Friday, 29 March 2013

Bit Player

CNQ has made available the first chapter of Andrew Steinmetz's soon-to-be-published This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla, a book that exquisitely unravels the mystery of his late uncle who had a brief cameo as a Gestapo agent in John Sturge's famous film The Great Escape.
He’s had perhaps a minute on-screen in one of the most watched war movies of all time. Yet as a bit player he is uncredited for the role. In fact, soon after the film was made, he disappeared completely. Shortly after his star flickered, he died, aged 32, from a drug overdose in Hamburg. Watched by millions yet almost completely unknown. And there’s a further irony. He was a refugee from Nazi Germany, partly Jewish and the son of one of Germany’s most famous left-wing actors, playing a Gestapo agent, a role reprised on thousands of television repeats. 
In fact, watching television is how I came to know of my uncle Michael. Alive but not living, stranded in the no man’s land of a motion picture. His character was staged and scripted, but I was spellbound—Michael was convincing. Fedora and trench coat. Elegant. Blond. His smooth transitions. His lively walk, his coat unbuttoned, his fashion the casual flair of some fresh-as-the-breeze fascist. This image, I now understand, years later, is counterfeit, a convenient archetype, manufactured by the American film director John Sturges and his sidekick Bert Hendrickson in Costume Design and Wardrobe. But it is him, close enough to the real thing. 

No comments: