2019 Syracuse International Film Festival Opening Silent Film
THE DOLL Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Germany, 1919
We commissioned a new score by Diane Jones. (See below)
Cast Ossi Oswalda, Hermann Thimig, Victor Janson, and Gerhard Ritterband Production Projektions AG Union Print Source Filmarchiv Austria
From an Essay on The Doll by Farran Smith Nehme
Deliciously weird for 1919 or any other year, Ernst Lubitsch’s Die Puppe (The Doll) declares its intent to please from the first shot. An appealing twenty-seven-year-old Lubitsch himself is the first person to appear, as he refuses to look his own camera in the eye. Instead, from a toy box he busily assembles a cute little diorama composed of a felt lawn and an S-curved driveway, a series of cutout trees on pencil-size trunks, and a house with one door, one window, and a removable roof. He opens the house, places two dolls inside, and presto—the story begins. Our director is the doll-maker’s doll-maker, E.T.A. Hoffman with a camera, manipulating the characters for all they are worth.
Lubitsch made seven movies that year, as his career roared into high gear and his comic vision took shape. Born in Berlin in 1892, he began as a comic actor playing ethnic roles, often as a Jewish character named Meyer. He was a good actor, but Lubitsch gradually discovered that he was an even better writer and director. He’d made his mark as a “serious” director only the year before, with an exotic Egyptian horror outing called Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy Ma) starring Pola Negri. Thereafter Lubitsch’s time in Berlin was somewhat oddly divided between lush historical dramas such as Madame Dubarry, with the heavy-breathing duo of Negri and Emil Jannings, and comedies, of which The Doll is an enchanting example.
Written by Lubitsch and frequent collaborator Hanns Kräly, from the same Hoffmann story that gave us the ballet Coppélia, this fairy tale has even less truck with dreary reality than the all-dancing version. Made at Germany’s Ufa the year before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Doll unfolds like a mad picture-book come to life. The backdrops are mostly forced perspective, full of slanted picture frames and out-of-scale doorways. One character’s kitchen has the hanging pots and pans painted straight onto the flats. A carriage arrives pulled by two horses that are actually four men in vaudeville-style horse costumes. When one of the string tails falls off, the coachman casually sticks it right back where it belongs. The sun and moon are embodied by paper cutouts with faces—the movie often looks as though it were designed by a precocious seven-year-old.
The jokes, however, are not necessarily for children. The Doll is essentially a sex comedy, about an effete young man who tries to marry a mechanical doll, only to discover that she’s flesh and blood, and more fun that way. The protagonist (he is in no sense a hero) is Lancelot, played by Hermann Thimig with a series of ill-fitting frock coats, a Percy Shelley coiffure, and a personality firmly under the thumb of his mother.
When he arrived in Hollywood in 1921 to make a movie for Mary Pickford, Lubitsch was asked to name his favorite of his films; he answered The Doll. As Eyman points out, even toward the end of his life, he cited the movie as one of the best he had made in Germany. The Doll is a young man’s picture, fast-moving, bursting with energy and carefree experimentation, its jokes ranging from sophisticated winks to groaning eye-rollers. The bizarrely suggestive intertitles pile up: “Familiarize yourself with the mechanism,” Hilarius admonishes Lancelot about his doll-wife, along with later instructions to “Always dust her well” and “don’t forget to oil her every two weeks.” Lubitsch was already using a skill he would perfect in Hollywood: risqué, but deniable.
About Diane Jones
Diane Jones' music has been performed by Mélomanie, The Relâche Ensemble, The Da Capo Chamber Players, Trio Casals, and Flautet, Diane's music reflects her rich, eclectic influences and her love of line and rhythm. She has been commissioned by Mélomanie, the Society for New Music, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and the Syracuse International Film Festival. She is featured as both composer and performer on four Samba Laranja CDs, three of which (Native Orange in 2011, Pathways in 2015, and Guaraná in 2019) have won SAMMY awards. Her piano trios, "Three Songs," "Woman A/Part," and "Earth Rise" were recorded by Trio Casals for their "MOTO" series of CDs, and have been broadcast throughout the US and internationally. "Dreamcatcher" for trombone and orchestra, is included on "Neue Kraft Fulend," a CD from trombonist Haim Avitsur and conductor Ovidiu Marinescu.
In addition to her work with professional musicians, Jones has completed five residencies in Syracuse area middle schools. Not only do the students have the excitement of presenting a world premiere, they get to experience and influence the entire composition process. She has collaborated with choreographers Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell and Christina D'Amico for four Vision of Sound performances, and with filmmaker and director Ryan Silveira for both live and recorded projects.
Diane is the mid-day host on WCNY-FM, Central New York's Classical Radio Station, and the host and producer of "Feminine Fusion," a nationally-syndicated weekly program highlighting women in the classical music world. She is past President of the Society for New Music, and her music has been featured on Fresh Ink, the weekly new music broadcast produced by the Society.