HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

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Arndt

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HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:38 pm

HOMUNCULUS (1916) used to be a phantom film. A lot of people had read about it in books on horror films and once you have heard a name as evocative as this you are not likely to forget it again. Also the film was purported to be one of the granddaddies of the horror genre and therefore of special significance. The few pictures that were circulating showed a tall, brooding man with chiselled features in a black cloak and heavy 1910s make-up. All of this was fit to whet one's appetite, but sadly the film was not available for viewing. Only a truncated part four of the six-part serial circulated in a poor copy. A few years ago a much cut-down Italian one part version was put on the website of George Eastman House. That was it.
Little did we all know that behind the scenes head of the Munich film museum Stefan Drößler had been busily working on the mammoth task of reassembling HOMUNCULUS from the contents of a crate obtained from the Moscow film archives after arduous negotiations. This crate contained 27 reels worth of film from all the six parts of the original serial. The image quality of the film was good, but it was in complete disarray. The material had been copied onto safety film but all the parts had been cut and jumbled up and the film strips sorted by their original tints alone. All the titles had been removed. In their place there were single frames with the first three words of the excised titles scratched on. So Stefan Drößler had to reassemble six hours' worth of film and make new titles, as no censorship records containing the original titles remained. He made use of whatever material could be found in other film archives, of programmes and photographs.
The resulting film runs for 196 minutes at 25 fps, a speed I thought was well-chosen. It is based on the 1920 re-issue version that summarized the original six parts into three, so there is probably material missing from the 1916 version, but it does not feel as if the film were fragmentary. It can now be enjoyed as a film experience and is by no means just an academic reconstruction.
The film was premiered (albeit as a work-in-progress) at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany, on Sunday, 17 August 2014. Richard Siedhoff accompanied on piano.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:40 pm

Synopsis: (WARNING - CONTAINS SPOILERS!)
Part 1. Professor Ortmann and professor Hansen are trying to create artificial human life. Hansen succeeds and, with the help of his hunchback assistant Rodin, produces the Homunculus in the form of a baby boy. At the same time Ortmann's wife gives birth to a child that dies a few days later. Ortmann switches the babies without anyone noticing. Hansen believes his experiment has failed and Ortmann raises the Homunculus as his son Richard. 25 years later the grown-up Homunculus notices that he is different from other people. Women fall for his good looks, but he turns them down coldly. In his deceased "father's" papers he finds a letter that tells him a document placed by Ortmann in his friend's Steffens' possession will tell him about the secret of his birth, but only 25 years after Ortmann's death. The Homunculus tries to get Steffens to give him the document immediately and kills him when he refuses. He steals the document from Steffens' daughter and learns about his artificial origins. He vows revenge on the world. He courts and marries Margarete Hansen, the daughter of his creator. Once they are wed he tells her father his secret. Hansen is distraught and tries to get his daughter away from his creation, but Margarete stays true to her husband. As Hansen tries to poison the Homunculus Margarete drinks the poison herself and dies. The Homunculus departs in disgust. The titles inform us that with Margarete he has come as close to experiencing love as his artificial heart will permit.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:42 pm

Part 2. His aimless travels have brought the Homunculus to North Africa. Here he picks up a faithful dog as his travelling companion. Edgar Rodin has followed him, as he is still deeply interested in the creature he has helped to create. In a cave he finds the book to which the Homunculus confides his innermost thoughts. The Homunculus threatens to kill him if he won't leave him alone. Now the Homunculus and his dog meet a princess. Her father, the king, has been desperately ill for years and cannot rise from his bed. The Homunculus heals him by ordering him to use his willpower to get up. This affects a miracle cure. But the potentate's wife and his advisers are less than happy with the recovery. They malign the Homunculus to the king and present his book as evidence of his unnatural existence. The king orders him seized, but the Homunculus escapes. The princess helps him when he is set upon by the people, but as they flee the dog is killed and the book is lost. Edgar Rodin retrieves the book and gains the Homunculus' trust. At the end of this episode the Homunculus buries the dog, his only true friend. He vows to kill the next human being he sees, but as he enters a clearing two young children are playing there. Immediately the Homunculus changes his mind, picks up the little girl and gives her back to her mother. Edgar Rodin thinks he has seen tears in the Homunculus' eyes, but our hero will have none of that. The princess' betrothed catches up with them and begs for the princess to return to him, which she does, leaving the Homunculus alone once more.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:43 pm

