People on Sunday is a German silent movie from 1930, and is probably best-known for the insane amount of talent behind the camera. It was directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, written by Billy Wilder, and shot by Eugene Schüfftan and Fred Zinnemann. Everyone knows who Wilder is, but Siodmak did a lot of amazing film noirs including The Killers and Cry of the City, Ulmer directed Detour, and Zinnemann had a very long career that included High Noon, A Man for All Seasons and Marlon Brando’s first film, The Men. Schüfftan did the groundbreaking special effects for Metropolis before going on to become a noted cinematographer.
It’s somewhere between a documentary and a drama, with some experimental techniques thrown in. there’s not much of a plot—it’s about two young couples in Berlin, who have a day out on a Sunday, on which not a lot happens. Obviously, anyone watching it now knows what’s right around the corner for Germany… Still, it’s beautifully shot, and shows you a world that is long gone. The results also very different from what all those filmmakers would do later on, after fleeing to the US.
The makers of the absolutely brilliant television show Babylon Berlin had the whole cast and crew watch People on Sunday before shooting began so that they could see what life in the Weimar Republic was like.
The film’s subtitle is “a film without actors,” because the cast were non-professionals. It’s a nice little movie with some similarities to Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country, which was made six years later and is a somewhat better film because it’s more focused. The influence of Man With a Movie Camera is obvious, and it was also predated by Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis.
The disc incudes two scores, one by Lana Katz-Crermin and another by the horribly named Icelandic experimental group múm. There’s also a documentary from 2000 that includes an interview with one of the stars of the film and presumably one of the last interviews with Curt Siodmak, brother of the director, who also worked on the film as a writer. He wrote many ‘40s and ‘50s Universal Horror movies and monster movies, most famously The Wolfman. He was also the author of Donovan’s Brain, a popular pulp novel in the ‘40s that was adapted for film three times. Rounding off the set is a selection of BFI archival shorts, including one on Berlin but also some similar short films from England, a commentary by Adrian Martin, and a booklet with new writing about the film.