29 September 2011

Die Mackie Messers Der Wall Street - The Mack the Knives of Wall Street

Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?

I was watching old movies and documentaries last night as a follow up to my recent readings. They also have some contemporary and artistic resonance to today.

Here is a clip that I found interesting. You may be familiar with the music if not the lyrics.

Drei Groschen Oper - Die Moritat von Mackie Messer

The above is a scene from the G. W. Pabst movie version of DreiGroschenOper, or Three Penny Opera, with Ernst Busch as the moritat, or street ballad, singer. I have to admit I find his rendition with the jerking enunciation and exaggerated trills a bit distracting. But this original film excerpt gives people who have only been exposed to the jazz versions a better idea of the original meaning and context.

Here is the same tune, with a spoken introduction, performed by Kurt Gerron, who starred in the live premiere of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's opera at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in August 1928. Gerron played both the street singer and Tiger Brown, the corrupt police chief.

Based on John Gay's satirical Beggar's Opera from 1728, it is set in London just before the coronation of Queen Victoria. The opening night audience, which did not know what to expect, was stunned, demanding encores for almost every song according to eyewitnesses. It was a sensational success that swept Europe, spawning numerous productions, catapulting the authors and actors to fame. Gerron, while remaining a popular character actor, became a successful movie director.

Now it is part of the rustling leaves of history, the voices of ghosts returned, whispers from dead lips.

While watching the 1930 German version of Der Blaue Engel yesterday (with English subtitles as I am not fluent in German) I was reminded that Gerron was third billing as the impresario Kiepert. I had forgotten what a melodramatic piece on morality the movie was, that it launched Dietrich's career, and how riveting a performance is given by Emil Jannings as Herr Dr. Rath. His madness scene is still remarkable, with his high pitched screaming, even in this jaded age of exaggerated emotions and special effects. I find it incredibly prophetic for the German people, and especially the intelligentsia, of that time. They were seduced, and went mad.

One thing always leads to another. If we live here, it does not hurt to get to know the place, before we take our leave.

As you may recall, the 'Weimar Republic' had seventeen governments in fifteen years, and the social and financial disruption had its outlet in the cultural ferment of Berlin.  This phenomenon is brought out fairly well in the CBC documentary, Legendary Sin Cities: Paris, Berlin and Shanghai.

I watched it again this week. If in the 1920's the US was naughty, Paris was voluptuously extravagant, and Berlin was a spasm of idiosyncratic excess.

Actor and director Kurt Gerron had his own very sad end. Although the video clip here merely says he died at Auschwitz in Okt 1944, it does not remind us that just before his death Gerron, himself a Jew, produced a propaganda film documentary, probably under enticement and coercion, for the Nazis about the 'ideal and humane conditions' for the Jewish inmates at Theresienstadt. Such are the ways of the captive mainstream media and the demimonde of the status quo. Mackie, welches war dein Preis?

After it was finished he was shipped to Auschwitz and shot on arrival: advanced profit sharing from the Reich's wages of death. I found a documentary on the internet, Prisoner in Paradise, that speaks to this sad little chapter.

The song of history resonates through time, with like instruments. But what if someone removes all the strings, leaving only empty minds and vacant stares?

I became aware of Brecht as a playwright during a course of study while an undergraduate in university while taking a course in modern drama. I do not remember so much now except that my favorite of Brecht was Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, or simply, Mother Courage.

The Mackie Messers of Wall Street are nothing new. Each generation has the responsibility to rein in its predators. It is just a question of whether anyone will sing a ballad about them after they are gone.

Let's hope someone sings for our children, so they will not forget, even if they are taken by clumsy hands into insensate barbarity again.

And what if the Café closes, and the lights go out all over Europe again? Our culture is now so artificial, it will not even remain as dust. But the word, and its song and those who hear it, never die, outliving the artifice and most monumental objects of men. And so there is always room for joy and optimism, and even love among the ruins, but not despair.

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
I am great Ozymandias, saith the stone,
The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
The wonders of my hand.
— The City's gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race,
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Horace Smith, Ozymandias, 1818