Only that man survives
Who’s able to forget.—Kurt WeillG. W. Pabst’s expressionistic production of Brecht’s and Weill’s Threepenny Opera has many failings, and perhaps for the director’s excising of most of that work’s original songs, he deserved to be sued, as he was, by its creators; however, they lost the suit. Although the film contains a fair amount of dialogue and reproduces several of Weill’s noted songs, for the most part Pabst uses the tropes of silent film making, shooting many of his scenes in the melodramatic overstatement of a time before the “talkies.” He basically presents the songs, moreover, as dramatic commentary by the musical narrator.
Nonetheless, Pabst’s carefully framed sequences do capture the overall sense of the Brecht-Weill original, and the excellent performances by Carola Neher (as Polly), Rudolf Forster (as Mackie Messer) and Lotte Lenya (in her signature role of Jenny) redeem his rhetorical approach. In a sense, of course, the theatrical conventions used by Pabst recreate some of the Verfremdungseffekt (the alienating effects) of Brecht’s original.
You must be cold and heartless as you know
Or else all sort of things happen
You must say no.
But because Mackie has not offered any of the nice things a young lady in her position might expect, because he has been so crude and clumsy in his attempts at romance, she admits she had no choice this time ‘round, but to say yes: “You can’t be cold and heartless now!”
Los Angeles, August 6, 2009Both essays reprinted from Nth Position [England] (May 2009).
Copyright (c) 2009 International Cinema Review and Douglas Messerli