Hollywood in Berlin: American Cinema and Weimar Germany

Hollywood in Berlin: American Cinema and Weimar Germany

by Thomas J. Saunders

Hardcover(First Edition)

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The setting is 1920s Berlin, cultural heart of Europe and the era's only serious cinematic rival to Hollywood. Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In his engaging study, Thomas Saunders explores an outstanding example of one of the most important cultural developments of this century: global Americanization through the motion picture.

The invasion of Germany by American films, which began in 1921 with overlapping waves of sensationalist serials, slapstick shorts, society pictures, and historical epics, initiated a decade of cultural collision and accommodation. On the one hand it fueled an impassioned debate about the properties of cinema and the specter of wholesale Americanization. On the other hand it spawned unprecedented levels of cooperation and exchange.

Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|In Berlin, American motion pictures not only entertained all social classes and film tastes but also served as a vehicle for American values and a source of sharp economic competition. Hollywood in Berlin correlates the changing forms of Hollywood's contributions to Weimar culture and the discourses that framed and interpreted them, restoring historical contours to a leading aspect of cultural interchange in this century. At the same time, the book successfully embeds Weimar cinema in its contemporary international setting.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520083547
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 04/27/1994
Series: Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism , #6
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 348
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Thomas J. Saunders is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Victoria, Canada.

Read an Excerpt


Before the First World War European observers prophesied that the twentieth century would be dominated by the United States. By virtue of population, resources and entrepreneurship the New World was predestined to eclipse the Old World. Although full realization of this prophecy came only after 1945, America's participation in the Great War set the stage for what was to follow. The interwar period witnessed Europe's first serious reckoning with American economic, diplomatic and cultural influence. Capital and merchandise were the visible accoutrements of American power. Behind them loomed management principles, advertising methods, labour relations, social values and moral standards. However isolationist its foreign policy, the United States exported its entrepreneurial, social and cultural norms. Europe experienced an unprecedented onslaught of what Germans dubbed Amerikanismus (Americanism) and Amerikanisierung (Americanization).

This onslaught was effected by a variety of means and media, from travellers' reports and visits of American celebrities to American loans and symbols of prosperity like the Model T. But for the broad mass of Europeans the main agent of Americanization was the moving picture. Still a curiosity at the turn of the century, by 1918 the cinema was an ubiquitous and influential public medium. Parallel with America's rise to global importance, it emerged as the dominant form of popular entertainment and enlightenment. As a vehicle for exporting the American way of life and stimulating demand for American products it proved unrivaled. Hollywood became the promotional guardian of the American dreamand the primary instrument for domesticating American culture in Europe.

Hollywood's monopolization of the international film market has never been a secret. Yet until very recently the profound ramifications of that monopoly have not been seriously investigated. Only with the waning of American power since the 1970s has the phenomenon of cinematic monopoly been treated as an historical "accident" which requires explaining. While film scholars are examining the consolidation of the studio system and narrative tradition which via Hollywood standardized much of global film production, cultural historians have begun to consider the meaning of Hollywood's hegemony for both American and non-American viewers. In the study of European film cultures there is growing recognition that to treat Hollywood as extrinsic to national cinemas is simply inadmissable. Be it French, German, British, Italian or even Soviet, the culture of interwar cinema was first and foremost American.

Since the Great War the moving picture and Hollywood have become so rooted in Western culture and cultural mythology as to appear eternally synonymous. Three-quarters of a century later it requires considerable effort to imagine a world not yet frozen on celluloid and celluloid not dominated by the American model. Yet despite the historical simultaneity of cinema's rise to public importance and American domination of the medium, this symbiosis was not always operable. The generation which survived the war, still intensely engaged in assimilating the cinema's multifaceted import and just recently exposed to the full weight of American culture, only gradually conceded an inescapable tie between the moving picture and its American variant. What in retrospect appears to be the initial phase in a preordained process constituted then a cultural revolution.

