Wahnsinn (Madness) (Lost Conrad Veidt Directorial Debut Silent Film, 1919)

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Wahnsinn poster.jpg

Poster for Wahnsinn (1919)

Status: Lost

Tags: 1919 cinema conrad veidt german german expressionism german film horror horror film lost film lost silent film movie silent silent film


Wahnsinn (Meaning 'Madness' in German) is a silent German horror film released on the 15th of October 1919, directed by and starring Conrad Veidt, serving as the actor's directorial debut. [1][2]

The film starred Veidt in the lead role, alongside Reinhold Schünzel, Grit Hegesa and Gussy Holl (Veidt's wife at the time). [3]

The film's screenplay was written by Hermann Fellner and Margarete Lindau-Schulz, and was adapted from a relatively unknown novel of the same name by Kurt Muenzer. The film's crew may have included Carl Hoffman as cinematographer and art direction by Willi Hermann (however this is unconfirmed) [4]

The film likely had German intertitles throughout the film, similar to those seen in other films from the era such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which Veidt also starred in.

The film was produced by Veidt's own short lived production company 'Veidtfilme', which produced the two films he directed in his lifetime, the other being the 1920 film 'Die Nacht auf Goldenhall' (German for 'The Night at Goldenhall'), which is also lost today. Neither of his two films did well at the box office, which may have been a factor in Veidt's decision to return exclusively to acting roles soon after. [5]

Plot Synopsis

(The following is a loose translation of the original German production company's press release found in the First International Film Newspaper (Berlin) vol. 13, no. 40 published on 11 Oct 1919 and found on p. 50-51 [6]

Friedrich Lorenzen, an eccentric banker who avoids people, is close to madness when he learns that his lover Marion is having an affair with his general manager Jörges. He suffers from a nervous breakdown and on the advice of his doctor undertakes a trip around the world, so that other people and areas will bring him new ideas.

One day his travelling car bumps into Gypsies, and he is told: "A chest will bring you the highest earthly happiness, but also death. Find the chest!"

The command: “Find the chest!” becomes his obsession. He once again races through the country in the car. Everywhere he looks for the chest, often thinking he has found it. He sees the chest in visions, and beside it he sees a beautiful young girl standing next to it. He can’t find rest anywhere. He wanders around restlessly, constantly searching. Insanity! He roams the same alleys, houses and streets again, but everything has amounted to nothing.

On the way home, a young crier offers him things for sale, including an oddly shaped key. His face becomes rigid, as the key bears the features of that girl who keeps appearing in his visions. With magical force, he feels forced to buy the key.

When he returns home, his servants are busy arranging his things he had bought along the way, however nothing gives him any pleasure. Suddenly his gaze falls on a letter.

"I know you as an art-loving gentleman and, in addition to the things you bought, I am sending you a valuable item - a rare chest. Unfortunately the key has been lost."

The chest! He jumps up and asks the servants for the chest. The key fits. Stunned, he collapses only to realise that this is a life changing mystery. His mood now alternates between euphoric joy that the chest will open up and bring the greatest happiness to him and a deeply sad realisation that his hours are soon numbered.

(All of the above events of the film are widely agreed upon however there seems to be some dispute on how the film actually ends, with two possible narratives occurring after this point. It is entirely possible however that both of these narratives have a place in the film, though most sources tend to only mention one and not the other.)

Possible Conclusions: When he opens the chest, he recoils: the girl climbs out of the coffin like a ghostly apparition. She presses it to him, he wants to kiss her, when suddenly the grinning gypsy girl stares back in his face.He runs away, tormented by the most terrible horrors. The prophecy is fulfilled. He was still granted three nights - three blissful nights in which he was allowed to relive his whole life. His childishness, young love. Then the gloomy companion approaches death, not peacefully as it often comes -in a horrible embrace he pulls him towards him into the black nothingness. The faithless friend became the tool by whose hand he lost everything, love, happiness and life.

AND/OR

Now Marion (Lorenzen’s lover), forced into prostitution by Jörges, comes back to Lorenzen, but he no longer recognizes her in his madness. Jörges is on Marion's trail and locks Lorenzen in the chest. The lock snaps shut and can no longer be opened.

