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Boss Huller runs a rather rundown sideshow, with his wife. Dreaming of the days when his trapeze act made him famous he meets a young woman who offers him a way back to his halcyon days. But his dreams are broken when Artinelli, a famous trapeze artist, takes them into his show only to seduce Berta-Marie, stealing her away from Huller…
Varieté (B&W. 1925) is a silent romantic melodrama directed by Ewald Andre Dupont, the film was based on the Felix Hollaender book Der Eid des Stephan Huller (1923).
The film pretty much tells you how this sad tale will end as the movie opens with Huller, having been in prison for the last ten year finally breaking his self-imposed silence to confess to the warden how he came to be imprisoned. Of course, the question is, did he kill Artinelli or Berta?
Both the American and German prints have been fully restored and there is little in the way of artefacts or damage, given the age of the film it remains in particularly good condition.
The acting remains convincing, even though Emil Jannings's (Huller) frame would look more convincing on a butcher rather than an athletic trapeze artist. Lya De Putti is coquettish as Berta and Warwick Ward has all the brooding presence of an out and out bad egg.
The DVD contains two version, the International Version: The American Cut (1 hr, 23 min 14 sec) and the International Cut (1 hr, 34 min, 28 sec) which comes with three alternative soundtracks from, The Tiger Lillies, Stephen Horne and Johannes Contag. The Lillies produce an inventively strident Brechtian soundtrack which, whilst always entertaining, occasionally overwhelms the actual film, with its enthusiasm, whilst delivering lyrics which mirror the movies narrative.
Stephen Horne produces a piano track which sounds more traditional. Contag takes his muse from the fairground, producing a more limited orchestral arrangement. They are so disparate one from another that it is difficult to say that one is better than the other, it’s really going to come down to personal taste. Each adds a layer to the silent film, personally I found myself going back to the Lillies.
The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The film comes with the original German, but there is the option for English subtitles for these.
The film was a lot of fun, not just because of Dupont's skill as a director, but also the raucous bombast of the Tiger Lillies, who knew you could sing "Varieté" so many times and still feel fresh, which goes a long way to allow a modern audience to access this style of narrative film.
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