The emergence of cinema to prominence in the public realm represented in itself a dramatic breakthrough. Technologically, film was born of the second industrial revolution in the last third of the nineteenth century. Socioeconomically, its appearance coincided with a massive wave of urbanization. For populations experiencing unprecedented geographic and in turn sociopsychological uprootedness, the motion picture provided community, moral guidance and education as well as entertainment, all at a moderate cost. It thereby took its place alongside the press, military service and universal education as an indispensable means of public indoctrination, vaulting within a generation of its development to the front rank of the mass media. Who was to control this public force, at whom and to what end it should be directed, and to what extent it could influence viewers, became unavoidable issues. Contemporaries debated the relationship between art, politics, technology, commerce and human progress in light of cinema's pervasive impact. Caught between the drive to exploit and the urge to understand or control, they became embroiled in a contest to determine cinematic agendas.

After 1918 mapping these agendas became inconceivable without reference to Hollywood. In the postwar decade Europe experienced a massive invasion of American culture, spearheaded by the motion picture. Jazz bands, sports heroes, troupes of dancing girls, movie stars and tycoons were its personal representatives. American literature, fashions, mores and aspirations were its commercial and ethical counterparts. In the face of this onslaught Europe began to question its cultural resilience. Americanization became a buzzword. To some it promised excitement and revivication for cultures mired in the past and bankrupted by war. To others it portended the leveling of centuries of cultural development. For both, America became caught up in domestic debate about cultural values and direction in which the cinema was already enmeshed.

Two decades earlier neither the American nor cinematic challenge to European culture had provoked such intense debate. Nor had they been recognized as siamese twins. At the turn of the century the United States began to occupy the European mind primarily because of its burgeoning economic power. Thereafter, travel reports and early photojournalism began to present a mosaic of industrial advance, bustling cities, endless landscapes, the cult of technology and efficiency, and the triumph of mass culture. Youthful, wealthy, optimistic, and supremely self-confident, America became a prototype for future societies. Cinema increasingly breathed life into these visions and disseminated them to a mass public, but it did not create them. Indeed, if there was correspondence between European attitudes toward cinema and the United States it lay in the assumption that neither had a serious contribution to make to culture. To the extent that the motion picture did stir general debate, American film was not a primary concern. Before World War I French producers dominated international film markets, their closest rivals being Italian, American and Scandinavian companies. Controversy about the cinema assumed more generic than national characteristics, focusing on the threat of film to literature, theater and the social order. In sum, images of the United States began to haunt or enchant Europe independently of the growing preoccupation with film.

Only after the outbreak of European war did the fusion of American and motion picture challenges occur. Independently, both the cinema and its American variant entered new historical phases. A combination of unprecedented official respect for the power of the moving image and mass enthusiasm for motion picture entertainment made it an indispensable component of national self-awareness and self-projection. At precisely this moment there occurred a fundamental shift in the international film balance. French production suffered a calamitous decline, occasioned in part by failure to protect key personnel from enlisting. The Italian industry also experienced a setback and, like the French, did not regain its place on the international market. Economic and social pressures of European mobilization and the disruption of previous trade patterns permitted Hollywood to become the principal supplier for European movie theaters and win primacy on the world film market

Before the war, Germany, though the foremost power in Europe, relied overwhelmingly on imported motion pictures to supply its cinemas. It now proved the primary European beneficiary of the market revolution. Cut off from previous sources of supply in enemy countries, it belatedly developed a production sector to match its national power. While the constellation of forces which has ever since encouraged equation of the motion picture and Hollywood took shape, Germany laid the foundation for an international cinema profile. The coincidence of Hollywood's rise to global dominance and Germany's emergence as the leading European producer determined the pattern of international competition in the subsequent decade. It meant as well that Germany's postwar version of a common European experience—inundation by American motion picture entertainment—acquired unique accents.

The first of these was temporal. Whereas in western Europe the war brought an avalanche of American movies, Germany became increasingly isolated from international trends and witnessed dramatic expansion of domestic film output. While American exports established a firm position in Europe in the latter stages of the war and fortified it immediately thereafter, the German market belonged overwhelmingly to domestic producers. Motion picture import remained illegal until 1921 and of limited profitability until 1924 because of the postwar inflationary spiral. Thus Weimar's initiation into American movie entertainment came late and after a considerable hiatus. American movies had been shown in German theaters until the middle of the war, but the intervening break gave the Weimar encounter with Hollywood considerable novelty.

