All entries for Friday 30 March 2007

March 30, 2007

Munchhausen,1943: Dir. Josef von Baky

Munchhausen,1943: Dir. Josef von Baky

DVD Cover

Eureka DVD Cover

Muenchhausen 1


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 20+ of Google.

Link to Off Screen article which covers the range of cinematic versions of the Munchausen story:

Link to site page on Erich Kastner the writer of the screenplay:

The Triumph of Male Will: "Munchhausen" (1943) Eric Rentschler Film Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring, 1990), pp. 14-2. This is a Jstor journal article and will need a subscription:

Link to German Film Archive:

Deutsche Film Portal on von Baky the director:,,,,,,,,EF7358B875C18304E03053D50B37578C,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.html

The Blue Angel, 1930: Dir. Josef von Sternberg

The Blue Angel, 1930: Dir. Josef von Sternberg

Eureka Blue Angel Cover

Recommended Version

This Eureka version is currently the best version to use. It is recommended by S.S. Prawer in his little BFI monograph on The Blue Angel (pp 74-75)

Cooperation between the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, The Filmuseum Berlin, The Universum Film GMBH and Transit Film of Munich has produced an excellent double DVD which contains, besides useful features such as biographies, portrait photos, screentests, trailers of the 1930s and 1960s and a chronicle of the film's gestation, digitally remastered copies of the best available German and English versions of The Blue Angel.  


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 20 of Google.

Link to review:

Link to Senses of Cinema article on Sternberg and Dietrich

Link to Senses of Cinema article on von Sternberg

Link to POV (Point of View Journal) + Link to Spy & The Cabaret Singer

Link to "The Blue Angel": A Reconsideration
Geoffrey Wagner
The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn, 1951), pp. 48-53 this needs a Jstor subscription:

Link to German Film Archive

Link to German

Village Voice Review,atkinson,26257,20.html

Cornell  University commentary on screening of 6 Dietrich films:

BBC DVD Review:

Lee Russell article on Sternberg in New Left Review. Need subscription or must pay for article:

Bright Lights Review:

An honest undergraduate project with lots of images:

Diary of a Lost Girl, 1929 : G.W. Pabst

Diary of a Lost Girl, 1929   : G.W. Pabst

Diary of a Lost Girl

Coming from Eureka Video in early May


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 + of Google.

Link to Senses of Cinema Article:

Link to German Film Archive

Link to German Film Archive on Pabst

Link to the Louise Brooks Society site:

Link to Goethe Institute Toronto

Link to BFI database entry:

Link to Kansas Historical Society who have collected contemporary newspaper articles about Louise Brooks

Link to Eric Rentschler article on Pabst in German Quarterly. You will need a library subscription to access it:

Link to Deutsche Film Instiute (in German):

Link to a BBC page on Louise Brooks

Village Voice Article on Louise Brooks,hoberman,73515,20.html

New York Times review of a documentary on Pabst "The Other Eye" :

Also of Interest article from Senses of Cinema on Pabst's Kameradeschaft:

Spione, 1928: Dir. Fritz Lang

Spione, 1928: Dir. Fritz Lang

Spione DVD Cover

Eureka DVD Cover for Spione


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 30 of Google. Overall it appears as though Spione is very underwritten.

BFI Magic of Lang Link

BFI Lang filmography

BFI dtabase entry on Spione

BFI Sight & sound Article by Thomas Elsaesser on Lang:

Senses of Cinema link to Fritz Lang Article by Daniel Shaw

Link to site about Fritz Arno Wagner  one of the leading Weimar cinematographers who did the cinemaphotogrphy for Spione:

At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller

Eureka Cover wonderful Horrible Life of Riefenstahl

Eureka DVD Cover

Please note that at time of writing this DVD also comes with the Eureka version Holy Mountain. this obviously provides excellent value for money.


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you ma y also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


In addition to the main bibliography here are some links to recent of forthcoming books on Leni Riefenstahl. I haven't read the one in print and the other is forthcoming so no comments here on the quality of the content.

Leni Riefenstahl a Life             leni_steven_bach.jpg


Date of last search 05 April 2007

At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.

Guardian interview with Reifenstahl on 100th birthday by Christopher Jones and Andrew Pulver
Friday August 23, 2002,,779102,00.html

Guardian breaks news of Reifenstahl's death /  Obituary of Leni Riefenstahl,,1038656,00.html,12589,1038696,00.html

New York Times obituary of Leni Reifenstahl:

New York Review of Books essay by Susan Sontag "Fascinating Fascism":

World Socialist site obituary and commentary on Riefenstahl

An odd page from the web which is a serious essay on Reifenstahl The Blue Light and Bela Balazs, which is properly researched and referenced:

Link to "German" posting on Leni Reifenstahl with a link to a YouTube upload of Triumph of the Will :

Link to a useful review in Senses of Cinema of  Rainer Rother's Leni Riefenstahl the Seduction of Genius:

Link to article by Brigitte Peucker: The Fascist Choreography: Riefenstahl-'s Tableaux
Modernism/modernity - Volume 11, Number 2, April 2004, pp. 279-297. Please note you will need an Athens account to access the full article:

Link to article on Riefenstahl by Assoc. Professor Judith Keene is the Director of the European Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. One of Judith's specialities is fascism and anti-fascism. She has written several books on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. In one her courses at the University, 'Film and History', she covers the subject of Leni Riefenstahl:

Link to The Problem of Leni Reifenstahl by lloyd Eby:

Link to a student research paper by Celia Soudry on Riefenstahl  prepared for web publication by Professor H. Marcuse of  University of California Santa Barbara:

Link to Reappraising Triumph of the Will by Alan Marcus in Film Studies Journal:

Bright Lights review of the documentary:

BBC Storyville link on the documentary:

BBC Obituary of Reifenstahl:

Link to an interesting BBC page which reviews  and provides links to the responses of the German press to the death of Leni reifenstahl;

Below link to a BBc  Nick Higham video on Riefenstahl

Review of the documentary from

Link to Jewish Virtual Library:

The Holy Mountain, 1926: Dir. Arnold Fank

The Holy Mountain

Eureka Holy Mountain Cover

Eureka Video of Holy Mountain

Holy Mountain Still 1

Still From Holy Mountain

Holy Mountain Still 3

Still From Holy Mountain


This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.

Wikipedia on the genre of the Mountain Film

Link to a Goethe Institute Los Angeles retrospective of Fanck films with synopses:

link to officual Eureka webpage on Holy Mountain:

Link to a blog discussion site run by Doug Cummings who is a part of the Masters of Cinema Group with links to Eureka Video:$882

Link to the article Mountains and Modernity by Eric Rentschler in New German Critique. This is a Jstor article and requires your library to have a subscription:

Film video site with links to synopses of other Fanck films:

This Riefenstahl site is a strongly hagiographic one which nevertheless contains useful information both about her and on the page below about The Holy Mountain. Given the highly controversial nature of Riefenstahl's career any readings of the site need to to be critically astute.

BFI databses link:

Link to a short article on a German / Japanese co-production with the script written by Fanck inspired by the Holy Mountain:

Faust, 1926 : Dir. F. W. Murnau


Faust DVD Cover

Eureka Masters of Cinema Serie: Faust

Faust 1

Still from Faust

Faust 3

Still from Faust. Emil Jannings as Mephisto.

Faust: Murnau

In 1926 Murnau was finally given the chance to make Faust a project he had been interested in for some time probably even before his production of Tartuffe which was designed by the studio under Pommer’s hand as a quick money making exercise. The Eureka 2006 double DVD edition of Faust is a very valuable document. There is a very useful interview for 35 minutes with Tony Rayns who is a highly respected and well informed critic. The interview offers many insights although I would question his analysis about the reasons for the financial crisis besetting UFA for which he provided only a limited analysis. On other issues his analysis was frequently refreshing he challenged the dominant notion that the film was in any sense ‘expressionist’. It clearly isn’t: rather, Rayns provides an explanation arguing that as a graduate Max Rheinhardt’s dramatic school Murnau was very aware of the power of lighting within the mise en scene. Rayns notes too that Murnau is best considered as more of a metteur en scene than an auteur.

Below the UFA finacial situation is contextualise, some comments on the production are included and  a some thoughts contextualising the film in relation to the contemporary national identity crisis and the narration of nation are considered. 

The UFA Finances

Erich Pommer had left UFA in the early months of 1926 at a time when the German film industry in general was beginning to struggle to survive. UFA under Pommer as head of production had been forced to reinvent its commercial strategy after the Dawes plan had stabilised the Weimar currency and it could no longer invest on borrowed money which became devalued through hyperinflation. Hollywood was beginning to gain a larger share of the German domestic market and UFA was finding difficulty in competing. Hollywood of course had the advantage of being able to amortise its most successful films very rapidly in its large domestic market.

After 1923 Pommer had already been strongly promoting the growth of Cinema Europe in which European cinemas could co-operate more fully on joint productions, marketing and exhibition to compete with the Hollywood machine but this never really got off the ground. Tartuffe made by Murnau prior to the start of Faust was one such enterprise which was reasonably successful in France. Faust along with Metropolis were the contemporary attempts at producing blockbusters which had the underlying aim of breaking into the American domestic market as a response to the growing influence of Hollywood in Germany . This was an aim which never came to fruition. Metropolis went way over budget and failed to take off with domestic audiences and ran into problems in America. Faust also ran over budget and was more of a success than Metropolis however it didn’t take the American market by storm as was hoped.

Faust as Blockbuster

From its inception Faust was conceived of as a blockbuster. Originally the film was to have all the ingredients vital to success in an international market. There were to be state of the art special effects, leading international cast and a story which had wide appeal. Whilst calling the film Faust would have had a strong appeal to the more middle class educated domestic audiences in Germany who would have been thinking of Goethe’s Faust, an appeal which would have resonances in art house audiences across Europe and America the narrative was rather different. Rayns equates it with Christopher Marlowe’s Faust as having the strongest underlying influence, a play designed for Elizabethan audiences which were mixed appreciating elements of knockabout farce, an element which was transferred to Murnau’s production.

Higher and more complex issues were deliberately excluded from the play with the original screenplay being rewritten from ideas by Karl Mayer who Murnau usually relied upon by another writer Hans Kyser to popularise it.

