Who was Kurt Gerron? For those not in the know: Gerron was a successful German actor and film director in the 20' and 30's (mainly) for the UFA; he plays the magician Kiepert in "Der blaue Engel". He was successful on stage and in cabaret as well; he was Tiger Brown in the 1928 world premiere of "Der Dreigroschenoper". Gerron was jewish too. In 1944 Gerron ended up in Auschwitz after having made in Theresienstadt, on life or death commission, the notorious propaganda film "Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt".
You will not get much more information on Gerron when watching this documentary on his life; in that it fails completely. Reading biographical notes of 2 pages of A5 format and some articles in books told me more about him than this unsatisfactory film. The 20's and 30's are quickly skimmed and are illustrated by short clips from a number of films by or with him, without doing the simplest thing needed: mentioning of the film title and release year. These titles are mentioned in the final credits but who can combine these at that moment with the film clips?
After 1933 Gerron went into exile, through France and Austria, in The Netherlands. The commentary says that in The Netherlands he made 3 features that were milestones in the hardly full-grown Dutch cinema industry. This statement remains to be seen, but if the makers are of this opinion, then why not - as illustration of this statement - include a couple of fragments of his film making in The Netherlands as well? A simple phone call to the Dutch Filmmuseum would have done the trick.
Of the man and his character we learn nothing. In some interviews, like the one with his biographer, his vanity is mentioned. The biographer says that it is very hard to find out what kind of a man he was (there are no known interviews with Gerron) which gave him the freedom to fantasize. That is just what this documentary desperately needs: the daring of the maker to find out herself what kind of a man Gerron maybe was.
One of the most interesting interviewees is Camilla Spira, who worked with Gerron a lot (including in the transit camp Westerbork in The Netherlands). She could have told an interesting story, but her contribution is limited to only a few interview fragments. Ziok rather shows new renderings of Gerron's cabaret and other songs, sungs by Ute Lemper, Max Raab and others. This may be very entertaining, but what does this tell us about Gerron? Max Raab sings "Das Nachtgespenst" very well, but when we later hear Gerron himself singing the same song, it is goodbye Max Raab.
Emphasis lies on the making of the propagandafilm. A fine but older documentary on this particular subject was already made in 1964 by Michael Bornkamp. As far as I could judge Ziok does not add anything new on the subject. The polish cinematographer is interviewed, but the most important question "How did he get involved anyhow?" is never asked. Neither does she inform the viewer that in the end the film was never released and ended up in parts in the weekly "Deutsche Wochenschau".
Ziok may be praised for taken up the subject of Gerron, but she leaves the viewer with the wish for a more searching and daring documentary on Gerron; this out-and-out entertainer in film and theater deserves it.
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