Last Luagh Essay, Research Paper
About The Director:
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau is one of the most important filmmakers of the cinema during Weimar Republic period. He is often grouped with Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst as the “big three” directors of Weimar Germany. He finished his career in Hollywood and was killed at a young age in a car crash. Three of his films appear on the greatest films lists of critics and film groups. Even though there seems to be little written about him.
Early in his career he created one of horror film, Nosferatu (1922); his last film was Tabu (1931), a documentary film in the South Seas. He was one of the pioneers in the technical side of the film industry, experimenting special effects in Nosferatu and Faust and the use of the moving camera in The Last Laugh. But at the same time he was a master storyteller, a director who could describe simple stories with a vast range of emotion and meaning.
The old doorman at the Hotel Atlantis is proud of his job and he does it well (sort of). One day he carries a large suitcase into the lobby. He needs to sit down for a moment what is seen and written down by a young hotel manager. The old man looses his job and is made the toilet man of the hotel. He tries not to show it, but he is broken. Now only some kind of wonder can help!!
The film begins a trip down an open elevator and through the busy lobby of the Hotel Atlantic. The movement continues straight through the hotel’s revolving doors to rainy outside. The main character is the hotel doorman, a striking but he is old. He is an important person, a respected person. But he is getting older and has trouble lifting a large luggage from a car to the hotel and needs a few minutes to rest. The young hotel manager witnesses this situation and the next day the doorman finds out that he has been replaced by a younger man and demoted to toilet attendant. This demotion leads him to isolation. It comes to the situation where his neighbors and even his own family reject him.
Just when things seem as bad as they could get for the doorman, the film presents us with the only upside. The film says that ordinarily the story should end here, for an old man like this, but instead, the director has taken mercy on the doorman and presented us with a happy ending. In the end, the man inherits a vast sum of money from an American millionaire. And he lives happily ever after!
Analysis Of The Film:
The Last Laugh is the last but one expressionistic street film, full of sets that look both realistic and unlikely at the same time, unsettling multiple exposures, fantastic performances particularly Emil Jennings whose weight you can feel on your chest, in a performance through the entire range of emotions. Many writers give Carl Mayer, the co-writer on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and one of the chief minds behind the excellence of German film in the 1920’s, the big share of credit for The Last Laugh. Sadly Murnau is sometimes shrugged off with Karl Freund, the film’s cameraman, as part of the team that executed Mayer’s idea.
Although the film is often criticized for its happy ending, it is done with irony that the film would not be the same without it, in which all wrongs have been righted.
In The Last Laugh the man derives his power from his uniform, alcohol and wealth; without at least one of the three he is only a hunched man. He has habits of stroking his mustache and waving hid hand in the air, the habits that disappear when he loses his uniform. After he steals it and quickly pulls it over his shoulders, the first thing he does is stroke that mustache. Or after he becomes rich he starts waving his hand in the air again.
This movie is almost purely visual; the few pieces of expository writing are worked into the film cleverly via papers and letters rather than bluntly cleaving the action. Murnau takes a situation that should seem trivial and turns it into high tragedy. Yet the movie still contains some incredibly funny scenes.
Innovations And Its Place In History Of Cinema:
The camera movement in this film had a deep effect on world cinema. The camera movement is smooth; it draws the viewer into the film much more carefully than does the nonstop camera movement. However it is not only the movement of the camera that makes this film so different, it is the careful relation between people, objects and the camera.
In one part of the film, doorman after stealing the uniform he attends his daughter’s wedding and he gets drunk. Then a camera that staggers across the room shows the man’s drunkenness. The man soon drifts off to a blurry fantasy and revolving doors. In the dream he lifts with one hand a luggage that six men could not lift and to the amazement of an audience hurls the trunk up and down, always catching it perfectly with his one extended arm.
These Blurry sequences and the many subjective shots through out the film were quite unique for its time and place. The Last Laugh raised the art of the silent film to its highest level of achievement.
Germany At The Time:
This is quite interesting since almost all the films during 1918 till 1945 reflects a picture of the social, economical and political situation of Germany at the time. Hence it would be quite useful to have an understanding of the time when The Last Laugh was made.
This film was made during the economical crisis and political instability of a defeated Germany after World War I, the time of disastrous hyperinflation of 1923.
