Directory of World Cinema: Germany

Directory of World Cinema: Germany

by Michelle Langford


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From bleak expressionist works to the edgy political works of the New German Cinema to the feel-good Heimat films of the postwar era, Directory of World Cinema: Germany aims to offer a wider film and cultural context for the films that have emerged from Germany—including some of the East German films recently made available to Western audiences for the first time. With contributions by leading academics and emerging scholars in the field, this volume explores the key directors, themes, and periods in German film history, and demonstrates how genres have been adapted over time to fit historical circumstances. Rounding out this addition to the Directory of World Cinema series are fifty full-color stills, numerous reviews and recommendations, and a comprehensive filmography.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841504650
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 03/15/2012
Series: Directory of World Cinema Series , #9
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Michelle Langford lectures in film studies at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She is author of Allegorical Images: Tableau, Time and Gesture in the Cinema of Werner Schroeter, also published by Intellect.

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Directory of World Cinema Germany Volume 9

By Michelle Langford

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-465-0




Max and Emil Skladanowsky undertook the first projection event of celluloid films for a public, paying audience at the Wintergarten Ballroom in Berlin on 1 November 1895 (shortly before the Lumière brothers' first public projections in Paris), as the concluding part of a variety spectacle showing a programme of their own films with a dual lens film projector, the Bioskop, which they had designed and constructed themselves. Their work, developed in an industrial district of northern Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg, was undertaken within film-historical and urban-historical constraints which eventually led to the forced abandonment of their career in film, less than two years after that first projection event.

The films which the Skladanowsky brothers projected at the Wintergarten Ballroom in November 1895, and on their subsequent film tour until September of the following year, were almost exclusively sequences showing variety performers: together their films assembled a slightly down-market programme of variety acts to those appearing on the main stage of the Wintergarten, so that spectators exposed to those moving images must have felt they were experiencing – through the medium of film and at the evening's end – a concertinaed, phantasmatic variant of the live performances that had just finished. The Skladanowsky brothers' films of the urban life of Berlin, recorded both in the peripheries and at the heart of the city, would be shot only in the following year, and projected only once, for their final projection event in the city of Stettin in March 1897. And the brothers' very first film, shot as an experimental test on the rooftop of a building above the Schönhauser Allee, belongs more to that second set of films than the first. In the film Emil Skladanowsky is seen standing on the building's roof, dressed in a suit and tie and holding his hat; he performs exaggerated corporeal gestures, pitched between gymnastics and clowning, alternately lifting each leg high into the air. The film camera is facing south, towards the centre of Berlin, in the opposite direction to the Skladanowsky brothers' own local district, as though intimating the direction in which their experiments were now taking them. The shadows cast by Emil Skladanowsky's figure indicate that the film was shot around midday, in direct sunlight. Behind his figure, a panorama is visible of factory and brewery chimneys and large tenements, with the distinctive pointed steeple of the nearby Zionskirche prominent in that cityscape. A notable strategy of early film-makers was to focus their cameras on sites in which a maximal concentration of urban traces could be registered by their potential spectator, as with one of Louis Le Prince's first films from 1888 of human and vehicle traversals of Leeds Bridge in England; with the Skladanowsky brothers' film, the gesturing human body is in the foreground of the image, with the Berlin cityscape forming a cohering framework for it. But, as with Le Prince's film of Leeds Bridge, the Skladanowsky brothers' first film was never projected and was not included in the Wintergarten programme. It survived only in fragments, notably in the form of four celluloid frames, two of them exceptionally clear, with considerable detail of the urban panorama behind Emil Skladanowsky's figure, and the other two frames blurred and scratched, holding residues of damage in the form of scorch marks from fire or smoke. The entire film had comprised 48 frames, so if it had been projected at 16 frames per second, it would have had a projection duration of three seconds.

