Sep 10, 2017

VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA at Anthology, by Jacob Zaborowski

Viktor und Viktoria (1933) at Anthology 
by Jacob Zaborowski 

It is March 29th, 2017, when I attend a Wednesday evening screening of Viktor und Viktoria at the Anthology Film Archives on Second Avenue and East 2nd Street NYC.

Some backstory on Anthology: it was founded in 1970, and moved to its current location, a former municipal courthouse, in 1979. While it has been renovated and retrofitted to include two theaters, it maintains some vestiges of its former life; a weathered "Magistrates' Court" sign hangs in the lobby. The rest of the lobby itself merges the old and the new in this quiet, unadorned manner. Old marble floors coexist with off-white, almost pale blue walls and fluorescent lighting. The rust-red metal doors take you into this lobby and lead you to a circular ticket window with printed announcements and ticket price lists surrounding it. A young ticket taker, probably working their way through college here, takes your money and gives you one green (if you're a student) ticket. A brief trip to the third floor (where the water fountain is located) shows a large theater named for.

Viktor und Viktoria
is not showing in this theater. It is showing in the theater to the right of the ticket window, named for Maya Deren. I hand my ticket to the man taking them at the theater's entrance, and he rips off half. Naming the theater after the director of Meshes of the Afternoon is fitting, as the interior reminds one of the minimalist aesthetic associated with Deren's work. Black walls, about fifteen rows of seats inclining towards the back of the theater, and a blank projection screen at the front.

I take my seat, the lights dim, and the logo of the F. W. Murnau Foundation appears on the screen. Viktor und Viktoria (Reinhold Schunzel, 1933) is the German talkie that provided the basis for the better-known Victor/Victoria (1982),  MGM musical comedy directed by Blake Edwards and starring Julie Andrews. The story has been the basis for several movies, including British, German, and Argentine versions. 

Anthology presented this German film as part of a multi-month series called "Cross Dressing On Screen," guest-curated by performer John "Lypsinka" Epperson.

Viktor und Viktoria is the story of two down-on-their luck performers, Viktor (Herman Thimig) and Susanne (Renate Muller). Viktor, a Shakespearean ham, finds work as a female impersonator, but falls ill; he asks Susanne to take his place as...Viktoria. Needless to say, Viktoria becomes a hit, winning the hearts of audiences in London, and a German playboy for extra measure (Anton Walbrook, billed as Adolf Wahlbruck).

I've written more about the venue than the film that was screened for a reason. The driving sense behind Anthology in its aesthetic is that you have sense of its history and reputation before making your way in, only to forget it as the film you're watching unfolds. I still remember what I saw in Viktor und Viktoria and liked (Renate Muller's boyish femininity and Thimig's zealous hamming make for excellent on-screen chemistry), but in looking back, I realize that's because Anthology, as a brick-and mortar building and an institution, did their job right by fading themselves into the background. You don't go there to see the Magistrates' Court sign, you go there to see the movie. Even the screen beneath the screen proper to show the subtitles is unobtrusive.

Anthology is in the midst of fundraising for a renovation and expansion project that will add a cafe and expand their archival facilities and researchers' access. I hope that the end result will be present when needed and fade into the background when necessary.​ 

--  Jacob Zaborowski 

Post script:

Six months later, the newly renovated Quad Cinema in New York ran the film (35mm, subtitled) for three nights as part of its series The Whole World Sings: International Musicals, presented in collaboration with film critic Bilge Ebiri. 

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