Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky (1995)
This charming little film is more docudrama than biopic, but its subject matter demanded inclusion on our website. Depicting the German Skladanowsky brothers’ pioneering work in the development of motion pictures, the film alternates between a dramatization of their invention of the Bioscop and director Wim Wenders' interview with Max Skladanowsky’s daughter Lucie, who emerges as the true star of this film.
Filmed in the style of a silent movie, Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky opens in 1895, which Max’s eldest daughter Gertrude advises was before cinema was invented. After a performance that introduces the concepts of magic lanterns and zoetropes, Gertrude comically explains how it was the absence of her favourite uncle Eugen that spurred her father on to finishing work on the Bioscop. Though she leaves it to the experts to explain how this was achieved, an account of sorts is provided by her 91-year-old sister’s interactions with Wenders.
Poring over the mementos assembled by Wenders, Lucie Hürtgen-Skladanowsky’s recollections of her family’s cinematic past provide a tangible connection to the movie’s stylised dramatizations. Shot at 18 frames per second with a 1920’s hand crank camera, these entertaining sequences adopt the look and feel of turn on the century film, complete with iris in and out, a pantomime villain and an abundance of overacting. The only thing missing are intertitle cards, their function being replaced by Gertrude and Max’s narration.
In occasional flights on fantasy, Gertrude and Uncle Eugen escape their existence as an artifact and appear in the space occupied by Wenders and his crew. Not only does their presence goes unnoticed by those present, it has no discernible effect on the film as a whole. Their final sojourn through modern Germany heralds an equally superfluous credit sequence.
as Max Skladanowsky
as Emil Skladanowsky
as Eugen Skladanowsky
Ludwig Lichl as Louis Lumière and Manfred Wopalka as Auguste Lumière
"[My father] never wore glasses. It’s not historically correct… The love story of Uncle Emil. That was… a bit of poetic license. But the rest was quite authentic."
Lucie Hürtgen-Skladanowsky (Max Skladanowsky's daughter)