Part 3. The Homunculus wanders the earth and is disgusted with mankind. He comes across a young woman cast out by her father for carrying the unborn child of a man who will not marry her now. The Homunculus takes her in and goes with her to her ex-lover's house to reason with him. But the man, a baron, cruelly rejects her pleas. The Homunculus takes his revenge by ruining the cad at the gambling table. Sometime later he encounters the now destitute man and brings him home for his ward to mock. But she is still in love with the man who spurned her and rushes to embrace him. The Homunculus despairs of mankind. For his next experiment he gains the love of young Luisa. Will she stay with him once she learns of his secret? But Luisa was already engaged. Her ex-fiancée kills himself after she leaves him. Then her mother dies of grief at having lost her daughter. Then her father is taken ill as well. But still her love for the Homunculus remains steadfast. Only when he tells her who he really is does she turn away from him in horror. He blames her for having destroyed his faith in mankind. She blames him for having destroyed her life.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:45 pm

Part 4. Now the Homunculus wants to destroy the world that has created him but cannot bear his existence. His invention of an incendiary chemical has made him rich and brought him into a position of power. He uses this to oppress the masses, while at the same time - in the guise of a proletarian agitator - he rallies them to rise up violently against their oppressors. One of the downtrodden, Margot, falls in love with him. She happens across his book and learns his secret, but she is the one person not put off by his unnatural origin. When she confesses her love to him and tells him what she knows the Homunculus believes he has finally found a soul mate. Together they continue to ferment unrest until a young preacher tries to intervene. His message is one of peace and reconciliation and Margot falls for him immediately. When he realizes that the Homunculus has the man arrested and murders him in prison. Now Margot turns on him, betrays his true nature and has the Homunculus himself thrown into prison. He escapes with the help of Edgar Rodin.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:47 pm

Part 5. The Homunculus has finally given up on mankind. Together with Edgar Rodin he wanders through a landscape devastated by a war of his making. He encounters a young war orphan, Magda, and takes her under his wings. He is deeply impressed when he hears the young girl, who has lost everything, pray for the souls of her enemies. He leaves her with an elderly couple. When the Homunculus realizes that Magda and the couple's son have fallen in love, he hatches a new plan: he will breed a new race of men whose humanity will not be constrained by the artificial rules of civilization. He takes the two youngsters to an island in a lake where they are to be the progenitors of this new race. They do have a baby and the Homunculus watches his plan come to fruition contentedly, when suddenly the boy's parents arrive. They had been looking for him for three years. They tell the boy and girl who their supposed benefactor really is and the boy tries to kill the Homunculus in his sleep. Disgusted the Homunculus floods the island, killing boy, girl and baby. At that Edgar Rodin cannot take it any longer. He leaves the Homunculus, vowing to stop him from destroying mankind.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:49 pm

Part 6. Realizing that no ordinary man can destroy the Homunculus Rodin goes back to Professor Hansen's laboratory and creates another artificial human being. The Homunculus bursts in on him and threatens to destroy the laboratory, but respect for Rodin stops him in his tracks. Rodin produces another artificial man and then destroys the apparatus. Meanwhile the Homunculus has settled down in the woods somewhere. Twenty-odd years later Homunculus number two is ready to confront Homunculus number one. He wanders the country carrying a huge club. The old Homunculus, despite having felt death approach in the intervening years, is not ready to submit. The two meet in a mountainous landscape to fight it out. Homunculus one kills the younger version, but as he triumphs over his dead body the mountain collapses and kills him, too. A title informs us that the earth breathes a sigh of relief at his passing.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 3:51 pm

