Saturday, 7 May 2011


There is a sequence in F.G. Hoch's Mensch Versus Mittwoch in which protagonist Eli, played with brilliant care by Emil Jannings, leaves a bar drunk and walks down a Berlin alleyway. He is set upon by an unseen assailant, who beats him to a bloody pulp. The whole thing is filmed in the reflected retina of a feral cat, watching the action before passively turning away to toy with a dying mouse. It is such an extravagant piece of camerawork, stepping beyond the stark theatricals of the Weimer Expressionists (and through a portal of territory unmarked at that time, except perhaps by Man Ray's Alice dans le Pays des merveilles, the lost bravura short from 1932) that it jars the viewer from the narrative: Hoch acknowledges this by showing the next scene, in which Eli recovers in his room, twice. Many first-time viewers do not notice this playful repetition, this record-skipping break of the verisimilitude.

He was rarely so bold again. As film scholar Joseph Pranden said in 1962 when reviewing F-G's career downward spiral, 'the early prognosis of 'terminal genius' was hasty, and with time the outlook receded to the less spectacular: extreme spells of inspired sickness (Gestalt Honey in 1932, Zwölf Jünger (Twelve Disciples) in 1935) punctuating long spells of banal and lazy health, in which the ability to function is taken for granted (and too many titles to mention fall into this category).'(1)

His departure to America in 1937 was an ending. Far from flourishing in Hollywood like counterpart Fritz Lang, he froze. But here he fires beautifully, his promise coinciding with Weimar studio Ufa, just as the Expressionist movement was both flourishing and about to be stifled by the rise of the Nazis.

Man Against Wednesday applies overt noir sensibilities to a plot that stretches whimsy until it is a desperate and sad dirge. Eli experiences the week as seven individuals with an agenda: to him, each day is a person, lurking in the shadows, bumping into him in the same sequence, over and over. They all wear different colours, he is certain, and although their appearance is otherwise identical, he becomes convinced that they all have defining features. Monday, always one step ahead of the dullard Tuesday, is a red-pen wielding thought-editor whose vision has receded so much that he can only swivel his eyes in two dimensions, across the ledger and down the page, to the bottom line. Sunday is calm and apologetic, meeting Eli in parks and cafes, but the others all mix brawn with punctuality, a frightful combination.

Eli tries to reason with Sunday, asking her to visit more frequently, maybe twice a week; but she clams up, refusing to talk. This is how it must be, Eli.

Eli formulates a plan. If he can avoid Wednesday, the most timid of the rest of the days, he might disrupt the chain, and escape the clutches of their routine. But where can he go where Wednesday cannot? Week after week goes by, no refuge can be found. Eli changes his regular paths, throws everything out of sync, and loses his job and friendships because of it. But still, the days always catch up with him, and their aggression only grows. Eli drinks, and tries to sleep through entire days, but wakes to find that his assailants have visited, destroying his room.

He resorts to a final plan: barricading his room and waiting. If Wednesday can't find him, Eli wins. In a sickeningly slow final scene, Hoch allows us to live with what we know, and what Eli should know: that someone else is there in his small apartment. It takes an age, but when Eli finally turns his back, Tuesday steps out from behind the long curtains and unlocks the door, letting in his eternal successor. They nod grimly, their celestial relay handover as smooth as ever, and Wednesday enters, knife drawn.

Mensch Versus Mittwoch Directed by F.G.Hoch Produced by Franz Lammer Written by Lisbeth Heinz, F.G.Hoch Starring Eli Jannings, Maly Delschaft, Max Hiller, Werner Krauss UFA/ Goldwyn Distributing Company (USA) 87 mins Tagline: none.

1. Film As A Popular Art Form, Scholar Books

No comments:

Post a Comment