The second distinction concerns the volume and breadth of American impact. Not only did Hollywood's inroads come late, but they never assumed the dimensions familiar elsewhere. American companies dumped large quantities of movies in Germany, established their own distribution companies and gained influence in German production. Nevertheless, Hollywood never won the control in Germany which it wielded almost everywhere else. At no time did American feature film imports constitute a clear majority of German market offerings. A significant indigenous alternative to Hollywood survived throughout the Republican era. Though overseas competition eliminated domestic production of short entertainment films, in the newsreel and documentary department native producers more than held their own. Despite extreme economic vicissitudes, German producers retained a position from which they recovered control of the domestic market with the advent of talking motion pictures.

The third peculiarity of the German situation is qualitative. Weimar's reputation is not purely posthumous. Germany not only boasted the largest and healthiest film industry in Europe at the end of the war, but it won international recognition almost immediately with a series of outstanding motion pictures, beginning with Madame Dubarry and Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Notwithstanding American inroads and theft of talent, a tradition of excellence persisted through the remainder of the decade. In the latter half of the Weimar era the films of G. W. Pabst and Fritz Lang, not to mention the experiments of Leopold Jessner, Bertolt Brecht, Piel Jutzi and Robert Siodmak, testified to ongoing artistic ferment. German filmmakers continued to contribute substantially to the development of cinema as an art form and exercised considerable influence abroad.

Together these features anchor Weimar cinema's historical reputation. After the war Germany was the one nation which could pretend to present a European answer to Hollywood. For a fleeting moment in the first half of the postwar decade it even appeared to mount a frontal assault on American hegemony. For a comparably brief period in the second half of the decade it became the rallying point of a pan-European movement aimed at checking American inroads. However beleaguered, it thus presented a commercial as well as artistic alternative to American domination. That achievement has made it a cynosure of historical interest. Legendary in its own time for historical authenticity, artistic stylization, interiority and exploration of the uncanny or bizarre, it continues to fascinate. In the annals of cultural modernism it stands for many of the progressive, experimental features attributed to Weimar culture. In the history of film it retains paradigmatic importance for thematic and stylistic peculiarities which anchor a national cinema and for advancing the cause of film art through participation in Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit. In the history of interwar Germany it tells a tale of inwardness, horror and retreat from the present into a glorified past parallel to the path from Republic to Third Reich. In each respect it points beyond itself to larger concerns.

Historiographically, Weimar cinema has both profitted and suffered from its notoriety. Siegfried Kracauer's classic From Caligari to Hitler, written in the aftermath of World War II, established a much-criticized but still influential precedent by using the film record to shed light on German history. Kracauer posited a relationship between Weimar cinema and the rise of Hitler by treating the former as a reflection of the national psyche. He aimed, in short, to link cinema to the German (psychic) Sonderweg. Shortly thereafter Lotte Eisner's study of Expressionist film established historical interest in this narrow slice of Weimar cinema. Though, unlike Kracauer, more interested in artistic than psychological predispositions, she too made reference to characteristics of the German soul. Together, Kracauer and Eisner have largely set the agenda of subsequent research, particularly through their periodization and film selection. Quite apart from the seemingly inexhaustible attraction of motion picture Expressionism, Weimar cinema remains a study in German peculiarities. At its most provocative this approach has yielded reconstructions of the commercial imperatives, intellectual assumptions and sociological base which formed the creative context of contemporary filmmaking. In more derivative forms it has created a pantheon of classic films and directors, a type of Whig history of cinema which leads from the postwar historical spectacles of Ernst Lubitsch and Richard Oswald, through the Expressionist and stylized works of Paul Wegener, Paul Leni and Robert Wiene, the Kammerspielfilm of F. W. Murnau and Lupu Pick and the mythical epics of Fritz Lang, to the realist works of Neue Sachlichkeit by G. W. Pabst and Joe May. Prominent directors and pioneering films present a succession of thematic and technical advances in the evolution of cinema.

