Question: Name the movie director who began his career as a bacteriologist, became a set designer for Murnau and Fritz Lang, and directed two groundbreaking end of the silent era/beginning of the sound era works before abandoning his film career to take up anthropology, becoming one of the world's most respected figures in that fascinating field?
If you guessed "Paul Fejos" (and I assume you did--not least because he's the subject of this post) you're right. This fascinating figure's life is worth more than a cursory glance--and a lot more than this sorry little post. There are several sites devoted to him and I urge you to click on this one. (Oh, he also married a journalist who appeared with Hitler at the Summer Olympics in 1936, then slept with John F. Kennedy in 1941--leading the FBI to begin their file on him--and later married the actor Tim McCoy. Her name was Inga Arvad and her life is well worth a second looks as well.)
This Friday evening, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills will be screening a new, restored print of Fejos' 1928 masterpiece, "Lonesome"--click here for screening information. It will be my first viewing of this groundbreaking film--indeed it will be the first Fejos film I've ever seen in full. Below, however, is a clip from his equally groundbreaking (and long thought to be lost) film of the great stage hit "Broadway", from 1929. A print evidently turned up last year in Hungary--note the titles in Hungarian. (These clips come courtesy of stjn00--the invaluble Swedish youtuber who posts lots of amazing things along these lines.)
Unlike a lot of the other early talkie material I've been posting--which I love because of the clumsy, fumbling nature due to the early adjustment to sound--these clips show that it was possible to make a "talkie" that actually didn't look like it was photogrphed by a rhinocerous. (As Groucho might say: "I'm sorry I said that. It's an insult to all the other rhinocerouses.") Indeed, Fejos work is startling in its fluidity, it's use of color (this is two-strip technicolor--an early aborted system that has its own art deco charm) and the dynamic sense of staging. The below is the opening of the film and is still incredibly fresh and quite startling in its use of miniatures, elaborate sets, surreal super-impositions...you'll see.
Fejos was apparently unhappy working in America and returned to Europe, making his last film in 1941 and chucking it all for his aforementioned fascination with anthropology. Good for him! Most directors stay too long at the fair. Probably Fejos saw the writing on the wall--had he stayed, Universal would have James Whaled him, assigning him ever cheaper B-unit fair until, in the 1950's, Fejos might have turned to the tube, where he would have been lucky to have nabbed a couple of episodes of "My Little Margie." Take your pick: A life of globe-trotting anthropological adventuring, or Gale Storm and the Hollywood General Service Studios lot?
More on Fejos, "Broadway", and "Lonesome" in the next few days.