The proprietor of a carnival wax museum hires a young author to pen the gruesome backstories of the three leads in his life-sized rogue’s gallery: Harun al-Rashid, Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper. Director Paul Leni began as an expressionist painter before working under Max Reinhardt in the Deutsches Theater in Berlin and though the film is written by Henrik Galeen, perhaps best known for the screenplays to Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Wegener’s The Golem (1920), Waxworks is as well-known for the extravagant and eclectic artificiality of its production design as it is for its tales of bloodthirsty despots and stolen brides. In effect, Waxworks serves as a concise summation of some of the late silent era’s definitive visual styles. There’s the sensual Arabian exotica of the Harun al-Rashid chapter (starring a leering, outrageously mustachioed and decadently rotund Emil Jannings), which appears to have inspired Douglas Fairbanks’s Thief of Baghdad; the ornate interiors and tautly stylized performances of the Ivan the Terrible section (which von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress and Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible both seem to draw from, respectively); and the multiple superimpositions and impressionistic layering of imagery in the brief Jack the Ripper section.
Live musical accompaniment by Robert Israel
Bing Theater | Included with admission to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; $5 this film only | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.