24 November 2007 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Comedy of social classes; funnier than I expected.
I saw 'Lumpen und Seide' in October 2007 at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. Although this silent film is German, and the festival screened a print from a German collection (the Bundesarchiv in Berlin), this print was from the film's release in Holland, so it had Dutch intertitles ... and the movie itself had been renamed 'De klaplooper', whatever that means.
The original German title -- 'Rags and Silk' -- is symbolic, referring to the contrast between the social classes of the main characters. This is one of those movies in which the idle rich amuse themselves by playing games that exploit working-class people. Erik and Irene are a bored married couple who live in a mansion in the posh Grunewald district of southwestern Berlin. The young and pretty Hilde, conversely, is a factory labourer who lives in Wedding: this neighbourhood, in northwestern Berlin, has been working-class for a couple of centuries. At the time when this movie was made (shortly after Germany lost the Great War), the residents of Wedding were highly politicised and often outright communist.
Erik decides to amuse himself by inviting Hilde to move into his mansion. His motivation seems to be partly a Pygmalion impulse (attempting to transform this gutter-wench into a proper lady) and partly a very patronising effort to observe how a 'pet' poor person will behave in an unfamiliar habitat. Irene, of course, is concerned that Erik's interest in the younger and prettier Hilde mightn't be entirely innocent. Meanwhile, Hilde's father -- in a manner very analogous to that of Alfred P Doolittle -- tries to turn the situation to his own advantage. Ferdinand Bonn gives an excellent performance in the latter role.
By far the best performance here, though, is given by Reinhold Schünzel, who is hilarious as Hilde's outraged fiancé. There's some sexual innuendo in 'Rags and Silk', but the film makes sure we know that everything is all quite innocent: I suspect that this reflects the preferences of European audiences in 1925. I laughed heartily during this comedy of manners, but none of the characters in this movie reminded me of anyone I've ever encountered in real life, and I have difficulty envisioning this story working in a modern setting. My rating for this one is 8 out of 10.