WHO is he?

German-born Hollywood film director, producer, screenwriter and actor, known predominantly for his many masterful comedies. A pioneer of the Romantic Comedy genre, Lubitsch started making films in Germany during the silent era and, after his immigration, worked in Hollywood until his death in 1947 at the age of 55.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Many of Lubitsch’s Hollywood films are set in Europe (Paris, in particular) and involve twisted love triangles with racy talk and racier situations. Falling in and out of love seems to be the easiest thing in these films. Characters always appear to be posing and playacting, deceiving not just one another but themselves. These films are unapologetic middle-class evening entertainment and celebrate American values of the time without sugarcoating them with the pretentious political correctness of today.

Style

The deftness and flamboyance with which Lubitsch realised his scripts was so unique so much so that the term “The Lubitsch Touch”, to denote the fashion in which his direction would enhance the merit of the text manifold, came into being. The Lubitsch Touch was driven by a respect for the audience’s intelligence and would often mean redacting superfluous, on-your-face elements and leaving room for the viewer’s imagination. Lubitsch also had a way with two-shots, which adeptly captures the dynamic between actors in a scene.

WHY is he of interest?

A major reference point for all directors of comedies in Hollywood, besides an influence on international contemporaries like Yasujiro Ozu, Lubitsch had a keen sense of what can make or break a comedy on screen. Another important later day comic filmmaker, Billy Wilder, who was assistant to Lubitsch and one of his greatest admirers, is supposed to have had a note at his studio office that went “How would Lubitsch do it?”

WHERE to discover him?

Arguably the greatest Hollywood comedy after the silent era, To Be Or Not To Be (1942), made at the height of the Second World War, tells the story of a theatre group in occupied Poland that manages to stop a double agent from delivering classified Allied documents to the Nazis and hoodwinks the Führer himself. Hysterical and terrifying at the same time, the film is a scathing satire that is, for once, timely and pointed and an effortless examination of the politicisation of art and the aesthetisation of politics.