The following is one of the papers I wrote for Film History class. It got an A+ from my teacher, but since he graded on a curve I'm not sure if it's really good or if I was the only one who took the class because I actually LIKE film history.
The Blue Angel is a film about a man who leaves his natural habitat for the love of a woman who is not of his class, into a chaotic world he does not understand. In abandoning the "pigeonhole" that society has placed him in to try to possess an indominable force of nature (Lola-Lola), he loses everything - Career, power, home, social standing, self-respect, and is finally destroyed by the choices he's made.
The opening shots of the film show the day arriving with the town clock striking the hour, several statues including death plodding along their clockwork path. The clock is referred to several times throughout the film as the start of Dr. Rath's morning rituals and as an unchanging landmark of his stale but secure existance. A maid washing windows admires the new poster advertising Lola-Lola's cabaret act, and strikes the same pose.
In the opening scene, Dr. Rath meticulously begins his breakfast, but his morning routine is disrupted when he discovers that his pet bird is dead. He is hurt and bewildered. In his well-ordered life, this was something he had not planned on. His housekeeper unemotionally sums up the situation, saying only "It didn't sing anymore, anyway." and callously throwing the tiny body into the stove. The bird motif is repeated throughout the film, from the singing birds caged in Lola's room to the feathers pasted on the postcard of her and the tacky ceramic birds hanging by wires on the cabaret stage. Professor Rath's ascetic life is sterile, schematic, so crammed with routine that it lacks the breath of life: like his caged bird, he is dead. (1) In class he is just as orderly, and in sole dictatorship. Putting one mark in his little black book reduces his prize student to a nervous wreck. The students are loud and disruptive before class, but the classroom becomes deathly quiet when he arrives, all his students in neat regimented rows, standing at attention showing respect for his position, when they have nothing but contempt for him behind his back. They pull pranks and bully his prize student unmercifully when he isn't looking, but they are all affected innocence when he is watching. As in the German society of the times, respectable behavior was not expected, only the appearance of it. Sound is used very effectively in these scenes. As he opens and shuts the window, it is his actions that control the sounds of the choir singing outside, as if he alone has control of what from the outside world is or isn't allowed to broach the sanctity of his classroom. But his control is disrupted by students sneaking looks at naughty postcards of Lola. The immediate disruption of his class is ended when he takes the cards away from them, but the disruption of his life caused by Lola begins here, long before he actually meets her.
When he follows his students to the cabaret, the stark lighting and leaning oppressive buildings reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari emphasize the unfamiliar world of chaos he is entering. Teachers in Germany are highly respected in society, and are expected to act with extreme decorum. The harbor area is a place where someone of his class should never go. The cabaret is in many ways the opposite of his classroom. It is dark and shabby. The chorus girls are chubby at best, and the costumes leave little unrevealed. The place is crowded, noisy, and half-hidden in a fog of cigarette smoke and low-key lighting. The cherubs, birds, and clouds are all cheap illusions pulled on wires.
(1) A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast & Bruce F. Kawin, 1971
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