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People on Sunday
BLU-RAY disk
06.29.2011 By: Mathew Plale
People on Sunday order
Director:
Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer

Actors:
Wolfgang von Waltershausen
Christl Ehlers
Erwin Splettstösser

Rating:
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Extras:
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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
This German silent that blends narrative and documentary centers on a quartet of people who take a Sunday trip to picnic, boat and flirt.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
In 1929 Berlin, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Curt Siodmak, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann collaborated on a low-budget experimental work that would be a minor, early milestone in fusing two distinct genres. People on Sunday: A Film Without Actors, as the title tells, is just that: part narrative/part documentary that casts non-professionals as versions of themselves.

The primary five are: traveling wine salesman Wolfgang (von Waltershausen), film extra Christl (Ehlers), taxi driver Erwin (Splettstösser), model Annie (Schreyer), and record store clerk Brigitte (Borchert).

Before Sunday even rises, Erwin and wife Annie are at it, bickering about seeing the new Garbo film, and Wolfgang prowls, approaching Christl at a restaurant when he thinks she’s been stood up. Much of the rest of the film has the four of them (Annie, perhaps bitter over the Garbo incident, opts to sleep in) spending an afternoon in Nikolasse where they swim, play records and go boating. And like men may do, Wolfgang and Erwin flirt with nameless girls out on a lake.

That is the extent of the storyline, if one wants to call it that. Yet People on Sunday, even without plot, is entirely engrossing. Maybe that’s because seeing what others do on their last day off of the week is more interesting than what we do (imagine how fascinating a modern anthology--People on Sunday in [insert city name]--could be).

Or maybe it’s talent involved that keeps us engaged. Co-director Siodmak went on to direct a number of fine noirs, including 1946’s The Killers; co-director/producer Ulmer collaborated with Fritz Lang and directed noir thriller Detour; story contributor Curt Siodmak wrote Universal monster classic The Wolf Man; cinematography assistant Zinnemann won four Oscars including two for directing; and screenwriter Wilder remains one of the greatest writer/directors in the history of cinema.

It would be impossible to guess just how successful and influential these men would be judging from this film, released on a $7,000 budget without any major studio control. People on Sunday is an admirable work, both for what it spawned and its bold simplicity.
THE EXTRAS
Weekend am Wannsee (31:14): Directed by Gerald Koll, this 2000 documentary traces the making of People on Sunday. Interviewees include Brigitte Borchert, writer Curtis Siodmak and film restorer Martin Koerber.

Ins Blaue hinein (35:30): Directed by People on Sunday’s cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan, this 1929 German silent film “is stylistically similar to People on Sunday in many ways.”

Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Young People Like Us” by film scholar Noah Isenberg and reprints by screenwriter Billy Wilder and director Robert Siodmak.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The Criterion Collection has done a very fine job with their first Blu-ray release of a feature-length silent film. The inclusion of two scores for People on Sunday is nice and the video transfer is about as strong as we can reasonably expect considering the source and age. Film aficionados should have no reason not to be eager to see what Criterion has in store for silent films in the future.
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