People On Sunday (1930, Siodmak & Ulmer & Zinnemann & Wilder)

“Filmstudio 1929 presents its first experiment: People On Sunday, a film without actors.”

Like Natalie Portman in Garden State, I like to do things nobody else has ever done before, hence I watched the German silent film People On Sunday on my laptop whilst listening to John Zorn’s manic, screechy, pounding “Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman.” Once my Portmanic originality had been established, I switched to Zorn’s more pleasing “Filmworks Anthology” disc.

Things the movie proved to me:
– All germans eat are sausages, and all they drink is beer.
– In the 1920’s/30’s, young men held spanking parties.

The movie suffered from the fact that I’d just watched Lonesome, a much more exciting movie from the same era with the same working-people-on-vacation vibe. This one has less urgency and romanticism, just taking it easy on a lazy Sunday, some friends out for a picnic and paddleboat ride, trying to score with women in the park. My favorite plot point was the girl from the original group who never makes it to the park, stays in bed and sleeps through the whole movie.

Nicely-shot and well-paced, a fine way to spend 80 minutes. It’d probably be a forgotten footnote if not for the amazing combination of soon-to-be-famous filmmakers who worked on it – co-directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, cowritten with Billy Wilder, shot by Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows), all just starting out in the movies. An IMDB commenter: “Within a few years most of these people were in Hollywood, and Hitler had destroyed both the wonderful film industry they had helped build and the joyous Berlin that this film depicts . . . the film allows us a glimpse of Berlin between the wars and it is sad to watch it with the knowledge of what was soon to be.”

N. Isenberg:

Shot in Berlin on the eve of the Great Depression with almost no budget, an equally modest cast of amateur actors, a relatively untested, unknown crew, and no major studio backing . . . a remarkably straightforward depiction, by turns affectionate and comical, of courting rituals, leisure activity, and mass entertainment circa 1930

In the first act the sleepy model and her man tear up each other’s movie star pictures – recognized Greta Garbo and Harold Lloyd:

Stylishly scrawled end titles: “4 million people waiting for next sunday,” one word at a time.

Some fun editing, including one weird bit with rapid cutting between a man in the park and various statues. Lots of close-ups and few intertitles. A different kind of movie, free-spirited and outdoorsy, can see why they labeled it an experiment.

Sweet record advertisement (from the same songwriter as “Jollity Farm”):