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To Be Or Not To Be (#110 of 3)

Review: Gerd Gemünden’s Continental Strangers: German Exile Cinema 1933-1951

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Review: Gerd Gemünden’s Continental Strangers: German Exile Cinema 1933-1951
Review: Gerd Gemünden’s Continental Strangers: German Exile Cinema 1933-1951

In spite of a subtitle that suggests a survey of German exile cinema over an 18-year period, Gerd Gemünden’s new book cunningly circumnavigates the typical pitfalls of cinema historicism by turning his focus to a variety of themes, influences, and industrial forces, rather than singling out only one. While canonical films such as 1942’s To Be or Not to Be and 1943’s Hangmen Also Die receive chapter-length studies, so too do less exhausted works like 1934’s The Black Cat, 1939’s The Life of Emile Zola, and 1949’s Act of Violence, each with precise and comprehensive results.

Gemünden is an excellent writer; his introduction clearly sets the terms of analysis without losing the rigor one expects from an academic text. In particular, his extensive definition of “exile” draws on the likes of theorists Theodor Adorno, Edward Said, and Salman Rushdie to explain how complex self-expression can become when displaced from one’s homeland—what Adorno would call the “damaged life.” Nevertheless, Said and Rushdie are more optimistic, emphasizing that while many things are lost in translation, something may also be gained. Gemünden defines this gain for German exile cinema during this period as an “in-between” state that engages the traditions of Weimar cinema, but also forms a “dark mirror of Nazi cinema.” Ultimately, this leads to one of Gemünden’s larger questions: What does authorship mean in relationship to exile?

Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum

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Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum
Now and Forever: Early Carole Lombard at Film Forum

[The Carole Lombard retrospective runs at Manhattan’s Film Forum from November 21st—December 2nd. Click here for more information.]

In at least seven movies, all of them comedies with serious undertones, the exuberant Carole Lombard became emblematic of the whole screwball comedy genre of the thirties, and she passed into folklore with her marriage to Clark Gable and her early death in a plane crash in 1942, at age 34. It’s her centenary this year, so there have been tributes, including a “star of the month” program on the indispensable Turner Classic Movies. TCM showed her seven wonders, starting with Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934) and ending with Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942). In between those very different peaks, Lombard was the archetypal madcap heiress in Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936), a small town girl caught up in the publicity machine in the cutting Ben Hecht satire Nothing Sacred (1937), a manicurist on the make in Mitchell Leisen’s Hands Across the Table (1935), a congenital liar in the overlooked True Confession (1937), and a demanding, hot-to-trot wife for Alfred Hitchcock in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).