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MICHAEL COWAN and ANTON KAES
Why a program on Weimar “shorts” today? One answer is that we are increasingly surrounded, in our digital media environments, by “short form” videos. Whether you trace the phenomenon back to the launch of YouTube in 2005 or the rise of music videos in the 1980s, most people are now exposed daily to a large roster of short forms, ranging from travel shows to clips of cute pets, from instructional videos to avant-garde experiments — all archived in online repositories or shared on social media platforms. Not for nothing, then, has YouTube been described as the new “cinema of attractions,” where the immersive experience of being “kidnapped” (Susan Sontag) in a darkened theater gives way to curiosity, humor, and fascination. And little wonder, also, that historical short films are being rediscovered today — not only from the days of early cinema, but also from periods after the consolidation of narrative film.
Weimar cinema is a case in point. Twenty years ago, most Weimar film series would have focused almost entirely on classics by Lang, Murnau, Pabst, and the other names from the familiar pantheon of great (mostly male) feature-film auteurs — interspersed, if you were lucky, with a few avant-garde classics by Reiniger, Richter, or Ruttmann. Today, however, there is increasing interest in what was happening around this canon: the historical advertisements, newsreels, and educational films, but also the travelogues, election propaganda films, amateur 2 productions, and political reportages, all of which — taken together — constituted a large portion of moving-image consumption during the Weimar Republic. Precisely because of the strong canonization of feature films, much of this shorter material has been lost today. But film archives are beginning to reassess their holdings, and there is no shortage of fascinating short- form material from the 1920s available for screening. For this reason — and during the 100th anniversary year of the start of the Weimar Republic — a program on “Weimar Shorts” seems timely.
Of course, another question instantly arises: What was a Weimar “Kurzfilm” anyway? It’s surely not a genre, as the name only suggests a length. If we define “short film” strictly by duration, then the category would presumably include anything that didn’t conform to the standard feature-film length, whether a 2-minute advertisement or a 40-minute political docudrama. Alternatively, if we seek to identify types of short films, then it would encompass all films that weren’t standard narratives or documentaries. Such definitions would, of course, lead to a large umbrella of film forms, precisely because they all share a negative quality: that of not being the “standard.” In other words, the “short film” would embrace nearly all types of film that were marginalized during the institutionalization of feature film within the new theatrical landscape of post-WWI Germany. And no doubt, this motley aspect was, even then, recognized as a defining characteristic of the category “Kurzfilm” (a term which, incidentally, only became a common descriptor in the 1920s, and this precisely in reaction to the consolidation of the “Langfilm”). Thus one review of a Kurzfilm program that accompanied the famous Film und Foto exhibition of 1929 (and which included one film showing in our program, Wilfried Basse’s Markt in Berlin) described the program as a “heterogeneous” and “disparate” (zusammengewürfelt) collection of films (“Kampf um Kurzfilme,” Film-Kurier, 11/1929). But this expansiveness and plasticity of the category “short film” does not mean that we cannot make some more general observations about short films in Weimar cinema. The first, as already hinted, is that these films existed on the margins of cinema, and this in both a temporal and a spatial sense. Temporally speaking, such films tended to be shown at non-peak times. For experimental and political film, this often meant special matinee screenings scheduled on low- density Sundays, as happened with the Film und Foto screening mentioned above, as well as the famous avant-garde matinee Der absolute Film of 1925 and the many matinee screenings organized by film clubs such as the Volksverband für Filmkunst (Popular Association of Film Art).
But the main form of temporal marginalization for the short film was surely its relegation to the so-called Beiprogramm (supporting program), usually shown as a Vorprogramm (preliminary program) before the main feature. There were many reasons for presenting short films in the preliminary program, not least of all because this allowed movie theaters to receive tax rebates, especially if they showed so-called “Kulturfilms” on educational topics (of which our program has several examples). But in many ways, the preliminary program was the least dignified of time slots within theatrical screenings: a kind of para-cinematic niche, when audiences were still shuffling about, finding their seats, removing their coats, and preparing for the main attraction. It is not surprising, then, that one contemporary writer described the preliminary program as the neglected “Cinderella” of theatrical screenings (“Der kurze Film als Aschenbrödel,” Österreichische Filmzeitung, 04/1928).
