European Cinemas in Context Germany (1). From the beginnings to the 3rd Reich Dr Gert Vonhoff. Film and Cinema in Wilhelmine Germany The Birth of German Cinema.
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From the beginnings to the 3rd Reich
Dr Gert Vonhoff
1 Nov 1895 - Max Skladanowsky, Bioscope (double projection) 1st screening of 15 minutes 1896-97 Berlin AlexanderplatzOskar Messters – inventor Maltese cross Oct 1897 sales catalogue listed 84 films, visual reports (optische Berichterstattung) from 1910 Messter Woche, the first Wochenschau
variety theatres travelling shows focus on filmsfrom 1905: stationary cinemas (shop cinemas, rented films) 1905 – 40, 1906 – 200, 1908 – 1000, 1912 – 30001913 Marmorhaus in Berlin opened1909-1913/14 rise of a national film industries Gottschalk 1910: MonopolfilmPAGU (1909) – Projektions AG ‚Union‘ DECLA (1915) – Deutsche Eclair Film und Kinematographen GmbHUFA (1917) – Universum Film AG
During WWI German companies expanded, Ludendorff founded the BUFA in 1917, escapism is the demand of the day1911-1914: longer narrative film emerged(film drama), multi-reelersnew techniques in camerawork, editing, mise-en-scenefilm-specific languagebirthplace of genre, star system(Paul Wegener, Albert Bassermann, Asta Nielsen, Henny Porten), anddirectors(Ernst Lubitsch, Max Mack, Joe May, Franz Hofer)Fantastic Genre: The Student of Prague (1913), The Golem (1915), Homunculus (1916-17)as Gothic style German Cinemaresearch since 1990s sees continuation of pre-war traditions
Covers the period from 1919-1924/27: expressionist film (German pre-war arts) / films of New Objectivity (American influence) – best term is ‘Weimar film’ and ‘Weimar cinema of the silent era’after German consolidation in 1870s Expressionist Art expressed resistance against and opposition to static forms of official art in the Kaiserreich counter movement to French Impressionist Art which was felt not be enough of opposition express the unrest and demand of change in Wilhelmine Germany Die Bruecke in Dresden & Der Blaue Reiter in Munich
Expressionism in pre-war decades vitalistic, at times slightly naïve blow up paralysed self-images of bygone era use of bright vibrant colours vs monochrome movement vs static abstraction in form and colour vs realism human emotion, sexuality vs etiquettemisunderstanding of WWI as liberation from paralysismachine driven war in the trenches as wake-up callthis and political change after war-end (Empire turned Republic) makes it obvious that there is an end of 1st phase of expressionism: change into more analytical modes of painting and illustration (influence of Sigmund Freud and the new psychoanalysis)
Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919/20) DECLA production starred Werner Krauss as Dr Caligari and Conrad Veidt as the somnam- bulist Cesaresets the standards for the expressionist style in film extensive use of mise-en-scene sharp black and white contrasts (chiaroscuro lighting) strict regime on the geometry painted sets reduce a naturalistic setting to an artificial space of two dimensional lines (following Max Reinhardt’s theatre) actor motion develops from a still: jerky, slowed- down dance-like movements revealing the inner world of the characters and their state of alienation
Cinematic devices editing kept simple shot – reverse shot, crosscutting slower pace functional camera-work oblique camera angles false perspectivesAll this stresses the disintegration of the individual, loneliness, isolation, alienation: disillusioned analysis of life in a modern capitalist society other topics: effect of authoritarian structures, misuse of power and science
Original script of the film by Hans Janowitz and Carl Meyer Kracauer reads this as a revolutionary storyErich Pommer accepted the scriptRobert Wiene suggested essential modification invention of the framing story Kracauer: while the original exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene’s Caligari seems to glorify authority and convicted its antagonist of madness – a revolutionary film seems to be turned into a conformist oneBut is Kracauer right?