In its new and much more complete state HOMUNCULUS is an impressive serial. While the acting in some of the supporting parts is often very obviously of its time and the storyline appears naive today, there is still plenty to recommend these films. Carl Hoffmann's camera is fluid and clever, framing the action very effectively. Especially the low-angle shots at the ends of the episodes that show the Homunculus's brooding figure looming massively against the horizon are very impressive. Olaf Fönss as the Homunculus is very obviously the star of this film. He is on screen for at least 80 per cent of the time and gives a very competent, self-assured performance.
So is this film really such an important, style- and genre-forming early horror film? This is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand you can find in it not only motifs that became standard horror film elements: the elation at the creation of the artificial human, the hunchback assistant, the encounter with the little children all prefigure James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN. But the Homunculus's lonely wanderings, his attempts to improve the lives of others and the lot of mankind itself, his loneliness, dark musings and even his cape are the stuff of our current Batman, the dark night.
But for the serial to have been so influential, people must have seen it. It is almost impossible to know who did. In 1916, at the time of its premiere, Germany was at war and the film was only distributed in neutral or occupied countries, like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and Belgium. Even at the time of its re-issue it would not have been seen much outside of this circle. So could James Whale have seen it? I think the question is rather whether he needed to see HOMUNCULUS to come up with the ideas for his FRANKENSTEIN. Both films draw on the same huge pool of romantic fiction and art, so why should Whale and others not just have tapped into the same sources as Otto Rippert and Robert Reinert, HOMUNCULUS' director and writer?
Nevertheless with the painstaking restoration of this serial an important milestone of fantastic film has once again become accessible to us. And as it is such an interesting and impressive series of films it is to be hoped that a DVD or Blu-ray edition will give the many fans of this genre the chance to see it for themselves.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 6:10 pm

So, with all this typing you've done, the question remains: Is it on DVD or available to see anywhere online? :P
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 7:28 pm

That is indeed great news, about the restoration.

Thank you so much Arndt for describing the film story-line,very impressive indeed. And your personal thoughts on it as well.
I could not help but, feel sorry for the Lad.
Hopefully as you mentioned, the film can find its way soon on DVD or Blu-Ray.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 8:21 pm

Thank you Herr Arndt for your comments on "Homunculus". I appreciated your synopsis and comments. It looks to be a very interesting picture and I hope that one day I may get the chance to see it. Within your comments concerning the storyline I too was beginning to see the similarities to James Whale's "Frankenstein" - but as you say, it may have been unlikely he saw it. Strange how artistic minds can run in the same direction at times.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Aug 18, 2014 9:37 pm

Yes, indeed! I was so thrilled to finally be able to see the Eastman House version on my computer, i never imagined they would find and reconstruct even more. I'm sure this will eventually make it to video and i will look forward to that time. After all, i'd been wanting to see this since i was 16 and had to wait nearly 40 years just for the Eastman House version, so i'm sure i won't have to be patient for that long.

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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostTue Aug 19, 2014 4:01 am

The Homunclus presentation was a work-in-progress. The next performance will be on September 4 at Filmmuseum Muenchen, again with the musical accompaniment by Richard Siedhoff. It will be slightly improved, containing some corrections and more tintings.
The restoration follows the six-part original version, but most of the moving images are from the rerelease version. A few important missing sections are represented by stills and explanation titles. Fifteen film archives contributed fragments and stills, several individuals helped with informations. It is hoped that more material will show up while this restoration project proceeds.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostTue Aug 19, 2014 8:43 am

fantomas wrote:The Homunclus presentation was a work-in-progress. The next performance will be on September 4 at Filmmuseum Muenchen, again with the musical accompaniment by Richard Siedhoff. It will be slightly improved, containing some corrections and more tintings.
The restoration follows the six-part original version, but most of the moving images are from the rerelease version. A few important missing sections are represented by stills and explanation titles. Fifteen film archives contributed fragments and stills, several individuals helped with informations. It is hoped that more material will show up while this restoration project proceeds.


Do you know if there are any plans for further theatrical showings after the Munich presentation? Perhaps even here in the US?
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 20, 2014 9:19 am

Arndt, can you comment as to roughly how much of GEH footage overlaps? Do you think that adding non-overlapping GEH footage to the restoration would add or detract from things? Same question on the complete chapter 4 and part of Chapter 2 that's been floating around for ages. I wonder just how much total footage now exists in all of these sources and how it could be coherently merged.

