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Sodom and Gomorrha - Silent Movie (1922)

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Sodom and Gomorrah (1922)Edit

Sodom&gomorrha1

Sodom and Gomorrha

(subtitle: Die Legende von Sünde und Strafe (literally: "Sodom and Gomorrah: The Legend of Sin and Punishment"); English title: Sodom and Gomorrah; or in full: "Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrha") is an Austrian silent epic film from 1922. It was shot on the Laaer Berg, Vienna, as the enormous backdrops specially designed and constructed for the film were too big for the studios of the production company, Sascha-Film, in Sievering. The film is distinguished, not so much by the strands of its often opaque plot, as by it status as the largest and most expensive film production in Austrian film history. In the creation of the film between 3,000 and 14,000 performers, extras and crew were employed.

Sodom und Gomorrha remained a near mythical film for many decades. Only a few fragments of the most grandiose film, not only of producer Sascha Kolowrat, but also of the Austrian silent film era, were available to film historians. The present copy, restored by the Filmarchiv Austria, presents a substantial portion of the original film with missing scenes replaced by intertextual commentaries to maintain the narrative flow.

The demise of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918 forced the enterprising Kolowrat to look for new business strategies and markets for his Sascha-Film industrie, the largest film company in Austria. On a trip to New York in 1919/20, where he set up the Herz Film Corporation as an American distribution outlet, he was inspired by D.W. Griffiths's Intolerance (1916) to create his own spectaculars.

For the biggest project, Sodom and Gomorrha, he assigned the direction to Michael Kertész, a Hungarian director with great organizational skills who had fled to Vienna for political reasons, but also because Budapest had become too small for his aspirations. Eventually he also outgrew Vienna and responded to an offer from Hollywood, where he became famous as Michael Curtiz. He co-wrote the script with his fellow Hungarian Ladislaus Vajda. The director's then wife, Lucy Doraine, played the leading role; soon after the film was completed they were divorced. The son was played by Walter Slezak, who also moved to Hollywod.

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Sodom and Gomorrha

Story

A young girl, exposed from her infancy to evil influences, who already has a lover, is engaged under the influence of her mother to be married to an older man. She drives her betrothed to the verge of suicide and transfers her attention to his adolescent son, whom she is about to seduce. A terrible dream however makes her realise the nature of her behaviour, and she returns in penitence to her lover. The film is composed of four sequences: modern setting, Expressionist dream, Sodom and Gomorrah, Syria; detailed analogies drawn from biblical motifs run alongside the incidents portrayed.

The film opens at the London stock exchange, showing Harber as a ruthless capitalist. He wants to marry Mary Conway, the daughter of his former lover. The young girl does not love him, but both she and her mother want the life of luxury he can provide. She rejects her true love, the sculptor, who tries to commit suicide. Mary's personality has changed: she flirts with Harber's son Eduard and tries to seduce his teacher, a priest. To present her altered character, the first of the symbolic acts shows Mary as the cruel Queen of Syria, capable of ordering the execution of a young jeweller (played by the same actor as Eduard), who has tried to help her. The action returns to the present with Eduard and his father planning to meet Mary in the garden pavillon. Before they arrive, Mary falls asleep and dreams that Eduard kills his father in a fight over her. She now suddenly finds herself in biblical Sodom as Lot's wife, who serves the love goddess Astarte. The film revels in lavish orgiastic scenes until God destroys the town in punishment. Mary, denounced by the priest, is being led out for execution, when the horror of the situation awakens her from her nightmare. Purified in spirit she recognizes that a loveless marriage for money and her flirtatious behaviour will end in disaster. She returns to the sculptor Harry and a moral life.
Production

The producer was Sascha Kolowrat-Krakowsky, who according to contemporary film magazines came up with the idea, while on a trip to United States to discover more about the American film industry, of making an epic film with many extras in Austria, as such films were very popular at that time in the US and Kolowrat-Krakowsky had America in view as an additional potential market. For this purpose he founded the Herz Film Corporation in New York as a branch of his Austria company Sascha-Film.

In the film, produced between 1920 and 1922, Michael Kertész (later known in the US as Michael Curtiz) directed, and his Hungarian wife Lucy Doraine played the leading role. Walter Slezak played the young son of her fiancé. Among the extras, according to their own accounts, were Willi Forst, Hans Thimig, Paula Wessely and Béla Balázs.

The film is unique in Austrian film history on account of its sheer scale, in which it reputedly surpassed the American epics, the Italian films of classical antiquity and the German historical dramas. Thousands of craftsmen, architects, decorators, sculptors, stuccoists, stage and set builders, pyrotechnicians, cameramen, hairdressers, mask makers and tailors, with assistants, labourers and extras, mostly the unemployed and juveniles, found employment for three years during the making of the film, in an Austria crippled by inflation and unemployment. Thousands of costumes, wigs, beards, sandals, standards, horse harnesses and other such things were made specially for the production, generally onsite. Béla Balász referred to it as "prop madness". Sodom und Gomorrha cost more than five times the planned budget and in later films, on the basis of such expensive experiences, expenditure on props was drastically reduced.

The outdoor shoots were made at the Laaerberg near Vienna, in the Lainzer Tiergarten, in Laxenburg, in Schönbrunn and on the Steirischer Erzberg. The Laaerberg was particularly suitable for filming, as at this time it was a waste area, with a few claypits filled with water. Just for the preliminary construction and erection of the backdrops several thousand workers were required. During filming between 300 to 500 actors were always needed, for crowd scenes as many as 3,000. In addition similar quantities of horses were required for some scenes.

At the end of the film the temple was supposed to collapse, for which pyrotechnicians were appointed to blow it up. However, there were accidents, causing injuries and deaths, which were to have legal consequences. The director was acquitted, but the chief pyrotechnician was arrested for 10 days and fined 500,000 Kronen.

Faa sodom tempelbau

Building the Temple for "Sodom and Gomorrha"

Architecture

The film's architectural masterpiece, designed by three architects, was the "Temple of Sodom", which was counted as one of the world's great film structures of the time. Under the direction of the architect Julius von Borsody his assistants Hans Rouc and Stefan Wessely worked with specialist companies such as Mautner und Rothmüller and the Österreichische Filmdienst on the monumental buildings of Sodom, Gomorrha and Syria. A noticeable feature of the architecture of the buildings was the ornament, strongly reminiscent of Jugendstil. The dream scenes featured Expressionist architecture.

Versions

The original version was 3,900 metres long, representing a running time of about three hours. The film was therefore generally shown in two parts. By 1987 only 25 minutes remained in the possession of the Austrian Film Archive. Further sections of the film were obtained however from the Soviet Film Archive, and the film archives of the DDR and Czechoslovakia, as well as from Bologna and Hungary, so that although the whole film is not recovered, all four sequences have now been restored. The restored version has a running time of 98 minutes.


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