Although more than four decades after Kracauer a new synthesis of Weimar cinema remains to be written, scholars have recently begun to chip away at accepted wisdom. In Germany, cinema's relegation to inferior status among academic disciplines means that much of the best work is being done by archivists and private researchers, struggling against time and financial constraints to find and preserve primary material from the silent period. Despite extensive material losses and the high cost of preserving what is extant, considerable empirical research has been undertaken. At Anglo-American universities the explosion of interest in film has been spurred largely by literary and theoretical concerns in the history of popular culture. In the last decade and a half new vistas have been opened on Weimar cinema from a number of perspectives—literary, proletarian, feminist and political. Lacunae have been filled in our understanding of the production process by studies of leading personalities. Moreover, investigation of the early confrontation between film and literature has assisted the task of integrating cinema history into the wider sweep of German culture in the first third of the century. Nonetheless, obstacles to a successful synthesis remain. We have neither a social nor an economic history of Weimar cinema, nor a systematic investigation of film criticism, advertising or censorship. Nor do we yet have an overview of production patterns which pays serious attention to the fact that Germany was Europe's leading motion picture manufacturer and exporter, not just a specialist in Expressionist stylization, historical drama and experiments in social realism.

Nonetheless, it is clear, as Wolfgang Jacobsen and Erich Rentschler have recently argued, that the main features of Weimar cinema were neither Expressionism nor Neue Sachlichkeit but thematic and stylistic eclecticism, a blend of kitsch, realism and expressionism with German accents but anchored in international narrative and identificatory modalities. Categories borrowed from literature and art do scant justice to the outpouring of sensationalist serials, detective movies, military farces, operettas and documentaries. They also fail to integrate the motion picture into the broader stream of popular culture. Moreover, the overwhelming national bias of research has marginalized Germany's function as the meeting place of cinematic currents from east and west, primarily from the Soviet Union and the United States. For most of the 1920s Germany drew about half of its feature film releases from foreign producers and devoted intense effort to expansion of its foreign market, primarily in the United States. Weimar cinema, like Weimar culture in general, was as much international as German.

The specific issue of Hollywood's global ascendancy, surely one of the most remarkable and unavoidable facets of twentieth century culture, has only recently been broached as an international concern. In the last decade studies of Australian, Italian and British film have acknowledged that domestic developments took shape in dialogue with, reaction against and imitation of Hollywood. The balance has begun to shift away from national exclusivity to consideration of the international context within which it was defined. This is not to deny that cinema came to maturity during decades which witnessed the zenith of European nationalism. Even before 1914 relatively free exchange took place amidst sharpening commercial rivalries as industrialists recognized that trade followed moving images as much as the flag. Apart from its economic importance as a consumer of capital, source of employment and contributor of foreign credits, film served to indoctrinate, pacify and educate, and thereby to nationalize the masses. In the course of the First World War control of the mind became another weapon in national arsenals. Governments realized the cinema's potential to influence attitudes and enlisted it in propaganda efforts to justify belligerence, defame the enemy and entertain the home front or soldiers behind the lines. Cinema became a national resource.

All this being said, film's global ramifications—ideological, commercial and cultural—were evident from its infancy. Cinema was, as it remains, the first and most consequential medium to transcend geographic, linguistic and cultural barriers. No other mode of communication has enjoyed such catholic impact, speaking directly to persons of diverse national, social and ideological backgrounds. Particularly in the first three decades of this century, the era of screen silence, the cinema offered the closest approximation to a universal language—Esperanto based on images. Moreover, international film exchange became the norm almost from the moment of the medium's birth. Before World War I European audiences saw, apart from the preponderant French films, English, Italian, American and Scandinavian pictures. Different countries gained genre-specific identities—Italy in costume spectacle, the United States in slapstick and westerns, Denmark in chamber drama—but the market was not characterized by chauvinism.

