Since 1920 artist, photographer, and filmmaker Ella Bergmann-Michel lived and worked at the "Schmelz", an old paint mill near Frankfurt on Main. With guests such as Kurt Schwitters and László Moholy-Nagy the house beca...展开me an important locale for modern artists. Between 1931 and 1933 she made five documentary films that constitute a rare example of socially involved and equally artistic film. The DVD contains these five films, a documentary film about the artist and a comprehensive booklet with essays on Ella Bergmann-Michel's films.
In a cultural union "bund das neue frankfurt" (alliance the new frankfurt), with a journal by the same name, there had also been, among other groups, one founded for the distribution and creation of good film. It was joined to the "Liga für unabhängigen Film" (league of independent film). There were to be critical lectures and the production of our own informative films. This group was led by three people, one of them was I.
One day the architect Mart Stam proposed to me to make a film on the Budge-home for the aged built by him, Moser and Kramer. Unfortunately I was not in the possession of a camera of my own. There was a photographer who had a camera with a hand crank. Based on a script written by me and Mart Stam I directed the film. This building had light and sun in large pleasant rooms. It had been finished in 1929 and was, to Frankfurt standards, very modern offering all amenities to old people. Thus the home for the aged was filmed and the well being of the old was shown. The ground plan of the building as well as the variability of some rooms was animated through special effects using drawings. After the first showing in the program of a matinee at the "bund das neue frankfurt" along with the films Die neue Wohnung (The New Apartment) by Hans Richter and Abbruch und Aufbau (Tearing Down and Building Up) by Wilfried Basse the Frankfurter Zeitung observed at the time that it had been a successful demonstration of cultural film. Cinemas in Frankfurt and Berlin took over the film as a supporting feature. Film distributor was the "bund das neue frankfurt". German and foreign construction companies bought copies.
By chance I was able to buy the 35mm handheld Kinamo, a camera recommended by Joris Ivens. He had made his film Regen (Rain) and parts of his Zuidersee film with such a so-called moving camera. In spring of 1932 the "Verein der Frankfurter Erwerbslosen-Küchen" (Union of the Frankfurt unemployed kitchens) had contacted some film companies asking for a short commercial. The Frankfurter Volksstimme wrote about this in September 1932: "It is interesting that large film companies refused producing such a film as that of the kitchens of the unemployed arguing that even the costs for the lighting equipment would be too high. Frau Bergmann-Michel for that reason had to make the film on her own in spite of great difficulties and with the smallest budget. The often proclaimed dead avant-garde of film that works here in Frankfurt in the film league that is joined to the 'bund das neue frankfurt' has proven once again with its solution for the task at hand its right to exist." With three 1000W bulbs in my backpack and the little Kinamo (whose film negatives I inserted into cassettes in dark basements or photo shops) I had made it. Footage - the product of observations in 28 kitchens where unemployed handed out 10.000 liters of food to unemployed - served as basis for the commercial's theme whose task it was to communicate convincingly the request for more donations. The film ran as supporting feature in cinemas and as an open-air film at night at the Hauptwache underneath the Schiller monument there. Ticket sales were more than 600 Reichsmarks per night.
Boldly I went about the third and fourth film with my own ideas. A documentary report about the "Fliegende Händler" (Travelling Hawkers) during the time of the unemployment suggested the subject. With the 35mm handheld camera one could unseen film in squares and streets the hawkers, some of them with sensationalist promotional acts and others who tried hard to avoid observation by policemen, for the wares were to be sold without permission. The final sequences were devoted to the vendors with performances at the wholesale market's fairgrounds. There the political police was already watching me and I was glad to be able to carry my film cassettes home untouched. The fourth film - a lyrical landscape theme - Spaziergang in der Rhön (A Walk in the Rhön) was of interest to me mostly for the fishing that had been the impetus for the walk on which I managed to catch with my camera the trout jumping in the river at dusk.
The last film remained a fragment. There were shots of election posters, of lively street discussions, of types of members of each party. The Frankfurt streets and alleys were documented, already adorned with the swastika flags and hammer and sickle as well as with the well-known flag with the three arrows. Then I had to stop filming for political reasons. (Filmstrips, photos and reports were published in the next to last number 10, volume 6, of the journal "die neue stadt", "bund das neue frankfurt".) It was January 1933. -
All my short films are silent films. The home-for-the-aged film and the unemployed-film have intertitles. Language in short film in those years was substituted by camera angles and movements, cut and montage analogous to those silent documentary films of the "Liga für unabhängigen Film" in the matinees of the "bund das neue frankfurt": Marseille by Moholy-Nagy, Regen (Rain) by Joris Ivens, Deutschlandfilm (Germany film) by Basse, Nanuk (Nanook of the North) by Flaherty, Eiffelturm (Eiffel-tower) by René Clair.