The DVD-ization of Carl Theodor Dreyer continues apace with the release of this forgotten 1924 German Expressionist treasure, as antiquated by 19th-century ideas about art and class as it is thoroughly 21st century in its subtle depiction of gay love. Co-written by Thea von Harbou—Mrs. Fritz Lang—and shot by Karl Freund and Rudolph Mate, the film plumbs a tragic love triangle between a “master” artist (filmmaker Benjamin Christensen), his young model-boyfriend (an unrecognizable Walter Slezak), and a penniless Russian countess (Nora Gregor, before Renoir found her) they both fall for. Brimming with what might be the most beautifully shot interiors of the silent era, Michael is addictively watchable, given the various poetic uses of spotlighting and Christensen’s startling performance and grand, Mephistophelian visage. Typically for Dreyer, what could’ve been a breast-clutching melodrama is instead a meditation on aging and sacrifice. Kino is simultaneously releasing two other gay-centered German silents, Richard Oswald’s Different From the Others (1919) and William Dieterle’s Sex in Chains (1928); all are irreplaceable cultural landmarks.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 7, 2004