Short films also existed on the margins in a spatial sense, because they were frequent features — if not the mainstay — of non-theatrical screenings. This goes for educational films, which were often also (and increasingly as the Weimar years advanced) available for projection in schools, clubs, and other pedagogical settings. It also goes for advertising and promotional films, which were shown in shop windows, storefronts, and exhibition halls, using a wide array of portable projection apparatuses developed and marketed during the 1920s. There were also other specialty screening venues, for example on board passenger ships, where travel films like the one by Richard Fleischhut in this program would probably have been screened.
A second observation about Weimar shorts is that they tended to be linked to specific occasions and purposes, a fact that underscores their relevance today, as film historians take increasing interest in traditions of so-called “useful” cinema. Shorts were rarely made with the intention of creating timeless works of art, but rather commissioned in response to particular goals and ephemeral needs. At the extreme side of this ephemerality, we find advertisements and promotional films, election films, and other “PR” productions, whose contexts and occasioning circumstances are often forgotten by today’s viewers. Several of our films — and arguably almost all — also share a mission to impart knowledge. One reason for this link between short forms and ephemeral occasions is easy to intuit: namely that capital investment is proportional to the expected return, and anyone commissioning a film with a limited shelf-life is unlikely to spend the sums necessary for a feature film production. In other cases, shorts were the products of groups that just didn’t have a lot to invest, such as experimental artists and political groups.
Incidentally, the promotional function of so many short films also accounts for their frequent appearance in series, which were meant to run for a limited time and generated repeated exposures to a product, a cause, a campaign, or a brand. Several films in our program were made as parts of a series (few of which survive in toto), including the excerpt from Hans Cürlis’s Schaffende Hände series on contemporary artists at work, the Lola Kreutzberg film on Javanese leisure (part of a series on Dutch colonial islands), the excerpts from the Lustige Hygiene series (commissioned by the German Committee on Popular Hygienic Education), Die Frankfurter Küche (part of a series of films on new architecture), and Slatan Dudow’s Zeitprobleme (part of a planned series of proletarian newsreels). But even films like the Ufa Kulturfilms had a certain “serial” quality in a looser sense, since audiences grew accustomed to seeing scientific shorts with the Ufa brand on a regular basis.
A third observation about Weimar shorts – not unrelated to their ephemerality – is that these films offered a kind of laboratory for experimentation. Today, we tend to divide Weimar cinema somewhat unhelpfully into “experimental” and “mainstream” film, partly because this was the first period in which a self-styled avant-garde emerged to claim jurisdiction over experimentation. In reality, there was more of a continuum, and many of the films in our series defy easy classification. Indeed, not all “avant-garde” classics began that way; many such films that are often screened today in “experimental” programs (like Seeber’s Kipho) were initially created as advertisements. But in a broader sense, the short film as such offered a propitious space for experimentation on account of its position at the margins. This goes even for those educational productions by Ufa’s Kulturabteilung (Cultural Department), which reveled in techniques of montage, time-lapse, microscopic and X-ray cinematography, multi-screen shots, and other experimental forms. Almost all of these films were “exploratory” productions, less formalized than the feature films being shot next door, and perhaps for this reason experimentation was not only allowed, but also encouraged. Watching the films today, one can still sense that exploratory quality, as filmmakers found techniques adequate for the tasks at hand.
