All 23 entries tagged Weimar Cinema
March 30, 2007
Still from Faust
Still from Faust. Emil Jannings as Mephisto.
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.
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.
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:
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
spieler 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
State Prosecutor von Wenke: Bernhard Goetze.
Below ihn confrontation with Klein-Rogge's Mabuse
Dancer Cara Carozza: Aud Egede Nissen (Norwegian)
Below surrounded by flowers after her nightclub performance
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. http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/43/
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.
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.
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:
Link to 1992 lecture given at the Sidney Museum of Contemporary Art by Ingo Petzke:
Deutsche Film Portal link to biography of Frit Lang
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:http://newleftreview.org/A2491
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, Paul Cooke considers the film an example of cinematic anti-Semitism.”
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. 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:
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
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 http://www.kinoeye.org/03/11/gelbin11.php
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
January 29, 2007
Writing about web page /michaelwalford/entry/the_weimar_cinema_1_2/
Lotte Eisner on Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)
Here I have summarised some of the key points that Eisner makes about Murnau's Nosferatu 1922. The complete title of the film is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror). Eisner describes Murnau as the greatest of the German filmmakers through his creation of poignant and overwhelming images which go beyond mere decorative stylisation. Murnau was trained as an art historian and in many of his shots he plays with the memory of great paintings, whilst Lang by comparison tries to make faithful reproductions of great paintings when he has recourse to them. In Faust the shooting of a prostrate man stricken with plague there is a ‘transposed reflection of Mantegna’s Christ’. (Eisner, 1969:98)
Eisner notes that Murnau was gay and suggests that his films ‘bear the impress of of his inner complexity’ noting that born in 1888 he lived under the shadow of Paragraph 175 of the pre 1918 German penal code outlawing homosexuality. Fear of blackmail was thus always present. She suggests that Murnau’s origins in Westphalia a rural farming area influenced his work which came through in a sense of nostalgia for the countryside.
Nosferatu was filmed on location which was unusual at the time. Using Gothic Baltic towns he filmed on the dunes of the Baltic ‘ He makes us feel the freshness of a meadow in which horses gallop around with a marvellous lightness’. (Eisner:1969, 99). The use of the architecture of these Baltic towns obviated the need to use artificial chiaroscuro. Murnau uses nature combined with editing to make waves foretell the arrival of the vampire. Murnau’s direction is tight with each shot having a precise function using momentary close-up of billowing sails to contribute to the narrative drive.
‘ It is reasonable to argue that the German cinema is a development of German Romanticism, and that modern technique merely lends visible form to Romantic fantasies’. (Eisner, 1969: 11).
On this last comment the short documentary by the art historian Christopher Frayling on the British Film insitute DVD usefully explores this notion in relation to Nosferatu.
January 05, 2007
Film Glossary ContinuedEditing. See also Film Editing. Editing is essential to the creation of a wide range of media products. It can mean the process of choice of articles and changing articles in print journalism. It means putting together a particular choice of shots in film and TV as well as the way in which sound is used. It is an essential part of the whole process in creating preferred readings of a media product as well as ensuring that it as coherent as possible. Susan Hayward (1996) identifies four categories of editing:
- Chronological editing
- Cross-cutting or parallel editing
- Montage. The first principle of montage editing is a rapid alteration betwen sets of shots. They become significant when they collide. Fast edting and unusual camera angles denaturalise Classic narrative cinema. Image becomes privileged over narrative and characterisation. Originally used mainly in avante-garde and art cinema mainstream cinema has incorporated the technique and the principle appears to have become the fundamental aspect of Film and TV advertising. See also Kuleshov.
Emergent genres. In Britain it is possible to discern an emergent genre of British-Asian films. The most recent addition is Bend it Like Beckham (2002) by a British-Asian woman director. At the time of writing it was the top selling British film for 2 weeks. This is the latest in a line stretching back to My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Sammie & Rosie Get Laid (1987), Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Wild West (1992), East is East(1998),Anita & Me (2002) . Only the last of these became known within mainstream cinema. These tend to be marketed as being comic or comedy. The comic side works through a wide range of issues including inter-ethnic relations, inter-generational relations, cross-cultural relationships and sexual identity issues. This genre can be usefully seen as intertextual as it relates to successful TV comedies such as Goodness Gracious and more recently The Kumars.
Establishing shot. This shot uses a distant framing and enables the spectator to understand and map the spatial relationships between the characters and the set.
Exhibitionary Context. This term sums up the conditions of viewing of a film which can be highly variable. This is not just physical conditions. In Nazi Germany Jews were not allowed into cinemas and people were not allowed to enter a film late to ensure they saw the more propagandistic newsreels and documentaries.
Eye-line match. Another Hollywood editing convention designed to encourage identification with the protagonists. Here the audience sees the action from the characters eye-line or viewpoint.
