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The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema

The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema: Rediscovering Germany's Filmic Legacy

Edited by Christian Rogowski
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 368
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    The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema
    Book Description:

    Traditionally, Weimar cinema has been equated with the work of a handful of auteurist filmmakers and a limited number of canonical films. Often a single, limited phenomenon, "expressionist film," has been taken as synonymous with the cinema of the entire period. But in recent decades, such reductive assessments have been challenged by developments in film theory and archival research that highlight the tremendous richness and diversity of Weimar cinema. This widening of focus has brought attention to issues such as film as commodity; questions of technology and genre; transnational collaborations and national identity; effects of changes in socioeconomics and gender roles on film spectatorship; and connections between film and other arts and media. Such shifts have been accompanied by archival research that has made a cornucopia of new information available, now augmented by the increased availability of films from the period on DVD. This wealth of new source material calls for a re-evaluation of Weimar cinema that considers the legacies of lesser-known directors and producers, popular genres, experiments of the artistic avant-garde, and nonfiction films, all of which are aspects attended to by the essays in this volume. Contributors: Ofer Ashkenazi, Jaimey Fisher, Veronika Fuechtner, Joseph Garncarz, Barbara Hales, Anjeana Hans, Richard W. McCormick, Nancy P. Nenno, Elizabeth Otto, Mihaela Petrescu, Theodore F. Rippey, Christian Rogowski, Jill Smith, Philipp Stiasny, Chris Wahl, Cynthia Walk, Valerie Weinstein, Joel Westerdale. Christian Rogowski is Professor of German at Amherst College.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-712-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    C. R.
  5. Introduction: Images and Imaginaries
    (pp. 1-12)
    Christian Rogowski

    What images does the notion “Weimar Cinema” conjure up? The twisted physiognomy of Conradt Veidt’s somnabulist Cesare in Robert Wiene’sThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(1920), as he drags off damsel-in-distress Lil Dagover over the slanted nocturnal rooftops? The spooky shadow of Max Schreck’s spidery vampire in F. W. Murnau’sNosferatu(1921), as he approaches his next innocent victim? The bulky presence of Emil Jannings as Mephisto in Murnau’sFaust(1925), casting a furtively sinister look over his shoulders? The faceless hordes of despondent workers descending into the grimy futuristic underworld of Fritz Lang’sMetropolis(1927)? Or Marlene Dietrich’s shapely...

  6. 1: Richard Oswald and the Social Hygiene Film: Promoting Public Health or Promiscuity?
    (pp. 13-30)
    Jill Suzanne Smith

    There are plenty of reasons to remember Richard Oswald in the context of Weimar film history. Born Richard W. Ornstein to a middle-class Viennese Jewish family in 1880, Oswald initially embarked upon a career in the theater. After fourteen years of acting, writing, and directing for the stage in Vienna, southern Germany, and Düsseldorf, he took up residence in Berlin in 1913 and began working as a director and screenwriter for Jules Greenbaum’s film production company Vitascope. His first film script for Vitascope, a screen adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes detective dramaDer Hund von Baskerville(The Hound of Baskerville,...

  7. 2: Unsettling Nerves: Investigating War Trauma in Robert Reinert’s Nerven (1919)
    (pp. 31-47)
    Barbara Hales

    In the wake of the First World War, an entire generation was saddled with the psychological trauma resulting from the mass death of 10 million soldiers on the battlefield (Winter, 15–53; Keegan, 3). This psychic trauma was particularly felt in Germany, where 2 million soldiers were killed and another 4 million disabled (“The Legacy of War,” 5). In conflicts such as Verdun for the French, Somme and Flanders for the British, and the retreat of 1915 for the Russians (Ferro, 85), soldiers were trapped in the trenches and subjected to shelling from guns, projectiles, and air attacks (Ferro, 85–...

  8. 3: Humanity Unleashed: Anti-Bolshevism as Popular Culture in Early Weimar Cinema
    (pp. 48-66)
    Philipp Stiasny

    Don’t shoot me!” the director yelled. Then he gave the order to attack: an infernal noise started, machine guns firing, spotlights flooding the ground, and soldiers in army uniform began to climb the barricades of the Spartacist rebels. On 13 March 1920, under the guidance of Joseph Delmont,Die entfesselte Menschheit(Humanity Unleashed) was being filmed in the studios at the Zoo in Berlin.¹ At the very same time, not far outside, another insurrection was taking place, a real one: an ultraright-wing military group led by Wolfgang Kapp seized control of strategic buildings in the German capital and forced the...

  9. 4: Desire versus Despotism: The Politics of Sumurun (1920), Ernst Lubitsch’s “Oriental” Fantasy
    (pp. 67-83)
    Richard W. McCormick

    Many critics have attacked Lubitsch’s historical costume films for their distortion of history, among others Siegfried Kracauer (48) and Lotte Eisner (82) in their canonical books on Weimar Cinema. In Lubitsch’s defense, arguments have been made that these films are escapist fantasies made by a director who was relatively oblivious to politics (even the revolutionary turmoil on the streets of Berlin in the aftermath of the First World War). For instance, Hans Helmut Prinzler, one of the film historians interviewed in Robert Fischer’s documentary filmErnst Lubitsch in Berlin, argues that Lubitsch simply didn’t pay attention to politics. Pola Negri,...

