People on Sunday (Blu-ray)
Directed by Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080i AVC codec
Running Time: 73 minutes
Audio: PCM 2.0 stereo (two separate tracks)
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Review Date: June 21, 2011
The glut of reality television choking our airwaves now is pretty overwhelming, but Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer’s People on Sunday must have seemed like a breath of fresh air some eighty years ago. Here we have five real-life people placed in everyday situations with instructions to improvise as themselves, and the result is something rather precious and rare: young men and women behaving normally which means rather caddishly or jealously or playfully as the situation demanded. The film was a big hit, likely because the audiences felt like they were truly seeing themselves reflected on screen without the artificiality of studio settings or melodramatic techniques they had already seen dozens of times. Seen now, the simple narrative isn’t all that interesting (if anything, it reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same), but what the filmmakers did with their raw material gives the movie an edge it likely wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s no wonder so many behind-the-scenes technicians went on to legendary Hollywood careers.
Three days in the lives of five young people in Berlin in 1929 are chronicled. Erwin Splettstösser is a slightly chubby cab driver who lives with a lazy fashion model Annie Schreyer. Lothario Wolfgang von Waltershausen sells wine when he’s working but attempts to pick up girls when he isn’t. Film extra Christl Ehlers gets picked up by Wolfgang on a street corner where they make a date to spend Sunday together with Erwin and Annie. On Sunday, however, Erwin can’t get sleepyhead Annie out of bed, so he comes alone to the rendezvous, but he’s in luck since Christl has brought her best friend Brigitte Borchert (who works selling phonograph records) with her. The quartet sets out together to see what adventures they can have, but Wolfgang immediately switches his interest from Christl to Brigitte which begins a daylong series of jealous encounters and misplaced loyalties between the four young people.
Billie (ne Billy) Wilder wrote the scenario for the couples as they spend their Sunday swimming in the lake, picnicking on the shore, frolicking in the woods, paddling on a lake, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company when they’re not hurting one another’s feelings or causing momentary rifts in friendships. The directors split their time both chronicling the leisure activities of the young people as well as studying the populace who surround them throughout their daylong activities. They put together some impressive montages of people laughing, the statuary in the park, and a really interesting sequence where people sit to have their pictures snapped for posterity with the frame showing us their posing and then the finished results (sometimes not the pose we think it will be). If one has ever been curious about the look and feel of Berlin before the National Socialist Party takeover, this film gives it to you, and just studying the fashions in clothes, the demeanor of the people as they go to and from work or spend a leisurely day gives the film an interest and importance it might not otherwise possess. But the four major young people get the majority of the focus, and the camera is right in their faces as we see emotions flicker across them as things either go their way or not during their Sunday outing. When it appears Wolf and Brigette are starting to make love, the camera makes a long, slow pan across the woods and up into the sky giving the couple their privacy until they’ve finished where we come back to them disheveled but none the worse for wear.
The young people themselves seem to be perfectly natural before the camera, and we gauge their personalities quickly. We see Erwin crush out a cigarette in his girl friend’s dinner plate when she refuses to get up from bed to eat with him without giving it a second thought, and the quick shift of interest from Christl to Brigette lets us know Wolf’s name is quite appropriate to his personality. (At one point, he even has both girls snuggling with him as they take a nap on a hillside after lunch.) Christl emerges as something of a pill, not wanting Wolf to kiss her and yet objecting when Brigette eagerly yields to him and then spending most of the rest of the movie playing second choice to her best friend. And the two guys have an easy camaraderie that comes through effortlessly (though Wolf, among his other traits, does emerge as a deadbeat letting Erwin spring for the food for the picnic as well as paying for the paddle boat rental).
The film is framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080i using the AVC codec. Even though the transfer is interlaced rather than progressive, there appears to be no ill effects from this as the picture doesn’t ever fall victim to interlaced artifacts. The problems are all age-related with scratches and some debris unable to be removed completely, and since the film had to be restored from several different sources, the sharpness levels vary extensively throughout. The best scenes look crisp and very impressive, but there are others where contrast is pretty blown out and detail vanishes. There is also flicker to be contended with, an anomaly which comes and goes. The white subtitles on the German intertitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
This silent film offers two PCM (2.3 Mbps) 2.0 stereo soundtracks offering completely different music scores to accompany the film. The Mont Alto Orchestra provides the more period-sounding of the two tracks (and the one I preferred) using popular and classical music appropriate to the mood of the film. The other track was composed by Elena Kats-Chernin and recorded by the Czech Film Orchestra and is more modern in feel and tone. The fidelity of both audio tracks is excellent.
Weekend am Wannsee is a 2000 documentary by Gerald Koll which describes the restoration of the film from several different sources (some of the film pieces are still missing) as well as offering interviews with the elderly Brigitte Borchert and the director’s brother Curt Siodmak who assisted Wilder with writing the scenario for the players. Brigitte not only describes her experiences in making the movie but also details what happened to the two men she shared the film with. Siodmak and director Koll discuss Siodmak’s subsequent career along with quickly briefing the viewer on the successful Hollywood careers of Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann (who served as the cinematographer’s assistant). This 1080i documentary runs 31 ¼ minutes.
Ins Blaue Hinein is a 35 ½-minute comedy short directed by People on Sunday’s cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan. It shares the same playful tone and joie de vivre of People on Sunday as three men and one young lady have a frolic that leads to their starting their own dog washing business. It’s in 1080i.
The enclosed 30-page booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, a generous selection of movie stills, film scholar Noah Isenberg’s essay on the making of the movie, and Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak’s individual comments on the film’s production.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
The examination of everyday life that forms the core of People on Sunday will impress you even if the individual stories of the five real-life people in the spotlight aren’t very monumental. This slice-of-real-life docudrama which shows the embryonic cinematic efforts of four men who would have rather famous careers in America in the years ahead give the movie a stature that requires fans of those talented men to give this film the attention it might not otherwise have received.