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Prologue: The murderer "Boss" Huller - after having spent ten years in prison - breaks his silence to tell the warden his story. "Boss", a former trapeze artist, and his wife own a cheap side-show that displays ''erotic sensations''. But he longs for his former glamorous life in the circus. When he meets the orphan Berta-Marie, he falls under her spell and leaves his wife and young son behind. He makes Berta-Marie his partner in a new trapeze number. One day, the famous trapeze artist Artinelli takes note of them and engages them for his trapeze show in Berlin. Their salto mortale becomes an immediate sensation. Calculatedly and cold, Artinelli seduces Berta-Marie and destroys "Boss'" happiness. Written by
Christian Taube <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Because the film was produced in Germany, it was not made with the intent to pass the newly established MPPDA's "Hays Code" which had been introduced the year before with hopes of mollifying the more than 100 local and state censorship boards around the United States. These boards quickly took an ax to the film, cutting, on average, enough footage to fill two film reels. New York made the fewest cuts, removing slightly less than one reel of footage. See more »
A German sexual triangle set backstage at the circus
The male flyer initially appears in cinema as a flawed hero. The prototypes are characters found in Variety (1925), directed by Ewald Dupont and based on Felix Hollaender's novel, The Oath of Stephen Huller.
This is a semi-expressionist film about a heavy-bodied catcher-husband, Boss Huller (Emil Jannings), whose wife, Bertha-Marie (Lya de Putti), is seduced from domestic bliss by the trio's lighter-bodied star flyer, Artinelli (Warwick Ward). The cather-husband imagines dropping his rival, the flyer, but murders him instead in a fight, and goes to prison. The seducing male flyer is the provocateur of extreme passion, a position subsumed by female aerialist characters in later films. But the male aerialist as a criminal, even murderer, intermittently reappears in representation because he epitomizes a capacity for extreme risk-taking, which is translated into socially risky immoral behavior. But it is the male flyer who becomes especially vulnerable to depiction as a fallen hero, literally and for losing emotional control.
Although little-known today, Variety is one of the major works of German Expressionism. It's an immorality of emotion drama with a fine performance by (the always great) Jannings and the wonderful visual film-making that is the hallmark of the Expressionist movement (extraordinary cinematography by Karl Freund). Variety was heavily censored for its American release; how it was changed makes it almost as interesting as a case study in film censorship as it is enjoyable as a movie.
In its original version, the film begins with a drawn-out portion showing how Emil Jannings falls in love with Lya De Putti, left his wife for her, and created a trapeze act with his lover. This part of the story was excised completely by the American censors, and title cards added to redefine Jannings and De Putti as the married couple of the U.S. release version. The censors' intent was to erase the plot point of casting adulterous lovers as the established couple in a love triangle. The effect was to far more radically transform the story. The unfaithful husband who is in his turn betrayed by his unfaithful lover is transformed into a sympathetic cuckold. The opportunistic temptress who catches two men only to end up with none is transformed into a young wife who succumbs to temptation. From unsparing morality play to conventional melodrama, courtesy of censorship.
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