Sound is to Pabst what a tack is to a bicycle tire: it still runs, but the ride is bumpy and it takes too long to get there. G.W. Pabst's The Threepenny Opera was filmed in 1931 when sound recording techniques still had much to be desired, and much of the film's failing has to do with just that. Lacking the freedom that camera's were allowed in the silent era (when microphones were not an issue), Pabst reverts to tableaux shots and long takes: the scenes are static, and the actors hardly move. This isn't the usual Pabst who constructs his stories in lurid, penetrating close-ups. What he is able to carry over from his silent films are his love of decor and stylized sets. The acting, however, is uninspired, and it's as though the actors are reading the lines to themselves before they go to sleep. Just as their movements are static, there is nothing kinetic about their voices. As many early sound pictures proved, movies may have learned to talk, but they had still to learn how to move once again.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.