Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mysterious and Vampy Fern Andra

While on Pinterest the other day, I was struck by an image on someone's "antique" board. In between the many beautiful Victorian ladies and flappers on that page was a face that jumped out at me.

I saw a woman whose eyes were so bold and striking and haunting that I had to click on the pic to see who she was. The mystery lady turned out to be a silent movie actress named Fern Andra.

Isn't she something? I feel like if I keep looking in those eyes I'm going to get sucked into some dark void. Seriously. "Look into my eyes..."

So then I had to google Fern Andra to see what her story was. The first search result that popped up was about a movie titled Genuine, also known as Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. This silent movie was released in 1920 and was directed by Robert Wiene. Some of you might be familiar with him as the director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I read that the Genuine sets were designed by a German Expressionist artist named C├ęsar Klein. Genuine the vampire's outfits are all really stylish too.

Look at all those neat shapes. I think some of this is oddly sexy even for 2015. It looks as if someone went wild with a roll of duct tape. Supposedly, some people were enraged that Fern wore an outfit that was painted directly on her body for this movie. I don't know how, but I must have missed that. I think this one was probably made from strips of fabric. I like how this costume reminds me of an insect with long feathery antenna and spotted wings.

I've been thinking about the 1920s lately and how wild people were then. I feel like without The Depression years dumping a cold bucket of water on the 1920s, we could be living in a really wild society now. The more I look at the glammed up ladies of this time, the more I think we modern ladies could take a few tips. The makeup, the jewelry, the attitude.
Maybe not quite this much attitude ;)
Isn't she perfect as a vampire?

A few video clips of her as Genuine:

Isn't that neat how she emerges? Those movements... She's like a dancer. I think she holds up as a spooky, mesmerizing vampire by today's standards. I've actually never seen a vampire portrayed in this way, but I like it! She's like a slow moving spider with that sleeping guy in her web, or like a stalking cat. She doesn't need to hurry or leap out and pounce on him. She can just sneak out and take her time. Dude never saw it coming.

Looking at the Genuine character reminds me of some women I was reading about recently. Her fluffy hair, her exotic appearance, and her being a sort of kidnapped harem girl fits with The Circassian Beauties of the 1800s. The Circassian Beauties, or P.T. Barnum's invented version of them, could be a whole blog post within itself!

Here's Genuine in its entirety, or at least as entire as the film can be now:

This video is about 45 minutes long, but it moves fast. Interestingly, if I hadn't read that this was a vampire movie I would have thought it was about an evil enchantress. There's no blood or fangs to speak of, but Genuine is believably wicked. Like in all silent movies, you'll see that the characters' movements and expressions had to do all the talking. The modern guitar music that has been set to this video fits really well with the images and is pretty cool in itself.
Quite the bedroom, hey? Note the parrots.
Another neat decorative background. Check out that clock!
I wouldn't go into watching Genuine expecting so much a clear plot as a long, dramatic, Gothic art piece. I read that when this was released, the audiences were a little confused about how the plot elements fit together. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari did far better with audiences.  I found Genuine a fascinating watch and I was OK with the plot being open to interpretation. Perhaps this movie was more interesting for me than for a standard 1920s audience, because I'm not so used to seeing people dressed in these costumes or these kind of sets.

Hans Heinrich von Twardowski is in this as Florian, one of Genuine's love interests. He's worth a mention for his style. His hairdo and that of his hairdresser uncle are something to behold. There's something modern about him. I'd think he was a hip, good looking guy if I saw him walk by today (aside from the knickers). I read this actor is also in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is another reason for me to see that movie. That and Conrad Veidt. Gorgeous looking people are evidently reason enough for me to watch a movie.

Conrad Veidt during the filming of “Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari”, directed by Robert Wiene Germany, 1920.
Conrad Veidt = gorgeous.

Such beautiful eyes. I'm thinking that expressive eyes were more of a requirement back when we couldn't hear the actors.

