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THE ACTUALITY OF ERNST LUBITSCH


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Slavoj Zizek on Ernst Lubitsch, To Be or Not to Be, Shop Around the Corner and the Lacanian psychology of those movies.

https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/the-actuality-of-ernst-lu****/

Theodor Adorno turned around Benedetto Croce’s patronizing historicist question about “what is dead and what is alive in Hegel’s dialectic.” If Hegel is really alive as a thinker, then the question to be raised today is the opposite one: “how do WE TODAY stand in the eyes of Hegel?” Exactly the same holds for Ernst Lubitsch. The question is: “How would our contemporaneity appear in the eyes of Lubitsch?” Therein resides the actuality of Lubitsch: while, of course, rejecting with disgust populist neo-racism, he would have immediately perceived also the falsity of its opponent, the politically-correct moralism, clearly seeing their hidden complicity. Lubitsch would have been appalled to notice how the perverse pleasures of obscenities, irony even, have moved to the Right, while the Left is more and more caught in pathetic, ascetic, puritan moralism.

So how would Lubitsch counteract this tendency? Through comic indirectness. But does this work? After the extent of the Nazi atrocities became known to the public, Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, as well as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, were both criticized for downplaying the horrors of Nazism by way of making comedy out of it. Chaplin himself said that, if he were to know of the horror of concentration camps, he would never have shot his film. However, the situation is much more complex and ambiguous. Isn’t it that, in a tragedy, victims retain a minimum of dignity, which is why, when horror crosses a certain line, to portray it in a tragedy is a blasphemous downplaying of its extent?

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Zizek's best part on To Be or Not to Be is this section near the middle

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Lubitsch’s approach has a deep ontological foundation. In one of the most efficient jokes in Lubitsch’s absolute masterpiece To Be Or Not to Be, the Polish actor Josef Tura impersonates Colonel Ehrhardt of the Gestapo in a conversation with a high-level Polish collaborator. In (what we took as) a ridiculously exaggerated way, he comments on rumors about himself “So they call me Concentration-Camp-Ehrhardt?” and accompanies his words with a vulgar laughter. A little bit later, Tura has to escape and the real Ehrhardt arrives; when the conversation again touches rumors about him, he reacts in exactly the same way as his impersonator, i.e., in the same ridiculously-exaggerated way… The message is clear: even Ehrhardt himself is not immediately himself, he also imitates his own copy or, more precisely, the ridiculous idea of himself. While Tura acts him, Ehrhardt acts himself. Could we not say exactly the same for Donald Trump who acts himself? (Incidentally, we get here a perfect example of the Hegelian distinction between subjective and objective humor: Tura playing Ehrhardt in an exaggerated way is subjective humor, with Tura making fun of Ehrhardt, while Ehrhardt enacting the same exaggeration is objective humor, humor inscribed into the object itself.)

 

All this does not mean that Lubitsch is a postmodern cynical ironist whose premise is that, since everything is mediated and indirect so that each of us plays him- or herself, there is true love, just not in some Romantic sphere above the comic indirectness. We have to learn to locate it in the middle of all these comical confusions. If there is a couple of true and permanent love in Lubitsch, a model of ideal marriage, it is the couple of Josef and Maria Tura (Joseph and Mary, THE ultimate couple!) in To Be or Not to Be: Maria is all the time flirting around and cheating on him, while Josef is intolerably self-centered and convinced of his greatness, but as such, they are totally inseparable, one cannot even imagine their divorce. Say, it is totally excluded that his wife would drop him and decide to live with the pilot with whom she cheats on him.

 

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Oooh, this is so heavy; I love it!

Takes me back to my freshman year philosophy class, where we learned about Hegel and Kant and Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and the works of Goethe. My brain is a bit addled in trying to remember all the diverse threads of things like dialectics, materialism and the synthesis of beliefs but I totally enjoyed reading this. Bringing in the ontological connections to the works of Lubitsch is fascinating, with his takes on the nature of being always postulated indirectly by comedic means that hit home more soundly than a direct assault in a serious tone. Thanks, GF for a fine read!

 

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2 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

Oooh, this is so heavy; I love it!

