Thursday, February 16, 2006

two faces of 'The Threepenny Opera'

Recently I watched both the French (L’opéra de quat’sous) and the German (Die Dreigroschenoper) versions of G.W. Pabst's adaptation of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. Being semi-aware of the controversy following its 1931 release, and with curiosity further piqued, I looked up this Senses of Cinema article, which reveals the events following the film's opening to be as interesting as the film itself. Brecht unsuccessfully sued Pabst for "the misappropriation of intellectual property", and the Nazis themselves attempted to burn the film (there is a very Hitler-like character in the film, who is introduced into the narrative somewhat grotesquely).

What I find most interesting in the film is the common denominator of Pabst and Brecht's stylistic devices, wherein they overlap as artists, and alternately those where they remain distinct from each other (such as Pabst's expressionistic aesthetic which at times overwhelms Brecht's bitter cynicism and ideologicalism). The most obvious point of convergence between their works is the style of acting adapted by Pabst - deadpan, largely emotionless, and distant deliveries of dialogue and singing, and interestingly this is more evident in Die Dreigroschenoper than in L’opéra de quat’sous - both filmed at the same time and on the same sets, each with a different cast - the latter's significantly more melodramatic, more playful even, and ultimately, less memorable (J. Hoberman prefers this version, though). This difference in acting style between the two versions has been previously explained in the choice of actors for Die Dreigroschenoper, many of whom had appeared on the stage in Brecht's version (the standout performance easily belongs to Lotte Lenya as Jenny - whom Brecht was impregnating at the time - her gruesome revenge fantasy "Pirate Jenny" sung delicately as if it were a poetic expression of love). The filming of the musical numbers also sticks to the Brechtian spirit of obvious theatricality - they're filmed to exist outside the narrative (while contributing to it), and is pretty much composed of quasi-rhythmic talking set to music whereby the performers seem to "go against the music". The famous Brecht quote on this: "Nothing is more revolting than when an actor pretends not to notice that he has left the level of plain speech and started to sing." I get the feeling he would have loved Bollywood. Not to mention The Dresden Dolls.


Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Another recent viewing, though I wish I hadn't seen this one: Jean Rollin's The Living Dead Girl, which wishes it were Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness.

11:02 AM  

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