Female revenge film. Thelma and Louise is often interpreted (incorrectly) as a ‘female revenge film’. This genre construction could be seen as misogynistic. These films feature female characters in which the potential of women for violence is contained within plot scenarios that either demonise them or destroy them in some way (Fatal Attraction (1987) , Body Heat (198), Black Widow (1987). They are films in which femme fatales wreak havoc on the lives of innocent men. The films above are often considered by some critics as neo-noir.
Flashback. (See also intra-diegetic)
Genre as a vehicle for a star. Genre can be a vehicle for the development of a star. John Wayne was developed as a star by director John Ford who used him in many very famous westerns such as Stagecoach. Clint Eastwood came from a relatively minor role in the TV western series Bonanza to become famous through his role in ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone.
Genre Cycle. Genres emerge ( see Emergent Genres) and evolve. The first film or films which are thematically connected are not a genre. Once certain themes become common in certain settings then a genre can be seen to emerge. The Western is a classic example. Once the most popular type of film in the US very few westerns are now produced. Genre stars such as Clint Eastwood make the occasional western. A film such as The Unforgiven in its deconstruction of the natural manly virtues of the gunfighter by depicting paralysing fear and in its criticism of the legal system and the treatment of women it is responding to very different social concerns from the heroic establishing of the values of the US on ‘savage’ or ‘Indians’ i.e. displaced and exploited Native Americans , which was commonplace in the early part of the genre cycle.
Genre Hybridity. A film where the codes and conventions from a range of established genres are used. Singing cowboys making a western musical or a musical western for example. The higher the production values of a film the more likely it is to be a hybrid genre film in order to attract the widest possible audience. Titanic is both a disaster-movie, quasi-historical movie, and a romance. It may be that one of the genres is predominant but this requires a close reading to establish.
Genre Text. A term developed by Stephen Neale to try and differentiate between individual films (the genre text) and the generic norms of the genre as a whole.
Hegemony. In relation to ideology it is a more sophisticated idea than the ‘hypodermic’ model of ideology. Hegemony, or ideology, is the process by which certain paradigms or ways of thinking become so self-evident as to relegate alternatives to the spaces of the nonsensical and the unthinkable. The term originally taken from the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci argues that hegemony is not repressive in the way that armies or the police can be used to repress opposition . Instead, hegemony means that control is maintained through a consensus maintained through the dominance of its “forms” of how society is conceptualised. This renders other forms and other imaginaries, unreadable, inaudible and incomprehensible. For example, films which explore a corrupt government official in the United States don’t see this as a fault of the system but as a fault within the individual. These films, usually through the medium of a self-sacrificing hero , ensure that the system is restored ‘to normal’. The possibility that corruption is the ‘normal state of affairs’ is not considered. See The Insider and Erin Brockovich for examples of this. This position can tend to ignore certain state cultural policies such as censorship laws as having a strong effect on what is shown and when. British cinema between the two World Wars was not allowed to show or make films which were critical of the British Empire for example.
Iconography. Buscombe came closest to arguing the position that a genre’s visual conventions can be thought of as one of the defining features of a genre such as guns, cars, clothes in the gangster film . It is hard to argue this with any great consistency because the possible connections between the items or icons is unclear. More importantly it is actually very difficult to list the defining characteristics of more than a handful of genres, for the simple reason that many genres – among them the social problem film, the biopic, the romantic drama and the psychological horror film – lack a specific iconography. The genres of the western and gangsters discussed by critics McArthur and Buscombe happen to fit the concept of generic iconography very well. Others that fit well are the gothic horror film, and the biblical epic. Neale argues that the failure to apply the concept productively to other genres suggests that the defining features of Hollywood’s genres may be heterogeneous.
Ideology. In media terms this thinking argues that there is a form of ‘false consciousness’ which hides a deeper underlying social reality. This has given rise to the model that people can simply be injected (Hypodermic syringe model) with a certain view of the world particularly via media output. Critics of this model in the media field argue that this hypodermic syringe model is very patronising as it doesn’t give people the credit for being able to develop alternative ideas. Rather they see ideology as a hegemonic process. There is a commonly held belief that Adorno and Horkheimer were behind the so-called ‘hypodermic syringe’ model of ideology. This is a serious misrepresentation of their position which will be dealt with in a separate article in due course. In the meantime students should ask lecturers who put forward this view exactly where Adorno and Horkheimer have supported this reductionist model. The model rather better describes the idea espoused by the Stalinist Communist parties.
IDHEC. Instituit des hautes etudes cinematographique. The leading French film school which was first started in the Second World War and renamed after the war.
Indexical sign. From CS Pierce the American founder of semiotics. This sign is associated with what it is a sign of, such as smoke with fire or spots with measles.Intertextual. Intertextuality is a relation between two or more texts which influences the making of and/ or the reading of the text (film) being consumed. By using references to other texts the critic or director can be seen to be constructing the knowledge about the film based on other films.
