Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:30pm
Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space + Karl Freund's Mad Love
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Outer Space, Peter Tscherkassky, 1999, 16mm, 10 mins
Mad Love aka The Hands of Orlac, 1935, 16mm, 68 mins
Yet what a complicated endless tale it seemed to tell, of tyranny and sanctuary, that poster looming above him now, showing the murderer Orlac! An artist with a murderer's hands; that was the ticket, the hieroglyphic of the times. - Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
Karl Freund is best remembered today as one of the great cinematographers, having shot films such as The Last Laugh, Metropolis, and Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, eventually bringing an Expressionist touch to Hollywood through his work on Dracula and Key Largo, among many other pictures.
But he also helmed a handful of titles, both in Europe and the US. His final directorial effort—and arguably his most important—was the tenebrous MGM chiller Mad Love, a remake of Robert Weine’s The Hands of Orlac. The film paces quickly around a doomed love triangle consisting of Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), former star of a Grand Guignol theater of horrors, her husband, renowned pianist Steven Orlac (Colin Clive, fresh from his now-legendary role as Dr. Frankenstein for Universal), and the brilliant surgeon Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre), driven to insanity by his obsessive desire for Yvonne. After Stephen’s hands are crushed in a railway accident, Gogol uses his skills to replace them, grafting those of a sideshow knife-thrower, recently executed for murder, onto the useless stumps. Though his new limbs indeed prove dexterous, Orlac discovers that they hold a dark will of their own.
With its thick Continental air of sodden desperation and perverse eroticism, Mad Love wasn’t embraced by American audiences of the time. Decades later, Pauline Kael reassessed its value by arguing for Mad Love’s decisive influence on the “gothic atmosphere” of Citizen Kane, thanks to techniques learned from Freund by his cameraman Gregg Toland. Depression-era critics took notice as well, lauding the performance of Peter Lorre, who draws deeply from his character in Fritz Lang’s M in his disturbing but nuanced portrayal of Gogol. Reviewing the film for its British release, Graham Greene reported that “Mr. Lorre, with every physical handicap, can convince you of the goodness, the starved tenderness, of his vice-entangled souls. Those marbly pupils in the pasty spherical face are like the eye-pieces of a microscope through which you can see laid flat on the slide the entangled mind of a man: love and lust, nobility and perversity, hatred of self and despair jumping out at you from the jelly.”
Mad Love is paired with Peter Tscherkassky’s masterly Outer Space. Here, too, as in Freund’s film, are uncanny doppelgangers and ominous shadows, those unsettling hallmarks of German Expressionism. By way of elaborate optical printing, Tscherkassky warps images of Barbara Hershey from the 1981 supernatural horror movie The Entity into a wide-screen storm of gasps, flashes, and crackles, as if the emulsion itself had been cursed by some convulsive transformation.
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.
Print of Mad Love courtesy of the Cosmic Hex Archive.