From Professor To Clown Show — THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) — No Wrath for Rath

The character that is most interesting to me in THE BLUE ANGEL is the clown. The silence the character brings to the story stands out to me as seeing the downfall of the first clown we can see the downfall of the second coming and we can’t do anything to stop it. The clown may not seem a character worth noticing at the beginning of the film, but his silent presence grows. When his avatar is assumed by the main character, Professor Rath, his silent presence becomes the loudest thing in the film. As the professor wanders The Blue Angel looking to catch his students, a silent clown solemnly walks the halls. He doesn’t speak, he cannot say his life is crushed and has been ruined by Lola Lola, but it is easy to see it written on his face.

Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings

The second time Professor Rath returns to The Blue Angel he is invited to see Lola Lola. He is there to return the undergarments that he had accidentally brought home with him the first time around. She is ready to strike, removing his jacket and telling him to relax and stay awhile. The clown quietly walks through the room and he makes eye contact with Rath. They stare at each other as the clown walks by, foreshadowing what is coming to the professor. Without a sound, the clown seems to be telling Rath to watch out, but Rath is about to lose the control he needs to fight off Lola’s advances. Soon after, the silent clown is almost a mirror image in the scene after the drunken sailor is kicked out of the bar. When the Magician makes a shot for Rath, the clown is silently standing next to him, watching him take the shot. This will be the turning point in the film, Rath will never be the same character after this. The clown stands behind him, almost a ghost of Rath. The clown is not only silent but Rath and the Magician do not even acknowledge the presence of the clown at all.

The first clown

After this scene Professor Rath seems to become more silent as the film presses on. He returns late to his classroom and the students have mockingly drawn him all over his chalkboards. After the students chant garbage at him very loudly, causing a dean to walk into the room, he does very little to explain his situation of defending himself. He says he will marry Lola and the dean makes sure he understands that if he were with a woman like that, he would no longer have a career at the college. Rather than speak up, Rath silently lets him leave the room and sits down at his desk. There is a long drawn out dolly shot moving away from Rath, which is in complete silence, and the last time we’ll see this room before the films end. This is also the last time we see the original clown in the film.

The man has BECLOWNED himself

We skip ahead five years and Rath is putting the clown makeup on himself. No music and almost no room tone, Rath is now encompassed in silence. His last fleeting words in the film are about his reluctance to go on stage in his hometown. He is silent for the rest of the film, leading to his death in his old classroom.    

The man is now broken

In the film in general, silence is a form of foreshadowing. The clown is silent, before Rath becomes him, and Rath is completely silent as the clown himself. The silent clown foreshadows itself in the scenes leading up to Rath marrying Lola and going out on tour with her. In the scene where Rath is helping Lola put her makeup on, the two share a solid 30 seconds of silence before she blows the powder into his face. This moment shares two instances of foreshadowing, the silence of the clown and the white makeup on his face, which the professor will soon don himself.  The professor’s pet bird that is dead in the beginning of the film uses silence to foreshadow as well. The bird used to sing beautifully and he stopped, suddenly and died. This will eventually happen to Rath as well, as he will stop educating and die in his original cage, his classroom.

Lola Lola moves on as if nothing happened

Another scene where silence foreshadows is the scene where the dean tells Rath if he marries a girl like Lola, his career will be over at the college. The silence in the scene foreshadows the ending of the film. The shot is almost a copy of the last shot in the film. One of the film’s final foreshadowing using silence is the scene before the time transition. Rath has almost completely gone silent at this point, his only words are to express his discontent with the current situation. He storms out of the room wanting to have nothing to do with Lola anymore, only to sulk back in, silently, and help her put her stockings on and get ready for her next number. This last bit of silence foreshadows the silence we get from Rath for the rest of the film. His only vocal protest is short and does not come of anything, as he is silently paraded in front of his peers in his hometown. He runs away and dies silently in his classroom.     

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