- Intertextual Relay. Neale uses the term ‘inter-textual relay’ to refer to the discourses of publicity, promotion and reception that surround Hollywood’s films, and includes both trade and press reviews. It is argued that this role of relay is a crucial one. ( Neale , 2000: 3 ). The cinema industry’s marketing campaigns were first described as ‘inter-textual relay’ by Lukow and Ricci in 1984. Neale considers that cinemas, cinema programming and cinema specialisation can all be considered as components in the relay especially when broader conceptions of genre such as newsreel and shorts are taken into account.
Institutional mode of representation. A term used to describe mainstream cinema and its system of representation. There is strong identification with a character and the world is usually seen through this characters experiences. The origins of this were in the 19th century novel which focused on the psychology of one or two characters.
Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. Malle, Truffaut and most famously Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut ‘calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence’. (Neupert, 2002 p 216).
Kuleshov effect. The Soviet filmmaker Kuleshov showed that through good editing that it was possible to create alternative readings of the same facial expression. Through this Kuleshov was attempting to show that the meaning or preferred reading of shots could be changed by altering the juxtaposition of the shots.Lighting. In the early years of Hollywood lighting wasn’t meant to draw attention to itself. In some countries such as Germany lighting was used very early on to create dramatic effects. Low angle , low key lighting was used in German Expressionist cinema . There are three main aspects to lighting:
- key lighting – hard light, used to highlight focused on a particular subject
- fill lighting – used to illuminate the framed space overall
- backlighting – this can distort and brings out silhouettes ( horror / film noir / expressionism).
The Hollywood cinema system had strict rules about lighting not wishing to allow the lighting to supersede the actual narrative. This could make audiences uneasy. See also mise-en-scene.
Meaning. It is now recognised that meaning is made from the active process of reading a cinematic text. Audiences bring a range of individual experiences to the cinema and these are intermingled with wider socio-cultural responses as well. Sometimes filmmakers could use allegories to allow audiences to derive alternative meanings other than the officially preferred reading of a text. This happened in Eastern European cinema during the Soviet times for example. See also audience work.
Mise en scene. Please see under separate entry.
Modernist device. This is a way of using editing or other cinematic convention in a way which draws attention to the film as a construction. The opening credits of Godard’s Mepris and the very content of the narrative itself ensure that the spectator is always considering the process of making a film.
January 04, 2007
Glossary of Terms for European Cinema
Please note that this glossary will be on more than one page as the server limit appears to be about 5,000 words for each ‘post’.
*A glossary of this nature will always be a “work in progress”. The adavntage of it being based on the internet is that it can be continually updated as new terms, techniques and methods emerge. Terms sometimes gather alternative meanings as well. So this glossary will, in the spirit of Web 2, be a dynamic one. It is intended to serve a wide target audience of anyone interested in cinema in general but especially European cinema.
Visitors are of course welcome to contribute by asking for terms and or words to be included. I will do my best to accomodate them however there are many other tasks to develop, which is also why it will be a work in progress as I’m developing glossaries relating to other areas of the media simultaneously.
If I find any useful online freely available references which can develop terms in greater depth they will be hyperlinked.
Please note that bold and italic words are cross-referenced
Aberrant decoding. This is term used to describe a reading by part of an audience which is entirely different from that intended by the producers of the media text. More often known as reading against the grain this usually happens when the readers of the text have quite different values and beliefs to the producers of the text. See also cultural effects theory and codes and conventions.
Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School of Social Research were amongst the earliest social scientists to closely critique and analyse and critique the growth of the culture industries which are now in effect ‘lifestyle’ industries. Adorno argues amongst other things that the apparent ‘diversity’ of market segmentation and the cultivation of ‘lifestyle ‘ is entirely bogus. Lifestyle can be describe in his terms as a death mask of individuality covering the bland features of the ‘consumer clone’. See also Passive Audience and Mass Culture.
Advertising. (TAM). The advertising content of media forms such as Newspapers, magazines and TV and commercial radio often takes up as much space as the editorial content. It is often advertising rather than the actual number of sales which creates the large profits of a media product. (Count for example the number of pages which are adverts in GQ). Increasingly there is a growth of advertorial content. Media institutions which have a totally public service broadcasting function (BBC) are not allowed to advertise commercial products. They usually advertise their own programmes and products. Advertising is a discourse where frequently all normal physical and social arrangements are held in abeyance. We regard the claims made in adverts as a joke, but we buy the products often in spite of , or because of the jokes.
Aestheticisation of Everyday Life. This is the claim that the division between art and everyday life is being eroded in two ways. Firstly artists are taking objects of everyday life and making them into art objects. Secondly people are making their everyday lives into aesthetic projects in terms of style, appearance and household furnishings. This may reach a point where people see themselves and their surroundings as art objects. Consumers have now broken down the hierarchy between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. See Culture Industries
Against the grain. See Reading against the grain.
