Pordenone Silent 2016 – review – A VENETIAN NIGHT (“Eine venezianische Nacht,” Max Reinhardt, 1914, Germany)

Venetian Night posterAlthough Max Reinhardt was one of the most important producers and directors of the German stage of the first half of the 20th century, he allegedly loved cinema, and was more interested in film than theatre. Sadly, he never left a mark on film through his own directorial works, although countless actors, directors, designers, and writers were trained in his acting schools or his acclaimed theatre productions prior to entering the film industry.

Reinhardt’s biggest opportunity to make it in film came in 1913 when German producer, Paul Davidson, signed him up to make four films that year. The signing was prestigious; Davidson took out ads in trade papers announcing an exciting upcoming “Professor Max Reinhardt Cycle.” However, of the four films he was hired to direct, only two would be made: A Venetian Night and The Island of the Blessed.

A Venetian Night is a bedroom farce set in Venice, Italy, about a professor who falls in love with a bride-to-be of a middle-class German. Much like The Island of the Blessed, A Venetian Night is full of mythological and fairy-tale motifs that were borrowed from Shakespearean comedies and German plays of the end of the 19th century. To be sure, these aspects add a layer of interest to an otherwise minimal narrative and a film in which caricatural characters chase each other as in a most average slapstick comedy. Likewise, a touch of surrealism and dreamlike rhythm distinguishes it from other films of the kind.

Ultimately, however, there is nothing special about this Reinhardt film, which is rather disappointing. Critics and audiences at the time received the film coldly and, as a result, Reinhardt only made two of the four films that had been planned. Strangely, it seemed that Reinhardt took these productions for granted: as Reinhardt’s son Gottfried recalled years later, “he didn’t take the two silent movies seriously at all; they were a vacation. He was taking his holidays in Italy at this time and the films were done on the side,” a vacation he was paid 50,000 marks to take. Reinhardt would return to his stage work, and would only get to make another film years later, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the United States in 1935, after the success of his stage adaptation of the Shakespearean play of the same name. – ★★

EINE VENEZIANISCHE NACHT | 1914, Germany | Comedy | Directed by – Max Reinhardt / Produced by – Paul Davidson / Written by – Karl Vollmöller / Cinematography by – Karl Freund, Friedrich Weinmann / Starring – Maria Carmi, Joseph Klein, Alfred Abel, Ernst Matray | Running time: 52 mins.

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