Pantomime: The History and Metamorphosis of a Theatrical Ideology: Table of Contents
Literary Pantomime and German Silent Film
By 1920, pantomimic imagination worldwide had become overwhelmingly invested in film, although not entirely. But well before then, figures within German expressionist literary culture had disclosed a keen interest in writing film scenarios without showing any inclination to write pantomime scenarios for the stage. This was evident in 1913 with the publication of Das Kinobuch, edited by the literary journalist Kurt Pinthus (1886-1975). This anthology contained fifteen film scenarios by mostly young authors affiliated with the rising expressionist movement, including, among others, Albert Ehrenstein, Max Brod, Else Lasker-Schüler, Paul Zech, Julia Jolowitz, Elsa Asenijeff, and Pinthus himself. Not one of the scenarios reached the screen, although a couple of the authors, Heinrich Lautensack and Walter Hasenclever, did find work as screenwriters because of their success in writing for the theater. In his introduction to the 1963 edition of the book, Pinthus says that he wanted a collection of texts that was “entertaining” and yet “serious” at a time when the literary world regarded film with deep suspicion and condescension. The idea for the book came to him after he and some of his literary friends saw in Dessau a film adaptation of Otto Pietsch’s novel Das Abenteuer der Lady Glane (1912): Presumably the literary world and the public would take film more seriously if ambitious literary minds wrote for the medium. The anthology represented a mix of film genres: comedy, melodrama, historical drama, fantasy, and some of the scenarios might well have made intriguing movies in 1914. But the scenarios do not read as film scripts, although a few adopt the theatrical convention of breaking up the narrative into scenes. The scenarios do not, however, function to create “filmed pantomimes,” which Franz Blei, in his afterword, described as merely a “weak surrogate” for theatrical pantomime (Pinthus 1983: 149). Most of the scenarios read like short stories or sketches in present tense, as if the mind of the reader were a motion picture screen onto which the author’s language projected the narrative. The writers seem to believe that better stories will make better movies, and although they grasp that film allows for a wider range of scenic locales than the theater and occasionally unique visual effects, they nevertheless see the film medium as subordinate to the narrative. Only Ludwig Rubiner’s Der Aufruhr directly addresses the pantomimic dimension in film performance. Otherwise, the authors, none of whom ever wrote a stage pantomime, do not do what appeals to pantomime scenarists: establish a peculiar semiotic relation between the body of the performer and space, music, color, light, or scenic details. For example, in Die Orchideenbraut, by Elsa Asenijeff (1870-1941), the protagonist, a widowed countess, has a divided personality. In public and for much of the story, she feels no erotic desires, no inclination to do anything but humanitarian deeds. But then, perverse urges overwhelm her; she wears a mask and visits a sinister nightclub, where she dances pornographically and ecstatically. Her inability to reconcile these conflicting aspects of her personality leads to her death (Pinthus 1983: 59-69). Asenijeff describes numerous actions and gestures performed by the countess, but these only construct the idea of a divided character; they don’t construct the sense of a divided body or of the performance of any gesture shaped by the conflict between elegant asceticism and orgiastic sensuality. Even by 1913, film made acute this distinction between character-narrative and body-performance, and the distinction assured that control over pantomime passed before 1920 from literary minds to directors, performers, and composers. The radically leftwing expressionist Ludwig Rubiner (1881-1920) designated his scenario as a “pantomime for the cinema.” In its depiction of a revolt by workers, chamber women, servants, criminals, cripples, and prostitutes against a wealthy factory owner, the scenario anticipates the montage theory of film performance developed in the mid-1920s. The text describes the intensifying storm of violence wreaked by the furious, oppressed members of the crowd, who destroy the factory owner’s castle and burn down the city before troops arrive and begin shooting down the rioters. The mistress of the factory owner, the Beloved, becomes romantically involved with the factory owner’s son, and in the end the son stabs the father to death, while an officer shoots the son to death; the Beloved then offers herself to the Officer. The agitated “movements” of the Hunchback inflame the rioters, but the seductive image of the Beloved also inspires them to unrestrained acts of destruction; she anticipates the incendiary Robot-Maria figure in the monumental science fiction film Metropolis (1927) (Pinthus 1983: 105-113). The scenario describes manifold actions performed by manifold persons to create an image of a society completely out of control:
From all sides, cripples, beggars, thugs. The whores come with new men from the street. Wild dance of the women with cripples. The women rip their clothing to shreds. The Hunchback seizes a torch, lights its explosively, and swings it as an attack signal. The thugs have knives in their hands and thrust them at the men coming with the girls. They strike them down, plunder them. The bodies are thrown down a hole in the middle of the street, into the deep (Pinthus 1983: 109).
