Sunday, July 3, 2011

Professor Unrat

Lately, I seem to be knee deep in German or German-related books. Bust be something in the German literary psyche that's calling to me lately. Don't know what else it could be. So, for that unknown reason, I recently lighted on Heinrich Mann's 1905 Professor Unrat, made famous by Marlene Dietrich's breakout performance in the film adaptation, The Blue Angel.

Unrat, which translates into something close to "garbage" - my version translated it as "mud" - is a tyrannical professor, vilified by his students and former students who insist on tormenting him constantly. He hates - HATES!!!! - being called by his nickname, and will seek out everyone that calls him that and mete out whatever punishment he can. They shout at him in the street, mocking him everywhere.

His arch nemesis is a student named Lohmann, who actually makes a point never to call him "mud" - he's above it somehow. One day, Lohmann turns in his notebook after an exam and Unrat notices a poem tin it addressed to an actress, Rosa Frohlich. Boys in the school are not supposed to be dilly dallying at theaters, and so Unrat sets out to catch Lohmann and his two accomplices. Unrat searches the town for where this infamous Rosa may be, and he eventually finds her at the Blue Angel. His goal is simple: bring down Lohmann by catching him in after-hours dalliances with a woman of low-repute. But that's not what happens. Rosa, instead, catches Unrat.

The students know what's up, and because of it Unrat completely loses control. He eventually is forced to leave his post and uses all his money catering to Rosa. Lohmann resurfaces, Unrat tries to kill him and really just ends up stealing his wallet. As he runs down the street, he is like always tormented with insults. Unrat's unwavering righteousness - his need to ruin those who have mocked him - is excellently portrayed. A very powerful story.

Though I love The Blue Angel (which is why I cannot help posting the clip at the bottom - her expressions in the German version are much better than the English), the motivation behind Unrat is completely different between film and novel. Though at first he really is interested and flattered by Rosa (called Lola Lola in the film), in the novel his undoing is his absolute desire to ruin everyone and he is able to do so via his relations with Rosa. In the film, it's his devotion to Rosa/Lola herself that is his undoing without mention of his overriding obession. That just gets him into her dressing room. Both work and both knock your socks off, but for different reasons.
With that, here you go:

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