This experimental quality of so many short productions also means that these films were often more open-ended than their feature counterparts, their meanings less fixed. This space for ambiguity sometimes frustrated audiences in the 1920s; the account of the Film und Foto screening cited above goes on to describe how some audience members, baffled by the absence of clear narrative logic, reacted with “whistles, jeers and hoots.” For the author of that 1929 Film-Kurier article, this was a problem that called for the use of introductory lectures to instruct (schulen) audiences on how to appreciate the films being shown. But this open-ended quality of short studies is something we might value today. Among other things, it helps to account (along with the less-stringent copyright restrictions placed on short films) for their historical malleability, i.e., their openness to unexpected afterlives. If this includes advertisements reinterpreted as avant-garde classics, it also includes several films from our series that were later cited and re-purposed by experimental filmmakers. Others, such as Fleischhut’s fascinating study of a steamboat voyage, are rife for re-use and reinterpretations. This leads us back to our opening question: Why a program on Weimar “shorts” today? In our selections, we have privileged less readily available films over familiar classics (such as Ruttmann’s Opus series) or recent DVD releases (such as Ella Bergmann-Michel’s documentary shorts, 1931-1933). Most of the selections here were unearthed from archives and have been screened only rarely (if at all) over the past 100 years. We believe that these unknown archival treasures deserve attention not only for their ability to shed light around the edges of the canon but also as illustrations of the vitality and creative “messiness” of non-narrative shorts in silent cinema. Such shorts bring the rich formal potential of film to the fore, showing that film language can be adapted to various uses. Our selection has tried to replicate the dynamics of these films, ranging from the observational and spiritual to the scientific, socially engaged or commercial. We hope that audiences in Pordenone will watch them with both historical and contemporary eyes: bringing an interest both for the films’ original contexts (which we’ve tried to indicate, to the extent possible, in the individual notes below) and for the capacity of these films to take on newfound significance today. In an era where “short form” has come out of the margins, who knows what these historically marginalized films might teach us?
We have arranged this series into four themed programs, each bringing together different types of short film. The first program showcases various ways of filming nature and the elements, from the pedagogical to the more experimental. The second includes films that offer views “behind the scenes” (of production processes, artists’ work, etc.), a central gesture of Kulturfilm generally and industrial film specifically. The third looks at film’s encounter with “the social question” (poverty, crime, class tensions) and features paradigmatic examples of activist cinema from the late Weimar Republic. The final program is titled “How To Be Modern,” and foregrounds film’s role in promoting a modern lifestyle dominated by new technologies, new environments, and new models of self and community.
This text introduced a 4-part program of “Weimar Shorts” at the annual Giornate del Cinema Muto festival in Pordenone, Italy, October 5-12, and appeared in the festival’s catalogue that year. All films were shown as 35mm archival prints from the Bundesarchiv/Filmarchiv Berlin. Only some of the titles (with varying print quality) are currently available online and hyperlinked accordingly.
1. NATURE AND THE ELEMENTS
Die Seele der Pflanze (The Soul of the Plant) (DE 1922)
Die Seele der Pflanze is one of the early shorts produced by the UFA-Kulturabteilung, founded in 1918 to promote films with educational content. The production team counted several people who worked extensively with the Kulturabteilung, including the cinematographer Max Brinck and the scientific advisor Wilhelm Berndt, a zoologist from the University of Berlin who had organized the first film screenings at the Urania Institute in 1911 and worked on many of the films chosen for this program.
Purporting to offer a modern scientific take on ancient Greek pantheistic views of nature, the film draws on a long tradition of literature probing the potential intelligence and sensitivity of plants. That interest stretches at least as far back as J. J. Grandville’s Les fleurs animées (1847) and Gustav Fechner’s Nanna oder über das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (1848). And it was particularly vibrant in the early twentieth century on account of a wave of popular science books by authors such Raoul Francé (e.g. Die Seele der Pflanze, 1924).
This topic also held out a special appeal to early filmmakers, who sought to use filmic techniques—time-lapse, microscopic cinematography, animation, etc.—to provide visual evidence of the otherwise invisible life of plants. In Germany, such films stretch from Oskar Messter’s early time-lapse experiments (1898) to feature-length Kulturfilms such as Das Blumenwunder (1926), in which human dancers take their cues from plants shown in accelerated motion.
But Die Seele der Pflanze is also significant for its subsequent history. The film has been a go-to archival source for directors of horror and experimental film, from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (who lifted footage of a Venus flytrap to juxtapose with the vampire in Nosferatu, 1922) to Gustav Deutsch and Hanna Schimek (who borrowed shots of scientists burning a sensitive Mimosa pudica for their 2009 experimental exploration of gender relations in Film ist. A Girl & a Gun). -MICHAEL COWAN
Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja (The Cloud Phenomenon of Maloja) (DE 1924)
To view this film, click here
Shot by mountain film pioneer Arnold Fanck (who would later introduce Leni Riefenstahl to the public in Der heilige Berg 1926), Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja is a short landscape film shot around the Maloja Pass of the Dolomites. The film came out the same year Fanck released Berg des Schicksals (also shot in the Dolomites) and was probably made as a side- project. In a glowing review of the latter film, Siegfried Kracauer praised Fanck’s “glorious images of nature,” singling out in particular the director’s ability to film clouds: “cumulous clouds, giant white massifs that disintegrate, seas of clouds that well up and ebb away, striped drifts and vast herds.” While it is unclear if Kracauer knew of Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja, the film seems to validate his argument that images of nature are at least as important as plots in the mountain film genre.
