Everyday Semiotics

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And still another reason I need to learn German



Only this short snippet of the 1960 German film adaptation of Goethe's Faust is subtitled on YouTube. Unsubtitled below:

Mephistopheles the academician
Mephisto advises a student

Reading Faust / Part One (trans. Philip Wayne, 1949), I was constantly picturing how the poem would look as a relatively big-budget movie. (The above is how it would look if I blew my whole budget to hire Gustaf Gründgens.)

It would center around a theater stage, but the backstage and the lighting overhead would be visible to the camera. The invisible choruses of spirits would be actors in black standing in the wings. Faust's soliloquy in the woods would take place on a stage in an actual forest. When Faust flies on Mephisto's cloak to Auerbach's cellar in Leipzig, the ropes suspending him would be visible, leading up into the catwalk over the stage -- except there is no catwalk, just the sky.

These head-pictures, I like to think, were so vivid because of Goethe's precocious postmodernism. He begins, after all, with a director, a poet and a comedian discussing how they'll stage a play. Later, Faust watches a variant of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" atop the Brocken.

The action of Faust always seems to take place on a stage that has beyond it vast realms of space (Cf. F and M climbing the Brocken, and the mountaintop view of the war at the end of Act IV in Part Two). But that space isn't, like in theater proper, where it is visible to the cast and invisible to the audience. The action on the stage constantly spills out of it. The stage is always bigger than itself.

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