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MAX OPHÜLS

(Max Oppenheimer)

Germany

Born: Saarbrucken, Germany, 6 May 1902.
Died: Hamburg, Germany, 26 March 1957.


Max Ophüls (JPG, 15 KB)

Much of Max Ophüls's life was spent dealing with a series of adverse experiences: being a Jew in Nazi Germany, forced eviction from two countries, unemployment in America, innumerable terminated projects, limited distribution of his pictures, and lack of critical appreciation in his lifetime. However, Ophüls persevered and drew strength from this adversity. In his 25 years of filmmaking he completed 22 films, at least a third of which are now considered masterpieces, and Ophüls has finally been recognized as one of the great directors.

Ophüls's reputation rests on both his choice of subject matter and its presentation. Most of his pictures take place in fin-de-siècle Vienna. Against this historical and cultural background, Ophüls focused on women in love. However, this love is neither sweet nor romantic but fraught with unhappiness, obsession, betrayal, male mistreatment and exploitation, misfortune and tragedy. All of this unfolds in an environment of opulent and luxurious décor: palatial buildings containing ornate furnishings, chandeliers, staircases and mirrors. (Even his three American films have the same feel as his European work: Letter from an Unknown Woman has the same setting, while Caught and The Reckless Moment are contemporary treatments of the same themes set in America.)

Technically, an Ophüls film is characterized by complex and dramatic camera work which emphasizes fluidity and motion and is accomplished by masterful use of framing, lighting, tilts, tracking shots, crane shots and pan shots. The effect of this fusion of content and style is to produce an intensely personal and emotional encounter which transports the viewer to a timeless world in which basic human experiences, feelings, emotions and states of mind are compellingly presented.

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