Ambient sound. This refers to the ‘natural’ background sound present in a scene in film, TV or radio
Anti-classical. See Art film
Art film. Art film is often described as a European phenomenon and is considered as a genre by critics such as Neale. Often Art cinema is associated with auteurs. European art cinema often uses different modes of storytelling such as long takes combined with great depth of field (Visconti in Ossessione for example). The narratives are less likely to be concerned with the’ classical’ Hollywood structure of a central character moving in a linear fashion through trials and tribulations to a comfortable resolution. Endings may reject neat narrative closure, and there may be multiple points of view. There is likely to be little emphasis on identification with the characters compared to the Hollywood style institutional mode of representation. Typically those films designated as ‘art films’ require more work from the spectator.
Audience. Audience has always seen as important by film distributors and exhibitors. Many commentators understand media audiences to be a construction of the media companies rather than a a social reality based upon conceptions of individual viewers or citizens. As such it is a marketing term which needs to be treated with suspicion. There has been a lot of work by film theorists about how the individual spectator is positioned by the film text. Often this has been without reference to actual audiences. Those interested in a more sociological approach to responses by audiences have done some research on this. The research of Jackie Stacey is very useful in this regard. The qualitative research methods employed show that there are pluralistic readings of a text and that many women read filmic texts against the grain of the preferred reading offered by the construction of the film or the reinforcement of this by the critical establishment. This shows that the social reality and lived experiences of an audience can have a very different effect. (See the monograph by Marita Sturken on Thelma and Louise for comment on the enthusiastic reception by women audiences in the cinema).
Audience work. Far from being ‘couch potatoes’ or passive audiences who merely absorb what is on screen in an unthinking way. Audiences are required to do a certain amount of work to derive pleasure from a film. This work will include: processing information; directing attention to; interpreting in relation to some agenda; evaluating. (This is a point strongly made by Adorno and Horkeimer clearly showing that they have nothing to do with the ‘Hypodermic Syringe’ model of Ideology.
Auteur. Originally this expression was used in the 1920’s . The term was centred around a debate concerning the artistic quality of films. Films where there was very strong directorial input were compared with films where scripts were commissioned from separate scriptwriters and directors were under the thumb of studio producers. This fed into a major debate about cinema and its relations to ‘high art’ / ‘low art’ (popular culture). By the 1950s a group of French critics (again) reinvented the use of the term auteur. They were very keen on American / Hollywood cinema and argued that just because a director had little control over the production process apart from the staging of shots it could still be seen that individual directors had very distinctive styles which could be seen in the mise-en -scene. As a result of this debate the idea of auteur can mean either a directors style through mise-en-scene (Hitchcock, John Ford), or else as a ‘total author’ of both the script and the film itself. ( Orson Welles , David Lynch in the US or Bergman and Godard in Europe).
Blum-Byrnes Agreement. Agreements in 1946 and 1948 were established between the French and US governments which guaranteed a quota of exhibition time to French films as part of a wider trade agreement.
Buddy movie. A basic aspect of the ‘buddy movie’ is that men understand each other better than they understand their women. ( Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ) The primary relationship in Thelma and Louise film is between the women who understand each other’s ways of being in the world. better than their men do thus reversing the conventions of the Buddy movie.
Camera Movement. (TAF). Camera movements include very important techniques in gained specific visual effects and are fundamental to how a film is made and the visual style which it uses. The main techniques are currently:
- Pan. This is when a camera moves either to the left or the right. Usually there is a moving object on screen but this is not necessary. Empty space can create meaning. If there isa moving object the camera tends to lead rather than follow the object. Whether the pan is a slow or fast one also contributes to the mood and dynamics of that part of the film.
- Handheld camera / cinema verite. Originally this was quite usual in documentary style filming or news reporting. A wobbling image as the cameraperson follows a subject gave a feeling of being present and ‘reality’ to the viewer. This can often be used to make a moent more tense. A good example of this being used as a technique is in thebatle scenes near the beginning of Saving Private Ryan when the americans are invading the beach. The wobbly images give an excellent feeling of being present on the beach.
- Steadicam. The steadicam is special camera which is handheld by the cameraperson. The camera uses gyroscopes to ensure that it remains level and thus remves the feel of a handheld camera (see above).
- Zoom. Stricly speaking a zoom shot isn’t a camera movement but an adjustment of the lens which gives the feel of movement. A zoom lens is a special kind of lens which was originally developed in the 1950s. It was a technological develpment which helped to attract audiences. It is possible either to zoom-in or zoom forward on a person or object. The shot can also create the illusion of displacement of time and space. A zoom-out or zoom backwards places a person or object in a wider context. Zooming in can be strongly linked with voyeurism. Hitchcock’s Rear Window provides an excellent example of voyeurism and zooming.
Cinema verite. See Camera movements.
