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Aurnhammer, Achim, Barbara Besslich, and Rudolf Denk, eds.: Arthur Schnitzler und der Film.

Aurnhammer, Achim, Barbara Besslich, and Rudolf Denk, eds. Arthur Schnitzler und der Film. Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2010.385 pp. 55.00 [euro] hardback.

Volumes of essays on a single author can be a mixed bag. Fortunately, this collection, under the aegis of the Arthur Schnitzler Archive of the University of Freiburg, is of a consistent quality and thematically coherent.

As the editors note, Schnitzler's mature years as a writer coincided with cinema's birth, his death falling just after sound eclipsed silent film. Their title is understood in its broadest terms: to evaluate Schnitzler's reaction to the medium as a cinema-goer, to investigate his engagement in its processes as a writer and adapter of his own work, and to analyze adaptations and versions of Schnitzler's plays and texts on film. On balance, it is perhaps the first two of these three projects which are the more successful.

Julia Ilgner contributes two substantial sections to the collection. Her opening essay on Schnitzler's taste as a Viennese "Kinoniter" or "film fan" offers a convincing portrait of an omnivorous cinema-goer in tune with the tastes of his time. As his copious diaries record, the Viennese playwright saw at least 800 films in his lifetime and was well-acquainted with popular cinema--including historical romances, detective stories, early horror films and so-called "mountain films." The true scale of his consumption may have been even greater, with some commentators estimating he may have seen more than 1,500 films.

Having dealt with Schnitzler as audience member, Ilgner examines "filmic" qualities in a trio of late novellas. Whether, as she asserts, framing and camerawork in film truly correspond to personal narrative situation and internal focus in prose fiction may be a case of metaphorical over-reach. Nevertheless, her lively discussion of an "intermedial" Schnitzler is stimulating, even if the text is at times engulfed by long footnotes. Martin Swales plows a similar thematic furrow in the preceding essay and makes a case for the filmic qualities of Schnitzler's prose as not only serving up potential for adaptation but also characterizing the writer's work as offering a specific open-ended modernity that is connected to contemporary film practice.

For the student of film history, Holger Bachmann's discussion of the decisive role played in the development of Michael Curtiz as a director in adapting Schnitzler's Der junge Medardus is a rewarding read. While Schnitzler's own attempts to adapt the play did not provide the basis for the film, the author was intimately involved in pre-production, developing the script with Curtiz (or Mihaly Kertesz as he then was known) and the script-writer Ladislaus Vajda. While Schnitzler praised the end result in visual terms, he remained critical of Vajda's texts for the intertitles, which he thought trite. Bachmann makes the intriguing suggestion that Curtiz's handling of individuals caught up in historical events in Der junge Medardus may have influenced that most famous of European exile Hollywood films, Casablanca.

Four further essays focus on Schnitzler's own experiments in writing for film. Vivien Friedrich examines the earliest of these a Danish Liebelei, completed in 1912--and notes how the script reworks earlier drafts of the play to realize the drama on screen. Achim Aurnhammer writes on the unpublished script Schnitzler wrote in 1926, based on his one-act play Die grosse Szene (1915). The script breaks the drama down into 201 scenes and, while it lacks the detail of a modern shooting script, it displays a sound grasp of film techniques like montage and camera shots. Leonard Quaresima explores the parallels between Schnitzler's understanding of film and dreams, the dream as "Film der Seele." Quaresima focuses on the 1920 reworking of Der Ruf des Lebens, a 1906 play that the writer repeatedly returned to right up to his death. Schnitzler's script is more in the way of a "treatment," as he explored alternative plot developments to "solve" what he perceived to be the drama's weaknesses. This experimental openness is also central to Lea Marquart's analysis of Schnitzler's final fragmentary script entitled Criminal film, a self-conscious embracing of a contemporary genre.

Lorenzo Belletini compares Schnitzler's involvement in film and the career of his younger contemporary Felix Salten, noting that both were motivated to engage with cinematic productions from both artistic and monetary motives, but where Salten pandered to popular tastes in voyeuristic eroticism, Schnitzler's treatment of similar subjects was more subtle.

Five authors present analyses of film versions of Schnitzler's "Vorlagen". Evelyne Polt-Heinzl compares two works based on the celebrated novelia Fraulein Else (1924): Paul Czinner's 1929 film of the same title and Norbert Pfaffenbichler's experimental Notes on film 01 else (2002), which takes "found footage" from a documentary on Czinner's leading lady Elisabeth Bergner and reworks this material alongside restaged shots from the 1929 film into a new visual composition. This is adaptation at the limits of our understanding of the word and slides over at times into more general cultural commentary. Questions of multiple authorship and adaptation are also at the center of a study by Ursula von Keitz and Wolfgang Lukas on the genesis and development of the MGM film Daybreak (1931), based on Schnitzler's Spiel im Morgengrauen. Two further essays, by Bernard Dieterle and Franz Leithold, are devoted to Max Ophuls's version of Liebelei (1933). The former concentrates on the reworking of the drama, the latter on the director's visual strategies. While this is more familiar ground than the terrain marked out in the earlier essays, it is nevertheless a valuable complementary perspective, as are the final two essays on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut by Dagmar Lorenz and Giuseppe Farese.

Rudolf Denk's essay on the staging of Das weite Land uses sketches rediscovered in Marbach in 2001 to good effect, to analyze Luc Bondy's 1987 film version. Less focused on the main theme of film are two essays on Schnitzler on television, by Sandra Nuy and Camilla Miglio. Nuy notes the numerous stage performances of Professor Bernhardi since 1945 and how the television versions have reflected contemporary expectations. Miglio describes the role played by Schnitzler's Casanovas Heimfahrt in reawakening scholarly interest in Casanova.

Barbara Besslich's contribution on Frau Berta Galan stresses that examining Schnitzler's texts--narrative and dramatic--in their transfer and adaptation to different media (in this case both a radio play and a film) can serve to re-emphasize the nuances of the original. If the focus on Arthur Schnitzler and film, in all its possible interpretations, reveals anything, it is perhaps this: observing directors and writers work to recreate Schnitzler in another medium offers a highly productive mode of re-engaging with the author's work, which remains, for all its Habsburg Vienna trappings, surprisingly contemporary.


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Author:Foster, Ian
Publication:The German Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
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