Upon its release in 1925 E. A. Dupont’s Varieté was an international success. Utilising camera techniques and presenting stylised visuals rarely seen at the time it was a hugely impressive piece of work. Despite loss and damage to much of the original footage, it is now available on Blu-ray from Eureka and it is a film you should immediately add to your shopping list.
The story at the heart of Varieté is one dripping with melodrama and revenge. The only German winner of the Best Actor Oscar (and the very first winner of the award) Emil Jannings delivers a performance of simmering passion as Boss Huller, a trapeze artist whose career has been stunted by injury and bland domesticity. Running a seedy carnival with his wife, a chance of redemption arrives in the form of the mysterious Berta-Marie (De Putti) and he leaves his life of perceived tedium for one more shot at glory. Hungry for fame, a chance meeting with a famous trapeze artist sets Boss on a dangerous path.
A pioneer of the German film industry, and with over seventy films to his credit as writer, director or both, Varieté is without doubt Ewald André Dupont’s career masterpiece. It is a film of silent grandeur and expression with characters that dominate the screen with tragic emotion. Jannings was rarely as engaging as he is as the deluded Boss, a man prepared to abandon his wife and child in pursuit of the life he believes he deserves. Only when that life begins to crumble does he passingly regret the mistakes he’s made.
Told in flashback as the elderly Boss ages in prison, Varieté is an age-old tale of betrayal and failed redemption, but it is the simplicity of the emotive journey the characters embark upon that engages you. The intermittent dialogue cards prove unnecessary as the story beautifully, and tragically unfolds on screen. Intimate moments are perfectly captured as are the wonderfully presented action scenes that are impressive even by today’s standards.
Sadly, there is a still a reluctance for many among modern audiences to explore the world of silent cinema. Stunning effects and perfectly textured images are understandable expectations today, but in many ways can anaesthetise us to the true beauty of cinema. Varieté is an example of how incredible visuals could be created by pure talent and determined belief nearly one hundred years ago, and as such it is a film that deserves a second coming. The Masters Of Cinema Series from Eureka has unearthed, restored and added many great titles to its catalogue but few are worthy of the moniker essential. Varieté is.
VARIETÉ / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: E. A. DUPONT / SCREENPLAY: E. A. DUPONT, LEO BIRINSKI / STARRING: EMIL JANNINGS, LYA DE PUTTI, MALY DELSCHAFT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW