Germans have come to (and left, and returned to) the U.S. for various reasons, including flight from the maw of the Nazi war machinery, and the proverbial lure of Hollywood has long led German directors — such as Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, F.W. Murnau, and Werner Herzog, renegade star of the New German Cinema of the 1970s — to put their influential mark on film aesthetics and make Hollywood what it is.
That subject is at the crux of Hollywood Berlin: Exiles and Immigrants, a fascinating series of five films to be screened at UCSB’s state-of-the-art Pollock Theater, with special guests at each screening, starting on Thursday, October 12. Organized by Patrice Petro, professor and the Dick Wolf director of UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center, along with graduate student Naomi DeCelles, the series traverses more than 50 years of filmmaking, from Murnau’s 1924 silent film The Last Laugh — with former Santa Barbaran Michael Mortilla lending a live piano score — to Herzog’s 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre. The inimitable and longtime Hollywood (well, Los Angeles)–based Herzog is in the house, kicking off the series on October 12.
Also in the mix are Lubitsch’s classic To Be or Not to Be (Oct. 19), satirically taking on the Nazi regime with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny in tow, and Lang’s 1936 film, Fury (Nov. 2), with Spencer Tracy, about small-town crime and mob tyranny. “Each of these directors brought a distinct aesthetic and sensibility to Hollywood filmmaking,” Petro noted. “Their fluency in Hollywood conventions, therefore, always retained a strong accent. As immigrants and exiles — and this includes Herzog as well as Lubitsch, Murnau, Lang, and Wilder — they brought the experience of the outsider to an examination of American culture.”
Fittingly, Nosferatu the Vampyre — chosen by Herzog as the film he’d like screened in this series — explicitly nods to German cinematic history, as a highly stylized (and Herzog-stylized) homage to Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. Petro clarified, “Herzog does not consider himself a ‘German’ filmmaker, but a filmmaker from Bavaria. He is a great admirer of F.W. Murnau, whose films are still hailed today for their use of landscape and setting with the intention to convey states of minds, emotions, or ideas. Herzog’s own sensibility is very similar to Murnau’s, and he has always been dedicated to the art of making uncompromising films.”
Despite Herzog’s postwar currency, compared to the others in the series, Petro explained that this series is “less about ‘German’ cinema than about the legacy of Weimar filmmaking and filmmakers and [their] afterlife in Hollywood and beyond.” In other words, what happened during the Weimar Republic did not stay in the Weimar Republic, but had a profound impact on 20th-century culture, including Hollywood. “The narrative of Weimar modernity has been weighted towards a violent, frankly erotic and unemotional, cynically misogynistic view of modern life,” said Petro, “which has now become the sign of Weimar authenticity and its afterlife in Hollywood — think here of film noir. Lost and devalued in this account is another lineage and Weimar legacy, involving women and gender and sexual improvisation that had perhaps the greatest impact on Hollywood cinema. Hence, our decision to end the series with Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot.”
That screening of Billy Wilder’s landmark 1959 comedy, with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon (the latter two often in drag), takes place on Sunday afternoon, November 19 (the other screenings take place on Thursdays at 7 p.m.). The in-house guest will be David Mandel, producer of the Emmy-scooping series Veep, and a returning visitor to the Pollock, having appeared there with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale.
The Hollywood Berlin film series runs Thursday, October 12-Sunday, November 19, at UCSB’s Carsey-Wolf Center’s Pollock Theater. Call (805) 893-5903 or visit carseywolf.ucsb.edu/pollock.