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People on Sunday (The Criterion Collection) Review

It’s not uncommon to hear that all copies of a film from the 1930s have been lost to time the attrition it bears on poorly kept reels. Since it’s so commonplace, it’s quite a feat when a few dedicated souls make the effort to scrounge through basements, warehouses, personal collections and anywhere else they can imagine and find the rare remaining copies that have bits and pieces of usable footage that will allow them to splice together a new, nearly whole version of the film. Such is the case with People on Sunday, a monumental film helmed by filmmaking legends Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, and Edgar G. Ulmer, a cynical look at love with an almost equally cynical approach to the making of a film. Criterion Collection has brought the latest, most complete version of the film to Blu-ray (with only about 8 minutes unaccounted for), and it stands as a revealing look at masters of their craft at the outset of their careers.

People on Sunday should be touted as the perfect example of today’s filmmaking mindset “anyone can do it,” as it sees a few men with an idea casting five normal people to star in a film about an ordinary day of merrymaking. Granted, these men went on to prove themselves visionaries in their respective fields, but even the cast found themselves in high demand after People on Sunday became a hit. Though the film is still incomplete, what is presented here is a benchmark film heralding the bright futures of some of film’s most notable auteurs.

People on Sunday is the tale of the fleeting nature of romance as told through a Sunday’s excursion into nature and away from the busy streets of Berlin. A film extra (Christl Ehlers), a taxi driver (Erwin Splettstosser), a wine salesman (Wolfgang von Waltershausen), and a model (Annie Schreyer) make plans to take a trip to the shores of the Wannsee on Sunday. On the day of the trip, Annie refuses to get out of bed, leaving Christl to invite along her friend the shopgirl (Brigitte Borchert) and the foursome dallies about in nature listening to music, boating, swimming, and lounging about before returning to their busy lives in Berlin. The romantic dynamics that form between the guys and gals offers a decidedly negative outlook on how easily people can discard a weekend fling, whatever it may have meant.

To be frank, even with the fantastic digital restoration aided in no small part by the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, this isn’t a film that can benefit too much from the HD abilities of Blu-ray, especially once you’ve listened to the story of its restoration in the first featurette. The reels used to construct this version of People on Sunday are of varying quality in terms of picture, and consequently, though this may be the closest the average cinephile gets to a pristine viewing of the film, it’ll never equal a perfectly preserved reel converted to a digital HD format. This isn’t an argument against a Blu-ray purchase, but rather a warning as to the overall quality of the film’s current HD presentation: it’s remarkably good considering how it’s been cobbled together and it’s exceptional in its clarity at times, but it’s still sad to see the clear imperfections that may forever riddle the modern viewing of a film that deserves to be preserved for its historical implications.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The featurettes on the disc almost add up to the film’s 73-minute runtime, and put together, all three make for a terrific viewing experience. The first featurette is Gerald Koll’s Weekend am Wannsee, the 2000 documentary (31 minutes) about the film featuring Martin Koerber, the man commissioned to restore the film from the various portions still available in about five different prints scattered throughout Europe. It’s his compilation you’ll see here that makes up the 73-minute version of People on Sunday. The documentary also checks in with Brigitte Borchert and Curt Siodmak, a writer on the film and the brother of Director Robert Siodmak, balancing their recollections of the filming process against archival footage and news clippings to give us a feel for the mindset behind the film’s creation and the reception it received. The second featurette is the short film Ins Blaue hinein shot by People on Sunday’s cinematographer, Eugen Schufftan. Ins Blaue hinein is interesting for being more than a well-preserved film from 1931 (though IMDb credits it as 1929), in that it’s also a comparative piece of work from which you can gauge how Schufftan’s style changed when under the influence of Siodmak, Ulmer, and the rest.

"People on Sunday (The Criterion Collection)" is on sale June 28, 2011 and is not rated. Documentary, Drama. Directed by Robert Siodmak. Written by Curt Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak. Starring Annie Schreyer, Brigitte Borchert, Christl Ehlers, Erwin Splettstosser, Wolfgang Von Waltershausen.

Jul
09
2011
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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