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Festival Offers ‘Notturno,’ Restored ‘Sodom, Gomorrha’

Times Staff Writer

The American premiere of Fritz Lehner’s “Notturno” (1988) and the screening of the recently restored 1922 spectacle “Sodom und Gomorrha” are among the highlights of “The Contemporary Art Scene in Austria” festival, which the Max Kade Institute and the Austrian Consulate General is presenting with USC’s schools of cinema and drama.

“Notturno” screens Saturday at USC’s Norris Theater at 8 p.m., and “Sodom und Gomorrha” will be shown by the Silent Society at the Hollywood Studio Museum tonight at 7:30 with piano accompaniment by Robert Israel.

“Sodom und Gomorrha” is hardly contemporary but it’s fun--a must for silent film buffs. Directed by Michael Curtiz when his last name was still spelled Kertesz, this stupefying yet also stupendous picture makes De Mille epics of the period seem like models of taste and restraint. We think of Vienna as a citadel of European sophistication, but this production is pure kitsch with a capital K . The sets seem far bigger and more elaborate than those for “Intolerance” and even De Mille’s silent “Ten Commandments,” but they’re all so gaudy they’re awful and the acting isn’t acting, for the most part, but extravagant posturing.

Like many a De Mille production, a modern story and a biblical inspirational tale are intercut. The modern story involves a young woman, Mary Conway (Lucy Doraine), who becomes completely cynical when her mother marries her off to a banker, a vastly rich older man (Georg Reimers) whose mansion seems bigger than the Schoenbrunn Palace.

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After driving one man (Kurt Ehrle) nearly to suicide and drifting into an affair with her stepson (Walter Slezak, then a slim youth), Mary has two severely cautionary dreams-within-a dream. (This is none too clear on the screen.) First, there’s her nightmare imagining the dire consequences of her behavior, which in turn gives way to her dream that she is the wife of Lot and the Queen of Syria.

Yet “Sodom und Gomorrha” is worth seeing for more than camp or history. Cinematographer Gustav Ucicky’s images are remarkable, and they grow more so as the barbaric nonsense and tepid orgies of the biblical sequences build toward a climax of epic destruction, a vision of chaos that takes you by surprise with its sheer power and duration. In retrospect it’s amazing to realize that 20 years later Curtiz directed two of Hollywood’s most beloved movies, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Casablanca.” (For reservations for “Sodom und Gomorrha”: (213) 937-0776.)

Fritz Lehner’s “Notturno” is an impassioned, very beautiful--and sometimes quite free--rendering of the life of Schubert, which turns on the generally accepted belief that the Viennese composer was a syphillitic. In its heady, gorgeous way, “Notturno” is an intense and engaging film in which the likable, unhandsome young Schubert (Udo Samuel) transforms his sexual longing into great music (which of course floods the sound track). For more festival information: (213) 743-8066, 444-9310.

Aki Kaurismaki’s “Hamlet Goes Into Business” (1987), which screens Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater as part of the final program in the UCLA Film Archives’ “The Brothers Kaurismaki” retrospective, is as successful and bold a contemporary reworking of Shakespeare as Aki’s “Crime and Punishment.”

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Aki’s unprepossessing Hamlet (Pirkka-Pekka Petelius) is the bulky, middle-aged son of a Helsinki industrial paper and shipping tycoon who is poisoned by his brother Klaus (Esko Salminen), who would reduce a once-mighty family concern to turning out rubber ducks.

There’s nothing noble about this lethal family and its deadly machinations, but its plight and its fate have considerable political implications both for life in Finland and that country’s minor position in world trade. Shot in striking high contrast black-and-white like a classic film noir, “Hamlet Goes Into Business” is set largely in the family’s vast, castle-like mansion, as isolated as Elsinore, and it has a darkly humorous, dryly outrageous tone.

Second feature is Mika’s “The Worthless” (1982). Information: (213) 206-8013, 206-FILM.


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