Release Date(s)1923 (June 5, 2018)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Flicker Alley)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
The 1923 silent German film Das alte Gesetz, known in America as The Ancient Law, is a drama directed by Ewald André (E.A.) Dupont. The story features Baruch Mayr (Ernst Deutsch), the son of an orthodox rabbi (Avrom Morewski). Mayr wishes to become an actor because of his great interest in the theater and Baruch’s father disapproves. Baruch must make his own way to Vienna, where he soon becomes a successful actor. After spending some time there, he begins to feel homesick, wishing to return to his home, but he may not be all that welcome.
The Ancient Law is a very thought-provoking and ahead of its time drama, with its main theme covering Jewish culture and traditions, and going against those traditions. Director E.A. Dupont, a pioneer in German cinema, once again shows his greatness with both a compelling story and characters. The beautiful cinematography by the great Theodor Sparkuhl is also at a high standard.
Courtesy of Flicker Alley, The Ancient Law is presented on Blu-ray in a fantastic package. Starting with the image quality, Flicker Alley has shared some its restoration history: “After first reconstructing the film in 1984, the Deutsche Kinemathek found the censor’s certificate with the text of the original title cards. This provided the impetus for a worldwide search for all of the surviving film elements and a new, digital restoration – which drew upon nitrate prints in five different languages held in archives across Europe and the United States. With the censor’s certificate, the restoration team from the Deutsche Kinemathek could accurately reconstruct the intertitles, as well as the correct editing. The color scheme is based on two nitrate prints nearly identical in their tinting and toning. The restored version closely corresponds to the original German theatrical release, both in its length and digitally simulated color.”
The elements were then scanned in 3K in 2017 at the ARRI in Munich and L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. All of the restoration work resulted in The Ancient Law having its most impressive release on home video. Scenery and characters all look remarkably sharp and organic. The tinted colors and black and white scenes have a lot of depth and detail to them. Due to use of different prints of varying qualities, some leftover damage remains, such as vertical lines, speckling, and other imperfections. Also worth noting is that this reconstruction includes the original text from the German intertitles, as well as the narrative sequence of the original German version. Without question, this is the best-looking and most complete version of the film to date.
Regarding the audio, there are two different 2.0 LPCM tracks containing two different musical scores, one by composers Donald Sosin and Alicia Svigals, and the other by French composer Philippe Schoeller. They both come in loud and clear without any issues of distortion or dropouts. Optional English, French, and Russian subtitles are provided for the German intertitles.
There’s also a vast amount of extras in this package. According to Flicker Alley, Der Film Im Film from 1923 is “the only surviving excerpt of a documentary on film production in Weimar Germany, featuring the different personalities of several famous directors of the era at work on set, including Fritz Lang, Robert Weine, and Ewald Andre Dupont.” This extra features music by Donald Sosin, and is presented in German with optional English subtitles.
Insight Into the Restoration is a documentary that highlights some of challenges that went into the reconstruction of The Ancient Law. There are before and after comparisons, again with music by Donald Sosin, and German text with optional English subtitles. There is also an Image Slide Show, containing a gallery of rare production stills and original archival materials.
Last, but not least, is a 20-page insert booklet with illustrations and two essays, the first by Cynthia Walk, who discusses her appreciation of the film, and the second by Daniel Meiller, Head of Audiovisual Collections, Deutsche Kinemathek, whose main focus is on the restoration process.
In short, Flicker Alley’s release of The Ancient Law is, at present, the Holy Grail for its home video offerings. Kudos to them for continuing to restore many forgotten silent classics.
– David Steigman