There are a thousand ways to point a camera, but really only one.
Says Ernst Lubitsch.
Any fan of Billy Wilder is familiar with the sign he had in his office, “How Would Lubitsch Do It?” The omnipresent mantra for Wilder was in memory of his collaborator and mentor, Ernst Lubitsch (“Ninotchka“, “Trouble in Paradise”).
Of Lubitsch, Wilder said he had the “Lubitsch Touch,” which he himself attempted to implement in all of his writing (to which he often succeeded).
It was the elegant use of the Superjoke. You had a joke, and you felt satisfied, and then there was one more big joke on top of it. The joke you didn’t expect. That was the Lubitsch Touch.
Lubitsch was not only a master of the Superjoke; he was a master of visual storytelling. Take this anecdote:
Director Rouben Mamoulian has said of Lubitsch: “He was doing a film, and he explained to his writer that the beginning of the film had to show that this man had been married a long time and that he is kind of tired of it. He had gotten used to his wife and had a roving eye. So the writer brought him four pages of introductory exposition of character. Lubitsch looked at it and said, ‘You don’t need all that.’ He took all four pages out. ‘Just put down this—the man walks into the elevator with his wife, and keeps his hat on. On the seventh floor a pretty blonde walks in, and the man takes his hat off.’ ”
Biographer Scott Eyman had this to say about the Lubitsch Touch:
“With few exceptions Lubitsch’s movies take place neither in Europe nor America but in Lubitschland, a place of metaphor, benign grace, rueful wisdom… What came to preoccupy this anomalous artist was the comedy of manners and the society in which it transpired, a world of delicate sangfroid, where a breach of sexual or social propriety and the appropriate response are ritualized, but in unexpected ways, where the basest things are discussed in elegant whispers; of the rapier, never the broadsword… To the unsophisticated eye, Lubitsch’s work can appear dated, simply because his characters belong to a world of formal sexual protocol. But his approach to film, to comedy, and to life was not so much ahead of its time as it was singular, and totally out of any time.”
Just as there are a thousand ways to point the camera, there are a thousand ways to write the scene… but really only one. The Lubitsch.
Written by: Mich Medvedoff