Scholarly inclination to treat film movements in national context, despite long awareness of American hegemony in the golden age of silents, is rooted in circumstances created by the Great War. The decade after 1918 has been dubbed the era of national cinemas: producers in each country allegedly cultivated, and their audiences preferred, domestic film styles. While neither arbitrary nor accidental, that designation pays tribute to the contemporary drive—through product differentiation, experimentation and borrowing from other art forms—to stake out unique national property, artistic and commercial, in a highly supranational medium under American control. As much ideal construct as reality (the paper answer to Hollywood's celluloid imperialism), it confirmed the disregard of film for national boundaries. Subsequent preoccupation with uniquely accented motion pictures—in the German case, historical epics, Expressionist experiments, chamber drama and the socially realistic films of the second half of the era—therefore follows a logic rooted in American hegemony after 1918. Without adopting its chauvinism, scholarship has accepted its organizational principles. None of the categories traditionally employed in study of Weimar cinema is sufficiently rigorous to permit unambiguous application to more than a fraction of total domestic production, but each, significantly, sets Weimar cinema apart from Hollywood. For contemporaries, the national cinema had limited historical significance without reference to American film. National identity and cosmopolitanism posed not conflicting options but dialectical poles marking off the real and rhetorical space within which they located Weimar cinema. Historical concern for national identity testifies to the tenacity of perceptions rooted in the 1920s—recognition of America's thematic and stylistic primacy but rebellion against its hegemonic pretensions.

The German confrontation with Hollywood took place in an international context whose main contours have long been familiar. Already in the course of the war American motion pictures made enormous, irreversible inroads on French, British, Italian and Scandinavian markets. The United States emerged from the war without film rivals, dwarfing all other nations in every department from the size and number of its theaters to production figures and the salaries paid its screen stars. It produced several times the number of feature films annually as Germany, its closest rival. With a population less than double that of Germany it had roughly four times as many movie theaters. Although Germany escaped the initial onslaught thanks to the blockade and an import ban, when Hollywood gained access to the German market at the beginning of the new decade it rapidly made up for lost time. Within three years it had eliminated German production of entertainment shorts, won direct control of roughly forty percent of the feature film market and gained a hand in domestic production through branch operations in Germany. Berlin, the center of European film production and culture, attracted a stream of American stars and moguls with production or distribution plans and contracts with which to enlist talent for Hollywood. Germany was thus belatedly but thoroughly integrated into the network of international cinema culture of which Hollywood was capital.

Hollywood was essential to German cinema experience in the 1920s because its product, advertising and personalities enjoyed international primacy. Sheer magnitude, its outstanding feature, was not, however, its only component. The German (and European) experience of Hollywood was stamped, as contemporaries gradually realized, by complementarity between the motion picture and American culture. Motion pictures quickly became the most pervasive and persuasive of America's contributions to European culture because cinema epitomized American culture in its mass orientation, tempo, monumentalism, sensationalism and profit urge. In short, Hollywood's dominance signified correspondence between the medium and the American message. Not only did Hollywood bring to more Europeans than ever before "live" impressions of the New World, giving visual contours to the American dream—the moral, social and economic foundations of beauty, success and happiness, it also introduced and recycled interminably a formula for motion picture entertainment rooted in American assumptions which established itself as the mode of filmic discourse. This symbiosis of broad cultural and more specific dramatic-filmic conventions lent potency to Hollywood's presence. It made cinema a major pillar of the American imperium in the postwar world.

Historical treatment of responses to Hollywood in interwar Europe has essentially followed the lines of the cultural debate about America and Americanization. This highlights conflicting attitudes toward consumer culture, social leveling, traditional literary or artistic forms and the encroachments of technology. The debate about American cinema becomes a microcosm of this larger discourse. Hollywood represented the erosion of traditional distinctions between culture and commodity, art and artifice, personal creativity and assembly-line production, the fusion of high and low culture, and a catalyst for formation of a homogenized mass culture, what D. L. LeMahieu has termed a "common culture." Reactions to it appear, on the one hand, as a final, futile effort to reverse the tide of history and, on the other, as enthusiasm for cultural modernity.

To the extent that Hollywood's presence in Germany has received historical attention, emphasis has fallen on its distance from classical Weimar cinema and fascination for literary intellectuals. Thomas Elsaesser situates Germany's assimilation of Hollywood in the domestic tug-of-war between market imperatives and the quest for artistic self-realization. Recognizing classical Weimar cinema as a "self-conscious attempt at bourgeois cinema," Elsaesser argues that Hollywood represented the challenge of the mass market and a particular formula for relating art, technology and commerce. Weimar's search for a synthesis of these components appropriate to the demands of the cultural establishment yielded a transitional cinema, experimental and lacking solid commercial underpinnings. Unlike the American model, in Germany the relationship between artist and medium remained unstable.

