miércoles, 9 de enero de 2013

The 3 Penny Opera

The 3 Penny Opera [Die Dreigroschenoper] (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2007)
Directed by G.W. Pabst
Germany, 1931
In German with optional English subtitles

With all of my beginning of the year filler pieces now out of the way and a flotilla of future mini-book and movie review posts now the only thing visible on the blogging horizon, I'm happy to embark upon the non-comment generating part of the year (i.e. the rest of 2013) with a few words dedicated to G.W. Pabst's eccentric early talkie and occasional musical The 3 Penny Opera.  I sure know how to pick the crowd-pleasers, eh?  Adapted from the 1928 Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill play of the same name that unexpectedly wowed Weimar theater-going audiences back in the day, the movie version of The 3 Penny Opera is a hugely entertaining audiovisual spectacle that zeros in on the criminal escapades of London dandy/thug/trollop fancier Mackie Messer (a/k/a Mack the Knife) as he, aided and abetted by his fetching young wife Polly Peachum and accompanied by Weill's cabaret soundtrack to his life, rises from being a common criminal to become a much more respectable sort of crook: the owner of a bank.  In Pabst's comedic retelling of Brecht's anti-capitalist "opera," there are a number of deliberate provocations that prefigure the subversive anti-bourgeoisie satire of vintage Buñuel.  In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that the film has a satirical mean streak in that regard.  A significant portion of the plot, for example, has to do with the ill will between Polly's parents and Mackie brought about by the latter's seduction of the Peachum family's tender young daughter.  Yet when we first meet Jonathan Jeremias Peachum, self-proclaimed as "the poorest man in London" but known as the beggar king for holding a monopoly on the issuing of panhandling licenses for which he leeches 50% of the weekly take off of all his clients, he silences a complaint about his extortionate licensing fees from one man by pointing to a Gospel quote from Luke painted on his wall: "Give, and though shalt be given."  Three mannequins in full dummy beggar attire and a number of prop crutches visually frame this mocking use of the biblical injunction.  Later in the film, while attempting to rally an army of the poor and the pseudo-poor to interrupt a public ceremony involving the Queen, the beggar king brags about how he will manage to "wring a few pence out of your poverty" by playing on the pity of the "rich noblemen" and--by extension--the viewing public at large: "For I've shown that the rich of this world have no qualms about causing misery but can't bear the sight of it!"  In spite of its message associating capitalism with criminality and widespread corruption at all levels of society, The 3 Penny Opera seems as dedicated to amusing its audience as provoking it.  It does this through snicker-worthy lowlife humor (Polly: "In Winchester you seduced two sisters, both of them minors."  Mackie: "They told me they were over 30."  Polly: "Both of them together."), and it also does it through the narrator-like street singer who sings songs about the characters while they stand in the audience listening to him and also introduces scenes by addressing the moviegoing audience to boot:  "Ladies and gentlemen," he begins in English at one point before breaking into German for what follows, "you've seen Mackie's bold and restless nature.  I'll now show you how, through a loving wife's cleverness, things take a turn that even you wouldn't expect."  The next scene, typical of all that's great about the film other than the cabaret music that I've barely even touched on, had me laughing out loud, and it's just too good to not share with you here.  Polly: "Gentlemen of the board...one can rob a  bank or one can..."  Interrupting her, a burglar turned board member: "Use a bank to rob others!"  Polly: "Tread the path of a respectable and law-abiding business...as my papa used to say to me.  'Polly,' he always said, 'Who'd be so stupid as to be a burglar these days when we've got laws?'"  Genius.

Mackie (Rudolf Forster) and Polly (Carola Neher)

This post on The 3 Penny Opera is my first submission for this year's Caravana de recuerdos Film Festival and Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat's World Cinema Series 2013As I said in my intro post the other day, I hope others will consider contributing their own movie reviews to both events.  Until then, other great Pabst films I recommend include Diary of a Lost Girl [Tagebuch einer Verlorenen] and Pandora's Box [Die Büchse der Pandora], both from 1929.

14 comentarios:

  1. That sounds brilliant. I love the Threepenny Opera and had no idea it was made into a film in the 30s. I have to see this, thanks for sharing!

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    1. My pleasure, Bettina! I should note, though, that while the movie's undeniably great fun, at least one of the special features on the edition I own stresses that Pabst used significantly less music than Brecht & Weill did in their theatrical original. By the way, the DVD I have also comes with a French version of the movie that Pabst shot as well (apparently a common practice at the time for the international market).

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  2. Great start to 2013's CDV Film Festival. I have been picking up The Threepenny Novel off my shelves a lot recently and may be tempted to read it soon. I am a big fan of the music and that won't be in the novel, I guess.

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    1. It really was a great start to my movie-watching this year, Séamus: extremely rewarding and much, much wittier than I'd expected. I've never read any Brecht before, so it was interesting to be introduced to him through Pabst's filmmaking mediation. Anyway, happy reading to you!

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    2. I think you chose a good introduction to Brecht's work. The Threepenny Opera is more light-hearted than his other works, which are very in-your-face didactical, as in "AND THIS, VIEWER, IS THE MORAL OF THE STORY, AND JUST IN CASE I DIDN'T MAKE IT OBVIOUS ENOUGH ALREADY, I'M GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN" (if capitals had been used to indicate shouting at the time, Brecht would've used them in copious amounts). It can get quite tedious.

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    3. Thanks for that interesting info, Bettina. Ironically, a few specialists interviewed for the DVD special features claimed that while Pabst's adaptation of the play was much less biting in its anti-capitalism than the treatment Brecht had prepared, it was somehow a more successful critique because it was a) more focused than Brecht's attacks, and b) made more use of "the common man" than Brecht ever did. One of the speakers claimed that Brecht was a Marxist who only hung out with bohemians and not real working people, in fact!

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  3. I ve a album of weil music be nice to watch this and maybe put faces to the pieces ,all the best stu

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    1. I'd heard very little of Weill's music before, Stu, so this was a nice way to be introduced to him just as it was with Brecht in my reply to Séamus above. Hope you get that chance to put the faces to the pieces soon!

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  4. I am very excited (not only to be reconnected once again) but because I love this musical/opera (because who doesn't love critiques of capitalism?) and I didn't know it was available as a DVD. And now that we can actually use our dvd player, I can't wait to (try to) find it!

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    1. Jill, wow, another fan of the theatrical piece! Hope you enjoy the film version(s) once you get a chance to watch it/them (in return, I feel like I owe it to you all to watch the stage version of the work one of these days). Until then, congrats on finally getting wired in your new house where you can, presumably, now watch or listen to anti-capitalist critiques in the privacy of your own bourgeois living quarters 24 hours a day! :D

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    2. Yes, bourgeois living quarters! Isn't hypocrisy the best? LOL

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    3. It's all about the amenities, Jill! On a related note, I have a friend who (true story) used to enjoy chiding me for eating "bourgeois cookies" whenever I opened up a bag of Pecan Sandies in his presence...

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  5. My problem here is that I have never seen a Pabst movie, a big hole in my movie knowledge. Someday.

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    1. Tom, that's a "problem" that you should have fun addressing one of these days. 3 Penny is more lighthearted in tone than either of the other two Pabst films I mentioned, but it's lighthearted in a curious way: comedic and cynical. Almost positive you'd enjoy it, of course.

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