Ecstasy (1933) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When the era of the talkies was ushered in, the American filmmakers jumped immediately on the technical and commercial possibilities and abandoned the unique story-telling art of the silents. The European filmmakers moved much more slowly to embrace the new toy. Unlike the entrepreneurial Americans, they were not likely to search for new commercial uses for sound  - "Gee, we can make musicals". They stayed the course, and continued to make the movies they had backlogged in their heads, adding sound technology almost as an afterthought.

Ecstasy was made in 1933, but might as well be a silent film. It is storyboarded and edited like a silent, using visual symbols to make its comments, using multiple cuts to create its mood.


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For example, to show us a man falling asleep in a chair, the film doesn't demonstrate the changes in his breathing, but rather shows a close up of his feet going from a tense position to a relaxed one.

Cut to heaving bosoms, cut to snorting stallions, cut to close-ups of body parts, cut to close-ups of symbolic objects, like wedding rings that don't fit. The finale of the film wraps up the "epilogue" wordlessly, with a few brief scenes of the characters in the future. The film does use background music, but that is not substantially different from the score that would have been played by the organist if this had been a silent.

I laughed out loud several times at the background music. I'm sure it wasn't perceived that way by contemporary audiences, but the corn is far higher than an elephant's eye. Instead of using classical music, as filmmakers of that age did so often (remember Dracula's effective use of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake?), the director chose to use a pop-romantic score composed especially for the film. The occasional humorous moments are punctuated with "Gilligan pulled a boner" music, and the romantic moments are backed by tunes which are both hopelessly syrupy and slightly out of pitch from the ancient film's speed changes, making it produce approximately the same deep and emotional experience as you can get from hearing an old, scratched-up 45 of Rudy Vallee singing Boola-Boola through his megaphone.

I guess it's all just as well that there isn't much dialogue, because that fact makes this German language film pretty much equally accessible to non-German speakers. The IMDb incorrectly lists the original language as Czech. The director was a Czech, but all the dialogue is in German, and it could not be dubbed, not only because it is in synch, but because all the written words seen on screen - telegrams, invitations, etc - are also in German.

To tell you the truth, it's not much of a story, although it has some emotional resonance. A pretty young girl (Hedy Lamarr) is lovelessly wed to a fussy old geezer. Mr. Geezer is not a bad guy, just not much of a stud-boy, and certainly not the dream love of her life. One day she rides her horse to a secluded pond and is skinny-dipping when her filly hears the call of a distant stallion and follows her mating instinct. Unfortunately for Hedy, but fortunately for us, the wayward horse also carries off all her clothing, and she ends up romping through the woods naked, in pursuit of the horse.

A rugged young worker corrals the horse, returns it to her, and to make a long story short, turns out to be the love of her life. There isn't too much more to it, except that lives of the geezer and the lover entwine unexpectedly.

If, like me, you don't know much about films made before 1935, you'll probably find that the movie is surprisingly artistic and the camera angles are suprisingly inventive for a film barely out of the silent era. Of course, that's probably just my ignorance talking. I suppose the best silent film directors were damned good with visual narrative, since they had to rely completely on photography and editing to tell their stories.

The film was controversial for two reasons:

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Full-screen format - the aspect ratio is approximately 1.3:1. I believe this is the original negative shape

  • no meaningful features

  • Ecstasy pretty much invented the entire concept of celebrity nudity. Oh, there had been still pictures circulating around that were rumored to be stars, and maybe they were, but in this 1933 film, there was no question. There was Hedy Lamarr, stark naked, skinny dipping, then running after her runaway horse, her breasts up there on the screen, each of them about 20 feet in circumference. Her pubic area was seen for several frames, and her buns were glimpsed briefly.
  • The film portrayed female pleasure during sexual relations. That concept may seem quaint by today's standards, but believe me when I say that was a major source of controversy in that age. Many religious families even raised their daughters to feel sinful if they experienced pleasure during sex. The story about how the director got Hedy Lamarr to deliver the correct facial expressions during sex is a showbiz legend. While the cameras rolled, he told Ms Lamarr to stay in character no matter what happened, then unexpectedly stuck pins in her butt. He got what he wanted in one take!

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online


The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Interesting as a historical artifact, often employing surprisingly competent cinematography, but with laughably outdated music, and difficult to watch except for the nude scene.

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