The eight short films projected at the Wintergarten Ballroom were all longer, comprising between 99 and 174 frames, and were each shown repeatedly, in loops. Shot in May 1895, they showed physical spectacles, dances and acrobatics. The first film to be projected each evening simulated an Italian peasants' dance performed by two children; a further film depicted a wrestling contest featuring a celebrated bodybuilder and wrestler of the era, Eugen Sandow, fighting another wrestler named Greiner; the other films showed a boxing kangaroo, an acrobatics display, a human pyramid, a juggler, and a Russian Cossack dance; finally, a film of the Skladanowsky brothers themselves, appearing from either side of the screen, ended the programme. In some cases the films held only a fragment of the complete action, which had either already begun before the camera started to record it or else continued after the film had run out. Other than their shared recording of contemporary variety performers, the programme's film fragments held no linear or interlocking cohesion; together, the films formed a disjointed sequence of moments of eruptive and compelling spectacle similar, in some ways, to the forms of 1960s European and American experimental cinema, such as the films of Kenneth Anger and Kurt Kren. In compiling and filming that programme, even before they had been commissioned to show their work at the Wintergarten, the Skladanowsky brothers evidently devised a content which could be dependably well received at a city centre variety hall, and would allow their spectators, to the maximum possible extent, to recognise, situate and respond to the moving images they were faced with. The brothers' specific choice of performers was clearly influenced, too, by their recent exposure to the Edison company's 'Kinetoscope' individual film-viewing machines designed by William Dickson, which had been installed at another prominent Berlin entertainment venue, Castans Panoptikum, in March 1895, two months before the brothers shot their own films, and which showed similar physical feats and dances.

For the Wintergarten Ballroom projection, the Skladanowsky brothers used filmstrips of 44.5mm-wide unperforated Eastman Kodak film stock, which they meticulously cut and perforated by hand, so that it could run with the minimum disruption in front of the Bioskop's twin lens. The film celluloid was also coated with a special emulsion, devised by Max Skladanowsky and applied with a brush. The films were all shot out-of-doors, either in the garden of the Café Sello in Prenzlauer Berg or those of the venues in which the performers were then appearing, in direct sunlight, to achieve clarity and contrast. But most of the work of preparing both the shooting and projection of the films was undertaken in the Skladanowsky brothers' own workshop, which functioned in that sense as an improvised and formative film studio, prescient in its artisanal dimensions of the studio of the film pioneer Georges Méliès, similarly installed on the urban periphery in the eastern Paris suburb of Montreuil, and in which Méliès began to shoot his hundreds of extravagant film conjurations from March 1897 onwards. The Skladanowsky brothers' workshop-studio also, in some ways, prefigures the spatial form of the far larger Weis-sensee film studio, constructed in 1913 as a one-storey brick building in a Berlin district adjacent to that of their own workshop, and in which many of the seminal films of early German cinema, such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), were shot, before that studio abruptly went out of business in the late 1920s in the face of competition from industrialscale film studios. The derelict Weissensee film studio building was eventually utilised, as it is today, as a subdivided space for numerous artisans' workshops in much the same way as the Skladanowsky brothers' workshop-building operated in 1895. The brothers' first film of Emil Skladanowsky's gestural movements against Berlin's urban panorama was shot only a short distance from that workshop; access to the building's roof could be gained since a friend of the brothers operated his own business there.

The Skladanowsky brothers' final films were shot during the later months of their 1895–96 projection tour across Germany, Holland and Scandinavia, and also immediately after it upon their return to Berlin. By that time the original films shown at the Wintergarten Ballroom had worn out through overuse and had become severely damaged; in addition, the brothers had become aware that they urgently needed new films to seize the attention of their future audiences, and urban film sequences fulfilled that desire. For their new films they used 63mm-wide celluloid film stock. In the centre of Berlin they documented concentrations of horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians in one of Berlin's main squares, the Alexanderplatz, and along the Unter den Linden avenue; in their own districts of industrial northern Berlin, they filmed at the Schönholz railway station; and also shot a further panorama from the rooftop of the building on which Emil Skladanowsky had performed his gymnastics movements, but this time with the camera facing in the opposite direction – northwards – focused on a busy street corner, the Ecke Schönhauser, and without the foregrounded presence of a human figure. They also shot extremely brief 'fiction' films, depicting choreographed quarrels, such as one filmed in a public garden in Stockholm during the final phase of their projection tour. In anticipation of future public screenings of their new films, Max Skladanowsky constructed a more sophisticated projector, the single-lens Bioskop-II, during the summer of 1896. But a second film tour proved impossible to arrange. The Skladanowsky brothers demonstrated their new projector and films to the Wintergarten's proprietors, with a view to being commissioned for a second engagement there, in February 1897, but were turned down in favour of rival film exhibitors with more advanced projection devices and films. The only engagement they could secure was in the provincial port-city of Stettin, north-east of Berlin, at the 2,000-capacity Zentralhallen-Theater (later destroyed, like the Wintergarten, by British wartime bombing). The Skladanowsky brothers showed their new city films there for the only time, adding to that programme a new city film shot and then rapidly developed in Stettin during the course of their two-week engagement. It was also the only occasion on which the brothers used their new projector, the Bioskop-II, for public screenings. On 31 March 1897, exactly seventeen months after their first Wintergarten screening, the brothers projected films for the last time. They had been far surpassed, in terms both of their films and projection technology, by a growing number of rival film exhibitors; the Berlin authorities abruptly withdrew their trade license and, after a family dispute, the brothers acrimoniously parted company. As a result, their work fell into oblivion for many years.

A longer version of this article was originally published in the online journal Senses of Cinema.

Stephen Barber



ARNOLD FANCK (1889–1974)

Best known for capturing on film exquisite alpine vistas and the extraordinary physical feats of champion athletes, Arnold Fanck has left an indelible mark on popular culture well beyond the borders of Germany. Fanck worked alongside some of the biggest names in German cinema, including G.W. Pabst, Harry Sokal, Max Reinhardt and Carl Mayer, as well as launching the careers of numerous Weimar-era cultural luminaries such as Leni Riefenstahl, Luis Trenker and Hannes Schneider.

As a young student at the Universities of Berlin and Munich, Fanck taught himself photography and honed his mountaineering skills in the Alps. He completed a doctorate in sedimentary geology at the University of Zurich in 1915 then worked for the German army as a photographic technician until discharged at the end of World War I. His first foray into independent film-making began amid the rampant inflation and unemployment that followed. Capitalizing on the international trend of alpinism, Fanck co-founded the Freiburg Mountain and Sports Film Company. Early films, such as Wonder of the Snow Shoes (1920) and Struggle with the Mountain (1921) concentrated on portraying the art of skiing and starred Hannes Schneider (1890–1955), an expert skier Fanck had met on the slopes some time earlier. This proved to be a turning point for both Fanck's team and for the emerging recreational skiing industry in general. In an attempt to circumvent the stranglehold UFA had on film distribution in Germany at the time, Fanck had taken to screening the films in hired halls and tents at schools, universities and clubs. This stimulated interest in Schneider's fledgling ski school, and by 1923 thousands were flocking to St. Anton for ski lessons, making it necessary for Schneider to employ over twenty instructors to keep up with demand. Around this time Fanck and Schneider coauthored a two-volume book containing hundreds of photographs and reproductions of thousands of frames taken from The White Art (1924). Intended as an instruction manual for skiing, these images bear a startling resemblance to Muybridge's analytical research into human motion. The books, which were released in multiple language versions, were highly successful internationally and describe in detail Schneider's now famous 'Arlberg technique' (Fairlie 1957: 161).

