Stars in the Dark: Émi­grés, Ex­iles & Film Noir pre­sented by the Santa Fe Jewish Film Fes­ti­val

Émi­grés, Ex­iles & Film Noir

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jonathan Richards

IN the early ’30s, as the Nazi grip tight­ened on Ger­many and the fate of that coun­try’s Jews grew ever more starkly ap­par­ent, the vi­tal Ger­man film in­dus­try emp­tied out like air from a bal­loon. When the Nazis took power, ban­ning Jews from work­ing in film, and Joseph Goebbels took per­sonal con­trol of the in­dus­try, it trig­gered an ex­o­dus of more than 800 film­mak­ers work­ing in Ger­many. They com­prised a ros­ter of tal­ent from above the ti­tle to far be­low it, from di­rec­tors, writ­ers, com­posers, and stars to seam­stresses and grips. Many of them wound up in Hol­ly­wood. And the face of Amer­i­can and Ger­man film was ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed.

From Sun­day, May 24, to May 31, the Santa Fe Jewish Film Fes­ti­val will cel­e­brate the in­flux of Ger­manspeak­ing Jews into Amer­i­can movies and its im­pact on the Amer­i­can genre that be­came known as film noir. The week­long se­ries, ti­tled Stars in the Dark: Émi­grés, Ex­iles

& Film Noir, of­fers a full court press of movies, cabaret, sa­lon gath­er­ings, Ger­man pastries, and din­ner un­der the stars ac­com­pa­nied by the screen­ing of a clas­sic noir. Be­fore the flight of its Jews, Ger­man film flour­ished as a real ri­val to Hol­ly­wood. “Up un­til 1933, Ger­man cinema was ar­guably among the most in­no­va­tive in the world and had been for over a decade,” said screen­writer Kirk El­lis, who will in­tro­duce the fes­ti­val’s open­ing fea­ture, the early talkie crime drama M. “The rise of Nazism re­sulted in the hem­or­rhage of the coun­try’s best tal­ent. Ger­man cinema didn’t re­cover for al­most 30 years af­ter the war. I re­mem­ber Werner Her­zog say­ing once about his early ap­pren­tice­ship, ‘There was no Ger­man cinema to learn from. We had to in­vent it all over again.’”

M holds a place on most lists of great films. It was the first sound film by direc­tor Fritz Lang, a Catholic of Jewish her­itage. He made M in 1931 be­fore he fled Ger­many — first to Paris and then to Hol­ly­wood. The film also es­tab­lished the name of its star, the Hungarian Jewish ac­tor Peter Lorre, who would quickly beat a sim­i­lar path.

M sets the fes­ti­val’s stage, with its dark theme and its pow­er­ful echoes of the cam­era and light­ing tech­niques that flour­ished in the great Ger­man Ex­pres­sion­ist tra­di­tion, in films like Robert Wiene’s The Cabi­net of Dr.

Cali­gari. From M, the fes­ti­val lineup (cu­rated with the as­sis­tance of noir ex­pert Jerry Bar­ron) jumps to the mid’40s, where the shadow of that tra­di­tion stretches over the noir out­put of its émi­gré prog­eny in films like Lang’s The Woman in the Win­dow (1944), star­ring Ed­ward G. Robin­son as a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor drawn into crime af­ter meet­ing a beau­ti­ful woman ( Joan Bennett). Other en­tries are Dou­ble In­dem­nity, also from ’44, a clas­sic of snappy dia­logue and mur­der­ous schem­ing from Billy Wilder, who is heard from again near the end of the lineup with 1951’s Ace in the Hole, the bit­ing story of a cyn­i­cal big-time jour­nal­ist (Kirk Dou­glas) re­duced to work­ing for an Al­bu­querque news­pa­per and hop­ing to ride a hu­man in­ter­est dis­as­ter story back to the big time. Screen­ing af­ter Ace in the Hole is Robert Siod­mak’s The Killers (1946), a taut thriller de­rived from an Ernest Hem­ing­way short story. It fea­tures the screen de­but of a for­mer cir­cus acro­bat and singing waiter named Burt Lan­caster. Round­ing out the fes­ti­val’s slate of films noir is Charles Vi­dor’s Gilda (1946), star­ring a siz­zling Rita Hay­worth, which will be screened un­der the stars on Satur­day, May 30, at the Four Sea­sons Re­sort Ran­cho Encantado.