For Rubiner, a “pantomime for the cinema” meant a fragmentation of narrative into a montage of specific pantomimic actions performed by different bodies, as if each sentence of the scenario constituted a “shot” on the screen. He saw film as the medium for the large-scale pantomimic movement of a society in which all persons became expressionistic abstractions representing large categories of identity—the Hunchback, the Beloved, the Son, the Officer, the Rich One, and so forth. He also saw a society’s movement toward freedom as inherently violent, but not only in relation to physical action: the pantomimic action was the basis for a violent fragmentation of narrative into a montage in which all of these abstractions interacted destructively, because the language of narrative construction becomes “free” only by destroying narrative coherence itself as well as the idea of society being “governed” by some narrative rationale for its unity. In this respect, Rubiner’s thinking about cinematic pantomime was far in advance of anyone else in the anthology or indeed of anyone in the film industry of the time. He understood more deeply than anyone else that “pantomime for the cinema” would profoundly disrupt the society that consumed it (cf. Vollmer 2011: 494-497).
With Das Kinobuch, the Austro-German literary imagination bestowed an attitude of seriousness toward cinema that encouraged people otherwise deeply suspicious of popular culture to pay closer attention to the medium as an artistic phenomenon. But the book probably had no influence at all on the film industry, and it certainly did not inspire greater confidence in the literary imagination to develop, deepen, or expand pantomimic performance for either the stage or the cinema. On the contrary, the book appeared at the peak moment (1913-1914) when the literary imagination seemed most enthralled with the “drama of silence”; within Pinthus’s expressionistically-oriented literary circle, film, rather than the stage, offered greater “freedom” for the pantomimic imagination. But this was an illusion: the book had no follow up, no movement of nearly all the authors into the film industry, not even a subsequent anthology of imaginary film scenarios that might function as a critique of the cinematic imagination or an exploration of recessed or repressed aspects of it. Like so many of the authors of Austro-German pantomime, the Kinobuch contributors had one, maybe two ideas for film scenarios, and then had no more. A curious class distinction constrained or drained the literary imagination in relation to pantomime. In 1921, the popular novelist Arthur Landsberger (1876-1933), himself a writer and director of films, observed that many people in the cultural media around 1913 believed that films would be better if those who wrote them were authors “like Bierbaum, Hartleben, Scheerbarth, Wedekind, Hauptmann, Eulenberg, and Björnson”—that is, writers esteemed by an audience seeking art that elevated it above popular taste (Keiner 1988: 5). Landsberger wrote in celebration of the fiftieth birthday of Hanns Heinz Ewers (1871-1943), a popular writer of horror and fantasy stories, who had been involved with cabaret productions and written enthusiastically about film as early as 1907 (Keiner 1988: 156-161). In 1913-1914, Ewers wrote screenplays for nine films before embarking on another of his travels to South America, which, at the outbreak of the war, led him to the United States, where, in 1918, the American government incarcerated him until 1921 because of his activities as a German agent (Keiner 1988: 103-104). His most famous screenplay was for Der Student von Prag (1913), a diabolical doppelgänger tale regarded as the first German film to achieve recognition as a work of art. Ewers distilled in his writing a German inclination to believe that pantomimic action exerted greater power over audiences when performed by bodies that were strange, bizarre, uncanny, malformed, supernatural, perverse, homoerotic, grotesque, or phantasmal. Film magnified the beauties and anxieties of physiognomic strangeness or aberration: the stories come from the bodies rather than happen to them. This belief implied that pantomime did not really belong to the literary imagination; Ewers himself never published any of his scenarios, and not until 1985 did his script for Der Student von Prag achieve publication in Helmut Diederich’s scholarly monograph on the film.
