Skip to main content

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Dir. Ernst Lubitsch
88 min

Lady Windermere's Fan

Screening at The Heights Theater (3951 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights) with live accompaniment by The Poor Nobodys - Sunday, February 18 at 7:30pm

Closing night of Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour  $20 tickets (not included in festival pass)


About Lady Windermere's Fan

By 1925, Lady Windermere’s Fan, which was first staged in 1892, had become a pièce de résistance on both the European and American stage. Lubitsch made the play his own through a process of unfaithful adaptation. This, not only because none of the many aphorisms which spring out of the original text flow in the (as usual, few) intertitles; nor because the coup de théatre which Wilde reserves for the end of the second act (the scandalous Mrs Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, rather than her rival as we had believed) is here revealed in the very first sequence, changing surprise for suspense (we know what the characters do not, and take pleasure in the spectacle, waiting for the bomb to go off). Lubitsch’s infidelity towards Wilde is the challenge between two kindred spirits, both of whom know the depth of appearances and the imperative of artifice. His daring substitution strategy means turning the wit of Wilde’s words into a visual texture: fleeting glances, searching binoculars, swift curtains, boxwood fences accurately fitted to conceal or reveal, a geometry of untrustworthy perceptions. It’s a matter of spatial disproportions: closeups vibrant with passion as well as fatuity ("I’ve a bit of news that may interest you / I love you") cut briskly to long shots of huge art deco settings, where a girl’s eye may find itself at keyhole level. It’s a matter of time contractions: a seduced man tails his seducer in a single frame, against a pure pop art backdrop, on a horizontal perspective just like in early cinema, or in the Nouvelle Vague, or in Paul Thomas Anderson. Above all, the play on appearances conceals the fact that the greatest comedy of American silent cinema isn’t actually a comedy. Guido Fink wrote that “comedy is just a different way of looking at the same things”: So Lady Windermere’s Fan can be just a different way of looking at Stella Dallas (as the audiences at Cinema Ritrovato will have the opportunity to attest), if the narrative climax is still a mother’s Silent Sacrifice and Stifled Tears. Then, of course, this Mrs. Erlynne is someone who always lands on her feet, and on the very threshold of her self-sacrifice she will find a Lord Augustus waiting to be dragged away, in a whirlwind perfumed with ermine and Shalimar. Life, Oscar Wilde wrote, is far too serious a thing ever to talk seriously about it. —Paola Cristalli

This film is courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Returning to the Twin Cities for a second year, Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tour presents rare, restored, and recovered archival cinema. Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour–Minneapolis will screen films at The Main Cinema from February 15–17, 2024. Closing night (February 18) will take place at the Heights Theater and will feature a new restoration of Ernst Lubitsch’s take on an Oscar Wilde classic, Lady Windermere’s Fan.

Presented in partnership by Archives on Screen, Twin Cities, MSP Film Society, and Cineteca di Bologna, the festival will screen highlights from Il Cinema Ritrovato’s 2023 lineup. Il Cinema Ritrovato is an annual international film festival that exhibits new restorations and archival films in Bologna, Italy.

Archives on Screen is proud to partner with Il Cinema Ritrovato and Cineteca di Bologna to curate selections from their festival for Twin Cities audiences.


Film Details

Program: Il Cinema Ritrovato On Tour
Release Year: 1925
Runtime: 88 min
Country/Region: USA
Language: English Intertitles


Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Cinematographer: Charles Van Enger
Screenwriter: based on a story by Oscar Wilde, Julien Josephson
Editor: Ernst Lubitsch
Principal Cast: Ronald Colman (Lord Darlington), Irene Rich (Mrs Erlynne), May McAvoy (Lady Windermere), Bert Lytell (Lord Windermere), Edward Martindel (Lord Augustus), Helen Dunbar (duchessa), Carrie Daumery (duchessa di Berwick)