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Berlinale: Retrospective to Focus on Light in Early Cinema

Dieter Kosslick
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Dieter Kosslick

Major restorations, including Fred Niblo’s "The Mark of Zorro" and Allan Dwan’s "The Iron Mask," will screen in partnership with New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The retrospective at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival next year will focus on light in film, organizers said on Thursday.

Entitled "The Aesthetics of Shadow. Lighting Styles 1915-1950," audiences will be given an opportunity to discover lighting styles from specific genres and decades of film history in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

"We admire films such as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, but for the most part we don’t know the names of the cameramen and lighting technicians who, in a team with the director, create these superb worlds of light and shadow for us," Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick said. "For the second time, the Deutsche Kinemathek is curating the Berlinale Retrospective with The Museum of Modern Art. We are delighted that the films will also be shown in New York."

Influenced by expressionism in the 1920s as well as by classic Hollywood lighting and Japanese architecture, the use of expressive lighting began to evolve at this time in Japan. It also sparked a theoretical debate on how to deal with shadows creatively.

Organizers cited the fascination in Japan with the aesthetics of director F.W. Murnau and the appreciation of Josef von Sternberg’s magical world of shadows in The Docks of New York (USA, 1928) and Shanghai Express (USA, 1932) as examples of how light in film can vary.

The retrospective will also include a look at the work of Henry Kotani, a Japanese cameraman who lived in the U.S. and was invited by Shochiku studio to modernize filmmaking with lighting effects and reflectors.

The retrospective will also look at actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who decisively shaped American swashbuckler films, and was a huge star in Japan, and now lighting played a part in his output.

The point of departure for the retrospective was a publication by Daisuke Miyao entitled The Aesthetics of Shadow. Lighting and Japanese Cinema (2013).

"Daisuke Miyao’s fascinating insights into the art of lighting, and thus into an area of Japanese film history that has hardly been studied, impressed us so greatly that we are curating our film program in close cooperation with him," said Rainer Rother, head of the Berlinale retrospective and artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek.

Rother said he is "indebted to Miyao’s suggestions for several German premieres of Japanese films," one of which will be Masahiro Makino's 1939 samurai musical Singing Lovebirds (Oshidori utagassen), a film that has attained cult status in Japan.

The retrospective will include some 40 silent and sound films and feature stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Kazuo Hasegawa and Sessue Hayakawa.

Among the highlights of the retrospective will be recent restorations, including Gerhard Lamprecht’s Under the Lantern (Germany, 1928), Fred Niblo’s The Mark of Zorro (USA, 1920) and Allan Dwan’s The Iron Mask (USA, 1929).

With the cooperation of The Museum of Modern Art, the film series will also be shown in New York in January and April.