Film review: Der Mandarin (Fritz Freisler, 1918)

At times love and desire conjoin to drive a man mad. While it is already a bad thing not to get the one you want, sometimes it can be even worse to be able to seduce anyone you desire just by calling out a single name: “Man-da-rin!”. This is what happens to the protagonist of Fritz Freisler’s long-believed-to-be-lost early expressionist film Der Mandarin from 1918.

The dandy-esque Baron von Stroom (Harry Walden), a quintessential rich good-for-nothing, acquires a talisman whose possessor is said to be able to seduce any woman he desires. The small statue of a Chinese mandarin turns out to be an Asian ‘genie in a bottle’: every time the Baron calls out “Man-da-riiiin”, the statue becomes alive and a real moustached mandarin appears, ready to make another woman fall in love with his master.

Unsurprisingly, von Stroom willingly succumbs to the temptations offered to him on a silver platter. But soon he develops nostalgia for the times where he still had to conquer the women he desired. Unfortunately for him, his attempts to seduce women without the help of his ghostly servant are utterly unsuccessful: not even a prostitute is willing to give in to his yearnings. “No mandarin, no women!”, the mandarin exclaims. Unable to get rid of his devilish servant, van Stroom, the utterly unheroic protagonist of the film, is driven into madness and ends up in a sanatorium, seeing the mandarin everywhere and in everyone.

Der Mandarin was long believed to be lost. It only resurfaced some years ago in the collection of an American film collector, and it was restored by the Austrian film museum in Vienna. Martin de Ruiter wrote a new score for the film, which was performed and screened during the 2007 edition of the Amsterdam Filmmuseum’s Biennale.

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Computer-Game-Aesthetics in Film

I’ve been researching the way in which digital games have influenced contemporary filmmaking for a while. One of the outcomes of that research is an article that has just been published in the latest – and sadly last – issue of the (German-language) Lexikon des Kinder- und Jugendfilms, a cornerstone of the German children’s film research landscape. The article, “Computer-Spiel-Ästhetik im Kinder- und Jugendfilm” outlines basic varieties of computer game aesthetics in cinema: Film adaptations of computer games, computers as set pieces in film, game worlds in film, computer game characters in film, computer game paratexts in film, interactive films as new forms of cinematic narration. Within that framework, I discuss a number of films such as Wreck-it-Ralph, Spy Kids 3D, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Star Wars: Episode 1, Tron, eXistenZ, Run Lola Run, and others. You can find the article in the 50th supplement of the Lexikon des Kinder- und Jugendfilms, edited by Horst Schäfer.

“Skepticism Films” now available

At last! Apparently, some books take their time before peeking out into the world, in a Wittgensteinian fashion. This is certainly true for my Skepticism Films. Knowing and Doubting the World in Contemporary Cinema: almost ten years after I drafted my first ideas about the way in which mainstream cinema plays around with ideas of a rather philosophical provenance, the book is finally available in print and in ebook format, published by Bloomsbury. I am very happy about that – and about the wonderful design and haptics of the book. You can find more information about the book here, the link to the publisher’s homepage with additional online material is here.

Cover of "Skepticism Films"

Book review: Michael Ballhaus, Bilder im Kopf

I reviewed the autobiography of Michael Ballhaus, the eminent cinematographer behind many of Martin Scorsese and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films, for literaturkritik.de. The review also works as a short overview of Ballhaus’ life and work. Again, it is in German, but whoever’s up to it: Here you go.