First-class tribute to The Third Man
We were taken by friends to the little-known Third Man Museum when we were in Vienna recently. It’s located in Pressgasse and run by volunteers as a homage to the famous 1949 film The Third Man. The museum has an eclectic collection of posters, documents, photographs, letters and other precious trivia related to the production, its stars and music and its journey around the world.
We know it as starring Orson Welles, but the real star of the film is post-World War II Vienna. The museum devotes much of its space to this historic context with some compelling displays of the city before and immediately after 1945. You can almost feel the shattered buildings and smell the population’s despair. But what is most devastating is the international politics of greed and power.
Post-war Vienna was divided into four zones, each controlled by one of the four victorious Allied powers: Britain, the US, France and the Soviet Union. The city centre was an “international zone” where control was shared. You’re shown how the patrols of this zone were carried out by four soldiers in each Jeep, always with an American driver with a British front-seat passenger, then a Russian and a Frenchman together in the back. The Russians in their zone effectively stole Austrian oil and shipped it back to the Soviet Union. The museum displays depict all too clearly the background to the blackmarket operations of the film’s anti-hero, Harry Lime.
One of the museum organisers is a film fanatic and geek. He had to negotiate for part of the original film to be shown on a clunky old-style movie projector. Copyright problems meant only two minutes of the story could be shown, but he rigged up a continuous loop to do this. His enthusiasm and that of the other volunteers is infectious.
Cities are constructed of layers of history. This history is not always pleasant, but it is real. The Third Man Museum illustrates a dark period of Vienna’s past through a volunteer group’s love affair with an iconic film. Of course, we bought the DVD when we returned to Australia and it’s as good as we remembered. But I don’t think we’ll start a museum. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists receive a copy of Flavours of Queensland (Smudge Publishing, $80), an illustrated volume of restaurants, bars, cafes and farmers’ markets from across the state, complete with recipes. More: smudgeeats.com.au.