Character. In the standard Hollywood realist text : ‘Action typically pivots on central characters who are rendered in psychological depth and tend to become objects of identification for readers. These characters are fictional persons whose fate is tied up with the progress of the narrative, indeed on whom may be centred the very disruption that sets the narrative in motion’ (Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures : 31). See also Institutional mode of representation and eye-line match.
Citizenship. This concept builds on earlier ideas of citizenship which focused upon economic, political and social concerns. Economic citizenship gave people the right to trade, political citizenship gave people the rights to vote and have representative electable governments with powers limited by law. Social citizenship gave people the right to health care, education and pensions. See also cultural citizenship.
Close Reading. Making a close reading can get down to the level of individual shot construction, in which subtleties of coding can be carefully analysed. See also preferred reading and reading against the grain.
Close up. Usually a shot of the head from the neck up. Could also be a wringing of hands. See performance and shot.
Closure. See narrative closure.
Codes and Conventions (General). Cinema uses a number of methods to organise meaning production. Some are general to narrative forms and others are specific to cinema. Cinematic conventions work to make the product appear to be seamlessly produced which means that it appears as though meaning had already existed prior to the construction of the film. In fact the cinematic codes and conventions of production produce an axis of meaning which will interact with both the reactions of audiences and the exhibitionary context.
- Photographic conventions. Framing, long-shots, medium shots, and close-ups all generate particular forms of meaning: To the extent that close-ups are most commonly of central characters in film narratives, they may function to constitute that psychological realism of character which is a mark of the classic narrative. ( My ephasis: Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures: 37).
- Mise en Scene*. See also lighting.
- * Mobile framing*. This effect can be produced by different camera movements and can produce a narrative meaning in several ways. A zoom-in can emphasise detail which can be read as bearing a particular significance within the narrative. Camera movements can also move the plot along through panning and tracking.
- Editing. Mainstream cinema has institutionalised a set of rules for editing. The normal Hollywood system of editing is called ‘continuity editing’ which ensures through making careful cuts that the production is as seamless as possible thus making the system of production invisible and creating a coherent fictional world into which the spectator is drawn. Various ellipses of space and time achieved by fades or cuts will move the plot along. Not all film-making follows this convention see Jump cut.
- * Narrative conventions*. All narrative genres have conventions by which the narrative is governed. A road movie for example implies discovery, the obtaining of some self-knowledge. Usually the main protagonist / s are male. Usually the movie follows an ordered sequence of events which inexorably lead to a bad end (Easy Rider: Dennis Hopper : 1969) or a reasonable outcome ( Paris Texas: Wim Wenders: 1984). Thelma and Louise ( Ridley Scott : 1991) controversially undermined the male aspects of the road movie genre. It achieved this by having the main protagonists being women escaping from differing, but oppressive, backgrounds. It also showed that a variety of all those things conventionally conceived of as ‘liberating’ from male perspective were male constructions and coded as such. This film reverses the dominant genre conventions of coding outside space as nature / feminine. By comparison men in the film are sometimes coded in domestic / feminine space. The ending of Thelma and Louise was controversial, but by neither showing death, prison nor some-kind of compromise return to their respective roles in life, nor by escaping to another country the film showed the current impossibility of escaping from gender relations which privilege men in this society.
- Evolving conventions. Genre isn’t static. A genre and the conventions which govern it evolve over time and are transformed through a complex interaction of economic, technological, political, social and cultural factors . Part of the work of genre analysis is to establish these factors. Think of what conventions have changed in the genres you have chosen to study. (See also Genre cycle).
Connotations. Connotations are associations with words or concepts have for a reader of a text. High production values such as glossy paper can connote sophistication and glamour. This is why expensive shops and products have very sophisticated types of packaging. Hollywood cinema has made its reputations on high production values such as seamless editing and very expensive sets etc. The way in which Hollywood products are promoted are also dependent upon high production values to make audiences think they are getting more than they probably are. This is why anything up to half the cost of the actual film can be devoted to marketing, promotion and advertising. This helps Hollywood dominate the film market and makes it hard for independent companies to compete.
Conventions. See also Codes and Conventions. Conventions are established procedures within a particular form of media ( painting, film , novel etc) which are identifiable by both the producer of the artefact and their audiences. Conventions are thus conventions can be understood as agreements between the producer and audience. These will sometimes remain fairly static and at other times there will be moments of strong challenge to these conventions. The French nouvelle vague can be understood as challenging a range of cinematic conventions.
Convergence. This is the current process whereby new media and communications technologies are changing not only our media equipment but changing the ways old media institutions have worked. It is also globalising and changing our systems of gaining knowledge. The process is still in transition with new developments rapidly emerging. In a few years these processes will have matured and will be less dynamic.
Costume. While it is a variety of prop it is specifically linked with specific characters as well as contributing to the general setting. Changes in costume can be used as indicators of changes of attitude, status, time and place.
CNC. Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie. The French state organisation that oversees film policy issues including subsidy ones.
