Brech and Film: The Bertolt Brecht Workshop | Festival | Chicago Reader

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Brech and Film: The Bertolt Brecht Workshop


This centenary tribute to German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, sponsored by Facets Multimedia Center and the Goethe-Institut, runs Friday through Thursday, February 27 through March 5, at Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton. Admission is $7 for film screenings, $5 for video (for Facets members, $5 and $3 respectively). For more information call 773-281-4114.


Kuhle Wampe

A passionate, rhapsodic declaration of faith in communism, this Bertolt Brecht-scripted, Slatan Dudow-directed anti-Nazi effort (1932) was banned in Germany eight months after its release (upon Hitler's ascent to power). Playing off documentary footage with the fortunes of a particular family, Dudow and Brecht argue for solidarity among workers and a wholesale rejection of both Nazism and social democracy in favor of a joyous communitarianism. (DD) On the same program, two rare silent shorts and a video. The little-known, 24-minute The Mysteries of a Hairdresser's Shop (1923), codirected by Brecht and Erich Engel and starring the great Munich comic Karl Valentin, is a wild and at times gruesome knockabout farce, clearly influenced by both Chaplin and Grand Guignol. In A Man's a Man (1931), a 15-minute film documenting a major production that starred Peter Lorre and Helene Weigel, Brecht photographs everything in single frames from a fixed camera position (the production itself--with some actors on stilts and sets that suggest both Dada and expressionism--looks fascinating). He had the film made as a workshop tool, and the pieces included in Nick Howinga's 1964 video, Bertolt Brecht Practice Pieces for Actors, were written for similar purposes; the video, which I haven't seen, features actors performing and discussing the pieces. (JR). (7:00)


The Death of the Flea Circus Director

Thomas Koerfer directed this 1972 Swiss-German political comedy about the life, death, and posthumous revenge of a flea circus director who loses his performers in a pesticide accident. (3:30)

Syberberg Films Brecht

In 1953, 17-year-old Hans-JŸrgen Syberberg, the future filmmaker (Our Hitler: A Film From Germany; Parsifal), was allowed by Bertolt Brecht to film performances by the Berliner Ensemble silently with an 8-millimeter camera, Forty years later, he assembled the material with intertitles and commentary to yield this 90-minute feature. (5:30)

The Threepenny Opera

Or Die Dreigroschenoper for you purists. Though Brecht disapproved strongly of G.W. Pabst's film version of his revolutionary operetta, this 1931 effort is rich in visual detail and atmospheric lighting (thanks to ace cameraman Fritz-Arno Wagner and scenic designer Andrei Andreiev). Pabst manages to give his film a look of savage realism and misty fantasy at the same time--no mean feat. Less pointed than Brecht wanted, it is nevertheless a treat (and features a very young Lotte Lenya as Jenny). (DD) On the same program, Private Films (1929), a few minutes of silent footage featuring Brecht, Lenya, and Kurt Weill. (7:30)


Mr. Puntila in Sri Lanka

Riikka Takala directed this 53-minute video documentary (1985) about a Finnish production, staged in Sri Lanka by Helene Lehtimaki, of Mr. Puntila and His Servant Matti, a play Brecht wrote during his exile. (5:30)

Mother Courage and Her Children

See Critic's Choice. (6:30)



Not the Joseph Losey film of the Brecht play, but a silent half-hour film made in 1947 that documents portions of Losey's famous stage production with Charles Laughton. (7:00)

My Name Is Bertolt Brecht: Exile in the U.S.A.

A 1989 documentary feature by Norman Bunge and Christine Fischer-Defoy about Brecht's exile in the United States. (7:45)



A film recording of the Berliner Ensemble's 1958 staging of Brecht's social realist play; the running time is 147 minutes, and reportedly the final reel is missing English subtitles. (7:00)


Senora Carrar's Rifles

A 1953 film by Egon Monk, 54 minutes long, of a German production of Brecht's agitprop play, written during the first year of the Spanish civil war. (7:00)

History Lessons

See Critic's Choice. (8:00)



The Berliner Ensemble's 1953 German staging of one of Brecht's party-line Stalinist plays, filmed in 1957, after Brecht's death, by Max Jaap and Manfred Wekwerth. (7:00)

The Shameless Old Lady

Adapted from a Brecht story, this 1966 debut by Rene Allio suggests, as did the filmmaker's subsequent works The One and the Other and Pierre and Paul, that Allio isn't shameless enough. (DD) (8:45)

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