Picture of the Week #62: The Diehl Puppets

[Princess Puppet from Die Sieben Raben, Diehl Brothers Collection, Frankfurt.]

Sorry, dear readers – I’ve been stringing you along with little more than pictures-of-the-week this year. Normal service will be resumed shortly. I have a very packed publishing schedule this year, which will take up a lot of my time, but will also produce a lot of notes with which I can feed my blog. In the meantime, I promised some photographs of the Diehl brothers’ puppets, which I viewed in one of the archives of the Deutsches-Filmmuseum, at Rödelheim, Frankfurt last week. After watching a selection of the Diehl films at the Wiesbaden archive (thankyou to Michael Schurig and Jochen Enders for technical assistance at the Steenbeck, and for their excellent interpretations of the dialogue), I had the pleasure of handling the puppets themselves. It was a real thrill to pull them out of their archival hibernation. They’re beautifully preserved and carefully stored, but they don’t get out much, and are likely to remain in their boxes for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t want to make the case that the Diehls’ films are all neglected masterpieces, but there is enough distinctive artistry there to justify further study. In particular, the lighting and camera movement they achieve is truly extraordinary, and the faces of their puppets are unusually expressive, thanks to their patented replacement animation techniques.

Here you can see the various expressions available to the character of Kasperl Larifari as he appears in Immer wieder Glück (1950). Note the number of interchangeable mouths, eyes and brows that can make him laugh or frown or pass out drunk:

The Diehl puppets are not just expressive in their facial movements. They also have beautifully structured faces that say so much about their character – its a visual shorthand that borders on stereotyping (check out the jowly chinlessness that’s used to connote an aristocratic, haughty air below), but it does the job. Observe the gluttonous joy on the faces of Max and Moritz (left) as they fill their bellies to bursting with chicken drumsticks:

Other favourites include the pageboy from Die Sieben Raben, the princess from Puss in Boots, and Puss in Boots himself:

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