Michael Curtiz Double Bill

The programme concludes with two silent films directed by the Hungarian director Michael Curtiz (then Mihaly Kertesz) of Casablanca fame and co-produced by the Viennese company Sasha-Film. Both cast his then-wife, the French actress Lili Damita in, the leading roles as a dancer. Prior to her film career (launched by a beauty competition), Damita had danced on the Parisian stage under the pseudonym Lily Deslys, most notably at the Casino de Paris.

Red Heels (Das Speilzeug von Paris/ La Poupée de Paris)

Austria, Germany, France 1925. Dir Michael Curtiz. With Lili Damita, Georges Tréville. Sets Artur Berger. 90 min

With live piano accompaniment from Jane Gardner.

Red Heels was adapted from Margery Lawrence’s novel of the same title. Set in Parisian cabarets and revue theatres, the film articulates the moral panic surrounding free-spirited women performers in a big city. While Red Heels may be somewhat clichéd in this sense, its portrayal of Parisian vice was also a pretext to showcase remarkable aesthetic achievements in staging, choreography, costuming and, of course, cinematography. The film was shot on locations in Paris and Vienna and also boasts some stunning backstage music hall scenes that showcase dance costumes in close-up.  

Golden Butterfly (Der Goldene Schmetterling)

Austria 1926. Dir Michael Curtiz (Mihály Kertész) With Lili Damita. 77min

With live piano accompaniment from John Sweeney.

As in Red Heels, a tragic note is ever-present in Golden Butterfly. The dancer is a creature of the night, a moth driven to the glitter of the stage only to be blinded and burnt. Another one of Curtiz’s ambitious European co-productions designed to rival the dominance of Hollywood cinema in the mid-1920s (ironically, the director and his star left for Hollywood soon after), Golden Butterfly was shot in London, Cambridge and Berlin. It features some highly accomplished, spectacular dance routines under the art direction of the ‘master of atmospheric mysteries’ Paul Leni.

Barbican Wednesday 05 Dec 2012, 16:00 & 18:00