Studio Babelsberg at 100
- Paul Wegener’s most famous portrayal of “The Golem” in 1920 was actually the remake of his 1914 film, since lost. The earlier film’s success kicked off an artificial creature series including “The Homunculus” (1916), “Metropolis” (1925) and “Alraune” (1928,1930). Wegener’s “Golem” also served as inspiration for Universal’s “Frankenstein” in 1931, influencing not only the script, but also the makeup for Bela Lugosi in his screen test as the original choice for the monster.
- Erich Pommer, the production chief who oversaw many an Ufa spectacular in the studio’s silent heyday, was fired in 1926 for his artistically ambitious extravagance that almost bankrupted the studio. After spending a year in Hollywood, he was ironically rehired a year later by Ufa’s new regime as an expert in production efficiency methods, only to be vilified by the actors and directors as “unreasonable and unartistic” for his new “assembly line” attitude.
- Marlene Dietrich was not the original choice to star in “The Blue Angel” but rather it was Brigitte Helm, famous for her soulless vamp roles in “Alraune” and “Metropolis” (as the robot). And while the movie did bring Dietrich to Hollywood, it was Paramount’s “Morocco” that made her a star, coming out before “The Blue Angel’s” American premiere.
- Ufa’s notorious anti-Semitic production of “Jud suss” was not the first film made on the subject; that would be a British film, “The Wandering Jew,” made in 1934 starring Ufa emigre Conrad Veidt in a much more sympathetic portrayal. In fact both films were based on a true story made famous by a best-selling German novel written in 1925 by Lion Feuchtwanger, a Jewish author thrown out of Germany in 1933 for his virulent anti-Nazi views.
- During the depths of WWII, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wanted to make a big-budget spectacle to commemorate Ufa’s 25th anniversary. The writer who developed the project, decided to make a backhand swipe at Goebbels by choosing as his subject the world’s biggest liar, Baron Munchhausen. Goebbels, not getting the joke, got behind “Munchhausen” so much so that he diverted wartime chemical resources to manufacture the color stock and had his agents smuggle in copies of “The Thief of Bagdad” and several Disney films so the Ufa technicians could study the special effects.
- The high-profile socialist science fiction film “Der schweigende stern” (The Silent Star, 1961) was one of the few DEFA films to ever make it to U.S. screens. The lavishly outfitted film was bought by grindhouse distributor Crown Intl., dubbed into English and released as “First Spaceship to Venus,” double-billed with Japanese monster movie, “Varan the Unbelievable.”
- The one and only film made by the DEFA studios dealing with gay issues, “Coming Out,” had the misfortune of having its premiere on the day the Berlin Wall fell. When the show was stopped to deliver the monumental news, the majority of the audience chose to stay and see the end of the movie.
- The first international co-production of the now-privatized Babelsberg studios was “Mesmer” (1994) starring Alan Rickman as the Viennese physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, inventor of the early form of hypnosis called mesmerizing. When the film was finished, market research revealed that Mesmer, despite being Austrian, had no name recognition with German audiences, who tended to confuse him with the Tyrolean mountaineer, Rheinhold Messner.
Survival of the outfitted | National treasure morphs into int’l player on the make | Berlinale 10-pic retro reflects studio’s kaleidoscopic output | Eights things you never knew about Studio Babelsberg