  10. 5: Romeo with Sidelocks: Jewish-Gentile Romance in E. A. Dupont’s Das alte Gesetz (1923) and Other Early Weimar Assimilation Films
    (pp. 84-101)
    Cynthia Walk

    The First World War and its aftermath saw an increase in the mass migration of Eastern Jews to the cities of Western Europe, triggering a rise in anti-Semitism. If earlier generations had fled persecution in Tsarist Russia and the border provinces of the Hapsburg Empire, these new migrants were now trying to escape the chaos engendered by the Russian Revolution and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Mostly Orthodox Jews with distinctive dress, beliefs, and customs, they became a visible foreign presence on the streets in the West. Traditional and unmodernized, they also represented “brothers and strangers” to assimilated urban...

  11. 6: “These Hands Are Not My Hands”: War Trauma and Masculinity in Crisis in Robert Wiene’s Orlacs Hände (1924)
    (pp. 102-115)
    Anjeana Hans

    A woman reclines on a bed in a shadowy room. She holds a letter, raises her hand and begins to read. The film cuts to the hand-written letter: “My beloved! One more night and a day and then I will again be with you. I will take you in my arms … My hands will caress your hair … and I will feel your body trembling beneath my hands.”¹ The camera cuts back and lingers on her as she stares into space, smiling, chest heaving as she begins to clasp the letter to her chest.²

    This sequence, the opening scene...

  12. 7: The Star System in Weimar Cinema
    (pp. 116-133)
    Joseph Garncarz

    When we think of Weimar Cinema, great directors like Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Fritz Lang, or Georg Wilhelm Pabst come to mind, but not star performers such as Harry Liedtke, Alphons Fryland, Henny Porten, or Claire Rommer. Their names are largely forgotten today, because their films have not become part of the canon that shapes our image of Weimar Cinema. Stars are often identified with the medium of film, and film stars with the Hollywood film industry.¹ If the US film-star system is taken as the standard model, one might mistakenly conclude that star systems never existed in European countries. In...

  13. 8: Schaulust: Sexuality and Trauma in Conrad Veidt’s Masculine Masquerades
    (pp. 134-152)
    Elizabeth Otto

    Contemporary commentators rhapsodized about Conrad Veidt’s unusual appeal to his public, and Erika and Klaus Mann would later write that almost no actor was as popular as Veidt in interwar Germany (95). As we see in the above quotation, as early as 1919 film critic Heinz Salmon emphasized Veidt’s multiple attractions for his fans, who saw him as a standard love object, as spiritual and an artist, and as an otherworldly ascetic. Writing three years later, critic Fritz Scharf discussed Veidt as a cultural phenomenon with wide-reaching influence: “Damsels from ages eight through eighty who are even mildly infected by...

  14. 9: The Musical Promise of Abstract Film
    (pp. 153-166)
    Joel Westerdale

    In his 1916 presentation, “Die künstlerischen Möglichkeiten des Films” (The Artistic Possibilities of Film), the already renowned actor and filmmaker Paul Wegener lamented that films up to that point were largely a disappointment. In its first twenty years, the medium had produced mostly kitsch — poor imitations of bad theater with stories reminiscent of trashy novels. This assessment notwithstanding, Wegener insists: “Das Ding ist gut!” (the thing is good). He declared that film would one day become more than simply a lesser theater for the hoi polloi, and that even his own widely admired artistic achievements — starring inDer...

  15. 10: The International Project of National(ist) Film: Franz Osten in India
    (pp. 167-181)
    Veronika Fuechtner

    The popular imagination frequently associates German silent film with an aesthetic of shadows and excessive décor and identifies it as a distinctive high-art national cinema. However, Weimar Republic Cinema was also a popular cinema with international production and distribution mechanisms firmly in place. The crucial role that the Bavarian film director Franz Osten played in the beginnings of Bombay’s film industry subverts the notion of a monolithic German national film history. In the following, I will provide historical background on Osten, his collaborators in Bombay, and the context of the Indian film industry, before focusing on his first silent German-Indian...

  16. 11: The Body in Time: Wilhelm Prager’s Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (1925)
    (pp. 182-197)
    Theodore F. Rippey

    Champions of Weimar republicanism draped the postwar democracy in the mantle of poets and thinkers, harking back to the classic achievements of a nation of culture. But even as they did so, the citizens of the republic were going mad for prizefighters, revue girls, and recordsetting sprinters. Observers of the times framed the rising currency of and fascination with performing bodies as both symptom and catalyst of important shifts in interwar German life — and modernity generally.Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit(Paths to Strength and Beauty), which premiered on 16 March 1925 at Berlin’s opulent Ufa-Palast am Zoo cinema,...

