PETER: I’d like to start by thanking Yangqiao Lu not only for the opportunity to show you all one of my absolute favorite movies, but also for letting me get on the stage of a theatre that I have been visiting since I was a college freshman in 1985.
I chose these two films because I think they go together well – I’ll tell you why and how in a moment. I think I’ll start by giving you some historical background on the film People on Sunday, then some stylistic things to look for and some matters of content, and then I’ll say a little about Jay Leyda and his short film A Bronx Morning.
People on Sunday was the first project by a group of young people living in Berlin in 1929, five of whom went on to become major players in Hollywood. Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer were the directors. Robert Siodmak was the primary director. He went on to make a great many films, of which the best known may be The Killers. Ulmer made a whole lot of B-films, none of which I have seen. The script was written – well – nobody is quite sure exactly what the division of labor was, because as with many films from long ago that have become legendary, everybody who worked on it has a different account of who did what. Billy Wilder said there was a 7-page script, someone else said there was a 30-page script, the actors seem to have said there was no script whatsoever, and that they were making things up in cafés as they went, which is probably the most likely thing. Billy Wilder was, with Siodmak, one of the screenwriters. When he was interviewed in the early 2000s about his role in making the film, Fred Zinnemann – who went on to make, among other things, High Noon – said he mostly just carried the camera around. Eugen Schüfftan was the cameraman; he really was quite a genius of a cameraman. He worked with Fritz Lang, as one of the cameramen on Metropolis. In the course of working on that film, he invented a technique, a filming trick that came to bear his name, the Schüfftan effect, which has to do with filming live action through glass partly painted with background, so the scenery didn’t have to be all built.