THE EXPERIMENTAL TOUCH
SEX IN CHAINS
Germany. 1928. Silent. B&W. 107 min.
Original Title: Geschlecht in Fessein
Dir. William Dieterle.
Cast: William Dieterle, Mary Johnson, Gunnar Tolnæs, Paul Henckels
Scrip: Herbert Juttke and Georg C. Klaren
This is one of the most personal films in our first season. There is a very distinctive look to Sex In Chains, as well as a rather original storyline, and an interest in pushing all kinds of boundaries. In fact, boundaries are themselves one of the themes of this film.Sex in Chains offers heart-stopping realism, mixed with a touch of symbolic experimental camera work. Let yourself go along with that camera, to the dark corners, the spikey fences, and the high walls that we build to keep our own feelings away from us. The fact that the director himself plays the male co-protagonist, gives an added sense that he is stamping his signature all over the film. William Dieterle had been a successful actor before becoming a director, and his performance, like everyone else’s in the film, is flawless. Dieterle is a silent era precursor of Javier Bardem, a chunky giant, made more beautiful by his capacity for tenderness.
When we think of Sex in Chains, the words honesty and courage come to mind. The film may deal with the domestic experiences and private realisations of two rather low-key people with modest aspirations, but there is a thunderously epic scope to their feelings.Sex in Chains also offers socio-political commentary, detailing how a financial crisis can precipitate the collapse of families and test relationships to the limit, and showing how the legal system and the prison system often have little to do with justice. The film is particularly memorable for its prison scenes, and as a rare example of a character which goes beyond tasting the forbidden and then returning to the fold, by owning up his need for same-sex love and passion rather than denying it. Sex in Chains is also a very strange version of Romeo and Juliet, a version were the true heart-stopping tragedy is the fact that a married couple who were once totally devoted to each other, have now drifted apart. No mistaken assumptions here (like those who precipitate the double suicide in Shakespeare’s play), but only the chilling truth, shared face to face, that nothing can be the way it was. One of our favourite gay films, Sex in Chains somehow remains, without detriment to the gay content, also a great heterosexual romantic drama. It’s just about love.
© Dublin Film Qlub 2010
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