Silent masterpieces brought to life


Two silent masterpieces are presented with live musical accompaniment at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA as part of ‘Film Noir’ (31 March – 21 May 2017). Watch Joseph von Sternberg’s thrilling Underworld 1927, a forceful prototype for the American gangster film genre and Friedrich W. Murnau’s beloved The Last Laugh 1924, an emotionally powerful treasure of Weimar cinema.


Underworld 1927 / Director: Josef von Sternberg / Image courtesy: Paramount Pictures

Josef von Sternberg is often credited with heralding in the gangster film as a genre in American cinema with this silent crime treasure, a searing tale of friendship and betrayal. Underworld, which would win an Academy Award for Best Story at the first Oscars ceremony in 1929, follows the ambitious gangster ‘Bull’ Weed (George Bancroft) who helps his lawyer friend ‘Rolls Royce’ Wensel (Clive Brook) ditch the drink and get back on his feet. Trouble begins to brew between them when Rolls Royce falls for ‘Feathers’ McCoy (Evelyn Brent), Bull’s closely guarded girlfriend. Von Sternberg drew clear inspiration from the cinema of the Weimar Republic – his characters are deviously amoral and his streets are draped in shadows, only occasionally lit up by flashes of gunfire. If American noir emerged from the crime films of pre-war Hollywood, then those films began here.

1929 Wurlitzer Organ
Installation of the Wurlitzer console at the Regent Theatre, Brisbane in 1929 by the staff of Whitehouse Bros

This screening will be presented with a new score performed live on the Gallery’s 1929 Wurlitzer Organ by David Bailey. This Wurlitzer Organ was originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre which opened on 8 November 1929, where it remained until 1964. After a period in private ownership it was returned to Queensland in 2004 and installed in the Galley of Modern Art’s Australian Cinémathèque in 2007. Hardly altered at all over the years, it remains an important part of Queensland’s cultural heritage.


The Last Laugh 1924 / Director: Friedrich W. Murnau / Image courtesy: Universal Film and British Film Institute

Described as an ‘almost perfect film’ by Alfred Hitchcock, F. W. Murnau’s celebrated German Expressionist film is one of the glories of silent cinema. It is Carl May’s story with a Brechtian stinger in its tail, about a proud hotel doorman who is demoted to lavatory attendant only to rise again. Karl Freund’s camera-on-wheels glides, swings, and see-saws, recording Emil Jannings’ classic performance.

Hazards of swimming naked

This screening will feature a new lyrical score performed live by Brisbane 5 piece post-rock instrumental group ‘hazards of swimming naked’.