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The Lubitsch Touch

January 12, 2007 - February 16, 2007

Design for Living, February 4

"How would Lubitsch have done it?"—Sign on the wall in Billy Wilder's office

Like so many of the great Hollywood directors, Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947) was a German émigré. The son of a tailor, he was a member of Max Reinhardt's theater company from 1911 to 1918 before going into movies, where he made the transition from acting to directing a mix of social comedies and extravagant historical spectaculars. Mary Pickford imported him to the United States in 1922; here his style evolved from slapstick to sophistication in a series of "continental" comedies and musicals that created an elegant alternate Europe for American delectation. ("There is Paramount Paris and Metro Paris, and of course the real Paris," he said. "Paramount's is the most Parisian of all.") An exasperated Pickford described Lubitsch as a "director of doors," and he was a master at suggesting what goes on behind closed ones, deploying architectural space in the service of erotic innuendo. But he was also a director of actors, of knowing glances, sly timing, and subtly revealing gestures. For all his love of artifice, Lubitsch was in the end a humanist. Many of his most enduring films, from Trouble in Paradise to The Shop Around the Corner, are studies of lovers fooling themselves and each other; in the Lubitschean marriage of romance and cynicism, insincerity could be remarkably touching. This series of archival rarities and fine studio prints is a chance to understand the ineffable visual wit known as "the Lubitsch touch"—to see, and feel, how Lubitsch did it.

Juliet Clark

Pianists for Silent Films

Bruce Loeb
began accompanying films at PFA in 1986; over the years he has played for many silent films using a combination of period music and improvisation. He also plays for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and teaches piano privately.

Judith F. Rosenberg has provided piano accompaniment for silent films at PFA since 2000. Since 1973 she has been artist/lecturer and music director of the dance department at Mills College. Rosenberg has also performed at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and the Castro Theatre.

Donald Sosin has been performing silent film music for over thirty years. Among his many commissions for scores and film festival appearances, he performs each year at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. He last played at PFA during the 2005 series Taisho Chic on Screen.

Friday, January 12, 2007
7:00 p.m. Lady Windermere’s Fan
Bruce Loeb on Piano. Lubitsch's adaptation of Oscar Wilde is "one of the most subtle films in the entire history of the cinema. Nothing, or practically nothing, is said; everything is inferred, suggested by little details, incisive, percussive, rich with an incessant corrosive humor."—Jean Mitry

Friday, January 12, 2007
8:45 p.m. The Shop Around the Corner
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as sparring coworkers and unwitting pen pals. “The romance achieves such an exquisite balance of sympathy and humor that The Shop Around the Corner emerges as one of the most civilized creations of the cinema.”—Village Voice

Sunday, January 14, 2007
3:00 p.m. Ninotchka
This comedy develops from cynicism into about as warm a Cold War film as ever there was, as severe Soviet commissar Greta Garbo has her head turned by dashing capitalist Melvyn Douglas. The ads proclaimed, “Garbo laughs!” And so will you. Repeated on January 27.

Friday, January 19, 2007
7:00 p.m. Madame Dubarry
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Emil Jannings plays Louis XV with Pola Negri as his low-born mistress in a historical spectacular that established Lubitsch's international reputation, and upheld his view that history is made in the boudoir.

Friday, January 19, 2007
9:15 p.m. Angel
Marlene Dietrich and Melvyn Douglas in "the ritziest of all the Lubitsch comedies: the most discreet, the most soft-spoken, the one with the most impeccable manners."—James Harvey

Saturday, January 20, 2007
6:30 p.m. Sumurun
Donald Sosin on Piano. A rare chance to see Lubitsch himself on screen: he plays a hunchbacked clown in love with sultry dancer Pola Negri in this exotic spectacular.

Saturday, January 20, 2007
8:40 p.m. Trouble in Paradise
Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins take millionaire Kay Francis for a ride, with romantic complications. “A nearly perfect film.”—New Yorker

Sunday, January 21, 2007
2:00 p.m. Die Flamme
Donald Sosin on Piano. Lecture by Stefan Drössler. Archivist Drössler presents a reconstruction of Lubitsch's last German work, starring Pola Negri as a Montmartre cocotte, along with other rarities.