Filming clouds was no straightforward task, and filmmakers like Fanck had to learn to use techniques familiar to scientific filmmakers such as time-lapse to bring clouds alive on the screen. The result is a motif every bit as photogenic as the contemporaneous water images being explored by Jean Epstein, and Olivier Assayas would later cite Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja in his own treatment of the Dolomites in his film The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). –MICHAEL COWAN
Polar-Reise 1925 mit dem Dampfer “München” Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen (Arctic Journey 1925 on the Steamer “Munich” Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen) (DE 1925)
This film was shot aboard the “SS München,” a ship run by the company Norddeutscher Lloyd. Its creator, Richard Fleischhut, had worked as on-board photographer for Norddeutscher Lloyd since 1908, where he documented journeys to Asia, North and South America and Scandinavia. He would later become famous for his portraits of celebrity passengers such as Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well his images of the Hindenburg explosion in 1937. But he also left behind an extensive collection of ethnographic and nature photography. Indeed, some of his best-known nature photographs (of cliffs, icebergs, seascapes, etc.) came from the same 1925 journey as the current film.
Fleischhut’s first foray into moving images, PolarReise documents one of the arctic cruises (sailing to the Svalbard Archipelago) that Norddeutscher Lloyd regularly offered for those eager to experience romantic naturescapes reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich. Fleischhut would go on to create another longer polar travel film for the same company in 1928. In this earlier film, he structures the images around the fascinating alternation (inviting various interpretations) between the passengers on the ship deck and the passing waves.
Fleischhut’s work was likely intended for amateur rather than cinematic screenings (and perhaps also for screenings on board passenger ships). But it also points to a larger link between the passenger ship industry and the vogue for travel films of the 1920s, many of which were made in collaboration with shipping companies (e.g. Walter Ruttmann’s Melodie der Welt from 1929, which was partly financed by HAPAG). -MICHAEL COWAN
Erfinderin Natur (Nature as Inventor) (DE 1926-27)
Throughout the 1920s, the Ufa Kulturabteilung churned out numerous short nature films for screening in cinemas (in the so-called “Beiprogramm” or preliminary program), in schools, and in various other educational settings (associations, exhibitions, etc.). This fascinating film, Erfinderin Natur, was overseen by Ulrich K. T. Schulz, who had directed the first production of the Kulturabteilung to show in the preliminary program of a cinema (Der Hirschkäfer 1921) and went on to make over 200 Kulturfilms from the 1920s to the 1960s. The scenario was created by Wilhelm Berndt, who also worked on Die Seele der Pflanze.
This film exemplifies a topic that would recur often in Schulz’s work and in the Kulturfilm more broadly: the analogies between human technologies and nature. Anticipating later concepts such as “bionics” and “biomimetics,” the film shows us a human technologic intelligence that is grounded in nature rather than being opposed to it: rope- manufacture inspired by spider webs, parachute design mimicking dandelion seeds, a cowboy’s lasso copying the actions of a chameleon’s tongue, and so on. This was already a well-known theme from popular science books such as Raoul Francé’s Die Pflanze als Erfinder (1920) or Hermann Ernsch’s Mathematik in der Natur (1921). Erfinderin Natur has certain affinities with Die Seele der Pflanze on account of its effort to demonstrate nature’s intelligence. But rather than revealing this intelligence through trick techniques such as time-lapse, this film relies on the techniques of parallel montage in widespread usage by the mid-1920s. -MICHAEL COWAN
Pulsierende Lebenssäfte (Pulsating Life Fluids) (DE 1928)
Another in the series of science shorts from the Ufa Kulturabteilung, Pulsierende Lebenssäfte focuses on the blood. The film was directed by Nicholas Kaufmann, who worked on dozens of Kulturfilms between the 1920s and the 1960s, including well-known long films such as the Steinach-Film (1922), Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (Ways to Strength and Beauty, 1925), Falsche Scham (False Shame, 1926), and Natur und Liebe. Von der Urzelle bis zum Menschen (Nature and Love: From the Primitive Cell to Man, 1927). Kaufmann was assisted, here too, by the scientific expertise of Wilhelm Berndt.
