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A Culture of Light: Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany

Frances Guerin
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    A Culture of Light
    Book Description:

    In Frances Guerin's history of German silent cinema of the 1920s, the use of light is the pivot around which a new national cinema and culture emerges. Guerin's interpretations center on use of light in films such as Metropolis (1926) and Der Golem (1920) and we see how light is the substance of image composition, the narrative structuring device, and the thematic concern.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9561-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxxiv)

    The cinema is a medium of light. The cinema does not exist without the beam of electrical light that passes through the celluloid strip to throw an image onto a screen before a viewer. Even before this, the production of the moving photographic image is as much a construction in light as is its process of projection. As the camera shutter opens, light passes through the aperture, and leaves an impression in negative form of what lies before the camera on a filmstrip. Although the production of the cinematic image is not necessarily achieved through use ofelectricallight, it...

  5. 1 The Electrification of Life, Cinema, and Art
    (pp. 1-47)

    From the unification of Germany in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Germany’s industrialization was rapid.¹ The first wave of industrialization was, however, hampered by an economic crash in 1873, and it was not until the late 1890s that economic and social stability was reestablished. Germany’s second wave of industrialization around the turn of the century was accelerated and exaggerated in comparison to that of Britain, France, and Austria, for example. London, Paris, and Vienna had become world centers at a time when cities were defined through their focus on government, commerce, and religious activities in...

  6. 2 Bringing Cinema to Life through Light: German Film to World War I
    (pp. 48-73)

    We have become accustomed to thinking of pre–World War I German cinema as a cinema motivated by the necessity to entertain and educate the masses. In a film production and exhibition climate dominated by imported films, the emphasis of early German narrative film was ostensibly placed on attracting audiences, and educating them in the importance of national cultural, scientific, industrial, and social achievements.¹ Nevertheless, there were many teens films that placed a fascination for the medium at the center of their concerns. For example, the early film pioneer Oscar Messter pursued his interest in the technological possibilities of the...

  7. 3 Legends of Light and Shadow: The Mythical Past in Algol and Schatten
    (pp. 74-108)

    The narrative cinema in 1920s Germany provided the perfect forum for a rearticulation of popular German themes and legends. A number of films from the period reveal an eagerness to embrace available technological innovations, thereby signaling a rupture with the past. Simultaneously, they represent familiar, legendary themes, thus establishing continuities with the same past. In this chapter I analyze Hans Werkmeister’sAlgoland Arthur Robison’sSchatten, two films that revitalize thematic concerns, such as the struggle between good and evil, and that between reality and the imagination, that have preoccupied German legends for centuries. In addition, these two films are...

  8. 4 The Spell of Light: Cinema as Modern Magic in Faust, Der Golem, Siegfried, and Metropolis
    (pp. 109-153)

    Ernst Bloch was not alone in his characterization of technologically produced narratives as modern versions of the traditional fairy tale. Many of Bloch’s contemporaries identified the cinema’s creation of illusory realities, its magical transformations, happy endings, and timeless, utopian dreamworlds to be twentieth-century fairy tales. Like Bloch, other contemporary journalists and literary critics regarded the “magical” possibilities of the cinema as the basis of its differentiation from the traditional arts. Friedrich Sieburg, for example, reflected on the role of the actor’s body in fi lm for its production of magical effects.¹ According to Sieburg, the magic of the cinema lay...

  9. 5 Reformulations of Space through Light in Die StraBe, Jenseits der StraBe, and Am Rande der Welt
    (pp. 154-191)

    One of the unique features of the cinema is its marriage of the illusory space of the screen and representations of the three-dimensional spaces of the everyday world. This is enabled through the coming together of film’s mimetic and formal qualities. Through the photographic function of the reproduced image, film captures the lighting formations of the real world. Simultaneously, because the film image is a manipulation in the intensity, direction, and duration of artificial light, it is an ephemeral surface of light. Thus, in any representational cinematic image there exist two created spaces: that of the represented pro-filmic, and that...

  10. 6 Dazzled by the Profusion of Lights: Technological Entertainment in Varieté and Sylvester
    (pp. 192-230)

    In an unusually large number of German silent films, the characters take part in, or are spectator to, some form of mass entertainment. In turn, many of these delightful sequences are executed through a union of camera and lighting. However, the industrially generated forms of entertainment are also a popular setting for acts of criminality and immorality. In one of the most striking scenes of this kind, in Karl Heinz Martin’sVon Morgens bis Mitternachts/From Morning to Midnight(1920), the cashier at the center of the film, who has robbed the bank in which he works, finds himself at a...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 231-242)

    The cinematic and cultural engagement with electrical light and lighting continued both in Germany and abroad into the 1930s. While the films made by the Ministry of Propaganda are not known for their stylistic experiments, much less for their interest in developing lighting techniques, a preoccupation with light is a feature of other forms of cultural production from the period.¹ The fascination with the power of electrical light is taken up in the spectacular displays at Nazi rallies and in the staging of Nazism in everyday German life. Accordingly, there are a number of continuities between the aesthetic, technology, and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 243-306)
  13. Index
    (pp. 307-314)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-315)