Celebrating ‘Lubitsch Touch’

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Celebrating ‘Lubitsch Touch’

At the funeral of Ernst Lubitsch in 1947, fellow filmmakers gathered to lament the loss of this German-born director. Billy Wilder sadly told William Wyler, “Isn’t it awful, no more Lubitsch?” Wyler replied, “Worse than that. No more Lubitsch pictures.” Starting tomorrow, however, plenty of Lubitsch films await cinephiles in Seoul.
In a retrospective spanning the director’s career, 15 selected films will be presented by the arthouse Seoul Art Cinema under the title “Laughter in Paradise,” which runs through Nov. 14. This the first retrospective in Korea to focus on Lubitsch films, organizers say.
Born in 1892 in Berlin, Lubitsch began his career as an actor before debuting as a director in 1916. Finding his strength in comedy, he left for Hollywood in 1922, and had his German citizenship revoked by the Nazis in 1935. In a prolific career of over 100 films, he established a sophisticated style of wit, dubbed the “Lubitsch Touch.” He died in 1947 of a heart attack, the year he received an honorary Academy Award.
Films in the festival will include the director’s early works, such as “The Eyes of the Mummy Ma,” a black-and-white silent film, a rarity for Lubitsch in that it’s a horror film. Another three silent films, “The Doll,” “The Oyster Princess” and “Madame Dubarry,” all produced in 1919, show the director’s development as a comedy guru.
All films in the retrospective are either silent or in English, but only Korean subtitles are provided for the silent films’ occasional German lines, making films in the director’s Hollywood years a better choice for expatriate viewers. Such films include “Eternal Love,” a love story starring John Barrymore, Drew Barrymore’s grandfather, in a love triangle that ends in tragedy. Beginning with “The Love Parade” (1929), Lubitsch makes talkies, including “Monte Carlo” (1930) and “The Man I Killed” (1932).
According to organizers, the “Lubitsch Touch” comes most alive in “Design for Living,” which stars Gary Cooper as an American playwright who falls in love with a Parisienne only to be involved in a love triangle with a fellow writer. Other must-see films include “Ninotchka,” which is known as the film that first shows star Greta Garbo smiling.
Lubitsch tried to make the most of talkies by mingling musicals into his films, such as in “The Smiling Lieutenant” (1931), “One Hour With You” (1932) and “The Merry Widow” (1934). Near the end of his career, Lubitsch was much attracted to color films, as evident in “Heaven Can Wait,” full of vivid colors, and included in this retrospective.

by Chun Su-jin

Seoul Art Cinema is best reached from Anguk station on subway line No. 3. Take exit No. 1 and walk about 10 minutes in the direction of Art Sonje Center or Jeongdok Library. Tickets for each screening are offered at 6,000 won ($5). A special lecture on the director by the theater’s programmer, Kim Seong-uk, is to be given on Tuesday at 6 p.m., free of charge. For more information, call the theater at (02) 720-9782 or visit www.cinematheque.seoul.kr.
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