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Poor Jenny + Backstairs

Tuesday, November 17, 2015, 8 p.m., Dryden Theatre

Poor Jenny
(Die arme Jenny, Urban Gad, Germany 1912, 24 min., 35mm, German intertitles w/ English subtitles)
Silent Tuesdays/Museum Treasures. Poor Jenny is a stunning example of Danish silent superstar Asta Nielsen’s first work in Germany, typically dark in its story of a young woman’s decline into personal ruin and finely directed by her husband, Urban Gad.

Backstairs
(Hintertreppe, Leopold Jessner and Paul Leni, Germany 1921, 52 min., 35mm, English intertitles)
Silent Tuesdays/Museum Treasures. Backstairs is the earliest example of the intimate psychological film of the German silent cinema genre Kammerspielfilm, which takes its name from the theater of Max Reinhardt, the Kammerspiel, at which spectators (no more than 300) could perceive the smallest, subtlest details of gestures and movement. Scenarist Karl Mayer was a specialist in this “chamber play” form of filmic character study. His most famous script was for Murnau’s Last Laugh (1924), which shares with Backstairs the characteristics of Kammerspielfilm, including the suppression of explanatory or dialogue titles and the thematic focus on drab lower-middle-class social existence. The drama in Backstairs involves three people: a housemaid absorbed in everyday chores (Henny Porten), her lover who has promised to write her from afar (played by director-to-be Wilhelm Dieterle), and a partly paralyzed postman who morbidly desires the girl and intercepts her letters. The directors are Leopold Jessner, second only to Riefenstahl as the most progressive stage director of the period, and Paul Leni, who later made Waxworks in Germany and The Cat and the Canary in Hollywood.

Presented by Nancy Kauffman, archivist, Moving Image Department. Live piano by Philip C. Carli. Members admitted free.