Der letzte Mann / The Last Laugh (1924)

Documentary on Der letzte Mann (Luciano Berriatúa, 2003)

The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann - US Version, 1924)

Murnau filmed a second version of Der letzte Mann specifically for the American market. Indeed, it was with this expensive and technically revolutionary film, that UFA planned on breaking into the tough overseas market. On December 5, 1924, in a private screening at the Cinema Criterion in New York, the film was presented to the press and to Hollywood film magnates with the title The Last Man, in the presence of Murnau, producer Erich Pommer and screenwriter Carl Mayer. Hugo Riesenfeld was responsible for the music at the Cinema Criterion, as well as at the Rivoli and Rialto theaters where the film was presented on 25 January 1925, with the title The Last Laugh. Riesenfeld prepared the musical accompaniment for this version of the film, starting from indications from Murnau, who was so satisfied with the work that he later proposed Riesenfeld to William Fox, for composition of the music for Sunrise; Murnau then contacted Riesenfeld personally for Tabù, which Murnau also produced. In the musical accompaniment for The Last Laugh, which we have only in the version for piano, there are some repertoire motifs which Riesenfeld and Murnau would return to in Sunrise, just as we will find motifs from Sunrise in Tabù. The American version of the film was completely unknown until its discovery in Camberra, in the form of a distribution print belonging to Australasian Film Ltd. Comparison of the score, the information present on the film – analysis of which showed that the print was struck in New York in 1925 – and the fact that the Australasian distribution company was American with headquarters in New York, led to the conclusion that the print represented a lost American version of The Last Laugh. As part of the project to reconstruct the original negatives of Der letzte Mann for the F.W. Murnau Stiftung, we now present the American version of the film, restored by the laboratory L’Immagine Ritrovata. The version is very different from the German version, as well as from the second exportation negative, and it beholds several surprises. For example, some of the scenes which, in the other versions, were made using complex camera movements, in this version seem to have been filmed with a fixed camera. This is probably because, in addition to being complicated, the scenes were not exactly perfect in the other versions; Murnau and UFA thus preferred to show the demanding Americans only perfectly resolved scenes, which showed the high level attained by German cinema.
Luciano Berriatúa

in Il Cinema ritrovato 31 (29 giugno - 6 luglio 2002). Catalogue
Phantom (1922)

Original Negative - Bundesarchiv

Phantom was produced by the Ullstein brothers in 1922 for Decla-Bioscop, as a tribute to writer Gerhart Hauptmann on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. The film was directed by F.W. Murnau and scripted by Thea Von Harbou. Only the original negative of this film was preserved. Apparently complete, it includes several frames of most of the original intertitles. As the censorship cards no longer exist, the missing intertitles were reconstructed from the original screenplay, which contained a good number of intertitles that were later eliminated during preparation of the final list for the film. Nonetheless, a review from the era allowed us to confirm that various intertitles that are present in the screenplay but now missing from the negative were present in the original release prints. This is the case for several intertitles that highlight the dramatic climax of the events day by day. The first of them – “Der taumelnde Tag…” (“The day of dizziness…”) – is mentioned in an article by Béla Balázs in Der Tag (Vienna, 20.4.1923), thus we imagined that the intertitles “Der graue Tag” and “Der schwarze Tag” (“The gray day” and “The black day”) were also present. Small editing errors were corrected, such as leader used to separate reels which had never been removed, plus two shots of Gerhart Hauptmann taking a walk that were put back in the right place. For the first time since Phantom was released, a color print was made. The original color was reproduced according to indications on some of the flash titles, written in ink and pencil that were so hard to see that until today they had gone unnoticed. These notes indicated the colors purple, amber, orange, green, and black and white, as well as the dual effects pink/red and blue/purple. Therefore the color range seemed complete. The small number of indications nonetheless made it very difficult to establish the color for all scenes. The only hints we had on which to base our hypotheses for the color of the entire film were the different types of splices present in the negative, which revealed that editing changes had been made during various eras. There were at least three types of splices: the oldest type corresponded to the original cut by Decla-Bioscop from October 1922 and to later revisions and changes made by UFA in 1923. During that period, the negative was separated into scenes or small blocks which had the same light density and color. At a later stage, around 1930, UFA reedited the film putting it in narrative order: it was divided into 300-meter reels using a different type of splice. As a result, all the scenes that had the oldest type of splice necessarily had the same color system. We were thus able to establish that both the interior and exterior shots in the final part of the film were colored green, and that daytime exterior shots as well as the scenes in the bookstore were colored amber. Interior nighttime shots were instead black and white, according to indications on an interior nighttime scene that appears in orange in a daytime shot. The nighttime blue is clearly indicated by the presence of exterior nighttime scenes that were filmed during the day, with a light sky, and by the existence of an interior nighttime scene with the dual blue/purple coloring, while the daytime scenes presented only purple. The disappearance of this film for over thirty years, and its recovery in the sixties, meant that the negative reached us almost entirely devoid of any further manipulation. In any case, the few later changes were clearly identifiable by a third and very different type of splice.
Luciano Berriatúa, Camille Blot-Wellens

