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 Sighting: Pipe Smoking in Silent Film on a LARGE scale.

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Fratellino

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Age : 54
Location : San Diego, CA
Registration date : 2010-04-08

PostSubject: Sighting: Pipe Smoking in Silent Film on a LARGE scale.   Tue May 11, 2010 10:54 pm

The other night (8 May, 2010) I went to hear the San Diego Symphony play a reconstruction of composer Hans Erdmann's score to F.W. Murnau's great silent film "Nosferatu", which was projected on a screen hung in front of the orchestra. For those who don't know, Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego was once the magnificent Fox Theatre, built in 1929 in the Spanish Renaissance style and lovingly restored to its original state in 1987 as the home of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. I love silent films accompanied by their original scores for orchestra and organ, as was always the practice in the larger theatres and for large scale dramatic releases. But on this night what really caught my fancy was a brief scene in the second act. Allow me to describe it.

When Ellen, the young wife of the Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) who is sent to Transylvania to sell a house to one Count von Orlock (Max Schreck), is discovered sleepwalking on the balustrade of her outdoor balcony. Just before she is heard calling to the moon or the vampire or something, the family friend, Harding (played by Georg H. Schnell), with whom she is staying during her husband's absence, is sitting at his writing desk. Actually he is not just sitting there, he is reading or writing or paying bills or something, dressed in long smoking-jacket and house cap, and smoking an ENORMOUS, floor-length Alsatian pipe, puffing away at it contentedly as he does so. He hears something odd coming from the direction of Ellen Hutter's room and, despite the unwelcome distraction, selflessly gets up to go see what is the matter, leaving his enormous pipe (obviously his pride and joy) carefully leaning up against the lip of the desk and against the arm of the chair.

It's only a brief scene, and we never see him come back to his treasured pipe (he's too busy waking the sleepwalker, catching her as she falls, and calling for a doctor), but we nevertheless know from it that this character Harding is a serious pipe-smoker, and the actor playing him happens to be appearing in one of the most famous and enigmatic silent films ever made. There are, therefore, certain things we can surmise as a result of the presence of pipe, tobacco and smoker in Murnau's scene. We can surmise, for instance, that both the actor and his character are unified in their attachment to pipe smoking, because surely no mere tobacconistic dilettant would be given charge of a prop of such venerable craftsmanship and obvious value. Second, the movies being what they are, I'm sure multiple takes of his scene were necessary, and given the considerable bowl on that pipe, I don't think it's too much to say that only a serious pipe-smoker would be able to sit there and puff on that stovepipe for any length of time. We may also surmise that Hutter was quite right to trust his good friend Harding with the charge of his young wife, as the owner and smoker of such a pipe is obviously a man of refinement and good character (pipe smokers are known to be reliable men of deliberate temperament and sound habits). Lastly, we may surmise that, being in all liklihood a responsible method actor, the character of Harding, found sitting at his desk, was probably filling out an order form for a fresh supply of English blend pipe tobacco, probably something richly endowed with Syrian latakia!

It's an innocuous scene, as I say, a few seconds in all, but my goodness, what you can surmise about a person based upon the mere presence of a pipe! The rest of the picture was not without merit.


Last edited by Fratellino on Wed May 12, 2010 7:05 pm; edited 2 times in total
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ftrplt

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Age : 71
Location : Split between Raleigh, NC and OKC, OK
Registration date : 2007-12-15

PostSubject: Re: Sighting: Pipe Smoking in Silent Film on a LARGE scale.   Wed May 12, 2010 6:56 pm

I try to catch this old classic when it appears on TCM, or shown locally around halloween. FTRPLT
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