Use of American cinema as a point of contrast for domestic agendas is homologous to the appropriation of Hollywood for extra-filmic purposes by literary intellectuals. Anton Kaes has situated fascination with Amerikanismus within the broader Kinodebatte, specifically the process by which literary intellectuals came to terms with popular culture. Left-leaning cultural critics and writers flirted with Hollywood as part of their rebellion against bourgeois cultural norms. Weary of a cultural establishment whose credibility had been severely shaken by the Great War, these persons found escape in American westerns and comedies. Here Hollywood enjoyed the attraction of the other—distant, exotic, modern and anarchic—and immediacy as an entertainment industry catering to the mass need for distraction.

The agendas pursued in classical Weimar cinema and in the Kinodebatte are the essential points of departure for any discussion of Hollywood's place in Germany. If not always explicitly directed at American cinema, they heavily shaped German discourse on American film. Yet neither perspective is wholly satisfactory, for neither does full justice to the historical location of Weimar cinema. Only a small proportion of the feature films made in Germany in the 1920s belong to what we now identify as classical Weimar cinema. Moreover, those literary intellectuals intrigued by the films of Charlie Chaplin or Douglas Fairbanks represent only one window on Weimar's encounter with Hollywood. American motion pictures became such an integral part of domestic movie culture that dialogue between Hollywood and Berlin was sustained across an enormous spectrum of commercial, artistic and national interests. Discourse on American film was riven with the competing ambitions of businesspeople, filmmakers, critics, censors and intellectuals. Its vital context was an ambitious domestic cinema, a culture industry with interests to legitimize and defend, which fought self-consciously to carve out cultural space for itself.

Research on Hollywood's role in other nations has taken American ascendancy for granted while seeking the specific sources of that ascendancy. Peter Stead and Paul Swann have rationalized the popular demand for American film entertainment in interwar and postwar Britain. James Hay has recently examined the process by which interwar Italian audiences identified with and found significance in American movies. Hollywood's attraction for the European avant-garde has been explored by David Shi and Thomas Elsaesser. Barry Salt has undertaken the arduous task of evaluating Hollywood's impact on European filmmaking practice by comparing evolution in shot lengths and rhythms. Whatever their precise focus, thematic, technical or intellectual, these analyses concur that Hollywood's meaning was determined by the context in which it was received as well as by its own signifiers.

As already indicated, the German context differs in essential respects from that of its European neighbors. In the first instance, one cannot assume American primacy. Germany boasted a vigorous, initially quite independent motion picture culture, which like no other of its time presented a counterpart and challenge to Hollywood. Contrary to practice elsewhere, in Germany there is occasion to rationalize the relative unpopularity of American motion pictures. This, plus the fact that in the early 1920s Germany appeared a potential threat to Hollywood's international hegemony, shaped domestic discussion of American cinema in distinctive ways. Moreover, within the macrocosm of nation, context was anything but fixed or homogeneous. Quite apart from the multiplicity of interests noted above, context shifted over time with the advance and recession of Hollywood's presence as well as the fluctuating fortunes of the German film economy. What follows analyzes the changing contours of discourse on American cinema in Weimar Germany against this shifting backdrop.

Notwithstanding the conspicuously technical nature of the medium, questions of film technology and filmic technique did not play the leading role in German debate. This was not, it should be emphasized, for lack of interest in American achievements. It reflects rather the relative ease with which photographic and shooting techniques were exchanged and, above all, the assumption that these did not constitute the determinative factors in competition between Hollywood and Berlin. Informed contemporaries were certainly fascinated with American cinematographic feats and included them in explanations for Hollywood's international dominance. But they also isolated domestic films which were the equal of any from the United States in this respect. Furthermore, they ultimately looked elsewhere to explain the peculiarities of American cinema and the ability of Hollywood to make its product a universal staple of movie entertainment. Trained to think in terms of national cultures, they sought the difference between domestic and American film in mentalities, values and cultural traditions as well as commercial and organizational factors. Their attention focused on national identities expressed through the thematic, stylistic and entrepreneurial characteristics of each cinema.

