The Tower of Silence

Courtesy photo
Johannes Guter/Germany 1925

Johannes Guter made over 100 silent films, but most of them are lost, erasing his contribution to early German cinema. Once its initial cinematic run concluded in mid-1925, a copy of The Tower of Silence was duly filed in the Bundestag film archive and then completely forgotten. Germany’s film archives are currently working hard to preserve this legacy, and the film is one of the first to benefit from this restoration process. It is set to be re-released in Germany in February 2007.

A perfectly serviceable film, The Tower of Silence did not deserve its neglect. The plot is clearly inspired by The Tempest: Following the death of his wife, mad scientist Eldor Vartalun (Avrom Morewski) has brought up his daughter Eva (Xenia Desni) in a old tower, isolating her from the outside world until the arrival of round-the-world adventurer Arved Holl (Nigel Barrie) after a car accident. Holl has a secret which will wreck the career of his friend Wilfred Durian (Fritz Delius), but will he reveal it once he learns his fiancée, Liane (Hanna Ralph) married Durian instead?

By taking the oldest plot of all – boy-meets-girl – and placing the heroes in such different worlds, The Tower of Silence made a vivid contemporary point about how progress and tradition need to go hand in hand. There’s also plenty of melodrama and exotic sets. From a modern perspective, what’s of interest is how it is reminiscent of later films. The sequence where Holl and Durian are trapped in the desert with a broken biplane is similar to The English Patient, and Vartalun’s ordeal on an island after a hot air balloon crash reminds one of Cast Away.

Eva’s entrance into a world of salons, cocktail parties and university lectures shows how the traditional German lifestyle was changing beyond all recognition. Liane exudes louche grace as a wannabe Marlene Dietrich, as compared with the uncombed, fearful Eva. The crisp, perfectly restored photography makes clever play with shadows and light to contrast the difficult life in the tower with the elegant demi-monde of Durian and his friends.

Two years before Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis, Guter was exploring the same themes, themes which are still relevant today.

© 2006 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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