In terms of the leading actors Emil Jannings was by then a natural first choice with Conrad Veidt having already left Germany for Hollywood. Jannings was hugely popular with German audiences and his performance in Faust is excellent. For a leading lady Lillian Gish was intended to fulfil the role and she did get as far as the UFA studios however she wasn’t allowed to have her choice of cinematographer. She had wanted top Hollywood cinematographer Charles Rosher however Murnau wisely refused to be parted from Hoffman. But Gish pulled out of the venture. The role of Gretchen then went to the other extreme: instead of an international superstar they employed an inexperienced unknown in Camilla Horn who nevertheless made an excellent job of youthful naivety to fallen young woman. Nevertheless Faust still had two leading Swedish actors to maintain its international ambitions.

Costume design was by Robert Herlth and set design was by Walter Rohrig both amongst the best in their profession.

The film itself fell far short of the tragic ending which had been the staple of the original myth and its handling by great exponents such as Marlowe and Goethe. The ending was one of redemption and gave hope of the afterlife through love. This was the type of feelgood ending which seem to be required of blockbusters and it is a significant flaw in the film.

Critical Reception

The critical reception wasn’t by any means universal praise. It was considered as a vulgarisation of the great Manichean conflict between good and evil and the accompanying booklet to the DVD quotes Ernest Lindgren once a curator of Britain’s National Film Archive:

The metaphysical conflict between good and evil was reduced to a sentimental love story.

Karacauer was also scathing arguing that the film ‘misrepresented, even ignored, all significant motifs in its subject matter.

These criticisms can be largely upheld in terms of the content, which is sharply counterpoised to the artistry in the direction, camerawork and set design. In many ways the film is a fine example of how commercialism tends to subvert and create travesties in meaningful works of art in order to achieve popular appeal at the box office. However arguably there is something raised at the deeper level of nation as narration’ which I explore slightly in the concluding comments.

The essay with the DVD tries to put an unconvincing gloss on these rapier-like critiques:

If everyone held those views we wouldn’t be watching this fully restored version of the film today” (Spooner p 22).

This is unconvincing in itself. There are many reasons for watching the film. This recently restored German version taken from the original German domestic negative is nothing short of excellent quality. The camerawork, direction and set design is often superb and Jannings’ jaunty performance is very witty in all senses of the term. The Eureka DVD also offers another disc with the export copy of the negative which aficionados the opportunity to compare prints and contemporary representations. Reading the film through the lens of exploring a fractured nationhood may have more rewarding outcomes.

Commercial Reception

In terms of its success at the box-office and general audience reception I currently have no available information. By comparison it is well known that Metropolis UFAs other great blockbuster attempt to scale the marketplace was a commercial flop. Ironically and despite their flaws, both films are probably seen by a larger global audience now than at the time of their release. Perhaps quality will out in the end.

As a film which says something useful about the state of the German National psyche and sense of identity it is hard to be precise the power of culture lies in its resonances and at a more unconscious level than things which can be easily measured.

The Narrating of the Nation

The film can certainly be seen as a form of heritage industry and as having recourse to myths and stories of a ‘golden past’ which cultural products often have recourse to at a time of national crisis. Points made by critics such as Homi Bhabha and Dominic Anderson. Certainly the film fits with the penchant for Medievalism which was frequently represented at the time not least in many of the films by Lang. It may be reasonable to understand the strongly marked theme of redemption as one which acted allegorically for a Germany keen in the mid twenties to outgrow the remnants of its international pariah status in the world as a result of its role in triggering the First World War. It can also be seen as part of what Bhabha highlights as a will to nationhood which is brought to bear in Renan’s comments about a nation’s existence being a ‘daily plebiscite’. Bhabha goes on to discuss that Renan’s discussions of nationhood focusing on the will:

…is the site of a strange forgetting of the history of a nation’s past: the violence involved in establishing a nation’s writ’ (Bhabha, 1990 p 310)

The Medievalism of early to mid Weimar cinema might well be legitimately perceived as a form of ‘forgetting’ and a semi-unconscious attempt to recast and rewrite the history of ‘nation’ usually solidified around a linear time of modernity. Ironically Weimar cinema is celebrated for using the most advanced media forms of the early to mid 20th century to achieve this end. That both Gretchen and Faust become outcasts to their communities and both desire to be recast within community with Faust specifically desiring to return Heim from the liminal mountain-top space which the psychoanalyst Lefort describes as the unbearable ordeal of the collapse of uncertainty (cited Bhabha 1990, p 300) or home by extension understands his position as uncanny an situation in which Gretchen also finds herself as her social world in the house after her return from the stocks is deliberately represented as unheimlich.

Perhaps the deliberate popularisation of Faust can be understood as an important if unconscious attempt to deal with the ambivalence of ‘nation as narration’. The appeal of the ending to a metaphysical universal signifier within Christian nations can be legitimately read as being a cultural appeal beyond the obvious level of the corny ending.


Overall Faust is a film which utilises the links with Goethe as well as a national myth which existed in the Mediaeval period to generate a variegated national and international audience which would also be attracted by the blockbuster like attention to production quality and high profile marketing. Superficially the storyline is weak however the net effect of the film considered in its postwar German context may usefully be read in the context of rewriting nationhood in the light of recent events an act of both forgetting and recasting.


Bhabha, Homi: ‘DissemiNation’, Bhabha, Homi ed. 1990.Nation and Narration. London Routledge

Spooner Peter. DVD Booklet Eureka Video 2006


After a search of up to page 25 of Google's search I found very little of high quality which was well referenced and available. There were two highly specialised academic article, but most entries were brief reviews and commercial DVD sellers.