Yet the first published film scenario, at least in the German language, was Die Pest. Ein Film (1920, but apparently written in 1918-1919), by Walter Hasenclever (1890-1940), who had already achieved much success with his expressionist dramas for the stage. The scenario never became an actual film, and it’s not clear if he regarded the work as “complete” only when materialized as an actual film. The “film” depicts the end of the world in the year 2000. The world is a “paradise,” filled with peaceful people everywhere celebrating civilization, industry, technology, the arts, and racial harmony. But a red star rises in the night. A plague breaks out on a rat-infested ship in the Indian Ocean. When the ship reaches a European city, the rats and the plague spread, killing pleasure-loving people in the theater, a village fair, the stock exchange, the university. A banker finances research on an antidote, but the scientist leading the research group dies of the infection before the vaccine can be formulated. A dancer in an Indian dress appears intermittently, apparently immune to the disease. Desolation pervades the entire world. The banker and some of his friends gather in a castle, but the rats show up, too. Still, the banker’s party continues, with everyone masked. But the dancer dances naked. Fires set by suffering plague victims get out of control. A masked figure enters the castle room, dances with the dancer, then removes his mask to reveal himself as Death. Fire consumes the castle. Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842) seems like an obvious inspiration for Die Pest, but the Kinobuch film scenario Die Seuche, by the physician-writer Philipp Keller(1891-1973), may have stirred Hasenclever. Die Pest also resembles Rubiner’s Der Aufruhr in its application of an expressionistic montage technique to produce a uniquely cinematic narrative. Hasenclever divides the action into a prelude, five acts and 152 scenes, but even these scenes contain further shots. The author employs a “telegraphic” expressionist language, in which short phrases or single words signify individual “shots” in the film. For example:
300 People in Yesterday’s Performance Are Suddenly Taken Ill
Road. Variety theater poster. People gather around it.
Granary. Grain moves. Rats.
Railway station. Dancer rides in the car. Ticket. Train.
First Class section. Dancer with traveler. Train leaves. Dancer stands up, opens small suitcase. A gentleman helps her. The dress is visible. Dancer takes book, reads. The gentleman touches his forehead, falls into the pillows. Excitement. Dancer pulls emergency brake. Train stops. Gentleman is carried away.
The Minister’s office
Minister at the work table. Servant enters. Telegram.
Unexplained Death of 700 People in the Port City (Hasenclever 1920: 26-27)
The characters have no personal names; they are expressionist abstractions of socio-anthropological categories of identity: the Dancer, the Banker, the Child, the Inventor, the Slender Lady, the Pastor, the Servant, the Daughter, the Captain, and so forth. Some characters recur, such as the Dancer, the Banker, the Student, and the Beloved. The figure of Death appears in several scenes as a chauffeur, taxi driver, a locomotive driver, an animal dealer, a bread distributor, and a surgeon, and this trope suffuses the scenario with an eerie, medieval dumb-show effect within all the imagery of modern technology and refined civilization. Hasenclever regularly inserts one-word close-up “shots” of body parts, such as hands, faces, plague-flecked throats or breasts, which sometimes juxtapose with one-word close-up “shots” of objects like a serum vial, a wine bottle, pieces of bread, a dress floating in a river. The scenario describes the spread of the epidemic by cross-cutting from different “scenes” within the port city, the capital city, and the countryside, all of which are generic and require only a word or two to designate physical context: “Theater,” “Cathedral,” “Train Station,” “Laboratory,” “University,” “Village,” and so forth. These expressionistic devices support Ewers’s belief that physiognomic peculiarities and distinctions drive pantomimic performance in film. The generic or abstract “simplification” of identities in the expressionist aesthetic perhaps implies that performers do not need to display much or even any skill or virtuosity in the performance of physical actions. But it does mean that the performers must have the “right” bodies to perform the actions. Reinhardt constructed pantomimic performances in which actors were interchangeable; different actors could play the same or different roles without seriously changing the production. With the expressionistic film aesthetic, bodily performance relies intensely on the unique casting of bodies that can produce a strange, captivating image. But Hasenclever’s scenario makes such vivid use of “telegraphic” language that one feels in reading it that one is watching the film in a theater, as opposed to watching a story projected onto a screen in one’s mind. It is a kind of estrangement effect; the reader sees “film” as a piecing together of isolated word/images on a page/screen: the story is there, but it is the pieces that one sees, an experience perhaps complete enough that it was not necessary to make an actual film from the scenario. For this reason, though, its relation to both film