Friedrich Schiller: Eine Dichterjugend Review

From a UK perspective the Edition Filmmuseum label is getting more and more interesting with each release. It would appear as though they’re unearthing gems solely for our pleasure – the kind of thing that we perhaps wouldn’t readily see on the shelves over here. First off we had Dziga Vertov’s 1930 sound experiment Entuziazm (Simfonija Donbassa), a fascinating adjunct to the director’s better known Man With a Movie Camera, and now a second batch has introduced to the films of Mike and Alfred, a kind of German Jay and Silent Bob, through Westend and its attendant shorts, plus – in complete contrast – this particular silent venture from 1923, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Dichterjugend, which was believed lost for many years and received a fine restoration (as seen here) from the Munich Filmmuseum in 2005.

Essentially, Friedrich Schiller offers up the prestige period film 1920s-style. It’s a handsomely mounted project – great care has clearly been taken over the costume design and other period trappings, plus there are sundry horses and cast members with which to fill the frames – and also a very serious one. Its subject is, of course, the famed author and poet albeit during his early years. We’re getting the kind of biographical trick pulled off by MGM with Young Tom Edison, say, and as such a film which focuses on the formative influences as opposed to the famed achievements. In other words it’s about how little “Fritzie” become Friedrich.

The film begins then with our subject aged 12, although initially he’s not the principle concern. Rather Friedrich Schiller initiates proceedings by plotting the political mood of the time. With the Duke Karl Eugen von Württemburg in power this is a late 18th century of oppression and corruption: men are conscripted into military service by false and dishonest means whilst other are arrested seemingly on a whim. Onto this stage we have young Schiller who, at this young age, must give up his dreams of becoming a pastor and head off to military school where he will spend his formative years…

And so, by the third act, our hero has developed into a 17-year old and is displaying a naturally rebellious edge. Certainly, he’s more in line with the pranksters of your average teen movie than he is the kids of Zéro de conduite and If…., yet it’s here – we are told – where the gradual politicisation begins. Soon his poetic side begins to come through, as do his anti-Duke sympathies.

In narrative terms such a move is important as it allows the film to take on a more energetic air. This bubble of rebellion which Schiller forms within the school is mirrored by the manner in which his character sits inside this austere – though never than easy going – picture. It’s as though the former theatre director and first time filmmaker has put his energies into the mood and realism of the piece, whilst Theodor Loos, as Schiller, has concentrated on supplying the verve and enthusiasm, on being the expressive centre. And indeed, it’s not only a welcome move but also one that works particularly well – at once the picture is able to retain its seriousness and prove almost immediately agreeable. Certainly, Loos is far too old to be playing a 17-year old, especially when required to do coy for the love scenes or occupy the military school’s dorms and corridors, but then he’s well backed up by his more subdued fellow performers and the overall polish. Despite his background Goetz eschews any overt theatrical trimmings or, in fact, any grand silent movie stylings.

Yet in some respects the fact that Friedrich Schiller is a silent movie undoubtedly works in its favour. The biopic pitfalls, for example, seem to come across much better within such an environment. Reality clearly isn’t tantamount from a retrospective perspective and so those “eureka!” moments – the decision to write The Robbers; any moment when Loos has a pen in hand – sit much easier than they ordinarily would. That said, flaws are still apparent, though some may owe to the fact that we’re getting the film in its longest existing version rather than as Goetz originally created. The pacing occasionally veers off-track as does the focus; the efforts made during the early stages to establish the times all but disappear once Schiller becomes a far more prominent figure in the narrative. Similarly, the ending in particular feels almost ridiculously truncated and as a result never quite achieves a full effect.

And yet, Friedrich Schiller is still a film which plays remarkably well to this day. Goetz’s efforts clearly shine through, making for a tightly formed and polished little gem. The fact that it’s also something of a rarity – at least in the UK – only serve to make its occasionally moderate pleasures all the more appealing.

The Disc

Released onto Region 0 by Edition Filmmuseum, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Dichterjugend clocks in at 101 minutes and is currently the longest known version in existence. Thankfully, Goetz’s original screenplay also exists and as such this restoration also includes explanatory intertitles to represent the missing sequences. More to the point, it also looks really quite terrific, demonstrating excellent levels of clarity and detail. Certainly some scenes across worth than others given the film’s age, but the variable levels of damage are rarely a distraction and never once detract from our entertainment. Also worth noting is the fact that Friedrich Schiller comes fully tinted and with barely a technical flaw. Of course, the quality of image makes it difficult to spot instances of edge enhancement or artefacting, for example, but then this never seems to be the case. All told, Edition Filmmuseum appear to have done as best as they can.

As for the soundtrack here we find two piano scores, both present in DD2.0. Recorded by Joachim Bärenz, one offers a studio recording put together over a number of days, whilst the other was improvised to live scoring shortly afterwards. As such there are of course going to be similarities between the two, but then the choice is undoubtedly welcome. Furthermore, both sound absolutely superb and never once demonstrate any discernible problems.

The extras, however, are somewhat limited and amount to various screenplay excerpts to represent deleted scenes. Sadly, these also come in German only and as such I’m unable to properly comment on their quality.

This disc is available direct via the Edition Filmmuseum website.

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