Article by Michael Koller on Murnau's Faust on Senses of Cinema Site

A useful reviews page with links to recent books on Expressionism and Murnau

A useful synopsis of the work of set designer Walter Rohrig which includes an extract of an essay by early film historian and critic Paul  Rotha on Rohrig:

For the in depth researcher a link to a documentary interview with the actress  Camilla Horn who plays Gretchen:

Link to online article by Janet Bergstrom on Sexuality  at a Loss the Films of F. W. Murnau. This is a JStor article and requires your library to be a subscriber:

The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung entry on Faust. The synopsis is in German but some good stills:

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, 1922: Dir. Fritz Lang

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler

Dr Mabues the Gambler

Eureka DVD Dr. Mabuse the Gambler


The film and DVD are divided into two parts. The first DVD is 155 minutes long with the second being 115 miutes long. The DVD material is licensed from Transit films who painstakingly reconstructed the film as well as possible. Transit are the firm behind many of the German Weimar films which Eureka are distributing in the UK. The quality is very good. The newly commissioned soundtrack is very effective and goes well with the film unlike say the Michael Nyman soundtracked version of Man With a Movie Camera for example. The subtitling isn't up to the standards of many of the Eureka films with a clearly literal translation from the German which is certainly apparent to native English speakers.

On the matter of translation, the film is marketed in the UK under the title of Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. This is not the best translation of the title for although Mabuse makes plenty of money targeting wealthy gamblers he is anything but a gambler, rather he is a 'control freak'. The meaning of term 
as player is far more appropriate, for Mabuse likes to play with people as much for the power and the pleasure in it as for the money. I shall thus refer to the film as player / gambler to emphasise this tension in meaning. 

The film was originally from the Dekcla Bioskop group  Uco-Film GMBH of Berlin. It was produced by Erich Pommer.

Director: Fritz Lang

Screenplay: Thea von Harbou German version) & Fritz Lang (not accredited)

Director of Photography : Carl Hoffman


Dr. Mabuse: Rudolf Klein-Rogge 

Rudolf Klein-rogge

State Prosecutor von Wenke: Bernhard Goetze.

Below ihn confrontation with Klein-Rogge's Mabuse 

Klein-Rogge confronted by Goetze

Dancer Cara Carozza:  Aud Egede Nissen (Norwegian)

Below surrounded by flowers after her nightclub performance 

Cara in Dr Mabuse


The first part is called "A portrait of out time: The Player/Gambler". Certainly it refers to the post-war mayhem which occurred in Germany and also many other parts of Europe in the aftermath of World War One. It must be remembered that there were attempts at social revolution or at the very least serioius industrial strife in many countries outside of Germany in the early 1920.  As Lutticken below comments, the plot is 'meandering'. This is largely because it is more of a filmed series of separate stories which are held together after the first act through the character of the state prosecutor. For those who don't have the time to take all the film in one sitting (who has nowadays?) then it can very successfully be watched as a series of 'acts' which are more akin to watching 'Life on Mars' or some other TV series which is linked by an underlying thread.

Some episodes seem disassociated from others. The first act centered upon creating and exploiting a Stock Market rumour had little to do with the illegal gambling episodes which dominate much of the rest of the first part of the film. Similarly the forging of dollars using blind people to package them seems dissociated from the key plot. Rather it is a passing reference to certain types of illegality and allowed a wry comment on the state of European currencies of the time against the successful Amercian economy but it isn't developed further. Another theme which isn't developed is the pyschoanalytic aspect of the work. Clearly a reference to Freudian ideas by then becoming more widely known. Freud of course had access to many of the Viennese upper middle classes particualrly dealing with hysteria which Freud comes to understand and a societal and gender issue. For Lang it provides some sort of excuse for Mabuse to gain access to the Countess' mansion although the audience would have largely forgotten the presentation Mabuse made presumably to gain a reputation amongst the well off who were his primary target. 

It is this aspect of the representation of the upper-middle classes which is of interest and might have influenced Kracauer's analysis of the film in his From Caligari to Hitler. There are many displaced and slightly confused upper class people who seem to have plenty of money but no real sense of purpose. There is a class idenity which seems to have ben fragmented by the war and subsequent relovuitions and uprisings.  It is this vacuum which Mabuse is exploiting mercilessl. It is as though the elites are behaving like Ostriches. We don't see them represented as industrialists or leaders politically or socially. The State prosecutor seems to be acting as an isolated representative of the new social order struggling to gain legitimacy. The analysis provided by Kracauer which is quoted below is focusing on Mabuse as a tyrant, and when Mabuse talks of excercising will to play with people you could start to agree with Kracauer. But Mabuse seems to like playing for the sake of playing, it is his raison d'etre. One could almost see it as a self-parody of cinema itself with the incessant round of different costumes to 'entrtain' people.

Unlike tyrants who need to be seen as a part of their superior charisma Mabuse goes to extreme lengths not to be seen. Only a few close associates know exactly what he looks like. Mabuses' secret of creating mayhem is based upon invisibility. There are similarites there with 'M'. No the problem is legitimacy and an apparent problem of social anchoring. The presence of Mabuse requires an absensce of legitimacy. It is again a theme which Lang returns to in 'M' and is perhaps a preoccupation of von Harbou as a scriptwriter.  Interesting of course that she stays in Nazi Germany where Hitler for a short time at least seemed to have solved the legitimation crisis. Like Mabuse 'M' too can strike fear into citizens through invisibility. Ironically it is the blind who make 'M' visible. 