Anyway, like everyone else, I hope to see this restoration. But I'm thinking that there are still more possibilities - at least, someday.

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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 20, 2014 9:30 am

I remember this film ran several years ago at MoMA, and that I was impressed by it. Just looked through some old notes -- chapter 4 was screened in during MoMA's 6-month "Automatic Vaudeville" series held in 1999-2000:

from MoMA's calendar listing:
Homunculus, Chapter 4: The Revenge of Homunculus - 1916. Germany. Directed by Otto Rippert. 56 min.
The only surviving episode of a six-part serial, The Revenge of Homunculus is a chilling representation of evil and its manifestation as dictatorial power. Disguised as a common worker, Homunculus incites a riot in order to bend the people to his will. Learning his true identity, a young woman reveals his monstrous nature to all, whereupon Homunculus is imprisoned. Silent film with piano accompaniment by Ben Model. With German intertitles and live translation.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 20, 2014 12:45 pm

Micromegas wrote:Arndt, can you comment as to roughly how much of GEH footage overlaps? Do you think that adding non-overlapping GEH footage to the restoration would add or detract from things? Same question on the complete chapter 4 and part of Chapter 2 that's been floating around for ages. I wonder just how much total footage now exists in all of these sources and how it could be coherently merged.

Anyway, like everyone else, I hope to see this restoration. But I'm thinking that there are still more possibilities - at least, someday.

Steve


All the existing footage from part four and the GEH material are already incorporated into this restoration. My guess is that the restoration will continue for a few months and that maybe next year there will be a film that can play festivals. Keep badgering programmers for it. They can get the film from Munich film museum. I'm hoping it will be brought out on DVD by the Edition Filmmuseum.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 20, 2014 1:27 pm

Amazing, Arndt! I had no idea this was in the works; from what I'd heard, all that remained was a few fragments. Would love to finally see this; thanks so much for the writeup!
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 20, 2014 2:11 pm

@Arndt, thanks. It's great that they've used everything available.

@Ben. I recall that showing very well!!
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostThu Aug 21, 2014 1:39 am

[quote="Frederica"] Do you know if there are any plans for further theatrical showings after the Munich presentation? Perhaps even here in the US?[/quote]

As far as I know no further screenings are scheduled. I'll try to attend the Munich presentation. Maybe more will be announced.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Aug 27, 2014 7:25 am

Here's an interview with Stefan Drößler about the Homunculus restoration (in german): http://www.rundschau-online.de/bonn/stu ... 10230.html" target="_blank
According to the Interview the versions shown in Bonn and Munich are work-in-progress versions, and the work on this project is far from being finished.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostSun Aug 31, 2014 10:45 pm

Here is my review from the film as it was screened at Pordenone in 2003

Another ‘lost film’ that has been at least partly restored is the German film Homunculus (1916). The film is about the life of a being (Homunculus) created by scientists in the laboratory. An important difference from the Frankenstein story is that Homunculus does not come from dead tissue, rather he is created from the raw chemicals of life itself. While Homunculus is still a baby, one of the scientist’s children dies in a crib death. Overcome with grief, the scientist places his dead baby in the incubator and takes Homunculus for his son. Homunculus grows up as a normal child, yet feels somehow different from everyone else. He overhears a scientist explaining about the Homunculus project, concluding, “It’s perhaps better that the child died. We did not give him emotions.” Realizing he is the result of their experiment, Homunculus runs away, starting a series of adventures that take him through Europe. Burdened with the knowledge that he’s not human, but with powers of intellect that exceed normal man, Homunculus must come to terms with his place in the world.

Exceptionally intelligent and strong, Homunculus shares many aspects with Frankenstein’s monster as originally conceived in Mary Shelley’s novel — but with one important difference — Homunculus is dashingly handsome. Homunculus travels from town to town, finding himself a man without emotions lost in an uncaring world. Of course, by what he says and does we see that he clearly has more emotions and feelings than everyone he meets, so that as the film progresses, the Homunculus character begins to look like Lord Byron playing the Tin Man in a German version of The Wizard of Oz. Homunculus was originally a six-episode serial and this film is a cut-down feature, making the story choppy and hard to follow. Still, Homunculus is an important film and one of the first to explore the ethics of creating life in the laboratory.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 work print

PostMon Sep 08, 2014 4:19 am

The Munich screening of the work print demonstrated the degree to which HOMUNCULUS is indeed in progress: even in the fortnight since the Bonn presentation substantial changes had taken place. Richard Siedhoff, who took on the musical side again, had quite a lot of catching up to do and handled the changes very smoothly.

