Master of the World? The Adventures of Joe May in Britain
Joe May’s film-making career is mainly viewed as a Berlin and Hollywood affair, with a couple of sidesteps to Paris slipped in. But during the 1920s and the early 1930s, across the divisions between silent and sound produc-tion, between the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, he had his British connections too. These connections are well worth examining both on their own acccount and as reflections of European cinema’s cross-national activity at a time of major turbulence. First, I will consider the importation of May’s films into Britain in the 1920s and his critical standing in the shadow of Fritz Lang, Erich Pommer, and G. W. Pabst – figures who will thread through this talk as colleagues and competitors. The talkie upheaval of 1929/30 will be illustrated with the Eng-lish-language versions of DER UNSTERBLICHE LUMP and DIE LETZTE KOMPAGNIE, dubbed at Neubabelsberg in a system May developed and patented himself. Technically, the synchronisation was persuasive; but hindight tells us that Conrad Veidt’s face should never have been matched to a voice suggesting a pillar of the British establishment. Finally we reach 1933 and the grand climax of his British ‘career’, when the émigré Joe May gets a job in Britain directing a remake of ZWEI HERZEN IM ¾ TAKT, only to leave the production for Universal’s planned Paris remake of his last German film, EIN LIED FÜR DICH – a production which is itself abandoned shortly after. The episode is an ominous prologue to May’s checkered career in Hollywood, one ending in poverty and the need for assistance from old colleagues. But perhaps he took some conslation from one small fact: Lang and Pabst’s scheduled Bri-tish productions in the early sound period never happened either.