Tuesday, December 11, 2012

From Morn to Midnight (1920) Review

From Morn to Midnight posterDirector: Karlheinz Martin
Stars: Ernst Deutsch, Erna Morena, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Genre: German Expressionism, Experimental, Crime
Also known as: Von morgens bis Mitternacht, From Morning to Midnight

Wow. Well, this certainly is a rare little gem. One of the strangest films I've ever watched.

From Morn to Midnight has a strange history behind it. The film was completed in 1920 but it couldn't be shown in Germany and the only place it ended up getting a release was in Japan. Shortly after its Japanese release the film was believed to be lost, until, in the 1960's, a blurry, damaged copy was found. Blurry and damaged it remained for decades, until recently when it underwent a restoration. 

Adapted from a play by Georg Kaiser, the story is set up like a station drama (modeled after the religious Stations of the Cross, and every Christian knows how that ends). 

It's about a bank cashier who suddenly realizes the mundanity of his life. In a moment of passion he decides to steal the money from the bank and just like that he becomes a 'cashier on the run.' With his new found riches he seeks the passion that he desires in his life. He tries his luck at politics, sports, women, gambling, but all to no avail. Throughout the film the cashier's death is constantly foreshadowed by the eerie face of death. He sees death in the face of a beggar that he chose to ignore, death in the face of the daughter he abandons, death in the faces of the women he mistreats. He cannot escape it. Then he realizes "All the money in the world cannot buy anything of value," as he meets his demise. 

The film really feels like an adventure. Each scene is unique and a new experience. By the time the film ends you feel like you've really traveled to all these bizarre places.

The face of death in From Morn to Midnight

The sets here are dazzling. The most expressionistic I've ever seen. I assume you are all familiar with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and its surreal sets, yes? Well, From Morn to Midnight has even wilder sets. Yes, it is true. It's a very theatrical film and feels a lot like watching a play. At times it even felt like I was watching a parody or satire of German Expressionism.

With beautiful set and costume design alone this film would be enjoyable. But wait, there's more! The film is a very experimental one, you have only to look at the bike race scene to realize that, I'd even go so far as to call it avant-garde. Incorporating a variety of cinematic techniques combined with what is essentially a moving painting makes for a very interesting, and wholly unique experience.

There's also some nudity in here, which was a rarity for its time. And at one point the cashier pours champagne on a drunk, passed out woman in bed. [sarcasm]Perhaps direct inspiration for the music videos of many modern day hip-hop artists?[/sarcasm]

A snowy road in From Morn to Midnight

I don't know if the version I watched contained the original composition or a new one but it was awesome. It had a very minimalistic, smooth jazz feel to it and complimented the film very well. It kind of felt like an episode of the Pink Panther cartoon. Even the sound effects that were added, e.g., drums for door knocks, shakers for laughs, were very well implemented.

The acting is awesome too. It's over-acted in the way you might expect from a silent film or a stage play, and at times looks a bit silly, but it has its own style to it. The acting feels like some kind of stylish demeanor from a foreign pseudo-reality. Ernst Deutsch, who was mostly know for stage acting in his time, does a great job as the star role. Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, who also performed in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, does an absolutely amazing job, delivering a memorable performance. Erna Morena and Roma Bahn are both very beautiful in here and do a great job as well.

As with most German Expressionist films there are a lot of Freudian themes present. Not only that, but From Morn to Midnight also largely incorporates the philosophies and themes of Nietzsche. This provides for a very intellectual experience and leaves the film open to analysis.

The cashier's 2-Dimensional, flat (literally) house in From Morn to Midnight

I've never seen a film like From Morn to Midnight. It is truly a wholly unique piece of work and the only one of its kind, which is why it's such a tough film to apply a rating to. I ended up watching the film twice in one day, and I think I'll have to give it the five star treatment. A truly under-appreciated film of the genre.


5/5 stars

Purchase From Morn to Midnight on Amazon: DVD or here
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