Weimar Cinema

Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era

EDITED BY NOAH ISENBERG
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/isen13054
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    Weimar Cinema
    Book Description:

    Taken as a whole, the sixteen remarkable films discussed in this provocative new volume of essays represent the brilliant creativity that flourished in the name of German cinema between the wars. Encompassing early gangster pictures and science fiction, avant-garde and fantasy films, sexual intrigues and love stories, the classics of silent cinema and Germany's first talkies, each chapter illuminates, among other things: the technological advancements of a given film, its detailed production history, its critical reception over time, and the place it occupies within the larger history of the German studio and of Weimar cinema in general. Readers can revisit the careers of such acclaimed directors as F. W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and G. W. Pabst and examine the debuts of such international stars as Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, and Marlene Dietrich. Training a keen eye on Weimer cinema's unusual richness and formal innovation, this anthology is an essential guide to the revolutionary styles, genres, and aesthetics that continue to fascinate us today.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50385-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)
    NOAH ISENBERG

    There is a pivotal scene almost halfway into Josef von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930) in which the still upstanding Professor Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), a man who epitomizes imperial Prussian rigidity teetering on the brink of collapse, finds himself drawn back to the same seedy nightclub where he first encountered the enchanting songstress Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich). There, as the stodgy old teacher makes his way to the balcony, he finds Lola onstage, swaying her hips nonchalantly while she belts out one of her signature ballads—pronouncing her inability to do anything but love and finally...

  5. ONE SUGGESTION, HYPNOSIS, AND CRIME: ROBERT WIENE’S THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
    (pp. 13-32)
    STEFAN ANDRIOPOULOS

    In February 1920 posters appeared throughout Berlin, addressing city dwellers with the forceful exhortation: “You must become Caligari” [Du musst Caligari werden]. The enigmatic slogan, also printed in several newspapers, was soon revealed to be part of an innovative advertising campaign for a new film. The movie, directed by Robert Wiene, was just completing the last stages of production at the Decla company. Immediately after its release, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was acclaimed a masterpiece of German expressionist cinema; its plot, unknown to the public, centered on a showman and hypnotist who forces a somnambulist under his will, compelling...

  6. TWO OF MONSTERS AND MAGICIANS: PAUL WEGENER’S THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD (1920)
    (pp. 33-54)
    NOAH ISENBERG

    Set against a lush, celestial backdrop and a flickering panorama of crooked gables and oblique rooftops, evocative of some sort of extraterrestrial urban sprawl, the opening sequence of Paul Wegener’s Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World) establishes a realm of limitless fantasy. It does so by introducing, in relatively rapid succession, the key elements that underpin the entire film and that lie at the core of the popular Jewish legend on which it is based: soothsaying, mysticism, violence, supernatural creation, mad science, sexuality, and the occult. Less than a minute...

  7. THREE MOVIES, MONEY, AND MYSTIQUE: JOE MAY’S EARLY WEIMAR BLOCKBUSTER, THE INDIAN TOMB (1921 )
    (pp. 55-78)
    CHRISTIAN ROGOWSKI

    August 25, 1921, was no ordinary day.¹ German newspapers reported riots in India, where Muslims clashed with Hindus in Malabar. On a happier note, representatives of the American and German governments were to meet in Berlin that day to sign a peace treaty.² Although the fighting had ended with the armistice of November 11, 1918, the United States and Germany were, up to that point, technically still at war. Despite his busy schedule on such an auspicious day, Friedrich Ebert, the president of the fledgling Weimar Republic, found time in the morning to visit a different kind of India, where...

  8. FOUR NO END TO NOSFERATU (1922)
    (pp. 79-94)
    THOMAS ELSAESSER

    “Where do you think you’re going?” Professor van Helsing calls after Harker in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). “You cannot escape your destiny by running away.” Both the film and Bram Stoker’s original novel, Dracula, bear a family resemblance to “Appointment in Samarra,” the W. Somerset Maugham story of a merchant who came across Death at noon in Baghdad and, panic-stricken, fled to Samarra, unaware that his real appointment with Death was not until the evening—in Samarra. Harker travels to Transylvania, thinking he is selling the mysterious count a piece of real estate, but what...

