|Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in a recent revival of The Threepenny Opera/Beggars Opera|
The Threepenny Opera (1931)
d.Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Criterion Collection #405
The addition of sound to film was actually a set back for the art of film, in that recording sound with a motion picture required using a huge, immobile apparatus that prevented the movie camera from moving around the set, making the resulting sound pictures very static and uninteresting in terms of the film art. While The Threepenny Opera by Georg Wilhelm Pabst is an example of expressionist cinema, the film is based on Brecht's adaptation of a 1920s revival of the 18th century work "Beggars Opera." Originally meant as an iteration of the "Penny Dreadful" genre in the late 18th century, a revival in London in the 1920s made it way to Germany via the English speaking mistress of Bertolt Brecht.
Brecht used Kurt Weill to write the music for his version, and it would be these tunes that would end symbolizing the Weimar Republic for generations of Audiences. The most famous song is of course, "Mack the Knife" a song which topped the US charts in the 1950s during the Rat Pack era.
So yeah, it's a German expressionist version of a Brecht version of a 1920s English revival of an 18th century English popular opera. What else do you need to know? Oh, and it is close to 2 hours long, and there is a fifty minute documentary that Hulu Plus has thoughtfully included.
It is the musical numbers that stick with you, the impressive quality of the sound in 1931 and Pabsts' expressionist camera techniques- shadows and all that.