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THE VAIN HOUSEMAID

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by Johann Schwarzer

grade: 6.5

Although the first Austrian film in history – Von Stufe zu Stufe by Heinz Hanus – dates back to 1908, it has to be said that a production company, Saturn-Film, founded by photographer Johann Schwarzer and specialised exclusively in the production of erotic short films, had already been established in Austria for a couple of years. The films produced here include The vain Housemaid.

Like a Greek statue

What makes a film like The vain Housemaid – directed by Johann Schwarzer – an undoubtedly precious work from a historical rather than a stylistic point of view? The answer is soon given. Unfortunately, very little has come down to us today about early film made in Austria. What we do know exactly, however, is that filmmaking began here much later than in the rest of the world. And although the first Austrian film in history – Von Stufe zu Stufe by Heinz Hanus – dates back to 1908, it must be said that a production company, Saturn-Film, specialising exclusively in the production of erotic short films, had already been established in Austria for a couple of years. This production company was founded by photographer Johann Schwarzer, who, as we can imagine, was frowned upon by the society of the time, to the point that after only five years of activity, Saturn-Film – which had produced approximately fifty films – had to close and most of its works were confiscated.

Only now, then, we realise the enormous loss suffered, although some of the films have been preserved and subsequently kept by the Filmarchiv Austria. These include The vain Housemaid (also made in 1908), a short erotic comedy of only two minutes’ running time, a true gem of Austrian film history.

And even if, technically speaking, The vain Housemaid looks decidedly rudimentary to us, considering that, at the time, the rest of the world had already made a lot of progress in terms of staging, it seems only natural when we realise that Johann Schwarzer, before founding Saturn-film, had never had the opportunity to get involved in the making of a film, nor to help others on other sets. But that’ s fine. After all, one had to start somehow.

But, in fact, what is this controversial The vain Housemaid about? The only scene takes place in a room in an apparently very luxurious and well-furnished house. A maid enters the room and is fascinated by a statue – placed centrally – representing a sinuous figure of a completely nude woman (the statue was in fact played by an actress). The woman, wanting to compare herself to it, begins to undress and then lies down beside it. Suddenly, however, the landlord enters the room and, sternly, orders the girl to leave immediately. That’ s all. A handful of seconds, then, in a single static camera shot and a short story that, however, makes us smile.

Johann Schwarzer’s directorial approach, then, takes us back to the cinema of the early Lumière brothers in its rudimentary nature (thus taking a leap back about thirteen years). A cinema in which the cameras were too heavy to be moved and the idea of staging almost didn’t exist, so that the film only lasted a few seconds, a single shot.

Yet, despite the undoubted naivety with which The vain Housemaid was made, we cannot help but be fascinated by this work, especially because of all it represents. Witness of an era whose importance was, unfortunately, discovered too late.

Original title: Das eitle Stubenmädchen
Directed by: Johann Schwarzer
Country/year: Austria / 1908
Running time: 2’
Genre: comedy, erotic
Screenplay: Johann Schwarzer
Cinematography: Johann Schwarzer
Produced by: Saturn-Film

Info: the page of The vain Housemaid on iMDb