and literature was ambiguous, even troubling. German-language reviewers of Die Pest felt Hasenclever had betrayed both theater and literature with his cinematic experiment, especially the influential theater critic Bernhard Diebold (1886-1945), who regarded the piece as a literary deformity (Diebold 2012: 54-57). In France and the United States, the scenario inspired quite enthusiastic commentary: “The Pest is a tragic work which is not without a certain philosophical import, and in which the rhythm is […] quite grandiloquent” (Current Opinion Vol. 69, 1920: 691-692). But the German response to the scenario, for which Hasenclever “never forgave his critics,” had the effect of severely weakening his desire to experiment in literature, theater, or film, and his subsequent work for the stage became much more conventional (Spreizer 1999: 149). He became a screenwriter late in 1928, when he adapted his popular stage comedy Ein besserer Herr (1927) into a film (1928), followed by a couple more films, including German-language dialogue for the Greta Garbo film Anna Christie (1930). He collaborated with the journalist and screenwriter Harry Kahn (1883-1970) on a couple of screenplays that were never published or filmed (Hasenclever 1963: 515; Kasties 1994: 284-285). In 1929, he explained that with Die Pest, he realized that cinematic and theatrical actions have nothing to do with each other; Russian film achieved ten years later the kind of film performance he envisioned in 1918 (Hasenclever 1963: 30). He also realized that he was not the only one who had underestimated his achievement. But perhaps the problem was that he linked the montage fragmentation and estrangement of pantomimic action to an apocalyptic ending rather than to an ecstatic beginning.
By 1921, the Austro-German literary imagination had exhausted its capacity to produce any major innovation in pantomime and almost ceased entirely to create any pantomime scenarios at all. Revived productions of Reinhardt’s Das Mirakel were immensely popular yet failed to inspire any enthusiasm for pantomime within either the Austro-German literary world or the Austro-German theater world. The only authors who wrote any pantomime scenarios during the 1920s were Richard Beer-Hofmann and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, Beer-Hofmann worked on a single pantomime scenario, Das goldene Pferd, which he never published in its entirety, perhaps never even finished and which has never been performed or filmed. But this work deserves discussion after we have finished with the decade in which he struggled to complete it. During the 1920s, Hofmannsthal focused his attention to pantomimic art on the writing of film scenarios. In 1923, in need of money, he nurtured the idea of transforming his libretto for the hugely successful Richard Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier (1911) into a film. He succeeded in getting the Pan film company in Vienna to offer him a contract for the rights to the libretto, and Pan secured the services of the German film director Robert Wiene (1873-1938), who had directed the famous expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Strauss’s cooperation was somehow necessary for the film version, and Hofmannsthal persuaded the composer to allow his music to accompany the film. Strauss not only arranged orchestral music from the opera; he also composed some new music and included music from his Couperin Suite (1923). Hofmannsthal worked on various drafts of the film scenario in 1924-1925 and submitted the text to Pan in mid-1925. Wiene and the Austrian actor-screenwriter Ludwig Nerz (1866-1938) subsequently rewrote the entire scenario so that little remained of Hofmannsthal’s text but the basic structure of the libretto, although Hofmannsthal received credit for the screenplay and Wiene apparently did not mind if the press referred to Hofmannsthal as the author of the film (Jung 1994: 79; Jung 1999: 125). Set in the eighteenth century, the scenario describes actions that mostly occur in the suburban castle of the Marschallin, Princess of Werdenberg. The narrative deals with the comic-elegiac amorous adventures of three couples as well as the boorish, libertine behavior of the Marschallin’s cousin, Baron Ochs, the fiancé of the rich bourgeois Sophie. However, upon seeing him at a country party, Sophie falls in love with the young Count Octavian, the Marschallin’s lover and the man, “the cavalier of the rose,” the Marschallin designates to bestow the silver rose on Sophie to symbolize her impending marriage to Baron Ochs. All ends well at a huge garden party when the masked couples collaborate to embarrass the Baron by having Octavian masquerade as a woman whom the Baron attempts to seduce; then the Marschall returns from battle and thinks, correctly, that his wife is deceiving him with Octavian, but when they draw swords the masked woman between them is actually Sophie, and the Marschall and Marschallin become a romantic pair along with Octavian and Sophie, and another couple, Annina and Valzacchi. The ending is quite different from the opera in which the Marschall never appears and the melancholy Marschallin realizes that she is alone and perhaps too old for the love she desires, although in his scenario Hofmannsthal does introduce the Marschall in scenes that Wiene never used (Hofmannsthal 2006: 205-242).