What the Web Critics Say:

There is some interesting material available on the web on the whole of the Mabuse cycle, not least from Thomas Elsaesser one of the leading critics on German cinema. I have extracted the relevant section of the article however it is well worth going on to read the whole thing as Elsaesser is reviewing the case often cited against Lang of being rather reactionary. It will make viewing the film in the light of these comments interesting. 

Here Thomas Elsaesser (Sight and Sound 2000) puts the case for the Dr Mabuse trilogy as a radical critique of surveillance culture.

Plot Synopsis

Dr Mabuse was Lang's breakthrough film in Germany, as well as an early example of a marketing ploy in which the serialised novel and the film became each other's mutual selling points. Announcing itself in its title as a "portrait of its time" (part one: The Gambler) and "of its men and women" (part two: The Inferno) it was loosely based on motifs from Norbert Jacques' tabloid opus, peppered up with topical material by Lang and his then wife, the successful novelist and Germany's top screenwriter Thea von Harbou. The four-hour film starts at a furious pace, with a meticulously timed train robbery leading to a stock-exchange fraud. It then concentrates on Mabuse hypnotising a young American industrialist into running up large debts at gambling, after which the master criminal wins the favours of an aristocratic lady, drives her husband to suicide and eventually kidnaps her. Time and again outwitting the public prosecutor by a mixture of brutality, practical jokes and agent provocateur demagoguery, Mabuse is finally cornered in his secret hideout and either goes mad or feigns insanity when he is finally captured.

Social References to the destabilised Weimar Republic

The film is said originally to have had a pre-credits sequence depicting street battles from the 1919 Spartacist socialist uprising in Berlin, the assassination of foreign minister Walther Rathenau and other scenes of disorder masterminded by Mabuse ("Who is responsible for all this? - Me" was apparently the first intertitle). Although this opening is now lost or was never made, the various scams Mabuse is involved in (industrial espionage, stock-exchange fraud, forged banknotes) as well as the felonies he perpetrates (he runs a lab manufacturing cocaine, his gang controls gambling and prostitution and plots assassinations) all vividly point to the immediate post-World War I era, especially to Germany's raging hyperinflation between 1921 and 1924 and its black-market economy that pauperised the middle classes while creating a new urban subculture of war profiteers, Mafia-like racketeer organisations and vigilante units recruited from the growing army of the unemployed. The political references were not lost on contemporary reviewers or the censors, and even today Mabuse's several disguises seem taken out of a catalogue of Weimar types familiar from the drawings of Otto Dix and George Grosz: stockbroker in a top hat, derelict drunk in a housing tenement, Jewish peddler at the street corner, bearded rentier in a flashy limousine, industrialist with monocle and moustache, pimp, psychiatrist, the hypnotist and opium-smoking Tsi-Nan-Fu in a gambling den.

Elsaesser's comments are interesting but need to be considered a little bit cautiously for at times he seems to be waxing poetic and eliding a lot of years together when there were dramatic differences between them.  Firstly the film premiered on April 27th 1922 in Germany. Inflation whilst high was by no means near the extraordinary levels it was to reach in the latter part of 1923. By July 1922 notes Richard Evans $1 US cost 493 marks. In November 1921 $1 cost 263 marks:

In the period up until the middle of 1922, economic growth rates in Germany were high, and unemployment low. ... The German economy managed the transition to a peacetime basis more effectively than some European economies where inflation was less marked." (Evans Richard, 2003, p 104)

The film itself was being made when conditions were still ostensibly OK although, as Evans points out, they were built on sand. Below Elsaesser notes that Mabuse was at least in part a reference to Hugo Stinnes who was an industrial magnate who was very successful after World War 1. Unsurprisingly Stinnes held right-wing views and in 1919 he joined with Alfred Hugenberg to establish the German Nationalist Party (DNVP). Where Elsaesser rails against the profiteers it is worth reminding readers that the remarkable success of the German post World War 1 film industry was founded on this high level of inflation. UFA like other successful entrepreneurial businesses was able to borrow cheaply in marks and pay the money back later with the same number of marks but which had become devalued through inflation. Furthermore the successful 'art' type films which we watch today were aimed at international audiences. As a result the hard currency could buy a lot of marks to reinvest in the next production. This was why Hollywood films had a hard time entering the German market prior to the Dawes plan of 1924 and the currency stabilisation. 

Mabuse was taken to be modelled on Hugo Stinnes, a steel magnate who from humble beginnings amassed a fortune and occupied a key position in the post-World War I rearmament industries (illegal, according to the Treaty of Versailles). But Mabuse also doubles as a Houdini-like vaudeville artist, passes himself off as a soul doctor from Vienna and even has a dash of the Bolshevik agitator in the Karl Radek mould. The final showdown was modelled on the famous shoot-out between the police and the 'Fort Chavrol' bankrobbers from a barricaded house in the Parisian banlieue in 1921. In short, Lang's "portrait of its time" gathers up a fair number of contemporary references.

Elsaesser usefully comments on the post Second World War discourse about Germany in which Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler played an important role when it came to discussing the role of culture in Weimar Germany.

