter than the original. It premiered in July 1927, two years after the original release. By that time Garbo had already made three American pictures and become an icon. Many intellectuals, such as the poet H. D., scorned her US films in favor of The Joyless Street (“Greta Garbo . . . trailing with frail, very young feet through perhaps the most astonishingly consistently lovely film I have ever seen [Joyless Street], could not be, but by some fluke of evil magic, the same creature I saw, with sewed-in, black lashes, with white-linen, svelte, obvious contours, with gowns and gowns . . . with black-dyed wig, obscuring her own nordic nimbus in . . . Torrent”). The trade press, on the contrary, dismissed her work with Pabst (“The production is poor, the atmosphere drab, and the tempo far too slow”). Yet, they admitted: “Probably there was a picture here, but the evident mutilation of the censors has left but scattered remnants of a story.”

This version may not do justice to Pabst’s original, but one must admit that watching some of the most remarkable faces of the silent screen on nitrate is nothing short of an event. This original US release print is in remarkable condition for a 95-year-old element (though AGFA stock is known to age well). Shrinkage is 0.85% and jumps briefly to 1.10% in the middle of the second reel. —Peter Bagrov