The opera is a satire on tropes of eighteenth century “refinement” and worldliness, and so, too, is the film. But as presented in the 2006 edition of his Sämtliche Werke, Hofmannsthal’s film scenario is very difficult to read, and it is easy to see why Wiene and Pan felt that another script was necessary. Hofmannsthal made the already complex plot of the opera libretto even more complicated by introducing a prequel scene and scenes that depicted moods, dreams, or memories of the characters. The text and its variants suggest that Hofmannsthal struggled to “see” the story in a uniquely cinematic way. But he winds up describing detailed images—too many of them—and favoring images of moods, poses, characterizations. He does not see the story emerging from a set of visually constructed actions; rather, the story is something embedded in pictorial detail. He described the process of writing the scenario as similar to writing a novel, a literary form, however, in which he never achieved success (Hofmannsthal 2006: 852). By contrast, Hasenclever’s word/image technique in Die Pest creates an intensely vivid, gripping effect narratively, cinematically, and pantomimically. Hofmannsthal could envision pantomimic action economically and powerfully in the theater, where the only image containing action was the stage; indeed, the opera contains a brief pantomime scene in the third act. But he had great difficulty seeing bodily action in relation to multiple perspectives and dynamic spatial configurations. Wiene’s skillful direction shows what Hofmannsthal did not “see” in his scenario. The director uses the camera to reveal manifold physical relations between people and spatial relations between people and their environment; the camera does not simply watch actions—it constructs them, so that the viewer feels the physical actions cannot be contained within a single, complete image like a stage. It is the sense of physical actions driving the image and the camera that is missing from Hofmannsthal’s scenario, which focuses on describing characters through images resembling “portraits” of them. A delightful result of Wiene’s direction is the pantomimic performance driving the cinematic action. The director and his actors developed a performance style that emulates eighteenth century gestural aesthetics: it is artificial, mannered, and calculated without being exaggerated or ostentatiously theatrical, so that it seems as if the viewer watches a cine-documentary performance of numerous actions that were “natural” in another century but not in ours, an effect that one cannot derive at all from Hofmannsthal’s scenario. For example, in one scene, Baron Ochs (Michael Bohnen) intrudes upon the Marschallin (Huguette Duflos) while she enjoys a tryst with Octavian (Jaque Catelain). She hides Octavian behind a curtain, before the Baron makes his entrance making an elaborate bow, kissing her hand, smelling her arm, and kissing her hand again, while she glances over her shoulder to see if Octavian remains properly hidden. She and the Baron sit at a little table, where he proceeds, pressing his hands on the table and smiling, to seek her approval to marry a commoner. A little black boy, Mahomet (unidentified actor), dressed in livery and an elaborate turban, enters carrying a tray with coffee. The boy bows to the Marschallin and then to the Baron before walking backward to the door, while the Marschallin looks over her shoulder to be sure that her lover remains hidden. The Baron genially pours the coffee and offers sugar. The camera views (in iris focus) this table scene as if seen from Octavian’s point of view behind the curtain. Later in the film, the Marschallin, sits alone on a couch in her cavernous drawing room and sadly reflects that Octavian’s affections lie with Sophie and that she, the Princess, has become too old to sustain the desires of a man like Octavian. She sits poised and still, and then she sinks into unconsciousness on the couch. Mahomet opens the door and quietly approaches the Marschallin. Seeing that she is unconscious, he quietly walks backward to the door in the same manner that he did in the coffee scene, as if he must perform the proper way of exiting, even if no one is looking. But the boy’s back stepping exits serve to emphasize, amusingly yet poignantly, the polite receding of male youthfulness from the Princess. These are small scenes and details in a lavish film, none of which appear in Hofmannsthal’s scenario, but they do show how film allowed directors and actors to take control of pantomimic performance in the 1920s. Der Rosenkavalier was a spectacular production, with large crowd scenes, many scenes with horses, a brief but huge battle scene (with the Marschall presiding over it on horseback), a sumptuous garden party masque, elaborate costumes, and monumental sets designed by the great theatrical designer Alfred Roller (1864-1935), who had designed the opera