dreaming of a better past: willi forst

slowly we get back to the topic… of looking at things past and interrogating them. for what purpose i am not really sure – learning, maybe. getting a feeling for things that surpass our own experience, maybe. or just plain discovering that there is more nice music out there? well, this time i would like to present something of a guilty pleasure of mine – and an interesting case of using the past. and of course it is past that never happened. yes, the simulacrum existed of course long before jameson. and with the work of willi forst we have a nice example of how a past gets created and even pitched against a present.

willi forst rose to fame as the perfect actor for a special genre in film history: the viennese film. light entertainment, taking a lot of influences from the operette (the european equivalent to musical, more or less) these films play in an k.u.k austrian empire full of pretty girls and smart young men in pretty uniforms. and willi forst was perfect by being a smart, handsome man with a golden voice. einfach galant…

as an interesting detail it is to note that his first lead (in cafe elektric) was opposite a women (also having her first lead, i believe) by the name of marlene dietrich. just to give you the link back to before winter-time…

but willi forst had a very different career. he started directing and enjoyed international recognition for his movies. and yes, then came the rise of the nazis, the “homecoming” of austria into the reich. willi forst stayed – and became one of the most influental persons in the german / austrian film industry. so he was just another opportunist? well, having a closer look starts giving a slightly different picture. to a degree he kept a low profile – releasing only a few films during these period. films he himself claimed as his most austrian. his line of argument was basically that he pitched the fantasy of a royal austria against the political ideas of national-socialism. this first sounds silly – on the other hand it certainly hasn’t been the easiest way to go. additionally he seemingly used his influence to protect fellow artists that were less of value to the nazis. yes, it is again a different answer to the question of how close one dances with the devil – if one wants to dance at all. and willi forst certainly realized that the devil smelled bad…

after the war he tried to build up again the austrian film industry, even calling for migrants to come back in an open letter, published in the monthly film – a magazine he actually founded. a short version (unfortunately not the full text) of this call to come home you can find here. it is an appellation to rebuild vienna, to rebuild austria – and in a way it is rather strange and rather sad – it still seems rooted in an austrian nationalism that might had been necessary as a weapon against other political ideologies and was now used as a source of strength to rebuild. but then i imagine that especially for the many migrants nationalism was rather unappealing.

so it very much looks like that except him hardly anybody cared for the rebuilding of an austrian filmindustry. not unlike the case of the non-rebuilding of the german industry – which of course was also in the interest of the occupying forces. for more background on that you might have a read here.

so the great career of willi forst did somehow not survive the second world war – although he did make a handful of important films after the war: one especially, somehow his take on neo-realismo, caused a huge scandal in germany: die sünderin (the sinner). bringing up in a non-judgemental fashion the topics of prostitution, suicide, and assisted suicide in a movie (and thrown in a little nude scene) proved to be too much for quite some people in post-war germany – interesting to note how vehemently religious organisations fought against the showing of that movie – a vehemence sadly missing just a couple of years ago when death was real. the movie was extremly successfull and made one woman famous – or infamous. more on her in the following post – much more, actually…

but then there is another aspect which fascinates me with the person of willi forst: he pitched something else against the nazis – how consciously i do not know. but seeing him and hearing his voice there is an apparent ambiguity – he was not the blond arian man. he was the type of the charming, cheeky man, winning the women not with his muscles and his hardness, but with his attention, his wit, and his elegance. and not only winning the women. where i also managed to link back to this blog and its lurking subtext of sexual difference.

and now that i came to such a nice round ending there are just two things left:

for a more detailed account of the life of willi forst i highly recommend this article – way better informed then me.

and of course you get some music. music from his movies. music that is very nostalgic – first because of its acoustic patina, and second because they were always meant to be nostalgic. it fascinates me that already at the time when they came out they attempted to trigger nostalgia – and they keep on doing this to this day. and i do find it nice (although i just can’t cope with k.u.k nostalgia, usually – that’s why its a guilty pleasure, sort of). these days and with some more history between the recordings and us today it might be a different nostalgia – one that acknowledges that nostalgia is dreaming of a better past…


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