In May 1921 the reparations for World War One were set at a huge 132 billion Gold Marks. The Germans had no motivation to work because any money they made had to go to the Allies. By 1922 the Mark was worth 1/100th of its 1914 value. By 1922, the value of the Mark fell from 162 to the American dollar to 7000 Marks to the dollar. By November of 1923, it had fallen all the way to 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to the dollar .
However, late 1923 brought about the first move to motivate the poor economy. The general agreement was that the only way to improve the economy was to stabilize the Mark. The idea was to change the Mark to be based on gold as an alternative of industrial assets. They were then able to pay the reparations in Marks instead of gold, which would diminish the Mark. Under the Dawes Plan Germany burrowed a loan from America of 800 million dollars for fixing the economy. Hence, the government with fund upgraded the industries. The coal and iron production soon stared to rise and exports began to increase.
Similar to the economy, the political situation was not any good either. The parties were divided by strong beliefs and were not willing to agree on anything. The only united party left standing was the Social Democratic Party, but they had no power. The conditions were causing the people to begin to vote for the conservative parties. Right wing groups began to grow from the people’s frustration. The middle class also began to vote conservative, blaming the Social Democrats for the treaty of Versailles.
After 1920 the period of unpopular minority cabinets began. Postwar inflation and Allied demands for reparations contributed to political instability. In January 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the highly industrialized Ruhr district as a protest against German defaults in reparations payment. The Weimar government responded by asking the Ruhr workers to stop working. In 1923, President Ebert asked Gustav Stresemann, the DVP chairman, to form a new cabinet coalition to resolve the crisis
During his brief chancellorship (August-November 1923) , he headed the “great coalition,” an alliance that included the SPD, Center Party, DDP, and DVP. After his chancellorship ended because of combined opposition from the right and left, Stresemann served as German foreign minister until his death in 1929. The Stresemann era (1923-29) was a period of making peace with the West during which conflict in the Ruhr was ended. As foreign minister, Stresemann pursued compromise rather than disagreement with the Allies. His policy, however, was strongly opposed by members of both the DNVP and the KPD .
In 1924 the German government adopted a plan for German economic recovery prepared by the American financier Charles G. Dawes. The Dawes Plan attempted to coordinate German reparations payments with a program of economic recovery whereby Germany was required to make only limited payments until 1929. To assist with the recovery, the Reichsbank was founded, and foreign credit, mainly from the United States, was directed into Germany. As a result, between 1924 and 1929 German industry and commerce made exceptional progress, and both the standard of living rose. The Dawes Plan also provided for the removal of French and Belgian troops from Ruhr.
As it can be seen the Last Laugh could be related to the German people closely during 1920 –23. For the German people, this period was one of the worst. They were at the peak of their power Europe was at their mercy, but they could not hold on to it and they lost it all (similar to the doorman). Furthermore, a treaty had been imposed upon the general public (by the young Weimer republic or the hotel manager in the film) that was deemed so unfair, ironically resembles the old man’s new job. But there is a glimpse of hope for the nation as the economy began to recover at the end of 1923 with the help of burrowing loan off America. I suppose this could well be related to the unusual happy ending of the film where he inherits the American millionaire. Also in way Murnau tries to imply USA as the new economical powerhouse.
In summary, many German artists (including film makers) during this period were part of the expressionist movement. This expressionism was concerned with representing the immediate present. Expressionism deliberately simplified, abbreviated, and distorted. A reaction to inhuman social conditions and the horrors of World War I. This visual expressionism instructed on Murnau’s Last Laugh. The doorman, as a victim of society, became the hero.
Stresemann typified the Weimar Vernunftrepublikaner (commonsense republican); a former National Liberal and annexationist, he supported the republic for pragmatic reasons. During his brief chancellorship (August-November 1923), he headed the “great coalition,” an alliance that included the SPD, Center Party, DDP, and DVP. After his chancellorship ended because of combined opposition from the right and left, Stresemann served as German foreign minister until his death in 1929. The Stresemann era (1923-29) was a period of rapprochement with the West during which passive resistance in the Ruhr was ended. As foreign minister, Stresemann pursued negotiation rather than confrontation with the Allies. His policy, however, was strongly opposed by members of both the DNVP and the KPD.
1) The Great German Films, Frederick W Ott.
2) Facts About Germany, A Hoffmann.
3) A History Of The Weimar Republic, Erich Eyck.
4) The Weimar Republic, J.W Hidden.
5) A History Of Germany, 1815-1945, W Carr.
6) Film Art, David Bordwell.
7) Notes Taken In The Lectures.
8) Internet Resources;