Has anyone else seen Genuine? I'm guessing more of you have watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Back to my interest in Fern Andra, which is how this all started. She had a long and action-packed life. Fern was born to a circus performer and an opera singer and performed in the circus starting at age four. She was on the tightrope! I hope that rope wasn't too far off the ground for a four-year-old. She toured the United States, Canada, and Europe on the high wire. Fern took acting lessons in Berlin or Vienna depending on who is telling the story, and went on to perform in German silent movies.

Her life is like something out of a movie, from being accused of acting as a spy during WWI (actually true) to surviving a small plane crash that killed the other passengers. An interesting note is that the man flying that plane was the brother of "The Red Baron" Manfred von Richthofen. Fern had four husbands and lived until the age of 80.

Fern Andra
This is the picture of her that first caught my eye.
Fern made over 100 films in Germany, but she didn't stop at acting. She also directed movies, wrote scripts, and had her own production company! Sometimes you can just tell from someone's photo that they were an interesting character.


  1. What a fantastic post, Justine! I'll have to give this movie a watch ASAP! Here's hoping that the full print of this movie is eventually released to the public.

    Fern certainly sounds like a fascinating person. Definitely a better spy than Mata Hari, by the sounds of it.

    1. Chris ~ I thought that if I'd hear from anyone on this post, it would be you. Mostly because I know you've seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but also because I know you're into silent movies in general.

      Yeah, I don't know what the deal is as far as there only being part of the film online. I got the impression this is most of it. Sometimes with these old movies bits of the film don't survive. I was joking that the parts where she bites people must have been the parts that didn't make it, because we oddly don't see any of that for this being a vampire movie.

      Yes, I think Fern was fascinating! I don't think many people have a life that exciting. I don't think I'd want to actually, but it's interesting to read about. The near fatal plane crash for instance doesn't sound fun. That or the high wire walking! What's funny about Fern's spying is that what she was accused of wasn't even what she was up to. But she was transporting secret coded messages, which wasn't something she was accused of doing. I'd read an interview with her where she was saying that it was funny how they were right that she was spying but wrong about how she was spying. Another interesting bit of trivia is that her first marriage to a baron was to get suspicion removed from her about the spying. Husband #1 died shortly after their marriage and she kept the title of baroness for the rest of her life.

  2. Justine - I love thirties vamps - really cool!

    1. Matt ~ Hey! I thought you might be interested in this movie because I know how you like the vampires! You know how you said on my last blog post how you didn't see Twilight because there were no capes, coffins, or castles? Well, there are none here either. But I still think you'd like it! Just don't expect a traditional vampire movie. What I think you'd like most about this is the set and costume design. It's all very artistic and edgy.

  3. What a find Justine! I love the OTT set decoration and outlandish costumes. It would be fun to find out what the audiences of that time thought of these movies. Four husbands eh? You only go round once.


    1. Ali ~ Yeah! This was a fun watch. I love the decorations and costumes too! I don't think I've ever watched a movie with sets like these, but I haven't been watching a lot of German Expressionist movies. After learning that Fern was in the circus, a lot of her costumes seemed fitting. They look like something a person would wear to perform in a circus. Her graceful, dancing movements made sense too. I'm sure she brought some of her circus style of movements to her acting roles.

      Well, I read that the audiences of the time weren't too wild about this movie. Many of them were confused about the plot and the way it was pieced together. I read that they found it difficult to follow. They evidently did catch that Fern had on an outfit that involved body paint, and that was quite the scandal. I still don't know which outfit that was!

      Yeah, four husbands! So the first husband she married to get her off the hook as a spy. Marrying a German baron helped a lot. He didn't live too long. The second marriage ended in divorce. The third man she technically married twice because the marriage was questioned the first time. I should look up what the story was on that one. Then they divorced. Husband #4 she stayed married to from 1938 until he died in 1973. She died in 1974, so there wasn't much time to add a Husband #5 to the list. ;)