It was after World War II that Dr Mabuse in the eyes of the critics took on a less topical and more overtly metaphoric mien. As indicated, Kracauer ties virtually every significant trend in his diagnostic psychogram of Weimar veering towards totalitarian madness to one of Lang's films:

"[Dr Mabuse] succeeds in making of Mabuse an omnipresent threat that cannot be localised, and thus reflects society under a tyrannical regime - that kind of society in which one fears everybody because anybody may be the tyrant's ear or arm."

Lang later argued back, pointing out that if he had predicted the rise of Hitler in his films, then Kracauer was pinning the blame for the bad news on the messenger.

                              Mabuse at the Pontoon Club

Elsaesser's comments below seem very pertinent. He ties Mabuse into the trend for 'expressionism' and recognises it in a self reflexive cinematic moment as a mechanism for creating audience. In some senses Mabuese's comment " Everything today is make-believe", resonates with a society which was struggling to reinvent itself. The defeat in the war saw the collpse of the political system which had been forged by Bismarck and had provided the cornerstone for Germany's successful rise to being the World's second largest economy. The Versailles Treaty saw the loss of 10% of Germany's population and 13% of its territory. The Saarland was 'lopped off' (Evans), and the Rhineland was under occupation for most of the 1920s. Germany was literally a shadow of its former self. A metaphor which could easily be read into the expressionist films of the time. Evans is less keen to emphasise a black market economy in the post war years than to emphasise the growth of semi-autonomous mainly right-wing nationalist paramilitary organisations who also ran assassination squads seeking out those they deemed as traitors. These included Ratthenau of the Social Democrats but also, the socialist Hugo Haase and the Centre Party deputy Matthias Erzberger. The key element was one of gaining political legitimacy. With 20 different cabinets between 1919 and January 1933, the coalition governments represented the deep political fissures present within the German body politic itself. Mabuse predates Germany's descent into total economic chaos. It was at the height of hyperinflation that starvation and rioting took palce (Evans pp 106- 107). However Evans notes the diaries of victor Klemperer who commented upon how many had taken to gambling on the stock market whilst making some modest gains compared to Professor Forster an well know anti-semite has said to be "making half a million marks a day playing the markets". Evans (p 107).  It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Lang was being speculative about a growing trend which was discernible even when the film was being made.

Evidently the film's immense popularity at the time and subsequent status as a classic testify to a surplus of meaning, best readable perhaps across the designation of Mabuse as "der Spieler", meaning the gambler but also the dissembler or pretender. Highlighting both playfulness and risk, a refusal of identity and a slippage of reference, the epithet announces the question of what kind of agency Mabuse embodies as he 'stands behind' events as well as 'fronting' a conspiratorial gang bent on mayhem and mischief. One could call Mabuse a disguise artist, dissimulating both identity and agency, and suggest that he belongs to a rather large family of such creatures in Weimar cinema, whose kinship, but also generic diversity (Caligari and Nosferatu, Die Nibelungen's Hagen and Spies' Haghi, Tartuffe and Mephisto), allow some conclusions about the self-analysis of cinema during the Weimar period. Mimicry as metaphor, metaphor as mimicry. If Lang's German films are inventories of styles and if he provided much of the wallpaper for Weimar Germany's national or avant-garde ambitions, he also showed how flimsy it was. Take expressionism, the style intended to create an internationally valid brand name for German cinema in the early 20s - as Mabuse himself says: "Expressionism! - it's a game of make-believe! But why not? Everything today is make-believe." Mabuse both implicates and distances himself, in a gesture that joins mimicry and parody, a mottled person for a mottled ground.

Of course sentiment in stock markets in 'normal times' is moved on both rational analysis but also on rumour and speculation, "greed and fear" are the prime motivators. In an increasingly unstable society the class of people represented by Dr. Mabuse would have had increasing sway:

There are many such moments in Dr Mabuse. One would be the scene of Mabuse at the stock exchange in which he destabilises both stock prices and currencies by selectively planting information gleaned from the treaty captured during the train robbery. The scene ends with the superimposition of Mabuse's face on the emptied stock exchange, gradually surging from the background like a watermark on a banknote held against the light, as if Lang had tilted the world we have just witnessed and something else had become visible: not the truth, but the recto of a verso. What is left is a kind of hieroglyphic world, barely readable, strange, but consisting of all but the most familiar elements.

Mabuse kidnaps the Countess

Sven Lutticken in New Left Review largely agrees with Elsaesser's take on Dr. Mabuse. It certainly seems to be representing and possibly contributing to the drift towards a 'casino economy'. Both Elsaesser and Lutticken focus on the key metaphor of hypnosis, and in many ways this could be read as a critique of the politicians and the politcal parties who for all their talk were allowing the country to slip into what many must have been feeling was an impending chaos.  

Lang used lavish sets, leading actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge and a meandering storyline to paint a panorama of a decadent society—Weimar Germany—so weak that it can easily fall prey to the evil master-mind Mabuse, a hypnotist who can submit people to his will. One of the most memorable scenes shows Mabuse’s head, facing the camera against a black background, growing ever closer and appearing to hypnotize the audience as well as his unfortunate opponent in the film. With its overt ambition to give a portrait of the times, and Lang’s highly stylized and sumptuous scenes, the first Mabuse film claimed both artistic value (as opposed to ‘unsophisticated’ Hollywood entertainment) and kulturkritische ambition …For all its production values and aspirations to social critique, Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler has a hopelessly hackneyed and melodramatic plot.” (Sven  Lutticken Planet of the Remakes: New Left Review 25, January-February 2004


This webliography has at the time of writing identified what are considered to be the most useful and best researched links on the Web. Currently the search is going down to page 10 of Google.  