Relying heavily on microscopic cinematography, Pulsierende Lebenssäfte takes up a frequent theme of popular science: the ‘unseen’ world of blood circulation, cells and pathogens (e.g. spirochetes). This theme was familiar from numerous “blood pictures” of the period stretching back to the pioneering work of French microbiologist Jean Comandon in the 1910s. Pulsierende Lebenssäfte also touches on the theme of our second program with its characterization of white blood cells as the body’s “police” force.
The visible worlds unveiled by early microscopic film no doubt had an influence on popular science fiction (e.g. Fantastic Voyage, 1966). But the motif continues to appeal to artists working in new media, as one can see in the popularity of “body” experiences in VR today (e.g. The Body VR: Journey Inside a Cell, 2016). -MICHAEL COWAN
Wasser und Wogen. Ein Querschnittsfilm (Water and Waves: A Cross-Sectional Film) (DE 1929)
Albrecht Viktor Blum was a prominent practitioner of montage film in Germany in the 1920s. While Blum had credited Soviet montage as a major influence on his best-known film Im Schatten der Maschine (1928), Wasser und Wogen (1928), with its playful cuts between people and animals, is perhaps more reminiscent of the work of Walter Ruttmann. As the subtitle suggests, this film was also part of a larger vogue, in the late 1920s, for so-called “Querschnittsfilme” (cross-section films)—i.e. compilation films on particular topics, which drew on the growing mass of footage available in film archives—such as Oskar Kalbus’s Rund um die Liebe. Ein Querschnittsfilm (All About Love. A Cross-Sectional Film, 1929), Blum’s own Quer durch den Sport (A Cross-Section of Sports, 1929) or Edgar Beyfuss’s Die Wunder der Welt (Wonders of the World, 1930).
Blum was also a close collaborator with leftwing groups such as the Volksverband für Filmkunst (People’s Association of Film Art) and served as editor for the Prometheus production Das Dokument von Shanghai (1928). Wasser und Wogen, along with Im Schatten der Maschine, was produced and distributed by Weltfilm, the same company that produced Zeitprobleme. Wie der Arbeiter wohnt (see program 3). -MICHAEL COWAN
2. WORK AND LEISURE
Die Pritzelpuppe (The Pritzel Puppet) (DE 1923)
Documenting artists at work is a theme most often associated with Schaffende Hände series included in this program. But there were also other variants on the theme. This film focuses on the work of puppet-artist and costume designer Lotte Pritzel. The screenplay for the film was written by the author and film critic Maria Elisabeth Kähnert. The film was directed by Ulrich Kayser—the head of technical production for the Ufa Kulturabteilung and later specialist for industrial film—with cinematography by Max Brinck (who also worked on Die Seele der Pflanze).
Lotte Pritzel had been a well-known figure within the Munich bohemian arts scene for over a decade when Die Pritzelpuppe was made. She travelled with many of the signature artists and writers of the time including Emmy Hennings, Jakob van Hoddis, Oskar Kokoschka and Rainer Maria Rilke, who was fascinated by her work and dedicated an essay to it in 1921. Her work also exerted a strong influence on dancers such as Anita Berber (who had performed a ballet also titled Die Pritzelpuppe two years before this film in 1921) and Niddy Impekoven (who makes an appearance in this film). And she can be seen within a long line of experimental puppet design that would include Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer (Triadisches Ballett) and the work of Hans Bellmer (with whom she later stood in contact).