Fanck claims that during his early forays into film-making he discovered that he had what he described as an 'innate sense of picture composition' (Weigel 1976: 2), which he believes is something that cannot be taught. To accomplish his particular version of cinematic spectacle Fanck utilized and portrayed some of the most advanced technologies available in the day, often combined with a spirit of experimentation and improvisation. Filters and an assortment of lenses were combined with techniques such as time-lapse photography to enhance the appearance of billowing clouds or lengthening shadows, whilst slow motion was utilized to deconstruct movement. Animation, reconstructed sets, point-of-view shots through imaging devices and on moving objects, backlighting, magnesium flares, wind generators and dynamite were all employed as part of his cinematic toolkit. This had the effect of anthropomorphising nature and embellishing the cinematic spectacle. It also became apparent to Fanck that when it came to editing he was dealing with a completely different set of variables from those used in studio-based productions.

Editing his 'snow and ice' themed movies entailed a good deal of trial and error since he had to learn to match elements such as cross-cutting, movement and tempo. This presented its own unique set of problems. Unlike studio-based productions, which operated primarily on a horizontal plane with constant indoor lighting and conditions, Fanck had to contend with capturing dynamic movement on a variety of inclined planes with constantly changing light and weather conditions. This greatly complicated the shooting and editing process for Fanck and his crew, who had to learn to construct his films to accommodate the vagaries of nature; hence, his early films were based on loose ideas made entirely 'off the cuff' without formal scripts or shooting schedules. Fanck also recognized the need to increase the pace of editing in his films in order to heighten dramatic tension. Even when he had later adopted the practice of preparing formal scripts, Fanck was often forced to abandon segments and improvise in order to accommodate the weather conditions. It was this innovation and moulding of Fanck's cinematic sensibilities to suit the environment which became known as his aesthetic hallmark and made his work so highly influential, setting his work apart from other productions of the era.

The next significant shift in Fanck's films was precipitated by Leni Riefenstahl, a young dancer from Berlin who was keen to act in his mountain films. She had become entranced after seeing Mountain of Destiny (1924), a beautifully filmed documentary of the high alpine regions, which featured Luis Trenker. Riefenstahl approached Fanck, and shortly after Fanck wrote The Holy Mountain (1926), the first of six mountain films starring Riefenstahl. The incorporation of Riefenstahl into the narrative proved to be groundbreaking for the era and led to the development of more complex plot structures, thus considerably broadening the public appeal of the films. By casting Riefenstahl as young, adventurous, physically competent, attractive, intellectually curious, technically proficient and, for the most part, disinterested in domestic chores, Fanck presented a vision of feminine modernity that is in direct contrast to the oppressive morality tales in genres such as Strassenfilm ('street films') that were prevalent in the era. Riefenstahl also claims to have introduced Ernst Udet to Fanck and lobbied for his inclusion in White Hell of Piz Palü (Fanck and Pabst, 1929). The depiction of flight, with its dynamic, constantly shifting perspectives and bird's-eye view of the landscape, added highly modernist visual and narrative dimensions to Fanck's Bergfilm. The contrast between state of the art technologies and the frozen, primal landscape became integral components in several more of Fanck's films thereafter.

S.O.S. Eisberg (1933), financed by Carl Laemmle Sr. of Universal Pictures in Hollywood, proved to be the most expensive and elaborate production of Fanck's career. Filmed primarily in Greenland, a second version crediting Tay Garnett as director was released due to creative differences. Fanck's next major production was The Eternal Dream (1934), filmed in the French Alps. The film lacked the exceptional camerawork and dramatic tension typifying Fanck's earlier productions, primarily because the mountainscape did not feature as prominently in the film.


Excerpted from Directory of World Cinema Germany Volume 9 by Michelle Langford. Copyright © 2012 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: German Cinema and the Vicissitudes of History
Film Pioneers:
    The Films of the Skladanowsky Brothers
    Arnold Fanck (1889–1974)
    Then and Now: Berlin Symphony, 1927/2002
Festival Focus: The Berlinale: Berlin International Film Festival
Scoring Cinema: The Music Films of Straub/Huillet

Fantastic Film
Adventure Film
Der Heimatfilm
Foreigners and Guest-workers
Queer German Cinema
Rubble Film
War Film
Historical Drama
Political Drama
The Berlin Wall

Recommended Reading
Online Resources
Test Your Knowledge
Notes on Contributors

Customer Reviews