Critical Realism. In East German cinema critical realism was a popular aesthetic amongst the filmmakers. ‘Inspired by the films of Italian directors, the approach may be described as an East German variant of neorealism. It observes rather than leads, offers a realistic depiction of controversial issues and opens them up for debate’ (Claus, Horst. 2002 p 140).
Cultural Citizenship. Cultural citizenship is about access to systems of representation within the arts and media to ensure that all have the knowledge and capabilities to represent themselves. Also see citizenship.
Culture Industry. The term is used to designate organisations that produce ‘popular’ culture such as TV, Radio, books magazines, newspapers and popular music. It is now extended to beauty salons and hairdressing salons as well as museums and galleries and sports organisations and events. They are of growing importance in Western society. Contemporary everyday life is filled with images as part of the output of the cultural industries. The first people to properly identify the Culture Industry were the Frankfurt School social scientists Adorno and Horkheimer. They were very critical of these industries seeing them as being ideologically controlling particularly of the poorest people offering false hopes and imaginaries. Adorno was extremely critical of social scientists who were colluding in this growing ideological industry. He had originally had a post in New York when he was forced to emigrate from Germany by the Nazis. The post was concerned with developing social scientific methods for identifying and creating audiences for media industries. See also Media and Culture Industries.
Cultural effects theory. This suggests that how the audience or audiences of a text are positioned will have a significant impact upon how they interpret that text.
Cut. TAF). This is used in film and TV to change a shot from one place or viewpoint to another. See film editing and shot, It is achieved by splicing two pieces of film together. There are a range of different cuts which can achieve quite different visual effects. Cuts give a film its rhythm. Getting the tempo right is essential. The editor often works with the director to make a rough cut or director’s cut. Further adjustments are then made often after audience research has been carried out on the endings of Hollywood films before the final cut is made.
- Continuity Cut. These cuts take the viewer seamlessly and logically from one sequence to another moving along the narrative.
- Cross cuts. These cuts are used to alternate between two sequences or scenesthat are occurring in different spaces but at the same time. Normally these are used to create a feeling of suspense. As such they are frequently used in genres such as action adventure, the western, thrillers and gangster films.
- Cutaways. These shots take the viewer away from the main scene of the action. They are often used as a transition before cutting into the next sequence or scene. For example: in a court scene the day’s proceeedings are coming to an end, there is a cutaway shot to the outside of the courthouse, then a cut to the next day nside a lawyer’s office.
- Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. French directors in the 1960s such as Louis Malle, Fraoncois Truffaut and most famously Jean-Luc Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film a bout de souffle / Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence. (Editor emphasis, Neupert, 2002 p 216).
- Match cuts. These are the exact opposite of the jump cut. These cuts make sure there is a spatial-visual logic between the differently positioned shots within a scene. Where the camera moves to and the angle of the camera make visual sense to the spectator. See also eye-line matching.
DEFA. Deutsche Film AG. The state controlled film production, distribution and exhibition company in East Germany (GDR) from 1946 – 1993. See also UFA
Denotation. This is a straightforward relationship between a sign and its referent. The word cat and the photograph of a cat both denote a particular type of animal.
Deterritorialised. This expression is often related to genres which are feminised. They tend not to concentrate on territory in the same way that war films, westerns and other more masculinised genres have.
Dialectical. This is fundamental to Eisenstein’s theory of montage Originating in Hegel’s philosophy the idea centres around the point that an original thesis exists. This is in collision with an antithesis. The outcome of this collision of opposite ideas results in the creation of something entirely new. This is known as the synthesis.
Diegesis / Diagetic. This refers to the content of the narrative which is happening on the screen. This includes the sound , actions of the characters etc. All of these occur naturally within the fictional world of the film. Frequently films use non- diegetic devices for dramatic effects or to inform the audience about something which the characters themselves don’t know:
- Intra-diegetic sound. This is a sound from a person the audience doesn’t see but whose presence we know exists in the story. There is a disembodied voice. Mildred Pierce 1945 has many examples of this through flashback. Often the character’s voice goes intra-diegetic announcing a flashback acconpanied by a visual dissolve ‘it was yesterday when…’. Flash backs are also intra-diegetic in the sense that they interrupt the narrative flow of the present.
- Non-diegetic sound by comparison is where there is voice-over or else a soundtrack which heightens the emotional effects on the audience but isn’t present in the on-screen world at all.
Digital Distribution. The opportunities for the makers of short films to be distributed via internet streaming are improving all the time. The most recent deal to allow streaming of independent shorts was made between the Sundance film Festival Organisers and iTunes the Content Management software system owned by Apple as this BBC report of 12 / 01 / 07 notes.
Digital divide. A very important social and cultural concept of the ‘information age’. This term refers to those who have access to a wide range of digital communications systems in terms of cost and knowledge and those who are excluded from this. It is becoming a serious problem of citizenship.