[7]


Reviews

(Again these are all loose translations from the original German)

Anonymous: "In the Marble House you meet Conrad Veidt in his star film "Wahnsinn", which shows his strong film-dramatic talents. Reinhold Schünzel and the classy dancer Grit Hegesa, who is sharply drawn in the film, give strong performances of their own. The charming Gussy Holl appears in a small role."

From Berlin daily newspaper vol. 48, no. 494, 19 Oct 1919 (early edition)

DrJB [J. Brandt]: "The film "Wahnsinn" with Conradt Veidt had to come: it was in the air, so to speak. This narrow, angular, almost transparent face, the uncannily expressive eyes, which blazed unsteadily in dark embers in scenes of mental depression, urged full dramatic exploitation in a film of the psyche gone morbidly lost. Margarethe Lindau-Schulz wrote it, Veidt was his own director. A collaboration of rare, understanding unity. There is something of ETA Hoffmann's spirit in this fantasy, which is a mixture of the real and the spooky, something of his half bizarre, half horribly oppressive individuality, which is also effectively brought to life scenically and pictorially. In some places the mystical darkness could have used a little lightening. The film is entirely on Veidt. With penetrating urgency, with a wonderfully restrained yet ready-to-jump control of the gesture, the entire body movement, with the fascinating expressiveness of his eyes, he gives meaning and form to the main character. The fact that Schünzel is still able to come to the fore is certainly proof of his strong personality. A snap of the head, a twitch of the corners of the mouth, a wink is enough to change the mood from cheerful laughter to rigid horror and the next moment the tension is released again. Grit Hegesa in her casual, lascivious femininity looks very good. But Gussy Holl should stay away from the film. It is a pity to see the artist, who is so incomparable in her field, working on a task that despite her great efforts she cannot master. With a wonderfully restrained and yet ready-to-jump control of the gesture, the entire body movement, with the fascinating expressiveness of his eyes, he gives meaning and form to the main character. The fact that Schünzel is still able to come to the fore is certainly proof of his strong personality. A snap of the head, a twitch of the corners of the mouth, a wink is enough to change the mood from cheerful laughter to rigid horror and the next moment the tension is released again. Grit Hegesa in her casual, lascivious femininity looks very good. But Gussy Holl should stay away from the film. It is a pity to see the artist, who is so incomparable in her field, working on a task that despite her great efforts she cannot master. With a wonderfully restrained and yet ready-to-jump control of the gesture, the entire body movement, with the fascinating expressiveness of his eyes, he gives meaning and form to the main character. The fact that Schünzel is still able to come to the fore is certainly proof of his strong personality. A snap of the head, a twitch of the corners of the mouth, a wink is enough to change the mood from cheerful laughter to rigid horror and the next moment the tension is released again. Grit Hegesa in her casual, lascivious femininity looks very good. But Gussy Holl should stay away from the film. It is a pity to see the artist, who is so incomparable in her field, working on a task that despite her great efforts she cannot master."

From Film-Kurier (Berlin) vol. 1, no. 116, 19 Oct 1919, p. 1.

Fritz Podehl: "The first Conrad Veidt film, "Madness", is ready for screening. His manuscript comes from Margarete Lindau-Schulz's pen based on a novella by Kurt Münzer and offers the artist a rare opportunity to show what is most important to him: the mimic rendering of a decadent, exaggerated and overwrought man, the one less benevolent destiny drives insane. Bending under stronger influences, fanatically clinging to fixed ideas, the apathy of relaxation, all these are tasks that this artist in particular is able to solve perfectly with his rich means of expression (just think of the nervous play of his hands). Veidt has to play a banker, banker Lorenzen, who has been robbed by his manager Jörges, by his lover Marion Cavello, a dancer, is cheated. He was already heavily overworked, physically barely able to cope with his tasks, but he collapsed under the blow of fate and went insane. The well-meaning doctor advises him to travel, and in a flash he puts the suggestion into action. At midnight he drives his car aimlessly away from home. A gypsy woman tells him from the lines of his hand that he will find a chest that will mean his happiness, but also his death. Of course, if anything, an oracle has a disastrous influence on a disturbed brain. A crazy hunt for the chest begins, during which the patient thinks he sees the unfaithful lover or unfaithful friend in everyone he meets. Eventually he finds a chest in a foreign town's junk shop, the key of which is missing and that no locksmith knows how to open undamaged.