Takes me back to my freshman year philosophy class, where we learned about Hegel and Kant and Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and the works of Goethe. My brain is a bit addled in trying to remember all the diverse threads of things like dialectics, materialism and the synthesis of beliefs but I totally enjoyed reading this. Bringing in the ontological connections to the works of Lubitsch is fascinating, with his takes on the nature of being always postulated indirectly by comedic means that hit home more soundly than a direct assault in a serious tone. Thanks, GF for a fine read!

 

I also like the part at the very end where he says the real life response to the scenario in the Shop Around the Corner isn't love but only horror. :lol:  

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9 minutes ago, Gershwin fan said:

I also like the part at the very end where he says the real life response to the scenario in the Shop Around the Corner isn't love but only horror. :lol:  

Boy, I have to really think about that. I'm usually left happy when Jimmy pulls up his pants legs to show he is not bowlegged, but maybe I really should be horrified? 

Hmmm...thinking; back later!

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3 hours ago, Gershwin fan said:

I also like the part at the very end where he says the real life response to the scenario in the Shop Around the Corner isn't love but only horror. :lol:  

I've always thought that The Shop Around the Corner would be better if Margaret found out about Jimmy as well as Jimmy finding out about Margaret. The imbalance makes me feel uncomfortable and somewhat spoils the resolution of the film. Not one of my favorite Lubitsch films.

The Merry Widow is much better directed, though I'm not convinced that a rake like Danilo will suddenly become a perfect husband for the delightful widow.

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Well, I've read thru it, and read again.  And I think the op isn't really saying anything.  I'll admit I did have to force myself thru it.  After the first handful of words, an overwhelming blanket of indifference enwrapped my brain.

Oh, there is one thing I think I got, and my reaction to it is, treating people civilly is not puritan moralizing.  It's common human decency, and it's what I'd always thought I'd been taught was the basis for civilization.

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4 hours ago, kingrat said:

I've always thought that The Shop Around the Corner would be better if Margaret found out about Jimmy as well as Jimmy finding out about Margaret. The imbalance makes me feel uncomfortable and somewhat spoils the resolution of the film. Not one of my favorite Lubitsch films.

The Merry Widow is much better directed, though I'm not convinced that a rake like Danilo will suddenly become a perfect husband for the delightful widow.

Like you, I prefer the Merry Widow as well. Danilo's characterization isn't the nicest but that is probably more on the shoulders of Franz Lehar than Ernst Lubitsch. :lol: It's a good film and coming on this Sunday. 

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37 minutes ago, slaytonf said:

Well, I've read thru it, and read again.  And I think the op isn't really saying anything.  I'll admit I did have to force myself thru it.  After the first handful of words, an overwhelming blanket of indifference enwrapped my brain.

Oh, there is one thing I think I got, and my reaction to it is, treating people civilly is not puritan moralizing.  It's common human decency, and it's what I'd always thought I'd been taught was the basis for civilization.

Listen, I don't want to make this about politics or political correctness. Also he criticizes Trump's behavior in the article too so it's not as if he's giving anyone a pass. As for the article, I think many interesting points are raised. For example this paragraph near the end-

So, back to Lubitsch, what if his famous indirectness is sustained by the same insight into how the perverse direct enactment of the repressed content equals the strongest repression? It is precisely when we appear to open ourselves up to the dirtiest fantasies of our mind that the truly traumatic point remains repressed. However, isn’t Lubitsch’s indirectness also conditioned by the Hays Code censorship? Adorno wrote somewhere that a really good film would follow all the rules of Hays Code, although not in order to obey the law but out of an immanent necessity. This is what Lubitsch is doing.

 

I think a good point is raised that a lot of the more "risque" jokes in Lubitsch films are left to the mind because of Hayes Code censorship. Doesn't this only increase the dirtiness and suggestiveness of the jokes? Arguably, it adds to the humor of his movies. Just a thought anyways. 

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OP: Too long, didn't read.

Well, I've read thru it, and read again. And I think the op isn't really saying anything.

Thanks for doing the work, slayton. The clue of a nonsensical post is a nonsensical title.
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