Digital Versatile Disc / DVD. A disc which although the same size as a CD can hold many times the amount of data due to a combination of more sophisticated data compression systems, the ability to store and retrieve data from different levels of the disc. This means that moving images can be stored in a way which is more permanent than tape and maintains its quality over time, whereas tape particles lose their magnetism and lose details. Research is going on to more than double the storage capacity of the current DVD’s by using different laser technologies. The ‘versatility’ referred to in the name means that the equipment incorporates technical standards which means that digital information relating to images – static or moving sounds or text can be stored and retrieved. New standards of quality have been developed and consumers are faced with both Blu-Ray from a consortium led by Sony and HD-DVD (High definition DVD), led by Toshiba. Already third party players are bringing out players which can playback both. (Beginning of 2007)
Discourse. Textual analysis often uses the term discourse to deconstruct or look at the way a text works. This means that the analyst identifies the various discourses present in a text and makes that clear for the reader. A discourse provides a framework of language to construct a particular kind of knowledge on a topic. Discourses organise our thoughts and try to make a closure that is to close off other ways of thinking about a topic. For example, cinematography which continuously sexualises women through voyeuristic techniques is a visual discourse. This can be seen as part of a wider discursive field in which the institution of cinema discriminates against women. A discourse is not a description of reality but a way of ‘fixing’ the topic or constructing a form of social reality in a biased way. Different discourses can therefore change our views of the nature of social reality.
Dissolve: see Editing
Dollying / Tracking Shot (TAF) see camera movements.
DVD. See Digital Versatile Disc.
DVD Recordable. A new breed of domestic machines has now appeared which can record TV or films in DVD format. Whilst currently still very expensive it is probable that they will replace the Video Cassette Recorder in most households in 5 years time. (In fact first written 3 years ago the price has dropped dramatically and video-recorders are fast-disappearing) They can record digital radio signals as well. There is not currently a standardised format which makes things difficult for consumers.
December 15, 2006
Throughout the Weimar period the company that eventually became UFA was under continuous pressure from a range of different political sources. The criticisms which UFA faced came from both Leftwing and Liberal sources as well as from those such as religious quarters which saw the cinema as a potential basis for moral debasement.
Why the Criticism?
Many critics whose political persuasion was either socialist / communist or just plain Liberal saw UFA as a tool of the Nationalist right. The arts pages of the liberal left newspapers (the Weimar equivalent of the Guardian in Britain today) tended to denounce artistic films as ‘kitsch’ (in other words not genuine Art with a capital ‘A’. The genre films – of which there were many – became denounced as ‘Shund’ (trash). See Elsaesser (2000, p 127).
Part of the cause of this liberal critique was generated by the fact that the original organisation of UFA was strongly associated with the military leadership of 1917 didn’t help. These elites had been persuaded that the Reich needed a more organised propaganda outlet, however Germany had been defeated by the time UFA had started up. Elsaesser argues that there was a certain commercial logic which:
...belonged to the political culture of Wilhelmine society, making UFA an expression not so much of the war as a new way of thinking, on the one hand about corporate capitalism, and on the other about public opinion and the (technological) media. (Elsaesser, 2000 p 113).
The Moralist Critiique of UFA
Whilst the Liberal critics saw murky links with the military elites of Wilhelmine Germany the professional classes from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds tended to see the cinema as a potential space for moral debasement. As a result they campaigned strongly for the creation of ‘cultural films’. They had in mind educational and documentary films, which was an outlet that UFA catered for.
The Left-wing attitude to cinema
Those in the more organised and radical left such as the KPD (German Communist Party) tended to be uniformly hostile towards cinema in general. UFA was frequntly attacked for poisoning the minds of the masses with reactionary celebrations of Prussia’s glory (Elsaesser p 128). After 1925 Willi Munzenberg successfully persuaded the KPD to try and counter bourgeois cinema by establishing thier own distribution company. This was done and the comnpany was called Prometheus Films. It was Prometheus who were to sponsor Kuhle Wampe (1930) for instance.
As the producer of UFA in overall control of the cinematic output Erich Pommer ignored these criticisms and the demands for ‘realism’ from the various quarters of the critical establishment which accompanied these demands.
A turn to realism was entirely contrary to Pommer’s ambitions to establish strong export led growth. From the outset Pommer had understood that Hollywood was the main source of competition that German cinema was having to compete with.
Realist output in the years immedaiately following the war would have been disastrous for the export market . A fact that Pommer was keenly aware of. This stemmed from the fact that Germany was very closely associated with causing the First World War. The promotion of contemporary German settings would have spelt the kiss of death to cinema.
As a result UFA output was split into films for the domestic market and export oriented films. The former largely consisted of comedies and social dramas which used realist settings. By comparison, the sort of films available to the English market today were the films which Pommer had wanted to be available in the 1920s. Films from the Neue Sachlichkeit period, for example, by directors such as Pabst and Joe May were strongly associated with what became known as the “UFA look”. This look meant high production values. The emphasis was on strong sets and the best craftsworkers that UFA had avalibale in terms of camerawork, lighting, sets, and costumes to create an excellent mise en scene.
