This is Robert Wiene’s little-known 1920 follow-up to
THE CABINET OF DR.
CALIGARI. GENUINE features many of the same themes of that
seminal classic, registering as a strikingly dreamlike blend of visual
artistry and ahead-of-its-time eroticism.
For whatever reason GENUINE (GENUINE, DIE TRAGODIE
EINES SELTSAMEN HAUSES/GENUINE, THE TRAGEDY OF A STRANGE HOUSE) is known
to most of the world in a 44-minute condensation misleadingly titled
GENUINE, THE TALE OF A VAMPIRE (currently available as an extra on the
Kino CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI DVD). This version runs 44 minutes,
precisely half the length of the 88 minute original version.
Among the things missing from the 44 minute version of
- The opening scene, in which a man seeks to purchase the
protagonist Percy’s painting and is refused.
- The details of Percy’s arrival at the mansion where most of the
film takes place.
- A sequence in which Percy’s rival Florian suffers a nightmare
depicted via images that appear in the air around his bed.
- The title character’s climactic redemption through love.
- The eventual it’s-all-a-dream reveal (whose absence is downright
The renowned painter Percy appears to be going mad, a
condition apparently caused by his horrific artwork. Then one day a man
enters Percy’s house to purchase one of his paintings, a portrait of a
mysterious woman known as “Genuine.” Percy, however, refuses to sell it.
After the man leaves Percy falls asleep near the painting in question,
whose subject unexpectedly comes to life.
Genuine, we learn, was the hypnotically gifted
priestess of an ancient tribe. She’s sold as a slave to Lord Melo, an
elderly scientist who resides in a mansion filled with mirrors,
skeletons and bizarre architecture. There Genuine is shut up in a
secluded underground greenhouse containing otherworldly vegetation,
while Melo has his face shaved by the creepy barber Guyard.
Around this point we learn that Percy is Melo’s
grandson, and is about to pay his elder relative a not-entirely-welcome
visit. Also visiting the mansion is Guyard’s nephew Florian, who seeks
to become his uncle’s apprentice.
Genuine escapes from the Greenhouse and hypnotically
induces Florian to slash Melo’s throat. Florian and Genuine then
commence a perverse affair in an upper room of the house, with Genuine
exuding a decidedly creepy sensuality.
Percy arrives at the mansion, and finds himself
immediately smitten with Genuine. She return his affections, leaving
Florian devastated. Percy’s love is strong enough, in fact, that it
purifies Genuine’s evil nature. This doesn’t stop outraged townspeople
from swarming the mansion, just as Florian goes mad and kills Genuine.
From there we flash back to Percy asleep in his house.
The preceding has apparently been a nightmare, albeit an extremely vivid
one that inspires Percy to attempt to deface his painting of
Genuine--and then finally sell it.
GENUINE lacks the simplicity and visual audacity of THE
CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and its narrative, encompassing weird science
and fairy tale exoticism, is quite murky. The visual style of wide shots
broken by occasional close-ups is certainly redolent of the time the
film was made, but doesn’t do the hallucinatory narrative justice. The
intertitles also leave much to be desired, consisting as they do of
bulky paragraphs and lengthy dialogue exchanges (in this respect the 44
minute condensation, with its more succinct intertitles, actually
improves on the original version).
Yet Wiene’s expressionistic visual sense is in full
evidence, presenting itself (as in CALIGARI) through wildly distorted
and outlandish set design, which succeeds in rendering Genuine’s
hypnotic eroticism in visual form. In the title role Fern Andra, who
appears in a variety of outrageous outfits that to modern eyes look like
S&M garb, prefigures Brigitte Helm in METROPOLIS and
also Elsa Lanchester in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, although Andra’s
rather hysterical and overdone performance isn’t in the same league.
As for the it’s-all-a-dream ending (which compliments
the finale of CALIGARI, wherein everything turned out to be a
schizophrenic hallucination), keep in mind that the device wasn’t nearly
as hackneyed in 1920 as it seems today.
GENUINE (GENUINE, DIE TRAGODIE EINES SELTSAMEN HAUSES)
Director: Robert Wiene
Producer: Erich Pommer
Screenplay: Carl Mayer
Cinematography: Willy HameisterCast: Fern Andra, Albert Bennefeld, Lewis
Brody, John Gottowt, Ernst Gronau, Harald Paulsen, Hans Henirich von