Germany | 90 min.
black & white
Joe May, 1929
One of the last great German Expressionist films of the silent era, Joe May’s Asphalt is a love story set in the traffic-strewn Berlin of the late 1920s. Starring the delectable Betty Amann in her most famous leading role, Asphalt is a luxuriously produced Ufa classic where tragic liaisons and fatal encounters are shaped alongside the constant roar of traffic.
A well-dressed lady thief (Betty Amann) steals a precious stone from a jewellery shop. The aged jeweller prefers to let the young woman go, but the policeman who catches her explains he is obliged to pursue the case further. She tries to seduce the policeman (Gustav Fröhlich), and he gradually succumbs to her charms, but her criminal background dooms their relationship when an argument leads to murder.
Betty Amann’s salacious sensuality, May’s grand direction, the spectacular sets by Erich Kettelhut, and the photography of Günther Rittau make this largely unknown film a major rediscovery. Until recently, Asphalt was available only in a shortened version with English-language intertitles. In 1993 the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin) discovered a print of Asphalt at the Gosfilmofond archive in Moscow which appeared to have been struck from the original negative. The chronology of scenes in this print differs from existing versions and there are extra scenes together with the hitherto-unknown German intertitles.
Born Julius Otto Mandl in Vienna, 1880, Joe May is best remembered today for his two-part Das indische Grabmal [The Indian Tomb], co-scripted by the young Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou. He moved to London in 1933, then Hollywood, and was widely regarded as having discovered Lang, von Harbou and E. A. Dupont. May was one of the most productive cineastes of the silent screen and The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present his masterpiece Asphalt for the first time on DVD anywhere in the world.
by R. Dixon Smith, 2005