premiere, and a few scenes, such as the Marschallin clandestinely observing Octavian and Sophie (Elly Felicie Berger) together in a shadowy garden employ the expressionistic chiaroscuro technique that Wiene employed so memorably in Caligari. At the very least, this elegant film demonstrated that Hofmannsthal’s story did not depend on voices to achieve a “completeness” as satisfying as the opera’s [Figure 87]. In January 1926, the film had its official premiere in Dresden, at the opera house, where the opera had premiered. Strauss conducted the large orchestra. Reviewers were impressed, but some complained that Strauss stopped the projection many times to allow the music to catch up to the appropriate scenes. A week later, for the Berlin premiere, the film composer Willy Schmidt-Gentner (1894-1964) conducted his own arrangement of Strauss’s music, which he expertly synchronized with the film imagery. Reviewers throughout Germany and Austria praised the production almost extravagantly, greatly pleased that it was no longer a symphonic work with visual accompaniment, but a brilliant film with fine musical accompaniment—not a result that Strauss appreciated; in April, he conducted the London premiere, which also inspired high praise (Hofmannsthal 2006: 869-873; Jung 1994: 82). Plans to bring the film to the United States came to an end with the advent of synchronized sound technology in 1927, which led to the collapse of Pan. Der Rosenkavalier subsequently disappeared until 1958, when a research team managed by the Austrian theater historian Josef Gregor (1888-1960), director of the Austrian Film Archive, located the only known copy of the film in Prague, although the print contains only about 75 minutes of the original two-hour film. Since 1961, the film has been shown internationally numerous times with Strauss’s music (and sometimes not) and occasioned an almost grandiose mood of celebration (Jung 1994: 86-87). But while the coupling of Strauss and Hofmannsthal underpinned the justifiable motive for celebration, the movie is excellent because of Wiene.
In private, Hofmannsthal expressed disappointment with the film version of Der Rosenkavalier (Hiebler 2003: 499). But much of his disappointment resulted from the realization that the success of the film did not lead to further opportunities for him to develop a career in the film industry. He saw film as a lucrative source of revenue. But unlike in the period 1901-1914, when he experimented with numerous pantomime and ballet projects for the stage that he never completed (cf. Hofmannsthal 2006: 129-177), after 1920, Hofmannsthal, having abandoned stage pantomime and ballet altogether, focused his pantomimic imagination, such as it was by then, exclusively on three film scenarios, including Der Rosenkavalier. The first of these scenarios, written in 1921-1922, was a biographical drama about the life of the English writer Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). However, Hofmannsthal could not interest film companies in making a film out of the scenario (Hofmannsthal 2006: 837). The text reads like a short story-encyclopedia article on Defoe; the author compiles numerous facts about Defoe’s life and intersperses these with language describing characters’ moods, motives, or moral dilemmas without visual or pantomimic specificity: “But he had little time to dream, because his business required his entire self” (Hofmannsthal 2006: 191). Such language, like the language of an encyclopedia article, will generate vague images in the mind of a reader, but Hofmannsthal seems to think that is all a film scenario has to do. He doesn’t see the life of Defoe unfolding scenically, as a sequence of carefully constructed images that compel the viewer to see Defoe and the world in a uniquely cinematic or pantomimic way. He just sees film as somehow recording Defoe’s life in an “objective,” encyclopedic manner. Defoe’s biography makes a good story of a man divided by commercial, literary, political, and even conjugal ambitions that compelled him to intersect vigorously with all levels of his society. Yet his most famous achievement, the novel Robinson Crusoe (1719), the second most translated work in history (behind the Bible), deals with a man utterly cut off from all forms of society. But Hofmannsthal does not dramatize or visualize any of this conflict or irony. He merely describes Defoe going from one hectic activity to another, perhaps because he was not sure of the relationship between Defoe’s spectacular, controversial successes as an author and the equally spectacular failures of Defoe’s grandiose business ventures. Defoe offered Hofmannsthal the opportunity to explore a pet theme of tensions between great literary fame and the accumulation of huge financial debts or even the tension between honest writing and dishonest business practices. But Hofmannsthal can’t find images or physical actions to articulate these themes.