This preoccupation with national identity made it impossible to avoid the issue of Americanization. By middecade a buzzword in everything from industrial organization to women's hair styles, it represented both promise and peril. Since contemporary reflections on the subject were self-conscious and usually polemical, they present an extremely unreliable gauge of Hollywood's impact. Historical analysis of the problem may escape these two limitations, but confronts other, no less formidable, ones. That the cinema did more than any other medium to bring the United States to Europe, offering the most widely accessible and immediate contact with the land of unlimited possibilities, is undeniable. That the voluminous import of American movies conditioned the tastes, consumption patterns and social ambitions of foreign audiences can likewise hardly be disputed. But if cinema, like the attention drawn by Lindbergh's solo flight to Europe in 1927, "quickened the pace of Americanization," separation of its influence from that of other cultural imports or domestic trends is highly problematic. No tidy formula exists for establishing the quantitative or qualitative influence of American film in Germany.

D. L. LeMahieu, who argues the symbiotic relationship of film and the gramophone in accelerating the "Americanization" of England, points out that Americanization was itself a reciprocal influence and often operated at invisible levels. Changes effected by Hollywood in everything from consumer preferences to sex roles are notoriously difficult to trace to a single source. In his study of interwar Italian film culture James Hay suggests analysis of advertising, dubbing, stereotyping of Americans in Italian movies and film criticism to determine the impact of American cinema on the Italian public consciousness. Apart from the fact that these approaches are of uneven potential—the second and third recycle stereotypes familiar from other sources—they present all the problems of representativeness for national opinion posed by the motion pictures themselves. In the German case they also meet frustrating lack of hard data with which to ascertain to what extent American movies found popular resonance. To the larger question of how audiences perceived and were influenced by American movies contemporary surveys offer only fragmentary answers.

German cinema, like many other sectors of the economy, both competed against and received capital and managerial input from the United States. It contributed directly (in the form of personnel) and indirectly (via its filmic presence on the American market) to Hollywood. In turn American motion picture companies engaged in extensive personal and corporate interaction with their German counterparts and produced a substantial portion of the films consumed in Germany. The case for Weimar's assimilation of filmic Americanisms can be made from contemporary and historical perspectives. Contemporaries, whether opposed to or in favor of the practice, agreed that borrowing was widespread. Using a crude but popular image of American cinema as thematically optimistic, stylistically syncretic, technically imposing and commercially calculated, they detected Hollywood in, for instance, the happy ending of Murnau's Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) or Pabst's Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney and in the stylistic eclecticism, technological fetishism and ethical simplification of Metropolis. Historically and more systematically, Barry Salt has argued that American cutting rhythms, camera angles and acting styles were deliberately adopted in German production from the mid-1920s. His research suggests that by the final years of silents German filmmakers had appropriated the principal components of American cinematic form.

However normative Hollywood became, hard evidence to demonstrate a simple cause and effect relationship between American and German cinemas is fragmentary and ambiguous. Since production files have perished for the bulk of German motion pictures in the 1920s, and since the films themselves are in good proportion lost or extant only in truncated versions, a general case for American influence must be made with caution. The extant films can, moreover, confuse as much as clarify the issue. To scrutinize them for assimilation of Hollywood misses one essential element of the German-American confrontation to which reference has already been made. Some filmmakers sought independence and marketability by shunning obvious Americanisms. Weimar's most prominent motion picture producer, Erich Pommer, was not alone in arguing that competition with Hollywood, at least in the first half of the 1920s, could best be mounted by a distinctive, national approach rather than imitation. Although Pommer changed his tune after working in Hollywood, it can still be argued that one outcome of American dominance was cultivation of an alternative film discourse.

