Saturday, July 8, 2017

Born Today July 8: Paul Leni


Famed German expressionist silent film director Paul Leni was born Paul Josef Levi on this day in Stuttgart.  His artistic bent was evident early in his life, and by the age of 15 was an avant-garde painter with obvious talent.  This led his to study at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts; during his time at art school he started work as a set designer for various stage productions.  His work for the live stage led to his transition to work on set design in the budding film industry.  He then added costume design to his resume (in this capacity, he worked for--amongst others--one Ernst Lubitsch).  In fact, though remembered today as a director, a very large portion of his film credits stem from being in the art department of many productions; the experience in that field led him to be a very artistic, hands on type of director.  The first film that he is credited with "Art Director" was Ein Augestoßener: 1, Teil-Der junge Chef in 1913.  He next served as the Production Designer for The Black Triangle (1914).  He finally made his directorial debut in 1916 with Das Tagebuch des Dr. Hart, or Dr. Hart's Diary, a kind of propaganda film. He would have a long career in the silent era in his native Germany, including a series of animated shorts; but by 1926 the call of Hollywood was too great to ignore.  In 1927 he directed his first film on American soil with the famous Cat And The Canary for Universal Pictures.  He would go on to direct just three more films; one of which is a solid Gothic horror masterpiece:  The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari fame (I wrote a piece about Veidt's character Cesare for a blogathon, that can be found here).  His last film would be The Last Warning (1929), a horror mystery that was a partial silent; the film featured some scenes tinted with a gold treatment similar to that of the Handshiegl Color Process.  Leni died suddenly at the age of 44 of the 2nd of September 1929, the cause of death was listed a "blood poisoning;" he had a massive septic infection from an untreated tooth infection.  For such a talented and well known silent director, I can find zero information about his burial and/or cremation.  The world truly lost a real talent, right on the cusp of becoming a formidable Hollywood director in the age of talking films.

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