Low and Behold

The musical puppet show that provides the centerpiece for the often brilliant Bluebeard (1944) is almost a metaphor for Ulmer's method. There is finally no disjunction between style and content. In some mysterious way, the artist's stylistic conviction dignifies even the most atrocious script as authentic kindermärchen, while raising absurdity to a form of primordial make-believe.

According to Film Forum programmer Bruce Goldstein, New York's first Ulmer retrospective (and the largest anywhere) was the "toughest" retro he has ever pulled together. "I wanted to do it but I didn't relish doing it," Goldstein explains with a certain noir fatalism, "because I knew there would be print problems. The thing about Ulmer is there's really only one studio film that he made. Everything else was for the lowest of the low."

In the absence of studio libraries, the prints are coming from 25 sources, mostly archives and individual collectors, including a major Ulmer enthusiast in New Hampshire. Ulmer's Ukrainian-language operetta Cossacks in Exile has been recently restored by the National Archives of Canada, but Goldstein is particularly pleased to have booked the tuberculosis education films, Another to Conquerand Goodbye, Mr. Germ, that Ulmer made in the early '40s. "I was really happy to get the TB shorts. I was able to walk in off the street to the American Lung Association and the woman had them sitting right there behind her desk. You check them out, like in a library. The last time they were borrowed was 1964."

John Van Dreelen and Arianné Ulmer in the impressively crazy Beyond the Time Barrier
Film Forum / Photofest
John Van Dreelen and Arianné Ulmer in the impressively crazy Beyond the Time Barrier

At least a third of the movies will be shown in 35mm— including the print of Detour struck from a nitrate original found in England. But then there are the one-of-a-kind 16mm prints like Girls in Chainsand Carnegie Hall. Thus Goldstein is holding some unscheduled titles in reserve. "I have this incredible chart with backups in case something doesn't run through the projector. This is a big question mark! I have four different prints for Beyond the Time Barrier alone."

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