Unboxing the Silents: Kino’s “Variete” with New Score on Bluray

Without a doubt, this is one of the most anticipated silent film releases of the year. The Murnau Stiftung has restored a German classic, a film that has been universally praised since its was first unveiled in 1925. And then there is the little matter of the music…

Before I get started I want to thank Kino Lorber for providing me with a review copy of this picture.

This film will be released in North America on DVD and Bluray on August 22, 2017. International buyers will note that the discs specifically state they are region 1/A, though I dare say that most Region B viewers have already obtained the film from Eureka. (Please note that all current American DVD editions are from the highly censored American release print.)

E.A. Dupont’s tale of jealousy and death stars Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti and is famous as an early masterpiece of the so-called unchained camera.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

For years, the only version of the film available was heavily truncated by censors. The big appeal of the Murnau Stiftung restoration is that it’s the most complete version released since 1925.

I detail the differences between the censored version and the new restoration in my review.

The Look

The restoration is crisp, clean and gorgeous. I am including some screencaps. Other than cropping the pillarboxes, I have not touched them in any way.

The Music

The big selling point of this disc and the reason why it is so anticipated is the new score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, which played at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to universal praise.

Some background. When this restoration of Variete was first released on DVD and Bluray in Europe, the response was universal: We think the restoration is brilliant but that score by a band called the Tiger Lillies is distracting and ridiculous. It has to go.

Normally, I don’t delve too deeply into film scores unless I have something nice to say. It’s a matter of personal taste and I actually prefer a more modern sound with the silents. That being said, the score for Variete is… something else. The Tiger Lillies take their influence from Weimar culture but they know nothing of silent films and scoring them. (They literally say this in the booklet included with the film.) It shows, to put it mildly.

I warned you. And this was the ONLY soundtrack option on the original European release. Backlash was swift, of course, and German viewers wondered why a German story with a German cast released in Germany would require English lyrics. They have a point.

Eureka, which releases many fine silent film editions in the UK, rescued the British people with two scores, one by Stephen Horne and one by Johannes Contag. (The Tiger Lillies score was included as well, the least-played track in the history of Bluray.)

But what about us poor North Americans? Kino Lorber and the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra have swooped in with a score that contains 100% less shrieking and honking. Thank heavens!

The big question: How is the new score? Most excellent, I am happy to report! This was a student project at the Berklee College of Music and I think that it has a fresh, youthful quality to it. While it does have a modern sound to it (no one will mistake it for a recovered Vitaphone disc), it’s never distractingly trendy. Dare I say that it has a timeless quality? In any case, Region A viewers need not worry, this score is excellent.

(Alas, there are no preview clips available. I asked.)

The Extras

This release includes a featurette on the scoring of the film, which includes interviews with the students of the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and their program director, Sheldon Mirowitz. It’s a fun look into the scoring process and the young composers come off as appealingly enthusiastic.

We also get a video essay by producer Bret Wood and the 1922 German version of Othello, which, of course, is all about jealousy and stars Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti.

All in all, this is the release of Variate you have been waiting for in Region A. Highly recommended release with an excellent score.

Availability: Will be released on DVD and Bluray on August 22. Learn more and pre-order here.


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    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, and now you get to see it almost uncut! The American release sliced out the entire first act, so there is so much nuance missing. I hope you will enjoy finally seeing it.

  1. Keith S.

    I have the EurekAlert version, complete with Tiger Lillies score (see my previous comment) and once again urge everyone to get this film and watch it to death. As we say here in the Black Country: it’s Boston’!!

  2. Marie Roget

    What beautiful screen caps! I am SO looking forward to getting the Bluray with the new Berklee score- was lucky enough to hear it at last year’s SF Festival. Fabulous score that really enhances the audience’s experience of Varieté!

      1. Marie Roget

        Oh, it was! Partner and I hadn’t been to the Castro Theatre in quite a few years- I’d forgotten just how good the acoustics are there for live music. It was a wonderful evening- as wonderful as, let’s say, having your own Varieté Bluray to show to friends and family at home 😀

  3. Kirk Gardner

    The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra is amazing. After hearing them perform a number of times at The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, they quickly became one of my favorites.

  4. Scott Lueck

    I just got the Grapevine issue of this film but haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, now maybe I’ll wait and compare the two.

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