Sunday, January 21, 2007
4:15 p.m. The Oyster Princess
Donald Sosin on Piano. This German silent is "an ironic Portrait of a Lady [in which] crass and energetic American capitalism meets European tiredness and cunning."—Village Voice

Friday, January 26, 2007
7:00 p.m. The Wildcat
Bruce Loeb on Piano. The feline Pola Negri in Lubitsch’s hilarious anti-militaristic satire.

Friday, January 26, 2007
8:45 p.m. The Smiling Lieutenant
Maurice Chevalier is caught in a tug-of-war between lovely Claudette Colbert and royal Miriam Hopkins. An Oscar-nominated hit, and “a work of nearly total assurance.”—James Harvey. With Lubitsch’s segment from the omnibus If I Had a Million.

Friday, January 26, 2007
8:45 p.m. The Smiling Lieutenant

Saturday, January 27, 2007
6:30 p.m. The Marriage Circle
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Adolphe Menjou, Marie Prevost, Monte Blue, and Florence Vidor square the circle in this key Lubitsch comedy of marital manners.

Saturday, January 27, 2007
8:30 p.m. Ninotchka
Please see January 14.

Thursday, February 1, 2007
5:30 p.m. I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Free Screening!)
Judith Rosenberg on Piano. Ossi Oswalda, the “German Mary Pickford,” in a gender-bending silent comedy.

Saturday, February 3, 2007
6:30 p.m. One Hour with You
“A musical remake of The Marriage Circle in which two sensual, worldly wise Parisians (Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald) subject a deliriously happy marriage to temptation. . . . A joyous, participatory experience inviting the viewer to serve as referee for a witty battle of the boudoir.”—Village Voice

Saturday, February 3, 2007
8:30 p.m. The Merry Widow
Lubitsch’s adaptation of the Lehar operetta, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, opulent sets by Cedric Gibbons, and Chevalier and MacDonald in top form, is “the sexiest musical of the thirties—perhaps the sexiest musical ever.”—Film Comment

Sunday, February 4, 2007
2:00 p.m. Rosita
Bruce Loeb on Piano. Mary Pickford is a Spanish street singer who attracts the attention of a king in Lubitsch’s first American feature.

Sunday, February 4, 2007
3:45 p.m. Design for Living
Lubitsch's audacious adaptation of Noel Coward's play wickedly installs American expats Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, and Fredric March in a Parisian garret, where they're hard pressed to keep their minds on their art.

Friday, February 9, 2007
7:00 p.m. The Love Parade
“Lubitsch’s first talkie and musical helped to define continental romance as well as opulent operetta for Depression-era audiences. Racy and innovatively shot, it pairs Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald for the first time, and it’s one of their funniest films.”—Chicago Reader

Friday, February 9, 2007
9:15 p.m. Monte Carlo
The delirious “Beyond the Blue Horizon” sequence is reason enough to see this musical, featuring Jeanette MacDonald as a countess who flees to Monte Carlo to avoid marrying a foppish prince.

Friday, February 16, 2007
7:00 p.m. Heaven Can Wait
Recently deceased philanderer Don Ameche presents himself at the gates of hell, where he had so often been advised to go during his lifetime. “Full of grace, wisdom, and romance.”—Chicago Reader

Friday, February 16, 2007
9:15 p.m. Cluny Brown
An unjustly neglected gem of Lubitsch’s late career, made just after the war but set just before it, features Jennifer Jones as a maid with a passion for plumbing and intellectual émigré Charles Boyer as her ally in iconoclasm.

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and organizations for their assistance with this retrospective: Ingrid Eggers, Goethe-Institut San Francisco; Todd Wiener, UCLA Film & Television Archive; Schawn Belston, 20th Century Fox; Anne Morra, The Museum of Modern Art (New York); Gudrun Weiss, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung; Stefan Drössler, Munich Filmmuseum; and George Kaltsounakis, Cinematheque Ontario.

Archival and restored prints and musical accompaniment for silent films are presented with support from the Packard Humanities Institute.