Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kuhle Wampe (Slatan Dudow, 1932)


Although Brecht was involved in Pabst's 1931 adaptation of The Threepenny Opera, he later renounced the film. He had much tighter control over this agitprop exposé of Berlin working class life during the Depression, and he therefore took greater pride in it. It's a superior film to Pabst's in any case, borrowing some effective techniques from the Russians as well as developing a sophisticated visual style of its own - the images are not only starkly, eerily beautiful, they carry a newsreel immediacy that is evocative of the period.

The title refers to a camp for the dispossessed, where the profoundly unfortunate family of the heroine ends up, countering their squalor through communal drinking and a rabid fixation on tidiness. Even if the call to revolution that drives the picture is unambiguously intended to serve left-wing ideals, it's inevitable that its portrait of a disenfranchised youth bent on political upheaval is viewed in the context of the rising Nazism that put Hitler in power nine months after the premiere.

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