The double entendre of a trouble in paradise.The Lubitsch touch. The phrase used to describe the work of director Ernst Lubitsch. Reams have been written on the subject, but it remains a vague elusive concept that defies generic interpretation and categorization. As it should be. For essentially, it is about creative process and the interplay between craft and art, the relationship between character, identity and context, reclaiming women’s body and image and a plethora of other themes that remain intangible and ambiguous being intricately intertwined with a creative process that is built in a layered manner, with an outcome only loosely defined and not particularly quantifiable. Its the intensity of contradictory opposites and the riddle of paradox.
The viewer is of the post Picasso “voyeur” yet they are also telling their own stories through the film’s ostensible story-line, a kind of visual remix; one which may hark back to the very told tradition of the European storyteller. Stories that explain nothing yet remain food for thought, impossible to validate; the instinct of the voyeur passes continuously through a revolving door, disrupting the convention of feeling where the body is less than human and not entirely one’s own to that of returning through the revolving door, and engaging in a repossession thereby transgressing the sense of “spectacle” ; the viewer is constantly obliged to parry the blows ( Baudelaire’s the poet as fencer ) in moving through an object oriented world to a subject oriented world. This boundary crossing, even in its absurdities, its validation of moxie and elan over righteousness, does permit a communicability of experience, a reflection of the role of death- the cinema noir aspect- in modern society, on the nature of wisdom and several other themes as Lubitsch saw fit in a splicing together of differentiated particularity.
Walter Benjamin: It is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation. It is left up to the reader to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks…The stories that linger in memory are the ones free of psychological analysis. This process of memorising stories, however, is becoming less and less common, because the situation in which it most easily takes place becomes less and less common: boredom. It is the hearer entranced in the rhythm of labour – such as weaving or spinning – who most naturally assimilates the story. As craftsmanship dies out, so does the story.
On Trouble in Paradise ( 1932 ):It is Lubitsch’s sense of irony that places the thieves at the centre of the story and also shows them to be morally stronger than the other characters in the film; they may steal but they are not rich, so do not squander their money and they have more style than many of the supposedly sophisticated characters. Significantly they align themselves with one of the film’s constant messages that equates wealth not with money or status but with intellect and ingenuity. This is made clear from the start, where it is explicitly stated that Gaston and Lily prefer each other as honest criminals than as the members of the aristocracy that they pretend to be upon first meeting. There are of course some exceptions to the wealth equating to intellect concept, most notably Filiba (Edward Everett Horton) who is rich yet far from intelligent. However, this discrepancy is dealt with almost immediately as Gaston is able to take advantage of Filiba’s decadence and stupidity by robbing him in the opening moments of the film.
Lubitsch’s treatment of sex is even more unusual. The film openly depicts sex outside of marriage without hinting that Lily and Gaston even have the intention of wedding. This is combined with Gaston’s affair with Mariette Colet, which cements the love triangle from the opening credits. Gerald Mast notes that “the usual separation in the American film is between LOVE and SEX…For Lubitsch, LOVE and SEX are not opposites, but allies; the two passions are inseparable” . This is clearly problematic as the attitudes and actions that Lubitsch wishes to depict are clearly subjects which the American audience were unfamiliar with and which were becoming increasingly prohibited by the censors. The idea that two people can have sex not only outside of marriage but outside of love would become one of the major taboos of Hollywood cinema once the Production Code became enforced in 1934, and even during the period in which Trouble in Paradise was made censorship was becoming more stringent. As a result, in order for Lubitsch to display the subject matter that he wanted he had to do so in an oblique manner. In 1932, the actual subjects he wanted to depict were not strictly outlawed, and in his next film, Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933), Lubitsch would push the boundaries even further by having the plot revolve around a ménage-a-trois, however these ideas could not be explicitly shown on screen. Read More:http://www.offscreen.com/index.php/pages/essays/trouble_paradise/