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Carl Theodor Dreyer
Emil Hass Christensen,
Preben Lerdorff Rye
The experienced doorman at the Atlantic Hotel is quite proud of his position, his responsibilities, and his uniform. One busy, rainy night, he has to take a short rest after lugging a heavy suitcase in from the rain. Unfortunately, his manager comes by during the short time when he is not performing his duties. The next day, when the doorman arrives for work, he learns that he has been replaced as doorman, and has been re-assigned to the less strenuous but purely menial position of washroom attendant. Stunned and humiliated, the old man struggles to carry on with his life. Written by
I just viewed this film on the pristine Kino video release, having seen a poorish print years ago.
One of the great classics of the German silent cinema, hugely influential, this true work of art not only displays the seemingly limitless resources of the UFA studios, but dares to break constantly with convention, particularly by being a "pure" film and dispensing with intertitles, but most spectacularly in its use of the "subjective" camera--creating as far as I know, the first sustained use of "point of view" in the history of movies, which had hitherto shown us action objectively, as it were: the spectator had always merely "observed," as in a third person narrative. Even Griffith and Bitzer's trucking shots, while including "us" in the action, did not represent another character's point of view. Well, after "the Last Laugh," P.O.V. turns up again and again. (See Abel Gance's "Napoleon.") Today the technique is common (necessary!). The most famous shots in "Der Letzte Mann" include the drunken swaying of the room seen through the Doorman's bleary eyes (cinematographer Karl Freund seated in a large swing and pushed back and forth); the opening shot coming down into the lobby by elevator and exiting the gate; and the astonishing vision of the hotel toppling in slow motion over on the poor doorman after his demotion. And can you believe that first night cityscape with the driving rain was all constructed and shot INDOORS?
However, I must say there is an unfortunate message in this drama, that of the merciless German stereotype: fawning before authority and deriding weakness--humiliating the powerless, admiring, almost worshiping the powerful. This is shown by the doorman's vanity and puffed-up self-image, which hinges, it seems, on a splendid uniform and the deference it alone inspires. Position is everything to him, his family, employers, hotel guests and neighbors. This is a shallow world, indeed, a social mentality that I can imagine, without straining too much, easily leading in a few brief years straight to the all-too-successful Gestapo! (I would add that the ending seems to contradict this, but the ending must be discounted; it is a sheer fantasy, "tacked on," really unrelated to the rest of the film and completely out of character.)
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