The American star system, performing styles, flair for publicity and increasing standardization of production elicited enormous attention and imitation in Germany. German filmmakers closely followed the work of the leading American directors and performers. Many took study trips to New York and Hollywood to be schooled in everything from business organization to camera types and lighting. Some worked in Hollywood and so had first-hand experience of American aims and methods. A number, such as Karl Freund, Wilhelm Dieterle and Friedrich Zelnik, found employment with American subsidiaries in Germany. There is also unequivocal as well as circumstantial evidence of deliberate targeting of the American market by the foremost German companies. From all these perspectives Americanization was clearly inescapable. Nevertheless, the larger question of whether American influence ultimately homogenized or diversified domestic film production admits no categorical response. Classical narrative cinema, the studio system and promotional hype may be identified as quintessentially American. The logic behind each was not peculiarly American any more than it pertained only to the motion picture. The challenge of habituating the public to visit the movies, like that of maximizing and stabilizing the demand for pulp fiction or daily newspapers, was inherent in the conditions of production and consumption in a competitive, capitalist system. Weimar took American models of business rationalization and mass marketing seriously precisely because they corresponded to the internal dynamic of German development.

With all these qualifications to facile generalizations about Americanization, what cannot be doubted is that Weimar was intensely engaged in dialogue with Hollywood and made it the primary reference point for domestic achievements. This was true both at the level of informed opinion—filmmakers, theater owners, critics—and among moviegoers. From the period before resumption of import, through the era when American movies became domesticated, to the early phase of the transition from silent to sound film, experts scrutinized, responded to and debated the lessons to be drawn from American cinema. Simultaneously, millions of moviegoers passed judgment on American films and, wittingly or otherwise, on the American way of life. Unfortunately, the latter, apart from voting with their feet (a vote for which we lack aggregate, not to mention more detailed statistics) indulged in applause, laughter, tears or protest which are remembered only insofar as critics and trade experts recorded them. Weimar's encounter with Hollywood is therefore recorded primarily in the discourse of those with a vested interest—cultural, artistic, commercial, educational—in motion picture enterprise. Literary intellectuals represent only one, and not the most numerous, nor necessarily influential or informed, group of commentators. A more essential filter for the historian is the German motion picture establishment. At once more concerned to monitor Hollywood's inroads, editorialize on its achievements and devise means to counter or profit from its presence, the film community also entertained cultural ambitions which shaped its encounter with American cinema.

This extensive and diverse community was comprised of creative personnel (producers, directors, performers and screen authors), entrepreneurs (board directors, distributors and theater owners), and an army of journalists, critics, advertisers and miscellaneous camp followers. While anything but united in perception or purpose, these persons shared immediate concern for motion picture issues. Their collective interests and opinions formed the commercial and ideological matrix for German cinema. More systematically than any other groups they represented Weimar vis-à-vis Hollywood. Critics, less able than moviegoers to vote with their feet, used their public voice to establish the terms on which American imports would be discussed and to urge on filmmakers specific creative responses to Hollywood. Those involved in the production process, as performers, screenwriters or directors, had direct input into competitive strategies and often also publicized their opinions. Through an enormous range of printed material, from advertising brochures, company or fan magazines and a burgeoning trade press to daily papers and highbrow art journals, the critical and creative spokespersons of the industry located American film in Germany and defined domestic objectives by contrast with it. Within this energetic and outspoken community of cognoscenti, dissection of Hollywood was therefore both deeply self-conscious and eminently scrutable.

The following pages examine Weimar's experience of Hollywood from several perspectives. The starting point is to locate the motion picture in Weimar culture. Since the record of contemporaries who wrestled with Hollywood's presence in Germany serves as a principal historical source, this includes an introduction to the character and scope of film commentary in this period. Equally essential—the burden of chapter two—is discussion of industrial relations, particularly of contemporary attitudes toward the infiltration of American financing and methods. Chapter three traces patterns of response to American film entertainment from the beginning of the decade until the relative stabilization of middecade in order to restore the historical contours of a theme usually handled statically. Chapters four and five chronicle and dissect the popular and critical boundaries which American motion pictures encountered in Germany. Subsequent chapters narrow in on specific categories of American film—slapstick, German-American productions and talkies—which raised particular challenges. Throughout, the aim is to contextualize the discourse on American cinema according to shifting German expectations. Comparison of German and American methods inevitably preoccupied contemporaries, but is not itself the primary issue. American motion pictures acted as a foil for more than their German counterparts, giving Hollywood relevance to broader cultural as well as cinematic questions.

Excerpted from Hollywood in Berlin by Thomas J. Saunders. Copyright © 1994 by the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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