  9. FIVE FRITZ LANG’S DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922): GRAND ENUNCIATOR OF THE WEIMAR ERA
    (pp. 95-114)
    TOM GUNNING

    Decla Bioskop’s publicity for Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler proclaimed, “Mabuse doesn’t just want to amass a fortune, he wants to be Master—Master of the city in which he lives, Master of the land in which he dwells, Master over all men.”¹ With Mabuse, Lang created not only his ultimate figure of urban crime but his most complex Enunciator figure, the author of crimes who aspires to be a demiurge in control of his own creation, Lang’s own doppelgänger as director and author who haunted him for nearly the full extent of his career (from 1922 to his last film...

  10. SIX WHO GETS THE LAST LAUGH? OLD AGE AND GENERATIONAL CHANGE IN F.W. MURNAU’S THE LAST LAUGH (1924)
    (pp. 115-134)
    SABINE HAKE

    Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924), the most famous collaborative effort by director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, screenwriter Carl Mayer, and cinematographer Karl Freund, has been overshadowed by its critical reputation and canonical status. In fact, its most fascinating qualities today are not necessarily those highlighted by the numerous contemporary reviews or examined in the surprisingly few scholarly articles on the film. Like the creative individuals involved in the production, most critics from the 1920s concentrated on the film’s innovative cinematography and dynamic conception of narrative space. Very few mentioned the melodramatic elements, and if they did at all, they...

  11. SEVEN INFLATION AND DEVALUATION: GENDER, SPACE, AND ECONOMICS IN G.W. PABST’S THE JOYLESS STREET (1925)
    (pp. 135-154)
    SARA F. HALL

    In the mid-1920s a walk down the street of a European metropolis could be a stimulating experience. Photographs on the covers of illustrated magazines jumped out from the newsstands, and display cases outside businesses and department stores tempted window-shoppers into making spontaneous purchases. Arc lamps cast pools of light and contrasting shadows onto the asphalt, and cinema marquees and signs above dance halls flashed, competing for pedestrians’ attention and, ultimately, for their leisure time. Throngs of people bumped and bustled by, with individuals registering to one another as barely more than blurry shapes and vague features. Streetcars, buses, and automobiles...

  12. EIGHT TRADITION AS INTELLECTUAL MONTAGE: F.W. MURNAU’S FAUST (1926)
    (pp. 155-172)
    MATT ERLIN

    In his study of F.W. Murnau’s Faust, the French director Eric Rohmer extols the film as a “sort of visual opera” in which Murnau “was able to mobilize all the means at his disposal to ensure a total mastery of [cinematic] space” (Rohmer 1980, 9–10; my translation). His remarks offer just one example of the praise that French commentators in particular have lavished on the film, Murnau’s final directorial effort before leaving for the United States in 1926. The film historian Georges Sadoul is similarly rapturous, describing Faust as “a great film that equals for the first time the...

  13. NINE METROPOLIS (1927): CITY, CINEMA, MODERNITY
    (pp. 173-192)
    ANTON KAES

    On January 10, 1927, all of Berlin’s forty newspapers were abuzz with anticipation and excitement. Metropolis, the monumental new film by Fritz Lang, one and a half years in the making, was finally to open after an unprecedented advertising campaign that had run for several months. It was widely known that Metropolis was the most expensive and ambitious European film production to date, with an unheard of cost of 5.3 million Reichsmark (almost four times its budget); that its shooting ratio was 1:300 (with more than 1 million meters of film exposed); and that it employed thirty-six thousand extras, including...

  14. TEN BERLIN, SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY (1927): CITY, IMAGE, SOUND
    (pp. 193-216)
    NORA M. ALTER

    A close-up of gently rippling water fills the entire screen, and the camera tracks slowly over the expanse—no horizon is in view, only the lapping of small waves that gradually dissolve into a geometric pattern of horizontal lines echoing the motion of the ripples. The abstract form of parallel lines, increasing in intensity and speed, evokes the rhythmic movement of the pistons of a steam engine; then the lines dissolve into the pattern of railroad crossing bars at a train-track juncture. The accompanying sound track parallels the increasing intensity of the image as it builds to a crescendo. We...

