(1931, Ger, 61 min, b/w) Dir Hans Thomas Mann.
Hans Thomas Mann (not to be confused with regular old Thomas Mann, sans Hans) was an early pioneer in German cinema. In the early days he ran a one man operation, producing his own ‘lantern shows’ (rudimentary animation, mostly) with which he would then tour the country to show with his daughter Pini as assistant. In his autobiography, The Picture Man, he revealed that his tours took him up mountains, down valleys and across half of Europe to bring cinema to the country folk who would not have witnessed such a thing otherwise. This golden era for Mann ended, rather inevitably, when the First World War broke out. Like many during those long hard years he lost much, not least his beloved daughter. The interwar period found Mann struggling for work but he found himself a patron in Lupu Speyer, star director of Zwei Brüste (and, more famously, 1927’s megabudget flop Götz von Berlichingen) who had first been introduced to cinema as a boy by Mann’s travelling show. Speyer, having clout in spades at this time, wrangled Mann the budget for his debut film with an actual budget and what would turn out to be his final film – The Golden Padlock. The fairy tale story of a young girl lost in a vast forest primeval and the titular object that keeps shut the door leading to her home in the subterranean land of fairy. It’s totally animated in a style similar to Lotte Reiniger (whose career was taking off about the same time) with the padlock hand painted in a fashion that shimmers off the screen. A soundtrack silent save for the sound of a distant flute only adds to the etherial strangeness. A labour of love obviously made in honour of his lost daughter the process as a whole took almost ten years, during which time Speyer’s career had peaked and nosedived back into obscurity and Mann had emigrated to England where the film was finished. It’s been seen very few times since then but the BFI have a fantastically well preserved copy in their vaults which they wheel out on occasion – if you get the opportunity run, don’t walk, to see it.