AUTUMN FIRE (Herman G. Weinberg, 1931)

Film historian and English-subtitler Herman G. Weinberg also was a filmmaker. One of his works, from the U.S., is the short silent, impressionistic “film poem” Autumn Fire, which was probably inspired by Friedrich W. Murnau’s lyrical Sunrise (1927).
     The couple in Weinberg’s film may be married, may be lovers. They are apart, she, in the country; he, in the city. Each, really, inhabits her or his solitude, because the environment of each, a projection of her or his loneliness during this separation of theirs, characterizes both as lost instead of locating or situating them. The film’s lyricism posits the primacy of the pair’s feelings. With especial force, a shot of the woman looking out from a window, angled to resemble a framed portrait, suggests that the trouble between partners and their separation have drained the life out of her.
     Three trees project different feelings of hers. One, an upside-down reflection in wavering water, suggests her aspiration, her desire to reunite with her partner, and her ache that this may not come to fruition, that her hoped-for reconciliation is an illusion. Another, a bare, gnarled tree—this one is no reflection—suggests the fate of her soul should there be no reunion. The third, shot from below, is tall, leafy, alive in the breeze; it suggests the woman’s openness, adaptability—her willingness to bend so as not to break.
     Shots are framed to show the woman against vast sky; the man, against vast water. Is he dreaming of going to her? She is the one, though, who breaks the logger jam by writing to him to meet her at the train station: “Darling! Am so unhappy because you are not with me. . . .” She is seated by a train window, her hat pointing the way home.*

* The close—the reunion at the train station—is shattering. Weinberg’s use of different exposures and out-of-focus frames implies that the couple’s desire to reunite exceeds their capacity to find clarity or happiness now that they have reunited. Indeed, there has been a warning sign: the fact that the woman’s desire for reconciliation has always seemed greater than the man’s. For as long as one can, one hopes that his guilt dictates this disparity.
     I end my discussion of this wonderful film at such a point that the poetry of aspiration and hope is kept alive.

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