Gilda Langer – Caligari’s Muse


Gilda was born Hermengild Langer on 16 May, 1896 in Oderfurt (now Prívoz), a section of the city of Ostrava in the now Czech Republic.  Like many girls who grew up in the suburbs, Gilda dreamt of one day moving to the big city and becoming an actress.  So, at the age of 18, she set out for Vienna. It was there that she met Carl Mayer, an aspiring writer with a gift for telling wild tales.  Carl was enchanted by Gilda and took her to Berlin with him. Berlin was the theater and film center of Germany. Much like Hollywood, girls came from far and wide hoping to be discovered and become the next Pola Negri.

In 1917, Carl and Gilda set up shop at the Residence Theater in Berlin, he as a cashier, extra and assistant director and she as a supporting actress.  They slowly started to make contacts in the theatrical and motion picture scene, then Carl had a great idea. He figured that publicity was what really made you a movie star. Talent took a backseat to truly good PR. In 1917, Carl published photos in the trade press called, “The Gilda Langer Series”.  It wasn’t long before she was noticed and landed a role opposite Harry Liedtke and Conrad Veidt in the exotic adventure movie, Das Rätsel von Bangalor (1918).

The beginning of 1919 started out with a role working alongside action star Carl de Vogt and dancer Sadjah Gezza in the erotic thriller, Der Herr der Liebe, the second film directed by 28-year-old screenwriter Fritz Lang. The film was banned due to the erotic nature of the material, including a very sheer robe worn by Gilda. It was however shown to the press and Gilda became the new sensation.  She appeared in two other Fritz Lang films, Halbblut and Die Spinnen – Teil 2 aka The Spiders – Part 2.

It was around this time that Carl was introduced to a young man named Hans Janowitz. Hans too was an aspiring writer and it was at Gilda’s behest that the two of them collaborate on a story. In the winter of 1919, they wrote The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They envisioned a film version with Gilda in the part that Lil Dagover eventually played.

Gilda never lived to see the premiere. On January 31, 1920, she succumbed to the Spanish flu. As with many actors and actresses who die young, rumors surrounded her death. Some thought she had had a nervous breakdown, still others speculated that she’d overdosed on drugs. None of this seems to be founded in any reality. Just a few weeks before her death she had accepted a marriage proposal from director Paul Czinner.

Like most of Gilda’s films, her grave marker too was long lost and thought to be destroyed. Carl had paid to inscribe notes from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” on the stone. It wasn’t until 1995 when  a local film historian discovered her gravesite in a neglected section of Stahnsdorf’s Südwestfriedhof in Brandenburg, Germany.


On This Day – January 28th

Eastern directorsToday we celebrate the birthdays of four men who were instrumental in shaping the history of Eastern European cinema.

Pyotr Chardynin (1872–1934)

One of Russia’s film pioneers, Chardynin was born in Simbirsk, Russian Empire on January 28th (Julian calendar), February 10th (Gregorian calendar). He started out as an actor on the stage, then moved on to films and finally to directing. He directed over 100 silent films. By the time the talkies arrived, Chardynin had been banned from directing by the Soviet regime. He died in the Ukraine on 14 August, 1934 of liver cancer.

Aleqsandre Tsutsunava (1881–1955)

Born in Likhauri, Georgia, Russian Empire (now Georgia) in 1881, Tsutsunava  was a well-known theater director. He directed the first Georgian, full-length feature film in 1909 called, ‘Berikaoba Keenoba’. The 1916 film, ‘Qristine’, also directed by Tsutsunava, is often credited as being the first feature film from Georgia . He continued directing until 1928. I’m not sure what happened after that. Perhaps with the advent of sound, he returned to the theater. Although sound took longer to come to Russia, so I really don’t know why the last film he is credited with came out in 1928. He died on 25 October, 1955 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Zaqaria Berishvili (1887–1965)

Born in 1887, Berishvili was a film director and actor. He acted in the theater from 1905 until 1921, when he took part in the organization of the film section of the People’s Commissariat for Education in Georgia.  He played small roles in silent films throughout the mid-1920s. He directed his first film in 1926. He made the transition to sound and directed a few talkies in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1946 he focused his efforts on dubbing foreign films into Georgian. He was the Honored Artist of Georgia, SSR  in 1945 and then again in 1961. He died on May 9, 1965.

Eugen Illés (1877–1951) – no photo available

Also credited as Jenõ Illés, he was born in Debrecen, Hungary. He got a degree in Liberal Arts in Budapest, then in Mechanical Engineering in Berlin. By 1911 he was the lead director of the Berlin branch of Pathé. His 1918 film, ‘Mania: The History of a Cigarette Factory Worker’ starring Pola Negri was thought to be destroyed, when it turned up in a Czech movie collection in 2011. The Polish completely restored it and took the film on a world tour. Because of his ties to his native Hungary, he was also able to facilitate the distribution of Hungarian films in Germany. He returned to Hungary to produce nine films between 1915 and 1917. He came back to Germany during WWI and shot hours of documentary film. He returned to Hungary in 1919. He died in Budapest on 17 October, 1951.

Trivia Question #2 – Answer

It was the Lost World (1925). It was shown on an Imperial Airways flight from London to Paris in April of 1925. A promotional short called ‘Howdy Chicago’ was shown on a short flight around the city in 1921, but this was the first feature-length film.

Here’s a short silent film showing them preparing the plane for the screening of the Lost World. Enjoy!