  15. ELEVEN SURFACE SHEEN AND CHARGED BODIES: LOUISE BROOKS AS LULU IN PANDORA’S BOX (1929)
    (pp. 217-236)
    MARGARET MCCARTHY

    From ingénues to femmes fatales, with legions of varyingly androgynous, emancipated “New Women” in between, the Weimar lexicon of femininity encompassed a cast of characters both classic and emergent. Underwritten by male artists and intellectuals, this panoply of female types combined the femme fatale’s aggressive sexual proximity with the nonchalance of New Women generally perceived as unsentimental. A heady mix of women, presumably both promiscuous and aloof, bears traces of two historical epochs: Frank Wedekind’s notorious Lulu, the subject of his two scandalous plays Earth-Spirit and Pandora’s Box, provides a fin-de-siècle forerunner,¹ while the partly mythic Weimar New Woman, who...

  16. TWELVE THE BEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING: PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1930)
    (pp. 237-254)
    LUTZ KOEPNICK

    A motorcycle enters the frame from the right, requiring the camera to pan left to follow the cyclist’s path through dense urban traffic. We cut to the image of a crowded sidewalk, seen from what could be the perspective of a passenger located on the upper level of a double-decker bus. First we track along the pedestrians at their own speed, but then the camera will swiftly bypass the walking crowd, its eye invariably directed forward. Next, we see the image of a bridge allowing local trains to cross a busy street. Cars, trains, and pedestrians here flow on various...

  17. THIRTEEN NATIONAL CINEMAS / INTERNATIONAL FILM CULTURE: THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) IN MULTIPLE LANGUAGE VERSIONS
    (pp. 255-270)
    PATRICE PETRO

    How do we assess the national and historical status of The Blue Angel? This film, together with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and M, is the most widely discussed film of the Weimar period. Because of its highly canonical status, scholars have debated a range of issues related to its production and consumption, notably, its relation to Heinrich Mann’s novel and the significance of Josef von Sternberg’s changes to it; the novel’s implied critique of Wilhelmine Germany (of authority, of patriarchy, and of the belief in outer appearances) versus the film’s portrayal of gender relations and the rise of the...

  18. FOURTEEN COMING OUT OF THE UNIFORM: POLITICAL AND SEXUAL EMANCIPATION IN LEONTINE SAGAN’S MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM (1931 )
    (pp. 271-290)
    RICHARD W. MCCORMICK

    The most well-known German woman to direct films remains Leni Riefenstahl. But before her famous propaganda film for the Nazis, Triumph of the Will (1935), and before her directorial debut with the “mountain film” The Blue Light (1932), there was another film made by a woman, one that was not only a national but an international success, and one with very different politics. This antiauthoritarian film was the most famous film made during the Weimar Republic by a woman, and, given how often male writers and intellectuals have demonized new models of gender and sexual behavior in Weimar—e.g., Erich...

  19. FIFTEEN FRITZ LANG’S M (1931): AN OPEN CASE
    (pp. 291-310)
    TODD HERZOG

    Fritz Lang’s 1931 film M is perhaps the most critically acclaimed German film ever made. A 1995 survey of more than three hundred film historians, film journalists, and film professionals conducted by the Deutscher Kinematheksverbund ranked M at the top of its list of the one hundred most important German films made during cinema’s first century. The first edition of the standard history of German cinema chooses a still from M as the only image to adorn its front cover (Jacobsen, Kaes, and Prinzler 1993). It has been quoted in countless subsequent films from Fritz Hippert’s The Eternal Jew (1940)...

  20. SIXTEEN WHOSE REVOLUTION? THE SUBJECT OF KUHLE WAMPE (1932)
    (pp. 311-330)
    MARC SILBERMAN

    While early Weimar cinema developed specific visual, narrative, and technological effects to depict the volatile social relations of the period, Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? (Kuhle Wampe, 1932) marks a more radical, overtly politicized appeal to the spectator in the context of social polarization toward the end of the Weimar Republic.¹ Indebted to the example of Soviet montage, this noncommercial, independent production demonstrates how a politicized cinema that goes beyond issues of radical content tries to mobilize its audience. In this model the spectator’s imaginary activity engages an empowering cognitive process of seeing context and recognizing connections rather...

  21. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 331-340)
  22. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 341-344)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 345-360)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-362)