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NOA NOA ON THE WANNSEE: TABU, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, AND THE LOST PARADISE OF SILENT FILM

Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), 1930, 35 mm, black-and-white, silent, 73 minutes. Christl Ehlers.

Silent film was not ripe for replacement. It had not lost its fruitfulness, but only its profitability.

Rudolf Arnheim, “The Sad Future of Film” (1930)1

THE DOORS OF EDEN BANGED SHUT. Even so, during the summer of 1929, facing the clamorous inevitability of the talking picture and only months before the crash that would announce the Great Depression, a handful of filmmakers sought refuge in the “natural world” of the soundless movie.

And so silent cinema ended with two last visits to paradise, made at more or less the same time, their crews going on location to document their human subjects in a state of nature: Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (which premiered in New York in 1931) and Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday; released in Germany in 1930). In late spring 1929, a pair of established artists—F. W. Murnau, the German genius of studio mise-en-scène, and Robert

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