in Il Cinema ritrovato (28 guigno - 5 luglio 2003). Catalogue
Schloss Vogelöd (1921)

Original Negative - Bundesarchiv

For the restoration of Schloss Vogelöd we started from an original nitrate negative held at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin, and a color nitrate print with Portuguese intertitles from the twenties when the film was distributed in Brazil. The Brazilian print, called Sentença de Deus, was held by the Fundaçao Cinemateca Brasileña, which sent it to the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz several years ago. The two sources are similar, and come from the same version of the film, which means that they contain the same shots. The Brazilian copy was printed in Germany in 1921, thus its color must be original. The intertitles were produced in Brazil by the distributor Rombauer & Cia and printed on American Kodak film in 1921. These intertitles correspond to the translation of an intertitle list that the production company Decla-Bioscop sent to Brazil with the print of the film. A copy of this list, dated 31 March 1921 and addressed to F.W. Murnau, is held together with a copy of the screenplay in the director’s estate. Murnau made many notes on the list regarding changes in the intertitles. The Brazilian print does not take these changes into account, meaning that the list dated 31 March was considered definitive by the producer and was used to cut the original negative. The intertitles were marked on the negative in ink on scratched frames to indicate where to cut in the intertitles produced in the various languages by the distributors in each country. The film was screened just a few days later in Berlin (on 7 April 1921), after obtaining its censorship certificate four days after the date of the list (hence, on April 4th). We can thus deduce that the film was shown with the intertitles on the list because there would not have been time to change them.
 However, in the preserved original negative, we found original flash titles with the Decla-Bioscop logo which showed that some of the changes from Murnau’s annotated list had been made, as well as further modifications, such as combining two intertitles into one. In these cases, we noted that in place of the second, by now useless intertitle, a scratched frame is still present with the text of the earlier intertitle written in ink. This frame is red in color so that it would be visible during printing. We thus deduced that only one original negative of the film existed, which was used to print both the German version with the corrected intertitles, as well as the copies destined for foreign distribution that used the intertitles from the first title list.
By the time we received it, the negative had undergone much manipulation and reediting during the twenties and thirties, and later in Russia where the flash titles were replaced with Russian intertitles and then preserved in a separate film can. Over the course of these changes, about thirty intertitles were lost, which we reproduced based on the script and the original title list. We imitated the style of writing used at that time, but we put the acronym F.W.M.S. (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung) in one corner so they would be easy to distinguish from the original intertitles. The presence of many of these intertitles in Portuguese in the Brazilian print facilitated location of their exact placement. In the Brazilian print, we also found a scene that was missing from the original negative, which was otherwise complete. This restored version of Schloss Vogelöd, allows us to see the film for the first time with all the intertitles and with the original color.
Luciano Berriatúa, Camille Blot-Wellens

in Il Cinema ritrovato (28 guigno - 5 luglio 2003). Catalogue
I colori di ‘Phantom’. Un metodo per recuperare le colorazioni dei film muti a partire dallo studio dei sistemi di montaggio / The colors of ‘Phantom’. A method for recovering color in silent films starting with the study of editing systems” with Luciano Berriatúa in Cinegrafie 16 (2003)
“Zur Überlieferung der Filme” with Luciano Berriatúa in Hanz Helmut Prinzler (ed.): Friedrich Wilhem Murnau. Ein Melancholiker des Films, Berlin: Bertz (2003)
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