Link to Deutsche Film Portal coverage:

Part 1: Der Spieler

Part 2: Inferno  

Link to 1992 lecture given at the Sidney Museum of Contemporary Art by Ingo Petzke:

Deutsche Film Portal link to biography of Frit Lang,,,,,,,,EFC121B064DE6C3FE03053D50B3736F2,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.html

Link to British film Insitute pages on Fritz Lang

The Chiarascuro site has some excellent large size screen shots as well as some basic information about the Lang's next film in the Mabuse cycle; The Last Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Link to a useful brief profile of Lang as well as a filmography on the Senses of Cinema site:

Link to Senses of Cinema site article by Michael Koller on the second of the Mabues Films The Tesatament of Doctor Mabuse:

German Films Archive Entry on Fritz Lang:

Dr. Mabuse a Modern German Myth:

Link to New Left Review article by  Sven Lutticken on remakes which includes analysis of Spione and Dr Mabuse:

Der Golem, 1922: Dir. Paul Wegener

Der Golem

Der Golem DVD Cover

Eureka DVD Cover of Der Golem

The Golem


This version of Der Golem was the third one to be made by Paul Wegener Der Golem (The Golem, 1914) and Der Golem und die Tänzerin (The Golem and the Dancer, 1917). Paul Wegener (1874-1948) had already directed and performed in several films which can be described as German art cinema, including Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague, 1913), Rübezahls Hochzeit (Rübezahl's Wedding, 1916) as well as the Golem films. According to Cathy Gelbin (see Kinoeye article in the Webliography):

“The first two renditions of the Golem legend,) transferred the story into the present. They are less remembered today. It was Wegener's third version of the material—this time recreating Jewish folk tales in a period setting—that became the highlight of his acting career, and that made its mark on cinema internationally.”

At the level of narrative structure the film fits in well with Toderovian analysis. Initially all is well then the status quo is challenged with an external threat. A response is elicited the threat seen off, to be replaced by a greater threat which in its turn is seen off and the situation returns to the status quo in a hopeful or ‘feelgood’ ending.

German Expressionist Film & World War 1

There are a number of strands and levels at which the film can be read including national trauma, issues of gender and ethnicity particularly anti-Semitism and a crisis of modernity’s vision of progress. Not all these themes can be adequately be dealt with here.

Firstly there is the theme common within expressionist versions of modernism of technology out of control fears of technological determinism. Starting with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the hubristic claims of Enlightenment rationality are explored. Here though magic is invoked as a method of creation for it is the creative act which goes back to Prometheus and perhaps beyond which is always at stake. In the aftermath of World War 1 the first machinic war killing combatants by the million proved to be the unprecedented unbearable flipside of modern claims to progress. Here myth and allegory combine through expressionist cinema to explore that which could not be spoken. How many German films are there after all, about the straightforward nature of the defeat of Germany in World War 1? Here one must look for the cultural lacunae as well as what was made.

At a social level the expressionist films of the early Weimar period expressed a social form of the ‘return of the repressed’ as Freud has it in his essay on the ‘Uncanny’ which itself a translation from the German word unheimlich. It is indeed the unhomely nature of Germany itself in the post war period which needed some form of cultural expression. Germany was a nation which was not one. Confusion and discontent reigned with its old system of government removed, with much of the Army on the old Eastern front refusing to believe that Germany had lost the war, with war reparations exacting a huge toll in a country which had been starved out by blockade combined with a crumbling situation on the Western front, social mayhem, social revolution from the left and reactionary Putsches from the right were an ever present danger.

Wegener’s Der Golem of 1920 appeared early in the Expressionist cycle of films with the at times awesome but cumbersome Metropolis marking the end of the cycle which had already gone beyond its sell be date as the muted audience response to Metropolis showed.

Was Der Golem Anti-Semitic?

Cathy Gelbin’s article (see webliography) deals with this issue head on firstly analysing the recent poles of critical treatment of the film from the perspective of this question of anti-Semitism:

“Dietmar Pertsch discusses the film in its visual context, noting that it largely escapes the anti-Semitic iconography of Jewish figures in concurrent European theater and cinema,[6] Paul Cooke considers the film an example of cinematic anti-Semitism.[7]”

This probably results in a complex answer. As Gelbin notes any anti-Semitism can’t be equated with the representation of Murnau’s Nosferatu creation as having stereotyped traits visually and also in its analysis of parasitism and specifically bloodsucking which could have been equated to Jewishness in the Germanic cultural imaginary and / or more immediately to the issue of reparations and particularly French presence in the German industrial areas in the aftermath of the war.

By comparison Gelbin’s Kinoeye (no relation) article sees the film as questioning and reversing the mythology of the money-grubbing Jew:

‘Abstaining from the dominant Shylock tradition of the cruel and money-grubbing Jew, the bribing of the pain-bent and emaciated gatekeeper of the ghetto by the arrogant Knight Florian instead exposes the Christian dominance over Jewish people at the time.[9] In reversing the notion of the Jews' financial hold over the Christian, Der Golem effectively undoes the most dominant anti-Jewish stereotype since the Christian Middle Ages’. (My emphasis).

