The new Lulu at the Royal Opera House brought to mind the film Der blaue Engel, the film which created a huge sensation when it was released in 1930. Watching the film again, it's remarkable how much Alban Berg took from it, and what Christof Loy has taken from it in turn. Josef von Sternberg made the movie in 1930, based on the novel by Heinrich Mann Professor Unrat, written in 1905, which references the Lulu plays of Frank Wedekind, "Spring Awakening" (Erdgeist) in 1895 and Pandora's Box, 1904. G W Pabst's film of Pandora's Box came out in 1929. Embedded into this film is the song Ännchen von Tharau now a much loved Lieder, whose melody goes round and round. The original poem was written in the early 1600's about a real young woman, Anna Neander. It was revised by Gottfried Herder in 1778, and set to music in 1830.
So, rings within rings of influences, each creation a work of art in its own right, Loy being the latest to illuminate the tradition. Berg and the artists of his era didn't believe there was only one way to tell a story.
The Blue Angel starts in a quiet German town : silence operates throughout the movie like an inaudible soundtrack, every bit as important as the "real" music and speech. Long sequences where nothing much happens, nothing is said – bingo! Berg's Lulu, where the action operates on different planes. Berg's long interludes are like musical curtains drawn "across the stage" which aren't simply there to change scenes.
A town clock tings the hours, and a series of carved wooden statues move round its face. Where was this filmed? Probably destroyed now in the blitz - it's a beautiful piece of medieval German art. Look for the saint holding a miniature of a cathedral – a two second image that speaks volumes. The clockwork imagery is also so apt for Berg, whose themes rotate and reappear in relentless symmetry.
The Blue Angel is a seedy nightclub – look at the flat chested frumpy showgirls! Professor Rath's schoolboys (who look like they're 30) sneak off, enamoured of Lola Lola (not Lulu Lulu). So he confronts her and is himself drawn in. He marries her but ends up a sorry clown, amusing the crowds by crowing like a cock. When the show returns to his hometown, the humiliation is too much. He can't go on stage, and cracks up. Later he sneaks back to the schoolhouse and dies on his old desk. It's unbearably tragic, love and "civilization" destroyed.
Watch the minor parts, too like the theatre owner/magician, the strong man, the schoolboys, even the "nice wife". And the last scene, when Professor "UNrat " as his boys called him, creeps back to the schoolroom. Moonlight from the window throws a savage spotlight on his last struggle in the darkness. Loy's last scenes ? The idea is so powerful. Indeed, only now I figure what Loy's doing when he gets Lulu to "make her mark" on Dr Schön by smearing greasepaint on his face. That's what she wore when she was forced to dance while he and his fiancee sat in the audience. Professor Rath breaks down on stage in costume and greasepaint, when he sees how his present distorts his past.
Lola Lola isn't Lulu but they're closely related. Heinrich Mann called her Rosa, and in Berg's opera she has many names. Lola references Lola Montez, the siren who entranced King Ludwig of Bavaria and caused his downfall.
Listen to Marlene Dietrich sing Lola's song
"Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß, auf Liebe eingestellt. Denn das ist meine Welt, und sonst gar nichts. Das ist, was soll ich machen, mein Natur. Ich halt kann lieben nur, und sonnst gar nichts"
(From head to toe, I'm love personified, it's my world, so there. It's how I was made, my nature, I can't do otherwise". The song is famous in English as "Falling in love again" which isn't quite the same. So we've come all the way from an incident in 1617 which inspired the first poem, all the way to the ROH in 2009.
Watch the WHOLE MOVIE HERE on free download. Sorry the clip is interspersed by ads but they are themselves vintage, quite a scream. "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" for those who remember the 1950's ! You can also watch segment by segment AND watch full screen mode by clicking the cicrcular button. Subtitled in English.