[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:
It is most interesting to see images of the Diehl Brothers puppets. He had a studio in Gräfelfing next to Munich, and as a young puppeteer I visited Ferdinand Diehl at home and at the studio which had been turned into a photo studio for postcard production.
He showed me the replacement system for the faces and some experiments he had done with jointed armatures. He had used wire armatures for most of his work since he considered ball & socket joints too heavy and too complicated.
He did not use any pointers or surface gauges which might account for the sometimes less than smooth animation in his movies. I also believe they were all shot on twos.
He also told me that he had lost most of the negatives of his older films. they were nitrate and he was forbidden to store them near his home because of the fire hazard. No money to make new negatives and so he threw all the rolls into a lake near Munich.
He is a tragic figure in film history. His work is mostly forgotten now, and yet he was a true pioneer only to be compared to Starevitch.
His animation skills can be seen on YouTube in the strange post war film “marionettes”.
This is a mixture of stopmotion and marionettes. the marionettes were from the Munich Marionette theater and were sculpted by Walter Oberholzer. The narrator is stop motion and bears a striking resemblance to the actor Hans Clarin who did his voice. The film warns against political seducers and loudmouths like Mussolini and Hitler and it has more actuality now than ever in the age of Trump and Johnson.
Please show us some more of the Diehl puppets if possible!
Bad toelz marionette theater