A Century of Posters from Burkhard Sulzen
By Michael Stillman
It can be hard to appreciate a catalogue written in a language you do not understand. Then again, there are always exceptions. One such exception is Katalog 14 from Burkhard Sulzen of Berlin: 53 Stummfilmplakate 1913-1926 & 116 schone und seltene Plakate verschiedener Themen 1888-1989. I can read hardly a word of German, and were it not for the magic of Google Translate, could not tell you that this title roughly means "53 silent film poster from 1913-1926 and 116 beautiful and rare posters on various topics from 1888-1989." Nevertheless, I could have told you that this is an exciting catalogue, and the posters, all of which are shown, speak for themselves without need of translation (and some of these posters are in English anyway). Some of the posters are sinister, others fun, but each was intended to sell its audience on something, whether a product in trade or someone's political point of view. Here are just a few of these posters and their fascinating looks at their times.
Item 9 is one of those silent film posters, for Die Hochzeit im Excentric Club, the Wedding at the Eccentric Club. This was a mystery directed by Joe May, but it also began the career of Fritz Lang, who did the screenplay. Lang would go on to write, with the help of his actress wife Thea von Harbou, film classics such as The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, M, and one of the greatest of silent films, Metropolis, a look at an eerie futuristic city where management lives in resplendent luxury high in the skyscrapers, while workers toil in horrific conditions underground. Lang could not have realized even worse horrors would soon be visiting his real world. Opposed to the rising Nazi regime, which von Harbou supported, they divorced in 1933, and the following year he fled the country. Lang would go on to have a long career in Hollywood. Priced at €2,800 (euros, or approximately $3,453 U.S. dollars).
Item 44 is a portrait for the Austrian opening of a silent classic, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) in 1920. It is an early horror film, featuring the murderous Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking assistant, a story with a totally unexpected ending. €60,000 ($73,966).
Item 64 is a poster you might not expect to find in Germany. It is for the Press Ball in Dresden on February 1, 1907. What is unusual is the title, Wild-West. Evidently the American West was the subject for this ball, as the poster depicts an Indian on horseback, feathers in his hair, and teepees in the background. A dancing couple to the side looks more like stereotypical Pacific Islanders, but it is unlikely historic accuracy was important to the revelers. €480 (US $591).