In the last days, I attended two film screenings at the magnificent Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé in Paris. This foundation is dedicated to the conservation and exposition of the rich patrimony of the major French film company Pathé. Behind a façade sculptured by Auguste Rodin, the foundation occupies a superb building by Italian architect Renzo Piano (the co-architect of the Centre Pompidou). The images speak for themselves:
Whereas the upper floors are reserved for research and archival purposes, the first floor offers a permanent exposition on the history (1896 until the 1970s) of Pathé camera devises, accompanied by some of the oldest film posters in the Pathé collection.
The lower floors are dedicated to temporary expositions (currently on the remarkable history of the Société des Cinéromans) and, most importantly, to the screening of silent films. Indeed, this (perfectly equipped) movie theater’s program (2 or 3 screenings every day) is entirely focused on showing the 9000 silent films from the Pathé collection and other silent films. Moreover, every single screening has live piano accompaniment! Only in Paris…
Last Saturday, I went to a ‘kids program’ with early shorts full of humoristic cinematographic tricks at the Pathé foundation. Tonight, I attended a special screening (in the framework of the l’Europe autour de l’Europe festival) of the Austrian 1924 film Die Stadt ohne Juden by Hans Karl Bresslauer. The film was presented by Nikolaus Wostry, the conservator of the Austrian Film Archive, who offered some useful historical context to this frighteningly prophetic film on a city/country deciding to ban all jews. Although the film offers a critical assessment of the growing antisemitism in the then contemporary Austrian society, its humoristic elements are for obvious reasons more difficult to appreciate for a contemporary audience. Die Stadt ohne Juden is one of the only (surviving) Austrian films in the expressionist mode (cf. the rocking camera use to suggest drunkenness and the film’s ending, a direct homage to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari), but some of the film’s aesthetic characteristics remain unclear. For example, are the (stunningly beautiful) freeze frames used in the beginning of the film, right after the third act and at the end of the film original, or are they part of the awkward (some images are simply duplicated!) restauration work in the early 1990s? Luckily, Wostry revealed that a second version of the film was recently found, including some extra scenes, which might provide insight into the original film version. As he promised – half ashamed – that it would be the last time that the old version has been shown, we may rightly hope for a new restoration of this remarkable film!