As soon as he is at home, he sends all the servants away, opens the chest with the key he has bought and finds in it the dress that the girl had been wearing. His nerves are calmed by dreams of his happy youth, which he believes the chest gave him. In these days his beloved is coming back in reality. She went through bad times at Jörges' side. After the stolen money is wasted, she becomes his whore, he the pimp; in inferior establishments she has to dance frivolous dances. Finally she can't take it anymore and runs away to Lorenzen, where she hopes to find her better self. The old servant is happy, believes he can save his master by bringing Marion back to him, -- but in his madness he no longer recognizes her.-- Jörges is on Marion's trail, does not find her, but finds the lunatic for whom he is doomed. He lures him into a cash box and, since he doesn't quite trust Lorenzen, puts it in the chest. He doesn't want to kill him, just render him harmless for minutes; But the lock snaps shut and no matter how feverishly Jörges tries to hurry, it is impossible to open it and so the prophecy has actually been sadly fulfilled: Great luck, but the chest also brought death to the unfortunate Lorenzen .

As excellent as Veidt's performance is, one would like to wish the actor in his further [p. 54:] Not seeing the production constantly being entrusted with the same or similar tasks, a fear that seems justified in view of the probable success of the work at hand, all the more so since the artist then runs the risk of becoming idiotic . Veidt's directing performance does not give in to his acting skills, even if one cannot completely resist the impression of a certain influence by Leni (Prince Cuckoo). In any case, where there was copying, it was copied with taste and by no means the thing, but only the type. Reinhold Schünzel as Jörges"

From Der Filme (Berlin) vol. 4, no. 42, 19 Oct 1919, pp. 46 & 54.

[8]


Cast

Cast Member Character Name
Conrad Veidt Bankier Lorenzen
Reinhold Schünzel Jörges
Grit Hegesa Marion Cavello
Gussy Holl Mädchen aus dem Althändler Laden
Heinrich Peer Unknown Role

Crew

Cast Member Character Name
Director Conrad Veidt
Writer(s) Margarete Lindau-Schulz, Hermann Fellner, Kurt Muenzer (story)
Cinematography Carl Hoffmann (or possibly Karl Freund)
Set Design/Art Direction Willi Herrmann

Gallery

[9] [10]


References

  1. A History of HorrorBriefly discussed on Page 11
  2. Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era: 1 Apparently references the film on page 209, however i can't confirm as I don't have a copy of the book and can't find it online. Wikipedia cites the entry as its main reference.
  3. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lOgRKn07oMIC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false Murnau by Lotte H. Eisner Page 130 has a short entry on the film - "This film was not only called Madness. it was madness as well. and I can't remember anything about the story." states Gussy Holl. This entry also suggests F.W Marnau worked on the film as well, possibly being a member of Veidtfilme along with Margarete Lindau Schultz, who is also mentioned.
  4. Wikipedia page on the film. Most information about the film online seems to be carbon copies of this article
  5. From 'Conrad Veidt on Screen: A Comprehensive Illustrated Filmography'Referenced on page 103 'it is a step up from Veidt's first film Wahnsinn', '(Die Nacht auf Goldenhall) was the second to be shot by Veidt's production company (Veidtfilme)'
  6. https://case.edu/artsci/modlang/german330/Stummfilme.html Scroll to the very bottom of the page to find original German
  7. Synopsis Cites the First International Film Newspaper (Berlin) vol. 13, no. 40, 11 Oct 1919, p. 50-51 as their reference but I can't find it online
  8. Original German All reviews found on this website. Original newspaper sources are cited but I have not found them online
  9. Riess Photograph
  10. [1] The three illustrated scene promotional posters were found on this website, apparently they were published in the magazine Photographic stage (Berlin) (Fotografische Bühne (Loose Translation)) vol. 12, no. 27 on 05 Jul 1919 on pages 112-116. The three other posters (including the cover poster) were found in a seperate magazine called 'Der Filme' vol. 4, no. 38 on 20th and 27th September 1919.