Still, even after his disappointments with the Defoe and Rosenkavalier projects, he persisted in pursuing cinematic success with his scenario for a film starring Lillian Gish. The Gish project resulted from Hofmannsthal’s friendship with Max Reinhardt, who had directed impressive productions of several dramas by Hofmannsthal. Reinhardt had hoped to star Gish in his American production of The Miracle in 1923, and when Hollywood considered making a movie of Reinhardt’s production, the director again considered Gish. But newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) wanted his girlfriend Marion Davies to star in the production and offered $100,000 to cast her. Reinhardt therefore demanded $150,000, which put an end to the project. United Artists CEO Joseph Schenck (1878-1961) nevertheless wanted a project with Gish and Reinhardt and agreed to sponsor her trip to Germany to develop a film scripted by Hofmannsthal—until he read a draft of the scenario, which urged him to withdraw support for the project. But Gish went to Europe anyway, in May 1928, and there she was a guest of Reinhardt at his mansion Leopoldskron, near Salzburg, where they worked with Hofmannsthal on the scenario, even though Gish knew no German and Reinhardt no English; presumably Hofmannsthal, who was fluent in English, facilitated communication between the director and the actress, who was amazingly deferential, almost worshipful toward Reinhardt (Affron 2002: 236-238). The scenario had shifting titles,The Stigmata and The Miracle Woman, as Hofmannsthal produced different drafts, all published in the Sämtliche Werke (Hofmannsthal 2006: 243-258). But the drafts are more like prose summaries of the story than film scripts, although Hofmannsthal provides more concrete images and actions than in previous scenarios. Across its different versions, the basic story, set in a rural region near St. Florian, tells of two sisters from a poverty-stricken family. One sister marries an affluent, middle-aged forester or landowner; the other sister, Resi, experiences visions in response to holy statues and icons that mark her body (“stigmata”). These visions and the stigmata awaken hostility toward her from the villagers, while a young farmhand, Jakob, comes to her defense. For her protection, her family sends her to her sister. Resi falls wildly in love with Jakob, but Jakob’s affection is for Resi’s sister (never named in any version). When Jakob, a thief, plans the murder of the brutal landowner-tavern owner, Resi intercedes and urges Jakob to run away with her sister. But Jakob, obsessed with revenge for the injustices inflicted by the landowner on him, Resi, and her sister, murders the landowner anyway. Resi and her sister are arrested as accessories to the crime. At the trial and in prison, Resi experiences more ecstatic visions and stigmata. She sees that Jakob is like Judas, and, in her visionary manner, she accuses him of the murder, for which he confesses and receives the death sentence. Returning to her home, the villagers welcome Resi as a saint. In an early version of the scenario, Resi did not have a sister, Jakob was Hans, a soldier returning from the war in 1918, and instead of an adultery triangle, Hofmannsthal developed a relation between Hans and another, older soldier with Bolshevik sympathies, so that Resi’s religious visions contrast with the older soldier’s political utopianism as a basis for ecstatic experience, with Resi suffering persecution from Bolsheviks. The last version has a much more archaic atmosphere than the earlier, as if the action could happen in any number of centuries before the twentieth. The writing of the film scenario took place during the transition to talking pictures, but Hofmannsthal obviously had in mind a silent film, and Gish believed that talking films were merely a passing fad. Indeed, Hofmannsthal describes Resi as “nearly idiotic with embarrassment when spoken to” and hardly able to speak at all in moments of profound emotion until the end, when she makes her accusation. Gish even visited the illiterate German woman, the mystic stigmatic Therese Neumann (1898-1962), who had inspired Hofmannsthal’s story, and asked her to pray for Gish’s mother (Affron 2002: 240). The American screenwriter Frances Marion (1888-1973) attended the working sessions at Leopoldskron, where Reinhardt himself acted out scenes from the scenario, “with doors and windows sealed against the slightest breath of fresh air.” She described both the working sessions and the scenario as extremely tedious