“Lang and his com­pa­tri­ots brought a much-needed dose of cyn­i­cism and anx­i­ety to a Hol­ly­wood ma­chine that had grown com­pla­cent on feel-good en­ter­tain­ments,” ob­served El­lis. “Their sto­ries were much richer, more com­plex, and more au­then­tic psy­cho­log­i­cally, and they

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had an out­sized in­flu­ence on other gen­res.”

The jour­ney of those dis­placed Jewish film­mak­ers is the sub­ject of an­other of the fes­ti­val’s films, the riv­et­ing doc­u­men­tary Cinema’s Ex­iles: From Hitler to Hol­ly­wood, writ­ten and di­rected by Karen Thomas and nar­rated by Sigour­ney Weaver. The story casts a new light on some of the movies you think you know well. Casablanca, di­rected by Jewish refugee Michael Cur­tiz, is stocked with fel­low Euro­pean refugees, in­clud­ing Lorre (Ugarte), Paul Hen­reid (Vic­tor Las­zlo), and Con­rad Veidt (Ma­jor Strasser). Its story of des­per­ate peo­ple es­cap­ing the Nazi net re­flects the lives of the many Jewish ex­pa­tri­ate ac­tors crowd­ing Rick’s, and the singing of “La Mar­seil­laise” be­comes an an­them of some­thing in­ex­press­ibly sad and hope­ful.

Th­ese up­rooted lives and adapted ca­reers pro­vide top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion for the sa­lon talks that the fes­ti­val will of­fer in sev­eral live and Skype-hosted pre­sen­ta­tions at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts; th­ese are de­signed to repli­cate the scene and the stim­u­lat­ing talk of some of the fa­mous Hol­ly­wood émi­gré sa­lon gath­er­ings of the pe­riod. Fes­ti­val direc­tor Mar­cia Torobin em­pha­sized that this year’s Santa Fe Jewish Film Fes­ti­val goes way be­yond the films them­selves. “It’s an ex­pe­ri­en­tial event. It will take our au­di­ence on a jour­ney from the cabarets and cafés of Europe fre­quented by the noir film­mak­ers to the shores of the Pa­cific, where many even­tu­ally set­tled.”

The leg­endary Ber­lin club scene of the ’20s, memo­ri­al­ized by the mu­si­cal Cabaret, was one of the fond mem­o­ries that the émi­grés left be­hind, and it will be re-cre­ated in Be­tween Fire and

Ice, an en­ter­tain­ment de­signed and per­formed by cabaret artist Adri­enne Haan. This show kicks off the fes­ti­val from the stage of the María Benítez Cabaret Theatre at The Lodge at Santa Fe.

“It will be a jour­ney through time,” Torobin said. “What was it like in Europe at the end of the ’20s? When I was a kid, I hated his­tory. In col­lege I hated it so much that I went into the en­gi­neer­ing school to avoid his­tory classes. But all this is his­tory, and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing!”

Some of th­ese émi­grés took to their new en­vi­ron­ment and never looked back. A num­ber never be­came en­tirely com­fort­able in their new land, and even­tu­ally, when the war was over, they drifted back to Europe. Some stayed there, while some found no sem­blance of their old home­land and re­turned to Hol­ly­wood.

For still oth­ers, the end of the war took a dif­fer­ent turn. Many of the émi­grés were ide­al­ists, with pas­sion­ate po­lit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal be­liefs that brought them un­der the bale­ful scru­tiny of the anti-com­mu­nist hys­te­ria that be­gan to con­sume this coun­try as the war faded. Lists were made, names were taken, ca­reers were ru­ined. A jour­ney that be­gan with a flight from Hitler’s fas­cism ended for some in an­other ex­ile from the colony of refugees that they had come to know as Weimar on the Pa­cific.

Top right, Rita Hay­worth and Steven Geray in Gilda (1946); op­po­site page, Peter Lorre in M (1931)

Top to bot­tom, Fritz Lang; Billy Wi­dler; Robert Siod­mak;

Charles Vi­dor

Joan Bennett and Ed­ward G. Robin­son in The Woman in the Win­dow (1944); Burt Lan­caster and Ava Gard­ner in The Killers (1946); be­low, Kirk Dou­glas in Ace in the Hole (1951)

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