Patrice Petro: On the Screening Series “Hollywood Berlin: Exiles and Immigrants”
By Betty Ding
The Carsey-Wolf Center wrapped up its fall film series “Hollywood Berlin: Exiles and Immigrants” with the final film Some Like It Hot. The event featured guest speaker David Mandel who is a writer, director and executive producer of shows such as Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The “Hollywood Berlin” series opened in early October with legendary German director Werner Herzog, who spoke to students after a screening of his 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre. Since than, the series has shown a film every Thursday at the Pollock Theatre.
UC Santa Barbara Film and Media Studies professor Patrice Petro chose films by German immigrants and exiles who had an impact on American film since the 1920s, by bringing new perspectives to Hollywood and its cinema conventions. The series films are all more than 30 years old. But they explore many social issues — such as violence and gender issues — that are relevant today, Petro says.
I sat down with Petro recently to hear more about her expertise and the inspiration behind “Hollywood Berlin” and her selection of the films.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind creating the Hollywood Berlin series?
A: I wrote my first book on German cinema of the 1920s. I was inspired to write on German cinema of the 1920s because I took classes here at UCSB in the 1970s and early 1980s on Hollywood films. There were Hollywood films made by German exiles and immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s. With this series, we try to look broadly at the impact of certain generic and stylistic traditions and how they were transported to what we think of as classical Hollywood.
When I arrived here last fall, I knew we were going to start doing series at the Pollock Theatre. I had Hollywood Berlin on my mind from the beginning because I thought that these films are so topical today. A lot of them deal with mob violence, propaganda, the rise of fascism, gender bending and sexual experimentation — all things that we talk about today.
Q: How did you select the beginning and ending films for the series?
A: With Weimar and German cinema, the general assumption was that Germans aren’t funny. Those films are dark and foreboding: vampire stories, horror, extreme lighting, leading to film noir and expressionist elements in Hollywood. But, I wanted to show another tradition that was always there, which was German Jewish comedy, starting with Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not to Be.” It’s a serious film but it seeks the importance of comedy in dealing with serious issues. We are going to end with “Some Like It Hot” from 1959, which is a comedy set in the 1920s or 30s. It’s been rated as the very best comedy ever made by critics around the world for very long.
Q: How was doing the Hollywood Berlin series different from previous series, such as the Trans Media Series last spring?
A: Unlike Trans Media, when you do a series of classic films, a lot of the people who made these films are no longer living, so we had to think of interesting guests to come. We were really lucky because we were able to kick off the series with Werner Herzog and he wanted to show “Nosferatu the Vampyre.” During the day he watched 1922 Murnau’s version of “Nosferatu” with the graduate students. There was Q&A and he than watched his own version from 1979 at night.
Q: How have the audiences been responding to this series?
A: Herzog was sold out in less than an hour, and that’s 300 tickets. He is very funny and has a certain following so I think many people came just to hear him. I think that was a very successful event. For “To be or Not to Be,” we had Emily Carmen, a scholar who wrote a book on Carole Lombard and independent stardom in Hollywood. We had 200 people and it was a very interesting discussion focused more on women in the industry than the one the previous week, which was more on remaking the German classic. So I think it has been very successful to date. Let’s see what happens.
Q: What series can we expect in the future?
A: We have great series lined up for the winter. We are going do a series on Shakespeare on film, but really look outside the U.S. and British traditions in a more global way. In the spring, we’re going to do women in comedy. In fall, for the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, we’re going to do a series on Frankenstein in collaboration with colleagues on campus. We’ve got all kinds of ideas, so please come.
Betty Ding is a third year Film and Media studies student at UC Santa Barbara