and without hope of being made into a movie, for “how could a Hollywood movie in Protestant America show, as its central event, a woman suffering the stigmata?” (239). Gish seemed to think the project would follow up her successful star performance in Henry King’s epic, sumptuous film The White Sister (1923), which, however, was not a deeply religious or even pro-Catholic production. Hofmannsthal worried that the Catholic Church would disapprove of the film, but he also worried about Reinhardt’s ability to manage the project, while Reinhardt worried that Schenck had lost faith in him. Hofmannsthal diligently tried to accommodate Marion’s suggestions for improving and shortening the scenario, and he and Gish corresponded warmly with each other. Gish proposed that German film star Brigitte Helm (1908-1996) play the role of Resi’s sister, but Schenck lost patience and recalled Gish to fulfill her United Artists contract in America. Gish then launched an unwise and futile legal action against United Artists, which not only destroyed any hope of financing the film but intensely reinforced the impression in Hollywood that Reinhardt did not know how to make movies (Affron 2002: 241-244). Gish’s career went into a sudden decline; Hofmannsthal died the following year. The “crisis of language” that awakened the Austro-German literary imagination to the power of pantomime had, by 1914, given way to an ever more engulfing “crisis” in film technology that, by 1920, bestowed control over pantomimic performance to directors, performers, composers, and entertainment executives rather than to literary authors, who have since then become nearly extinct as creators of pantomime for the stage.
One should not overestimate the impact of World War I in ending the pantomimic adventures of the Austro-German literary imagination, for these adventures declined precipitously even before the war began. Moreover, only a couple of the authors could produce more than two pantomime scenarios, while still writing prolifically, during and after the war, in other literary genres. Motion pictures awakened and consumed a huge, unexplored realm of pantomimic imagination, but the literary imagination was unable to exploit film technology on behalf of a distinctive “vision” such as motivated the writing of pantomime scenarios for the stage. Overwhelmingly, the writers of screenplays had no literary ambitions: they did not write for readers or spectators; they wrote for directors, actors, and producers. Making a film for audiences depended on the choices, the “vision,” of directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, set designers, costumers, and musicians. Throughout the world, film ostensibly offered a more “liberating,” more accessible way than any other medium to see bodies communicate across different scenes, different angles or perspectives, different spatial contexts, different temporal structures, and different kinds of music. But the literary imagination contented itself with producing works in literary genres—novels, plays, short stories—that filmmakers adapted according to their own philosophies of visual engagement with narrative. Yet even these reasons seem insufficient for explaining why literary authors ceased writing pantomime scenarios for the stage, for film never put an end to theater, and pantomime as an art, having long preceded cinema and even anticipated it, could achieve “liberating” experiences as much on the stage as on the screen, as the Austro-German pantomime scenarios obviously demonstrate (cf. Vollmer 2011: 484-491). Most likely, literary authors discovered that the process of thinking pantomimically, of constructing narratives entirely through bodily actions, of “seriously” seeing the body “freed” from speech, was too hard, too exhausting to sustain, especially when the established theater culture remained hugely indifferent, if not hostile, to the production of even serious pantomimes. It is also possible that the established theater world regarded pantomime as largely a “strange” Jewish phenomenon, and the authors saw no further benefit to pursuing such highly imaginative strangeness when some pantomime scenarios could not receive even a single performance. Writing pantomime scenarios did not strengthen their confidence in the body to explore “invisible” realms of experience considered inaccessible to language, as Hofmannsthal, Bahr, and Hauptmann had theorized. If anything, pantomime strengthened their confidence in speech or at least writing in other genres to build narratives.