Ending of the film – within the mental asylum uses similar camera-angles, actor movements, lighting effects as the rest film much more continues to produce vagueness more than one possible reading as a technique used in avant-garde art of the 1920s
To fully understand Weimar Cinema one has to look at its precarious position between art, politics and entertainment. put it into context of the wider debate on culture within the capitalist society of Weimar Germany general atmosphere of lost orientation, insecurity and unease in the 1st phase of the Republic (1919-1924)
Entanglement of the new media in rules of mass-production and markets script-writers, artists, actors, directors more often on the avant- garde half of the cinematic world producers, distributors, film companies on the capitalist side1919-1923 increase in German film productions due to low costsCaligari helped selling German films abroad UFA in Babelsberg competitors of Hollywood sophisticated sets, lavish costume, star system (UFA stars) UFA as merger of industry, banks and state (at 1st military forces)Fridericus Rex, 1920-23 in 4 parts example of conservative influence brought along by joint ventures Otto Gebuehr as star Mountain films as popular genre
Inflation peaked in 1923, introduction of new currency stabilized markets – 5 years of prosperity, stability and wealth from 1924-1929: The Golden Twenties 1929 stock market crashed and marked the beginning of a deep and long economic crisis.With Dawes Plan (in 1924) – America became raw-model New Objectivity style, modernity, ideology of the machine age new image of the woman: Flapper the Angestellten as new social class Hollywood influence in film makingInfluence of Alfred Hugenberg (Deutschnationale Volkspartei)
310 days and 60 nights of filmingtotal costs of 2,000,000 dollars750 actors in supporting roles36,000 walk-on partsrefined sets and latest technology monumental film set new standards: the most significant utopian film of the silent erabut lack of contents:the satirical magazine Simpl brought caricatures, the captions of which read: ‘Simple newsreel for film directors. Take ten tons of horror, pour into it a tenth sentimentality, boil it with some kind of social attitude, season it with mythicism according to taste, stir it well with Deutsch-Mark (seven million of it) and you’ll get a marvellous epic movie.’
Fascination and fears of the modern technology – ultra modern opening of the filmdepiction of faceless mass of workers – sets social quality of the analysis – left wing positionsMaria and the film deals with her – sentimental simplifications takes shape: love story with Freder: the heart as intermediary between the brain and the hands = philanthropic 18th ideaevil located in relentless and fanatic Rotwang, a Jewish scientist who creates robots – right winga typical UFA production, as it has:‘a strong capital base, squandered carelessly, a talent for large-scale organization and a tendency to go astray in microscopic details; devotion to artistic excellence and to its perversion, which was empty perfectionism; a delight in the imaginative use of technology and in its reverse, which was mere technical slickness; a quest for philosophical power, but pursued in an intellectual vacuum; a ‘will to form’ that produced an amorphous ruin; craftsmanship, imagination, and diligence, and the waste of all those virtues through intellectual arrogance and the lack of a governing concept.‘ (Kreimeier, 1999, The UFA story, pp.151f.)
Frankfurt School since late 1920s: analysis of the culture industries works through instrumentality: instrumental reason represents the negation of the substan- tive rationality of the EnlightenmentWalter Benjamin’s essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936) loss of the aura for works of art because of mere technique of industrial reproduction instrumentality opens art up for misuse analysis of Fascism: efforts to render poli- tics aesthetic
After Black Friday, 1929, economic crisis unemployment and social unrest exploited by the parties of the right, rise of NSDAPGerman Film remains successful despite decrea- sing audiences, industries by far the strongest in EuropeIntroduction of sound creates new formats and genres (musicals, comedy) new stars (Marika Roekk, Willy Fritsch, Heinz Ruehmann, Hans Albers) multi-language versions NAZI Germany continued light entertainment cinema growing concentration of film business Goebbels as Reichspropagandaminister 1937 Reich bought 70% of UFA stocks 1942 film industries fully nationalized rise of propaganda film, Leni Riefenstahl
Formally experimental, but ideologically narrowed to Nazi ideologyfilmic representation of the 1934 NSDAP rally in Nurem- berg, released in 193535 cameramen, technical workforce of 170, 120km of filmmasterpiece of style and editing lending of movement to static images use of contrasting light and dark use of symbols as controlling images depicting people as architecture moving camera, intercuts with close-ups use of musicfilm’s opening borrowing from popular mountain films, but from plane adds different modern perspective blending conservative ideology with the utmost frontier of technological progress blending mythology and politics masses as the foundation but meaningless basis for the Nazi movement