Some people will go at any length trying to “defend” someone they like from imaginary (or not so imaginary) attackers. After all, what is there to do if not to defend a long-dead moviemaker from today’s bad press? Orlac’s Hände has been repeatedly dubbed as a forgotten classic. While it might be true that it is forgotten (outside of somewhat peculiar circle of silent cinema lovers), its status as a classic has yet to be shown. Main argument that appears over and over again can be explained quite simply – it’s a Robert Wiene movie and since it’s a Robert Wiene movie it can’t possibly be bad. Noted directors can’t make such things. It isn’t in their genes, I guess. Once we put all of this mysticism aside and look at the thing as is, we’ll be forced to step out of our devoted shells and finally admit something along the lines of Orlac’s Hände wasn’t the best movie ever made. Not even within the German expressionism movement. If anything, it was poorly conceived and crudely executed piece of populist cinema. Yes, it’s hard to go back in time, but I think that most of you can manage to picture this era in which Victorian gothic horror was a novelty, and Freud wasn’t something to be laughed at by Woody Allen’s devotees or any other sensible psychiatrist/psychologist. Orlac’s Hände borrowed heavily from contemporary (pop)culture but, unlike Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, offered very few things in return.
Anyway, let’s force ourselves to step out of this movie history (fuck positivism!) paradigm and let’s try to focus our attention elsewhere. Alexandra Sorina could be a nice focus of attention. If you watched more than one silent movie, you might have noticed that, despite appearances, there actually is a range for silent movie actors. Many of them were type-casted, though some of them knew their way around any role. Anyhow, despite characteristic over-acting and lack of one whole part of human sign-making, many of the silent-cinema actors actually knew how to act. Some of them, though, like Alexandra Sorina were so horrifyingly bad that instead of any compassion that we as viewers were supposed to feel we just wanted to bitchslap her out of the picture. The character of Yvonne Orlac – the one of young, tormented, woman in love – in Sorina’s interpretation became nothing more than a whiny, pathetic excuse for a creature without any character to speak of. While I’m aware that the world was (and is even now) full of whiny, pathetic excuses for creatures, that doesn’t mean that our gut reaction should be any less radical. Whatever Wiene had in mind with this character, by putting Sorina at the helm he only managed to alienate us from any possible struggle she might have had. When you root for the bad guy you know that something went wrong. Especially in the context of 1924.
We must give credit where credit is due, though. With Orlac’s Hände Wiene managed to stay true to a genre that was just emerging in USA – that of SF (and no, I didn’t forget neither Jules Verne nor Mary Shelley nor the rest of the crowd but we’ll leave it at that for now). In many ways, Orlac’s Hände surpasses almost everything that has been made within the genre from Star Wars (including) onward. What we have here is basically the core of any SF that wants to call itself intelligent – we have a scientific leap forward (functional surgical transplantation of human hands) and we have a human condition coming to terms with that advancement. While Wiene wasn’t dabbling with SF in a strict sense (focus in Orlac isn’t remotely close to problems and ideologies of techno-era), he was, in a way, preparing the field for those that will follow. Wiene knew how to make powerful imagery via high-tech (remember that movie comer was once a high-tech piece of equipment) manipulation and people didn’t fail to notice that. It would be presumptuous (and plainly wrong but nevermind) to call Wiene a father of European SF (hello Fritz Lang), but it wouldn’t be very far from the mark. Just for that sake, you might want to watch this. And if you rage-vent a bit that’s okay. Sorina does that to you.
|Directed by||Robert Wiene|
|Written by||Ludwig Nertz (play),
Maurice Renard (book)
|Music by||Pierre Oser|
Aywon Film Corporation
Free download from Internet Archive (copyright expired)