  17. 12: Henrik Galeen’s Alraune (1927): The Vamp and the Root of Horror
    (pp. 198-210)
    Valerie Weinstein

    Henrik Galeen’sAlraune(Mandrake, 1927)¹ is the tale of a dangerous vamp: inspired by a medieval myth in which the mandrake root at the base of the gallows becomes a living being after being fertilized by a hanged man and harvested at midnight, Professor ten Brinken creates a woman, artificially inseminating a prostitute with the semen from a hanged murderer. The product, Alraune, ruins every man who loves her and takes revenge on her maker, seducing and destroying him.

    In his discussion of the vamp figure, conservative film critic Oskar Kalbus cites Brigitte Helm’s Alraune as the prime example.² To...

  18. 13: The Dialectic of (Sexual) Enlightenment: Wilhelm Dieterle’s Geschlecht in Fesseln (1928)
    (pp. 211-234)
    Christian Rogowski

    In late November 1928, Berlin newspapers reported strange goings-on in some of the city’s grimiest neighborhoods: in the working-class districts in the north people were surprised to find letters in their mailboxes marked, “Streng vertraulich” (Strictly Confidential). Likewise, passers-by on Müllerstraße in the district of Wedding were handed sealed envelopes with the imprint, “Nur öffnen, wenn Sie allein sind” (To be opened only when you are alone). What was the secret that ostensibly needed to be carefully guarded, yet shared with “almost everybody whose name appears in the address book?”¹ Those adventurous enough to open these envelopes found that they...

  19. 14: Babel’s Business — On Ufa’s Multiple Language Film Versions, 1929–1933
    (pp. 235-248)
    Chris Wahl

    On 28 October 1929 the first all-talking German film,Atlantik, loosely based on the foundering of the “unsinkable” Titanic, premiered in Berlin. Although the director, E. A. Dupont, and all the main actors were indeed of German origin (Schöning), the film had been shot in the “British Hollywood,” at the Elstree studios near London (Warren). German filmmakers responded to the coming of sound film by shooting movies simultaneously in two or three languages (primarily English, German, and French) with different casts, but on identical sets, and based on the same script.Atlantik, shot in a German and an English version...

  20. 15: “A New Era of Peace and Understanding”: The Integration of Sound Film into German Popular Cinema, 1929–1932
    (pp. 249-267)
    Ofer Ashkenazi

    In the late 1920s passionate debates erupted among German artists and critics about the impact of sound on film making. Some feared that the new technology would dictate low artistic standards. Experimental filmmaker Walther Ruttmann, writing in late 1928, bemoaned the end of the era in which “serious people made serious films” (Ruttmann). Other commentators rejected such pessimism and emphasized the new horizons opened by the creative use of sound. Inventive director Ewald André Dupont, for instance, predicted that the new technology would fundamentally enrich cinematic expression and would guarantee it a prominent place among the “respectable” arts. The “appropriate”...

  21. 16: Landscapes of Death: Space and the Mobilization Genre in G. W. Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (1930)
    (pp. 268-285)
    Jaimey Fisher

    When G. W. Pabst’s anti-war film,Westfront 1918, premiered in 1930, it was greeted with extravagant praise.¹Der Kinematograph, Germany’s oldest weekly film journal, devoted its entire front page to an article on it, emphasizing the link between the film’s importance and its authenticity: the reviewer noted the location shooting and the fact that three of the film’s lead actors had actually served in the military during the war (the fourth, the actor playing “der Student,” was still a child when the Versailles peace treaty was signed). Another reviewer, Hans Wollenberg inLichtBildBühne, likewise praises the film’s ostensible realism, while...

  22. 17: Undermining Babel: Victor Trivas’s Niemandsland (1931)
    (pp. 286-298)
    Nancy P. Nenno

    Christmas 1914. Only a few months after the outbreak of hostilities in the First World War, soldiers in British, French, and German uniforms spontaneously declared a ceasefire and met in the barren strip of earth between the frontlines and trenches, neither possessed nor inhabited by either side, known as no-man’s-land. Instead of launching individual guerrilla attacks against each other, for three days the soldiers buried their dead, exchanged gifts, and celebrated the holiday together (Brown/Seaton; Jürgs; Weintraub). In contrast to the familiar image of no-man’s-land as a space of carnage, the story of the Christmas Truce transforms this horrifying in-between...

  23. 18: Unmasking Brigitte Helm and Marlene Dietrich: The Vamp in German Romantic Comedies (1930–33)
    (pp. 299-316)
    Mihaela Petrescu

    In the past decades film historians have demonstrated that in the German cinema of the early 1930s comedies were the predominant filmic genre.¹ Ulrich von Thüna notes that comedies formed 40 percent of the overall production of German films in 1930, increasing to 63 percent in 1931, and more than 64 percent in 1932 (von Thüna; see also Korte, 133–61). Von Thüna relates these high percentages to the repercussions of the Great Depression following the Wall Street stock-market crash of 24 October 1929: the German film industry sought to offer German audiences a convenient and much-needed escape from the...

  24. Filmography
    (pp. 317-328)
  25. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 329-332)
  26. Index
    (pp. 333-354)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-355)