1934. Austria. Willi Forst. 100 min.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 4:00 p.m.
Theater 2 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2), T2
1934. Austria. Directed by Willi Forst. Screenplay by Forst, Walter Reisch. With Paula Wessely, Anton Walbrook, Peter Petersen, Hans Moser. Vienna, 1905. A painter and his model. Complacent aristocracy, subtle class distinctions, and off-screen nudity. The most sweeping camera movements, the smartest mise-en-scène, and the most beloved movie couple in Austrian film history. Music, romance, and life as a never-ending costume ball (for those who know to dance). Is there anything that Maskerade does not give to those who seek sweet oblivion in their moviegoing? Truth be told, the film’s strange fate makes it a prime candidate for rediscovery and re-evaluation by new audiences. A critical favorite and worldwide box-office hit when it premiered, Maskerade was mostly kept from American screens when MGM remade it in 1935 as Escapade (with Luise Rainer and William Powell in the original Wessely/Walbrook roles). In Europe, the light comic genre of Wiener Film blossomed after Maskerade’s success, but a few years later its major creators split into two camps: lead actor Adolf Wohlbrück (renamed Anton Walbrook when he arrived in England), writer Reisch, and genius cinematographer Franz Planer went into exile; director Forst and lead actress Wessely, a legend of German-language theater, remained behind to become leading lights in Joseph Goebbels’ entertainment-and-propaganda machine. A decade or so after the war, Maskerade returned to great fanfare on German and Austrian television, oozing its considerable charms on a nostalgic mass public. Today, however, the film occupies a precarious position between all-time classic, worthy of comparison to Clair, Ophuls, and Lubitsch (if only for the few who have actually seen it); a national cult object of disturbing dimensions (if only for those with a honest view of how the Austro-fascist era began by creating certain potent myths); and, for most of us, a completely unknown object of poisonous beauty, overripe for further research. Courtesy Filmarchiv Austria. In German; English subtitles. 100 min.