German Exiles in Paradise: Scandinavia and Hollywood
AUFBAU 64:25 December 4, 1998 p. 13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Jutta Brueckner's film, Bertolt Brecht: Liebe, Revolution und andere gefaerhliche Sachen, and Constance Hauman's multi-media lecture recital on Weimar Republic refugees in Hollywood, "Exiles in Paradise," hit New York two weeks apart, the first at The Modern Museum of Art, the second at the 92nd Street Y. Both spun fantasies on facts that veered from the erotic to the tragic.
The film traces Brecht's steps in exile from Germany to Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, before catching the last train prior to the German invasion across Russia to Vladivostok en route to the U.S. The actor Peter Buchholz dialogues with the director and then interacts with three mute actresses who vaguely resemble three of the women Brecht collaborated and co-habited with at various times, often simultaneously: the writer Margarete Steffin, who died of tuberculosis in Russia, the photographer Ruth Berlau, who died in an institutional fire in America, and the playwright's wife the actress Helene Weigel, who outlived him and inherited his estate. The filmmaking is rather cruel as it describes that fact while picturing her with a big grin on her face.
An Unlikely Sauna Scene
One particularly titillating scene shows all three women and Buchholz in a Finnish sauna, including dorsal female and even very brief male frontal nudity. Though Brecht did love the sauna, and wrote erotic poems taking pleasure in it, the scene is highly unrealistic, as Weigel would never even tolerate Berlau at the same table with her, and the latter, according to John Fuegi, often chided Brecht at his shyness at being seen naked.
The filmmaker is on to something, though, in her juxtaposing Brecht's creativity and his need for erotic stimulation of his imagination. But she has missed at least part of what would have seemed to have been a fertile field worth exploring: Shyness or not, Brecht spent many summers at Le Levandou, one of the first nudist islands off southern France, in company with many of his collaborators, including Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, who aren't even mentioned in the film, though Elizabeth Hauptmann, Dreigroschenoper, and Hanns Eisler are all given at least partial due.
Hauman at the Y
Soprano Constance Hauman made headlines and raised eyebrows with her own Scandinavian nude scene, as the title role in a production of Berg's Lulu last September. A native of Toledo, Ohio, she was first heard in New York jumping in, brilliantly, as Cunegonde in "Glitter And Be Gay" from Candide at a 1990 Majestic Theater memorial tribute to Leonard Bernstein. And what attracted her to this material by (mostly) Jewish refugees? Well, both her husband and her children are Jewish, she told Aufbau.
Having double-majored at Northwestern in music and political science, she combines Weimar Republic striptease footage and drawings of female behinds with three of Arnold Schoenberg's 1901 Brettl-Lieder (punning on the words "bum-bum-bum"). Scenes from various Hollywood films form semi-synched background to her vocal renditions of Marlene Dietrich and Jeannette MacDonald specialty numbers from The Blue Angel and San Francisco.
Kurt Weill is represented by two French chansons from his Paris exile en route to New York, Eisler by three Brecht elegies written in Hollywood (sung in uncredited, slightly awkward English translations).
Emmerich Kalman is well represented by three arias, including two from Graefin Maritza, Hitler's favorite operetta. Kalman was Jewish, but was repeatedly invited to return to Berlin (though he did not do so) as an "honorary Aryan," his daughter Yvonne recalled. (She also described the entire Kalman family as avid Aufbau readers.)
Ernst Toch is represented by a long recitative called "Scheherezade's Lied" from Die letzte Maerchen, begun in 1936 and finished only 25 years later. "Rosetta's Lied" from Eric Zeisl's Buechner-based operetta Leonce und Lena is a tour de force for Hauman and her stolid accompanist, William Vendice. Marietta's gorgeous Lied from Korngold's Die tote Stadt dazzlingly concludes the first half.
Along with snippets of Stolz, Benatzky, and Oscar Straus, Walter Jurmann works dominate the second half, including highlights from two Marx Brothers films and (curiously) the only undated song in the program: "Thank you America."
All in all, a most worthy effort, still in need perhaps of some polishing, trimming, and slight corrections of dates (e.g. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, not 1936!), but very, very much worth seeing and hearing. The ample program notes and comments do much to enlighten. If only, as at so many previous song recitals at the Y, the texts could be provided as well.[...]
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