Every screening helps point up new areas needing work, each showing brings new input and new insights. What's more, further presentations may lead to more material surfacing, now that the ball is rolling. (They generally do.) This continuous evolution is one of the elements precluding a release for the time being, and I hope you agree that HOMUNCULUS shouldn't be sent out into the world half-baked. After 98 years, a little time in the incubator will do him good.

The big issue is the technical quality. Let's assume for a moment that the current edit of the HOMUNCULUS work print were satisfactory to warrant publication. In order to reach a decent quality level, one would need some new scans at higher resolution and lots of digital restoration work. All in all this would come to about € 100.000 – an amount that is just not there.

I don't know to which degree other viewers in Bonn and in Munich noticed the grave deficiencies that would be easy to rectify with time and money; the very impressive content may have made the shortcomings less salient than they are. Simply putting it out is definitely not an option when we know how good the material can look. [Full disclosure: I work at the Munich Filmmuseum but am not directly involved in the HOMUNCULUS project.]
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostMon Sep 08, 2014 8:24 am

Thanks for the information. By all means the film should not be rushed out before the restorers feel they have got it as complete and correct as they are going to get it. I certainly did not think it was in such dire need of digital restoration. If it is a choice between a "warts and all" unrestored release and no release at all I know what I would rather have.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostWed Sep 10, 2014 6:15 pm

This film sounds exciting. Yet another title I'll be in wait for it's release.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostTue Dec 08, 2015 11:29 pm

The restoration was shown at MOMA last month. Anyone know if any more material has turned up since last year?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/movies/serial-gems-are-painstakingly-restored-for-the-screen.html
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916), 2014 restoration "nightly builds"

PostWed Dec 09, 2015 10:22 am

@WaverBoy: While recent developments have been numerous, they're not primarily in the volume of the footage. Much of the progress has been in tweaking and fine-tuning the editing, scene positioning etcetera. Beyond that, Stefan Droessler has found out more about original showings of HOMUNCULUS (with much more to come) and he's unearthed quite a lot of further ancillary material. I'd say if you've seen HOMUNCULUS last year then its present state wouldn't offer you a ton of 'new' content, but it would make more sense, you'd enjoy it more, and you'd take home more information.

@syd: Those clips on YouTube are NOT from the restoration/reconstruction but from the digest version. They don't give the first idea of the restoration's texture, and they're necessarily completely off when it comes to structure.
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Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostFri Dec 25, 2015 11:46 am

The information is excellent and I look forward finally to seeing a full version of the serial. On the other hand what strikes me very strongly reading the full account of the different episodes is how very intelligently the one-part digest has been put together. Inevitably in a serial of this kind there is a good deal of weak and repetitive material (particularly in the later episodes) and this is very apparent from the resumés. It is noticeable that very little of the missing material looks as though it is likely to make much difference to one's overall view of the film. Of course it will be nice to have more satisfactory accounts of episodes 2, 3 and 4 and especially those episodes that are curtailed but I am not sure that episodes 5 is going to add very much and the ending is episode six sound really rather foolish. So, yes, very good news that all six episodes exist but do not sneer at that Eastman digest, which I too used to feel was a miserable substitute but of course I did not know exactly what it was a substitute for and had rather over-optimistic ideas about the missing parts of the serial. It is only now that I realise, having seen a full account of the film, that that digest is really not bad at all. So, I'm a lucky fellow - awaiting the feast is to come, I am already much happier with the meal I already have......
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Jim Roots

  • Posts: 2735
  • Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:45 pm
  • Location: Ottawa, ON

Re: HOMUNCULUS (1916) - 2014 restoration

PostFri Apr 27, 2018 7:14 am

It's been nearly three years since the last posting in this thread. Arndt, do you know if we are any closer to a DVD/BR release?

Jim
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