UFA’s Problems with America
Right from the outset UFA had problems breaking into the American market place. The developing Hollywood system manage to gain control over distribution and exhibition which helped to exclude potential competition from Europe.
But at the end of the day UFA wasn’t producing the sort of films that appealed to American audiences. By comparison the Americans – especially after 1924 – were winning significant market share of the German audience. One key element in this failure was the lack of internationally renowned stars. Most actors who started to become famous in the Weimar republic were quickly wooed by the razzle dazzle and serious cash offered by Hollywood. The establishing of the star system was a central feature of Hollywood success then as it is now.
As a response Pommer tried hiring American actresses such as Louise Brooks, Anna May Wong and Betty Amman. Louise Brooks worked with Pabst and Betty Amman worked with May. None of the actors who worked with Fritz Lang ever gained international stardom.
It was only after the coming of sound and the strategy of hiring American directors such as von Sternberg as well did UFA manage to develop some significant stars with genuinely international successes. Marlene Dietrich and Lilian Harvey modelled upon contemporary Hollywood stars to name but two.
Although UFA became a very successful film company being the only European film company to offer serious competition at all to Hollywood there were many hurdles which were culturally based which it faced. These hurdles reduced its chances of success both at home and abroad. It was only after its restructuring under the control of Klitsch that UFA began to make consistent profits in a fully competitive environment. To do this it had to develop a Hollywood business model.
December 12, 2006
Introduction to using the sidebar
As the sidebar is now very busy it might be helpful for you to have an idea of the lay out until you are familiar with it. also many of you may only have an interest in certain parts.
- Calendar – Self expalanatory
- Radio 3 Link – This will get you into BBC Radio Player. I like catching up with things like Mixing it and Late Junction
- Search this blog – self explantory
- Tags – VERY IMPORTANT: Just click on one and it will aggregate all tagged articles with this tag. The tags are the best way to navigate around the articles and call up ones written early on. Please drop a comment in the relevant box if you think a tag needs adding anywhere.
- Latest Comments – this allows myslf and others to monitor comments and discussions quickly
- Most Recent Entries – Self explanatory
Section 2: European CinemaThe next section from the BFI film Glossary goes through a range of:
- Image galleries which are always being developed
- Useful links
- There are also 2 links to good film message boards
There are various levels of knowledge required for different entries however it is the intention to aim for a broader readership encouraging those of a more theoretical bent to follow up with various films books and websites. Many of the links are to sophisticated articles that are available on line. If you find them hard don’t worry we all did once. Stick with what you are comfortable with. There is something for everybody here from A level to postgrad.
The entries on British cinema shouold be helpful for OCR A Level Students doing British cinema post 1990. It is also likely to help AS Film Studies students. The work on German Cinema and French and Italian cinema as it gets transferred onto the blog will help A2 Film Studies students doing FS 5.
Section 3: New Media Technologies
This subject is endlessly fascinating and there is little doubt as Web 2 progresses with developments such as the Second Life phenomenon will start to deeply change our social ontology or beingness in the world partially constructed through media.
This selection of feeds and stories even includes the news organisation Reuters who conduct virtual interviews with important people in Second Life. making ‘Virtually Real News!’ This is an important resource area for all OCR AS Media Studies students doing the ‘Audiences and Institutions’ New Media option.
Section 4: News Feeds and Podcasts
This is both a service to visitors providing up to date news as it breaks while you are onsite. It is of particular use to OCR A2 students doing the News option as it affords easy chances to compare the news strategies of different news organisations and functions as a practical case study of how news is being distributed in a Web 2 era.
this features what I consider as good quality blogs linked to the categories above. There is a folder of New Media based blogs and also one for European Cinema or Blogs which have a very high content of European cinema.
Methods for choosing links
There are many many websites and blogs etc on the above subjects. A key objective of this site is to try and filter out weakly researched and written sites. There is a premium on quality and there is a life beyond IMDB. Life is too short to keep filtering out spam. If you find that any sites you have visited from embedded links on this site please leave a comment. The site in question will be reviewed.
December 05, 2006
This ‘Webliography’ is being continually updated. If users have any suggestions please post a comment with the relevant URL. Thank you. Please note some links may already be available in the site already.
When the list is long enough they will be placed in categories such as film journals.
Useful web links
16-9 Danish Film Journal for more scholarly market. Mainly in Danish but each issue has an article in English
The following link to site of American academic Randall L. Bytwerk is very useful for work on Nazi propaganda.
This is a link to a useful BFI Bibliography on Contemporary European Cinema which is a downloadable Pdf.
Scope is an online cinema journal from the University of Nottingham
For articles primarily on Eastern Europe comes Kinoeye (no relation to the blog but with similar critical antecedants perhaps).
Link to University of Zaragoza academics group currently working on genre issues:
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