In the film, Kähnert and Kayser take us behind the scenes to show Pritzel at work in her studio, explain her techniques, speculate on her inspirations, and locate her work within a longer history of artistic styles. -MICHAEL COWAN
Schaffende Hände. Otto Dix (Hand at Work: Otto Dix) (DE 1924)
This short film document was part of a long-running series by the filmmaker Hans Cürlis entitled Schaffende Hände, which he began filming in 1923 and continued well into the post-WWII period. Cürlis was the head of the Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an important centre of educational film where Lotte Reiniger and Berthold Bartosch both worked as animators. Schaffende Hände was a live action series documenting the labor of visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.), and occasionally extending to other kinds of manual production (e.g. Schaffende Hände. Wie Süßigkeiten entstehen / Hands at Work: How Sweets are Made, 1929). The series has provided footage for many documentary projects over the decades, and much survives to the present day (e.g. images of Kandinsky painting, which are still available on YouTube). This segment on the modernist painter Otto Dix was created as a stand-alone film in 1924 and later incorporated into a longer film, Schaffende Hände. Die Maler (Hands at Work: The Painters), along with several other segments on George Grosz, Lovis Corinth and other painters in 1926. -MICHAEL COWAN
Wenn die Filmkleberin gebummelt hat . . . (When a Film Cutter Blunders . . . ) (DE 1925)
This Dada-inspired film, also known as “Tragedy of a Premiere,” was made in 1925 in the shadow of Entr’acte, the classical French Dada film of 1924 by Francis Picabia and Rene Clair, which was shown in Berlin in the famous avant-garde film matinee “The Absolute Film” on May 3, 1925. Filmkleberin satirizes avant-garde cinema itself by suggesting that the rejection of narrative is the result of inadvertency and blunder. This little-known film, directed by O.F. Mauer and starring Alice Kempen, both minor figures in Weimar cinema, is also a comical take on censorship, film production and exhibition practices.
Filmkleberin begins in the manner of an industrial film with the title “High Season in a Film Cutting Company,” followed by a tracking shot along editing tables and stopping at a group of five female employees in white coats, vivaciously engaged in a … crossword puzzle (which itself was a new phenomenon in 1925 – see our entry for Kreuzworträtsel im Film Nr. 3). A title card explains that films are put together from 1000 large and small scenes – a manual process that the camera proceeds to illustrate in close-ups of female hands using razor blade, scissors, and glue to scrape, cut and join strips of film together.
In its own narrative, the film focuses on a young film cutter who is visibly bored by her work, daydreaming about a young man. The close-up of the couple’s imaginary kiss is interrupted by an intertitle declaring “Zensur,” and an inspection of the kissing scene under a magnifying glass, leading to a pair of scissors destroying the offending frames. The woman awakens from her daydream and resumes work – now under time pressure to finish editing a film by a 6 o’clock deadline. The camera pans across two boxes, one labeled “Diverse Newsreel Clips,” the other “Blossoms that float in the Mud,” a fictive revue film whose titillating title alludes to the so-called Aufklärungsfilme (sex education films) from the censor-free period between November 1918 and May 1920. Predictably, the film cutter mixes up the boxes and strips from both are spliced into one film with surprising results. The second half of Filmkleberin takes place in the movie theater where the cutter sits in the audience watching what her distracted editing has produced.
Snippets from real life taken from newsreel and Kulturfilm shorts interrupt, undercut, and ridicule the fictional artificiality of the revue film. For instance, a title announces “Lil Dagover at Breakfast,” but instead of the glamorous film star we see a half- nude African woman nursing her baby while drinking palm wine – a scene presumably taken from one of the popular travelogue shorts, such as Quer durch Africa (Across Africa, 1924). Another title announcing the diva’s favorite small dog cuts to a hippopotamus. And so on. A montage of random clips from sports and entertainment, including a brief parody of the 1924 feature-length Kulturfilm Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit (Ways to Strength and Beauty, 1925), as well as an excerpt of a short entitled Zur Vermännlichung der Frau (On the Masculinization of Women) follow in increasingly rapid pace, producing such chaotic anarchy that the frustrated and enraged audience throws objects at the projection screen and rips it. (Entr’acte also ends with the destruction of the screen.)
