Week 5: Text: Review of 'The Quiet Storm', FILMKURIER, Issue 23, July 1930


By Marlene Brandt

"When I speak to you

Coldly and in general terms

With the driest words

Not looking at you

(Seemingly I fail to recognize you

In your particular nature and difficulty)

I speak to you merely

Like reality itself

(Sober, not to be bribed by your particular nature

Tired of your difficulty)

Which it seems to me you fail to recognize."

These verses from Bertolt Brecht’s A Reader for Those who Live in Cities appear in intertitles at the beginning of Joachim Kind’s The Quiet Storm. The seemingly brutal Objektivitat[1] expressed by these words barely prepares one for the horror to follow. Horror? Is that the right word? Dread, perhaps. It is so very difficult to classify this film. Its dramatic interplay of light and shadow is reminiscent of the German Expressionist school. But that is all that survives of a once passionate, romantic, humanistic movement. No, Kind’s visual motifs place it squarely in the new culture of ‘Street Film’, alongside Pabst’s The Joyless Street and Joe May’s Asphalt (in which the film’s eponymous subject swallows land to make way for city traffic). Shots of feet on pavement abound. Policemen’s magic gestures direct the flow. We meander along cavalcades of neon street hoardings and illuminated shop fronts. In the hands of Kind’s Hungarian cinematographer, Roman Visil, the camera never leaves the boulevards, streets and alleyways of Berlin. Why - because it is afraid to. Death waits indoors.

The only glimpses of interiors we are permitted reveal the aftermath of murders - all of them of young adults - their skin raw and cracked as though they had died of exposure. They come from all walks of life. A soldier is found dead in his own barracks; a government minister’s daughter prostrate on their ballroom floor. We linger briefly in a doorway with a pair of young communists who pose for one another in beautiful attitudes of rebellion before they too must succumb to the need to belong, to enter inside. The party headquarters, like the beer hall, the police station and the theatre, is deadly. Every doorway gapes like a hungry maw. The characters of The Quiet Storm are safe only as long as they remain in the street, free of all attachment and affiliation. It is a harsh reality and a stunning indictment by this young filmmaker of the country his post war generation has inherited.

Behind the facades of the Weimar Republic lurks an old evil, a quiet storm waiting to break out onto the streets. We cannot name it. But we feel it stalking us. We try to remain calm, aloof and unsentimental. Under streetlights we strike the pose of Neue Sachlichkeit[2]. We concern ourselves with how things are, not how they should be. We drink and dance and talk film and sport long into the night. We are too scared to return to our homes where sleep brings no rest.

Upon the conclusion of this extraordinary film’s premiere screening the tension in the audience was palpable. I overheard one of its bemused American producers ask, “So, who did it?” I would have laughed if not for the sad realisation that they had already consigned their little kontingentfilme[3] to obscurity. Everyone else in the room knew they had experienced a great work of art and all who represented an ‘-ism’ wanted to co-opt it to their cause. “It is capitalism. That is the killer!” one old Marxist stood to cry. “No, it is Americanism!” called another. “It is the Jew,” came a voice from the back and at once it was as though all the air had been sucked out of the room. There it was - in the eye of the storm sat the monster -summoned, as it were, by the sacrificial victims staked out on the screen. Then the room erupted into chaos and panic. The mask of civil political discourse was shed to reveal a brawl of savages: fists flying Left and Right, rows of chairs upended, and the screen rent asunder.

We cineastes and cinephiles, who long to make culture much more than we want to remake civilisation, escaped from the war of ideas in the theatre to the anonymity of the street outside. Where to now, we wondered? To where does the street lead? Where to but Hollywood, dummy! There the sun only teases that it’s setting, the buildings are all freshly painted backdrops and the monsters are tinsel and twine.

We hope. We allow ourselves that lone sentiment.

Aufedersehen, Berlin.[4]

[1] Ger. n: detachment, impartiality, impersonality.

[2] Ger, n: The New Objectivity: a school of art that prized impersonal perception of ‘things as they are’ above the personal, interpretive and impressionistic.

[3] Ger, n: Quota Film: To stem the tide of American films flooding the German market, in 1926 the Weimar government instituted a policy requiring that for every film foreign distributors wished to import a German film must first be produced. Very few of these inexpensive ‘Quota Films’, produced solely to achieve a ‘Quota Certificate’, ever reached German audiences. The Quiet Storm’s Quota Certificate was used by MGM to import the Douglas Fairbanks vehicle, The Pirate King.

[4] This was Brandt’s last review for Filmkurier. In August she emigrated to the U.S.A.

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