Film history is always also the history of destruction and loss – but sometimes of rediscovery. The point of departure for “valid” versions of Ella Bergmann-Michels films has always been and still is complicated. Paul Seligmann took a number of reels with him into exile; some films were only assembled after the fact due to the political situation; still others have long been considered lost. For the 2006 “Edition filmmuseum” DVD, source material of varying provenances was used. In addition to this year’s new digitalisations, we will screen recently discovered material:
There is now a different working version of Wo wohnen alte Leute from the estate of architect Mart Stam, which is more closely oriented to the original script by Ella Bergmann-Michel and Mart Stam and probably represents a first draft. A longer rough cut of Fischfang in der Rhön was discovered, which contains numerous original scenes that were shot but never used – here the rural environment and inhabitants of Sinntal particularly come to the fore. Bergmann-Michel occasionally also called this film Spaziergang in der Rhön (Walk Through the Rhone), which describes this version nicely.
Sünke Michel, Ella Bergmann-Michel’s daughter-in-law, talks about her artistic résumé and work techniques as well as the rediscovery of the films. Thomas Worschech of the DFF (Deutsches Filminstitut und Filmmuseum) comments on and explains the material situation of the films and their edition history.
Premiere of digitally restored prints and recently-discovered material
DE 1931, D, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, SC Ella Bergmann-Michel, Mart Stam, Print b/w, DCP from 35mm, stumm, 13 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Bergmann-Michel’s Where Old People Live provides an excellent example of an appropriate solution to the urgent housing question. It shows a model retirement home, built by architect Mart Stam for Frankfurt Main. The film is intended to advance this important topic throughout the world.” (“Neue Filme vom Bauen”, Kunst und Volk, Issue 5, January 1932) The building design was titled “Collective”. Ella Bergmann-Michel is especially interested in the moments of social interaction: like the residents, she permits herself to be guided by the possibilities and departures which the open interior design presents. “A cheerful interweaving of rooms; the windows allow the covered walkways and chat rooms to glide into each other. A promotional film without gimmicks, a filmed primer that combats prejudice.” (Frankfurter Zeitung, 15 January 1932)
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E Ella Bergmann-Michel, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Paul Seligmann, Print b/w, 35mm, silent, 9 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“A documentary film about the relief organisation that supported Frankfurt’s kitchens for the unemployed. The film screened in all cinemas in Frankfurt in September 1932 to kick off a major public donation campaign. The Frankfurter Zeitung wrote: ‘This film demonstrates, in a simple and completely unadorned fashion, the wretchedness of the direst unemployed and penniless existence…’ It also demonstrates both the social importance and the organisation of the kitchens. […] The film’s guiding principle is ‘Everyone must help!’” (Ella Bergmann-Michel, The Getty Research Institute, 88-A256; 880303) “It is interesting that major film companies refused to produce a film such as this one about the kitchens for the unemployed, arguing that the costs for the lighting equipment alone would be too high. Frau Bergmann-Michel had to make the film on her own, despite great difficulties and on a very small budget.” (Volksstimme Frankfurt, 29 September 1932)
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E Ella Bergmann-Michel, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Paul Seligmann, Print b/w, DCP from 35mm, silent, 37 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Documentary film shot in the streets and on the squares of Frankfurt – recordings caught by observing the professional lives of various people who sold goods, sometimes without police authorisation, while they were unemployed.” (Ella Bergmann-Michel, notes on her films, Sprengel archive Inv. No. A 40.04c-01-) By the early 1930s, phantasms of female awakening and self-empowerment – as well as female flâneurs – had long been fixed medial images. But a woman roaming on her own with a film camera, observing and staging the urban environment with all its hidden corners, represents a solitary departure into the public sphere. She literally goes behind the scenes of the “travelling hawkers” and the funfair activity.
DE 1932, D, SC, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Print b/w, DCP from 16mm, silent, 11 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
“Documentary film about a walk in the Rhön Mountains and the catching of trout and graylings. Film material: set up myself, without a script, just direct observation,” notes Ella Bergmann-Michel soberly of this cinematic stream of consciousness. Organic and abstract figures splash in and over each other; light and shadow undulate in waves. The rural residents are brought into the flow of images; their activities are studied closely for a moment; the look straight into the camera catches us as well.
DE 1932/33, D, SC, C, E, P Ella Bergmann-Michel, Print b/w, DCP from 35mm, silent, 13 min, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum
The camera’s searching look along the streetscape takes on an additional political edge. It lingers at advertising columns and studies their torn paper as visible signs of protest; it seeks out the exits of workplaces to observe employees. Puzzled, it registers ordinary gestures in threatening uniforms; it follows the gathering electorate, then remains standing behind a flagpole. The flâneur becomes a witness to the increasing crisis, to the evident grip of the future regime on daily life. She observes the perceptible acquiescence and self-fashioning of the majority of the population as well as the disappearing remnants of palpable resistance. She gathers evidence.