Framework: The Blue Angel

Our DIY film school series continues with this 1930 German classic, screening in 35mm glory this weekend at Cinéma du Parc.

Framework is a year-long DIY film school; 52 essential films to expand your consciousness.

Professor Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) is one of the most tragic figures in early European sound cinema. His plight of idyllic fantasy turned into cold reality is defined by lust, guided by insolence and results in grueling humiliation – of the very public, uncomfortable kind. With all of the components of a Shakespearian tragedy in place, Professor Rath’s demise is the premise of Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), one of the first sound films to emerge from Germany in 1930, and the film that helped to define the career of enigmatic femme fatale Marlene Dietrich.

Directed by the baroque and opulent Josef von Sternberg, The Blue Angel was the first of many films to feature a collaboration between the Austrian-American director and his German protégée star Dietrich. Initially scripted to elevate the career of actor Jannings, The Blue Angel begins with the conservative Professor Rath investigating the Blue Angel cabaret, the after-dark obsession of his male teenage students. Rumours of immoral behaviour at the hands of the Blue Angel’s sexual temptress Lola Lola (Dietrich) summon him to the cabaret in an effort to end the sexual corruption of his students.

What occurs is the very opposite. Professor Rath, a stiff man of tradition and respect, crumbles to pathetic depths with the slightest attention from the captivating Lola. Triggering a decent into madness that is intensely troublesome, the Professor destroys his life and reputation with his blind devotion to Lola, regardless of her aloof and callous attitude towards him. It’s excruciating to witness, as is the presence of an ominous clown who sets the tone for Rath’s destiny. The performances of both Jannings and Dietrich are outstanding, the former embodying an unforgettable emotional character arc, the latter introducing a masculine energy into a feminine archetype.

The Blue Angelsets up a carnivalesque battleground for power, be it rank in society or gender balance, and should be viewed as foreshadowing the German political climate that was to come. Professor Rath not only represents man’s failure to withstand female temptation, he embodies the worn and tattered face of demoralization on a grander scale. ■

From Nov. 2-4, Cinéma du Parc will be screening a 35mm print of The Blue Angel in its original German version with English subtitles. The Blue Angel is also available to rent at Boîte Noire and Le Septième in the east, Avenue Video in the west, and iTunes and Netflix if you’re a homebody.

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