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Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood

Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood: German and American Film after World War I

Kristin Thompson
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood
    Book Description:

    Ernst Lubitsch, the German film director who left Berlin for Hollywood in 1923, is best remembered for the famous "Lubitsch touch" in such masterpieces as Trouble in Paradise and Ninotchka, featuring Greta Garbo. Kristin Thompson's study focuses on Lubitsch's silent films from the years between 1918 and 1927, tracing the impact this director had on consolidating classical Hollywood filmmaking. She gives a new assessment of the stylistic two-way traffic between the American and the German film industries, after World War I each other's strongest rival in Europe. By 1919, Lubitsch had emerged as the finest proponent of the German studio style: sophisticated, urbane and thoroughly professionalized. He was quick to absorb 'American' innovations and stylistic traits, becoming the unique master of both systems and contributing to the golden ages of the American as well as the German cinema. Utilizing Lubitsch's silent films as a key to two great national cinemas, Thompson's meticulously illustrated and extensively researched book goes beyond an authorial study and breaks new ground in cinema history. Click on the PDF button to download the table of contents This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0536-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 11-16)

    In film-studies circles, Ernst Lubitsch is recognized as one of the great directors of world cinema, but the general public has long ceased to know his name. Even mentioning Ninotchka usually brings no responsive smile of recognition.

    Filmmakers, however, still love Lubitsch. They apparently recognize in him not just one of the medium’s premiere storytellers but a consummate master of every technical aspect of the cinema. Shortly after Lubitsch’s death, Jeannette MacDonald said of him:

    On the set, he had the greatness of his art, but no “artiness.” I have known so many directors who idealized him and styled some...

  5. 1 Lubitsch’s Career
    (pp. 17-34)

    The Russian Formalist literary theorist Jurij Tynjanov has pointed out that the historian who searches for influence treads a difficult path. The devices an artist borrows from other works may be so transformed in his or her hands as to be unrecognizable to the observer. Here the artist’s own declaration of having been influenced is the crucial evidence needed for the historian to realize that influence has probably taken place (unless the artist is lying or self-deceiving). Tynjanov mentions another danger, in which the same device is used in different artworks at the same time – and yet this apparent case...

  6. 2 Making the Light Come from the Story: Lighting
    (pp. 35-52)

    Lubitsch’s lighting style changed noticeably between his German features made up to 1921 and the two he directed for Paramount in Berlin. It changed again after he went to Hollywood in 1922. Lubitsch’s move to the US came at a crucial point in the history of lighting in the two countries, both in terms of the actual technology and of approaches to the placement of equipment in the sets. American lighting styles had undergone major developments from 1915 to 1919, primarily via the proliferation of dark-studio shooting, which replaced sunlight with artificial illumination. Specifically, studios increasingly relied on small arc...

  7. 3 Subduing the Cluttered Background: Set Design
    (pp. 53-70)

    The classical norms of Hollywood set design developed during the 1910s, parallel to the changes in lighting practice. Lighting and setting were closely linked, working together to create the overall pictorial identity of the scene as the actors moved about within a playing space. Key lights for actors and fill lights on sets maintained the proper balance, with the background visible but not distracting.

    The set itself worked toward the same ideals. The set needed to be visible, for it gave the viewer salient information about the characters. But once that information had been absorbed, there was no point in...

  8. 4 Guiding the Viewer’s Attention: Editing
    (pp. 71-90)

    Figure 4.1 offers a rare glimpse of Lubitsch in the editing room, working in 1922 on Die Flamme. This scene was obviously posed for the publicity camera, but it serves to indicate how very little equipment was involved in this stage of filmmaking. Editors in Hollywood, had by this point already rigged up small viewers by cannibalizing old cameras and projectors. The first regular sales of the Moviola editing machine began in 1924.¹ During the post-war years, however, Germans edited by eye, just as Lubitsch and his colleagues are shown doing here.

    In Germany, labor was divided differently than it...

  9. 5 Peeking at the Players: Acting
    (pp. 91-108)

    Film historians commonly distinguish between pantomimic acting, which relies on the stance and movements of the body as a whole, from facially oriented acting, which is generally associated with closer framings. The facial style developed in tandem with the formulation of the continuity editing system. The basic assumption of that system is that a scene should be broken up into an establishing shot and a series of closer shots which guide the attention of the spectator effortlessly to the most salient portions of the space. To preserve clarity, the shots should be joined with matched action and screen direction.


  10. 6 Mutual Influences
    (pp. 109-126)

    In the mid-1920s, Robert Florey offered some advice to French film producers wanting to compete with the Americans. His suggestions, pertinent to other national film industries as well, usefully summarize the beliefs widely held within the German film industry of 1921 and after:

    It would seem necessary, for a start, to install some good, large studios equipped with all the modern improvements, and above all lights, indispensable lights. In these same studios there would need to be built sets which do not have the feel of sets, props which do not make the public laugh, in short everything which contributes...

  11. Epilogue: The Lubitsch Touch
    (pp. 127-132)

    Almost anyone writing about Lubitsch, from a journalistic or academic perspective, invokes “The Lubitsch Touch” as shorthand for some elusive quality that sets this director’s work apart. The phrase is vague and usually not very helpful. Anyone who knows what it means already knows Lubitsch, and for someone who does not know Lubitsch, the phrase explains little. It is not likely, however, to go away, and for that reason it might be helpful to end by trying to pin it down just a little, both in terms of its meaning and its origins.

    There is a popular impression that the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 133-144)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 145-148)
  14. Index
    (pp. 149-154)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 155-156)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)