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Silent Operas

Author: Cineanalyst
24 September 2009

I don't care for opera; regardless, opera is undeniably worse when adapted to the silent screen. (Two adaptations of "Carmen" and one of "Assunta Spina" (1915) come to mind, as well.) Mostly, we're just left with whatever the ludicrous plot was. In this three-reeler, "Tannhäuser", there is, of course, a tragic, melodramatic romance. There's also some Catholic moralizing. It also doesn't help that the filmmakers use the tableau style wherein title cards describe proceeding actions. The camera-work and staging is very static; there's one match on action close-up that stands out as otherwise an example of too advanced film techniques for these filmmakers to use. There's double-exposure photography with dissolves for appearances and disappearances during the Venus episodes.

The Venus episode is the best part—the film really suffers after it. There's an awfully enacted and confusing sword fight, and the rest of the film, as aforementioned, is just bad romantic tragedy and Catholic morals. There are better early films available to see, and I suppose there are superior means to view this opera.

(Note: The DVD print features reconstructed tinting based on those originally intended.)

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