I will admit to an uncertainty here. Close textual analysis is useful here for the Gatekeeper was hardly portrayed sympathetically. The close up of a framed hooked nose and the seeking hand through the framework of the hatch in the main gate seems to me to entirely accord with the dominant stereotype. Doing anything for money seems to be the dominant ideology that is signified. Closer visual analysis of many of the characters outside of the character of Low himself frequently reveals artificially hooked noses for example. This frame by frame level of textual analysis requires more time than I currently have time for but it seems pertinent to raise it as an area for closer attention as something for others to investigate on the course.

The next issue to be raised is the lack of ethnographic evidence about how audiences were reading this film. My own sense is that there is an ambiguity within the film. Those who have done some audience theory work will know that readings can be against the grain, negotiated preferred and dominant. My preferred question is to ask, how did Hitler and fellow anti-Semites read this film? Whether there is evidence in the archives of the right wing press at the time or even in more mainstream reviews is of interest and relevance here as the possibilities of interviewing contemporary audiences are more or less obviated through the ravages of time.

Rejection of Hybridity and the Maintenance of the Other

One theme which the film effectively supports is the rejection of cultural and ethnic hybridity. Illicit desire crossing the boundaries of ethnicity is specifically denied as Florian the aristocratic messenger / lover is hurled from the top of a tower. The strange magical powers of the Jews are combined in an unlikely way with astrology and necromancy to reinforce their ‘otherness’. This allows for the elision of the six-pointed star of David with the pentagram of necromancy. In footnote 10 Gelbin points out that Cooke in his book Paul Cooke, German Expressionist Films (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2002) makes a mistake:

“10. The five-pointed star is not a Star of David, as Cooke falsely asserts in interpreting this imagery as anti-Semitic”.

It is interesting though that this potential elision of the two is specifically referenced in Metropolis for the Pentagram is highlighted on the front door of Rotwang’s house very ostentatiously. Again here a salient question is was there a common cultural reading of these two signs which elided them in anti-Semitic consciousness? Was there a common elision between magic and Jewishness in popular consciousness? Both represent different aspects of the other brought together in two seminal expressionist films, is this merely coincidence? As it is impossible to know from all practical purposes it is only possible to raise the question at the level of semiotics and the creation of meaning.  In a country deeply troubled at the level of identity at the time in terms of being an international pariah as well as the more obvious material issues of food, work and inflation audience response to these films is a vital missing link in the cultural equation.


Gelbin’s internet article makes some useful points about gender and this is a recommended first stop in the exploration of this particular issue although it clearly overlaps with the issues of national identity as well and arguably it is the instability of national identity within Germany at the time which is what makes the expressionist strand of German art cinema still resonate today. The film can be seen as one of optimism for the future through its representation of children. Their innocence and inquisitiveness was what finally disarmed the Golem. Playing outside of the gates of the Ghetto in the space between the Ghetto and the gentile city seems to open out a spatially represented possibility for the future an open space redolent with possibilities. Here one can think about the representations of children in Lang’s Metropolis and later in ‘M’. It is as though the appeal to think of Germany’s future represented through children gets ever more bleak epitomised through the words of the bereaved mother in the closing scene of ‘M’ as the Weimar becomes increasingly polarised.



At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.

The following entry by Cathy Gelbin on the Kinoeye magazine site (no relation to this Kinoeye) gives a useful historical analysis of the Golem tale and also deals with issues about whether the film can be read as anti-semitic. The article also deals with gender issues and as well as the legacy of the film.

The 'All About Jewish Theatre Site'

Deutsche Film Portal entry:,,,,,,,,BEF9494ADD804C6FBFB2C578CDBE2F8E,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.html

BBC Article on The Golem

Background on Jewish Legends

The Eureka edition page. Thi s link goes direct to the Eureka Video paqge on Der Golem. Eureka have propbably the best version available and comments in the main text are based upon this ediution.

The German film Archives entry. Der Golem is canonical and perceived as one of the best 100 German films:

Link to filmography of Karl Freund the cinematographer

Link to German Film Archive entry on Paul Wegener

Link to the scriptwriter Henrik Galleen Forum

Summer Term 2007: Weimar & Nazi Cinema Programme

University of Warwick Open Studies

Weimar & Nazi Cinema Summer Term Programme 2007

Tuesday April 24th: Der Golem, 1920: Dir. Paul Wegener

Reading for the following week Cathy Gelbin on the Golem

Tuesday May 1st: Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, 1922: Dir Fritz Lang

Tuesday May 8th: Faust, 1926 : Dir. F. W. Murnau

Tuesday May 15th:The Holy Mountain, 1926: Dir. Arnold Fank

Tuesday May 22nd: The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller

Tuesday May 29th: Spione, 1928: Dir. Fritz Lang

Tuesday June 5th: Diary of a Lost Girl, 1929   : G.W. Pabst

Tuesday June 12th: The Blue Angel, 1930: Dir. Josef von Sternberg

Tuesday June 19th: The Threepenny Opera, 1931: Dir. G. W. Pabst

Tuesday June 26th: Munchhausen,1943: Dir. Josef von Baky

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