Thursday, December 12, 2019
In The Film Till Now, a survey off world cinema, Paul Rotha writes, “It is impossible to witness the showing a Film by Pabst without marveling at his unerring choice of camera angle for the expression of mood or his employment of the moving camera to heighten action.” Notwithstanding he describes the “tempestuous and badly received” “The Joyless Street” as being only the second film made by the director and that the directors poularity as only having increased later. “With unerring psychology by which he caused the smallest actions of his characters to convey meaning. Pabst brought to his picture moments of searing pain, of mental anquish, of clear unblemished beauty. His extreme powers of truthfulness, of understanding, of reality, of the virtual meaning of hunger, love, lust and greed rendered this extraordinary film convincing.” Rotha noted the collaboration of actress Greta Garbo with the director Pabst. “Mention has been made of Greta Garbo in the film, for it is by this that one theorizes on her beauty and ability. In Hollywood this splendid woman has been wantonly distorted into the symbol of eroticism. But Greta Garbo, by reason of her sympathetic understanding of Pabst, brought a quality of loveliness into her playing as the professor’s eldest daughter. Her frail beauty, cold as ann ice flower warmed by the sun, stood secure in the starving city of Vienna, untouched by the vice and lust that dwelt in the dark Street.”
The script to the film was based on a novel by Hugo Bettauer that only a year earlier had been serialized in a newspaper in Vienna. The length of the film is listed as five reels, but apparently screened with extensive censorship cuts in a version considerably shorter than the modern restored version and in American versions which edited out the character portrayed by Asta Nielsen.
Actress Greta Garbo came directly to America without filming in Sweden after working with G.W. Pabst, and had in fact been working on a Film with Mauritz Stiller before having been given her role in “The Joyless Street”. The Private Life of Greta Garbo, published in 1931 by Rilla Page Palmborg at a time when the world didn’t know how private the life of Greta Garbo would later become, gives an account of Mauritz Stiller, Greta Garbo and Einar Hanson being in Constantinople to film the first movie ever made there. After delays in completing the script, it had finally been finished and Stiller had started to direct when its financing had abruptly been discontinued and Stiller’s telegrams had gone unanswered. “In a few days, Mr.Stiller returned with the sad news that the backers of the picture had gone broke. There was nothing to do but disband and go home. But Mr. Stiller had plans for another picture that he wanted to make in Berlin. While she was waiting...Mr. Stiller got her a part in ‘The Street of Sorrow’...During this time, Louis B. Mayer, production head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Hollywood was making a trip through Europe on the lookout for new talent. The night he saw ‘Gosta Berlings Saga’ he saw photography and new directorial tricks that had never been done before.He wanted to see the genius who directed the fine picture.”
Danish Silent Film Star Asta Nielsen remained in Berlin to film similar social dramas about the decadence, or downfall, of society, among them “Tragedy of the Street” (Rahn, 1927) and “The Vice of Humanity” (Meinhart, 1927) . At first glance, the films are connected to “The Joyless Street” by belonging to The New Objectivity, which depicted the cities of Germany realistically as being in post-War poverty. During 1925, already famous for her portrayal of “Hamlet”, Asta Nielsen played the title role of Hedda Gabler in a film adapted and directed by Frank Eckstein and starred in the film “The Living Buddhas” under the direction of Paul Wegner. Only five minutes of the original footage of the film now survive, adding the film to the many now lost films of the silent era.
Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller