Sunday, July 15, 2012
The Loves of Pharoah
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival went into high gear on Friday with five different programs at the Castro Theatre, including the newly reconstructed 1922 Ernst Lubitsch spectacular, The Loves of Pharoah. The film has been digitally remastered from half a dozen different incomplete prints, with about 30 minutes missing from the final film which are handled with stills and narrative titles. This seems only appropriate for a melodrama set in Ancient Egypt whose history has been preserved via fragmentary relics.
The narrative is essentially a spinoff from Verdi's opera Aida, with a beautiful slave girl in the middle of an Egyptian war with Ethiopia causing unintentional mayhem with her beauty everywhere she goes (she is played by Dagny Servaes above with Harry Liedtke as Ramphis, her accidental true love). In this version, the two doomed lovers are stoned to death by a huge crowd of extras in the final scenes rather than being suffocated in a tomb like the opera, and the jealous lover Amneris character is now The Pharoah, played in his usual glowering, crazed manner by Emil Jannings.
The massive sets were constructed 30 miles south of Berlin, and the costumes and sheer number of starving Weimar era extras makes for an amazing spectacle. It was amusingly reminiscent of the San Francisco Opera Aida production at the Bill Graham auditorium in the 1990s when the Opera House was being retrofitted. There were no real backstage dressing rooms at the Bill Graham at the time, so the company decided not to use body makeup on the supernumeraries, and it looked like Egypt had been invaded by the Irish Army wearing Ancient Egyptian costumes. In The Loves of Pharoah, Egypt looked similarly overtaken, except by Germans, some of them in blackface and fright wigs as Ethiopians.
The live accompaniment was by Dennis James at the Wurlitzer, and he even incorporated some of the Triumphal March from Aida while he was at it. Though his performance was completely over-the-top, it suited the film perfectly.
For more on this recently unearthed spectacular, click here for the Art House Films of Germany blog out of Toronto, and here for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, and here for the Strictly Vintage Hollywood blog.