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In Memory of Hans Helmut Prinzler

We mourn the passing of Hans Helmut Prinzler, who died on June 18 at the age of 85. He was our friend for more than 40 years, a mentor and supporter of our work, and an inspiration as an archaeologist and chronicler of German film history. He was actively involved in the planning of this website and supported it by allowing us to reprint the Weimar section of his legendary Chronik des Deutschen Films, now in English.

Hans Helmut dedicated his life to promoting the presence of film and preserving the memory of films, first as director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin, where a large library now bears his name, and curator of elaborate retrospectives at the Berlin Film Festival on Ufa and Babelsberg as well as on directors such as Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, G. W. Pabst, and Robert Siodmak. He was also co-editor of the first comprehensive Geschichte des deutschen Films (1993) and, as co-editor of the Hanser Reihe Film, was responsible for a series of monographs on European and American directors. In 2013, his large-format and lavishly illustrated Sirens and Sinners: A Visual History of Weimar Film 1918-1933 appeared, a volume, as one critic put it, that has “everything the Weimar film cognoscenti would want.” For an incredible span of over 60 years, from 1961 to 2023, he wrote innumerable reviews in which he documented the full range of film books and books about cinema. Six days a week, starting in early 2007, his blog would provide coverage of films, personalities, festivals, and recent DVD editions. Antje Goldau, his wife, told us that he worked from his hospital bed to complete his last entry devoted to Optische Literatur, his choice for the Film Book of the Month for June 2023.

There are no words to express the sadness we feel. We will miss his generous spirit, his love of film, and his inimitable blend of kindness, enthusiasm and Sachlichkeit. We would like to give him the last word by publishing (in translation) a speech he delivered at the German Film Academy on February 10, 2008, entitled "If Only I Had the Cinema" below. It underscores his deep conviction that the past can serve as a guide for the future; it also captures his life-affirming and life- enriching passion for film that we will always associate with his memory.

Tony Kaes and Rick Rentschler



Photo of the Central Kino Theater

“If only I had the cinema!!”– note the two striking exclamation points – was the title of a pamphlet by Carlo Mierendorff, published in 1920, a title that abides today as a topic of interest, as a headline, almost as a mantra. But we still have it, the cinema. We still have it. We just have to make sure that the day will not come when it suddenly disappears. And we must constantly bear in mind this resolve.

When Mierendorff penned his expressionistically inflected and carefully formulated appeal, the cinema was a mere 25 years old. Back then, in 1920, when Mierendorff's text appeared, there were 3,422 cinemas in Germany. And around 500 German feature films premiered that year in these cinemas. Not all were feature-length. And people said films (and not yet Filme) if they meant more than one. We also must not forget that the First World War had ended only two years before. The famous 1920s of the Weimar Republic was beginning. Among the 500 films from 1920 there are three that just about everyone in this room will know: THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI by Robert Wiene, THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener and ANNA BOLEYN by Ernst Lubitsch. I will not assume that anyone - apart from Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, of course - has seen THE GIRL FROM THE ACKERSTRASSE by Reinhold Schünzel. Or Richard Oswald's THE-MERRY-GO-ROUND (REIGEN) with Asta Nielsen and Conrad Veidt. Of course, everyone here has seen Murnau's NOSFERATU, which was produced in 1921, a year later, and now belongs to the canon. Today screenings of this silent film are often accompanied by live music and reproduced in the lovely DVD editions that have become available. But even if we have DVD copies of old films one cannot help but wish: if only they had the cinema!!

If a book title from 1920 can inspire so many different thoughts, we are led to wonder: what does German film history teach us? What do we know about it? What about it is so beautiful and what is so terrible? How does German film relate to our political history, and to lessons that are of interest to all of us? And bearing in mind the unstinting arrival of new films, what do we do with the old ones? Apart from storing them in archives and preserving them there, assuming they are preserved at all.

I think that the passion for German film also includes a love of its history, even if that history has not and does not always make things easy for us. It is certainly much easier to stroll down a red carpet to the premiere of a new German film in Berlin, Munich or Hamburg and afterwards talk off the cuff about why things did not quite go as the director might have wished. Strong actors, an impressive camera, a good story, but somehow the film lacks – well, how to put it – depth and passion. Surely there is not enough there for a German Film Prize. And surely not enough for the film to be remembered three, five, ten or twenty years down the line.

The afterlife of films has become diminished. And for this reason, as film historians, we have the wonderful, sometimes arduous and not always fruitful job of constantly bringing to life films and their directors, actresses and actors, screenwriters, cinematographers, editors, scenographers, composers, and producers so that they might enjoy a semblance of immortality. After all, any film involves the work of many people. For its images, for its stories, for its creation and its long-term resonance, which is to say its posthumous presence.

To link memories of films with the present and also with the future, that would be, if only I had the cinema, my preferred vision. These days such an endeavor more often than not is described by such brittle terms as repertoire, media competence, film historical awareness, communal cinema, film canon, memory.culture. But in fact it is above all a matter of curiosity and desire, hearing and seeing, open eyes and open ears, of head and heart. Put precisely, it is a matter of passion. For the old and for the new. And for everything that helps to forge a connection between yesterday and today. We still have the cinema. Enter the cinema and let there be darkness. So that we might open our eyes. Because German film history is better than its reputation. As are German films. Or in any event, at the latest, they will be tomorrow, when all of today's resolves have found their fulfillment.

Berlin, German Film Academy / Academy of Arts, February 10, 2008

Image of Gloria-Palast

Gloria-Palast in Berlin, 1922

Image of the Titania Palast

Titania-Palast in Berlin, 1928