In the tradition of films that reflect on film, this short teaches the public about the making and breaking of a narrative film. By violating all norms of logic and formal organization, Filmkleberin lampoons and challenges these norms, including censorship, the ultimate norm that determines what can be seen and what not. – ANTON KAES
Allerlei Volksbelustigungen in Java (Various Popular Entertainments in Java) (DE 1928)
Focusing on traditional Javanese leisure activities, Allerlei Volksbelustigungen is the 5th installment of the series Aus dem holländischen Insel-Indien produced by the Ufa Kulturabteilung. The film was directed by Lola Kreutzberg, a former veterinarian who became a pioneer of films and photobooks on animals, nature, and exotic life in the 1920s.
The “adventurer” cameraman was a well-known figure in film and photography scene of the 1920s, represented in Germany by filmmakers such as Colin Ross (director of Mit dem Kurbelkasten um die Erde, 1924). Kreutzberg was one of the few women to occupy the role, but she had forerunners in female travel lecturers from the late 19 th century, such as Esther Lyons in the U.S. Kreutzberg was also very well known in the Weimar cultural scene. For example, the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung ran a series of her travel reports in 1926, the same year that the Bauhaus artist Marianne Brandt created a photomontage entitled Miss Lola. But Kreutzberg’s work was not without its critics; for example, the left-wing film society Volksverband für Filmkunst (members of which had a hand in several activist films from our 3rd program) had this to say in a 1930 review of her work: “In her trip to the colonies, Lola Kreutzberg saw only the exotic aspects of colonial life. She saw nothing of the struggle of this oppressed people, their misery and poverty, their oppression by a colonial system.”
Allerlei Volksbelustigungen is one several films Kreutzberg made for the Ufa in the late 1920s, before founding her own company Lola Kreutzberg-Film G.m.b.H., which would produce dozens of travel and expedition films up to 1932. The film embodies some of the contradictions surrounding her work. In many ways, this is a typical colonial documentary, in which an omniscient narrator explains the customs of a ‘foreign’ people for Western audiences. But the film is also remarkable for being made by a woman, and many of the motifs (puppets, shadow play, etc.) resonate with the work of other female artists (Lotte Pritzel, Lotte Reiniger) featured in this program. -MICHAEL COWAN
Menschenkräfte und ihre Schonung (Human Strength and its Conservation) . (DE 1929)
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the understanding of human body was transformed by the field of work science. Most often associated with Frederick Winslow Taylor’s brand of “scientific management,” work science treated the body as a “human motor” (in Anson Rabinbach’s memorable phrase) to be rationalized down to the most minute gestures. This mechanization of the body, decried in films such as Metropolis and lampooned in Chaplin’s Modern Times, was deeply bound up with the development of chronophotography and film more broadly, since the latter were used to visualize, measure and re-train the movements of working bodies (e.g. in the studies of Frank and Lilian Gilbreth).
Work science was thus a natural topic for Kulturfilm in the 1920s. Produced by the Ufa Kulturabteilung in 1929, Menschenkräfte und ihre Schonung showcases the work of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Work Science) in Dortmund, one of the many laboratories dedicated to the rationalization of working bodies and the minimization of fatigue. The film employs the standard iconography of laboratory life in the late 1920s (e.g. male test subjects in white underwear), as well as many of the typical stylistic devices of late-1920s Kulturfilm, such as prismatic images (pioneered by Guido Seeber) and animation to elicit a vision of the body as machine. The screenplay was written by Nicholas Kaufmann, a medical specialist at the Ufa Kulturabteilung who oversaw the production of Pulsierende Lebenssäfte included in our first program.- MICHAEL COWAN
3. THE SOCIAL QUESTION
Polizeibericht Überfall (Police Report: Assault) (DE 1929)
To see the film, click here.
Included in an influential 1995 collection of historical avant-garde films, Ernö Metzner’s 22- minute short film Polizeibericht Überfall was not shown in Germany in its own day. The Berlin censorship board called it a “criminal film” and banned it in 1929 for its “brutal and demoralizing effect.” The British avant-garde film journal Close Up called the German censor’s ban “incomprehensible” and published the official ruling, which claimed that “the film might induce a person to commit crimes.” Metzner, the Austrian-Hungarian director who had made two propaganda films for the Social Democratic Party before this film, responded to the ban by arguing the film was not at all about crime but about the pervasive fear that had gripped German society in the waning years of the Weimar Republic, as the traumatic collapse of the economy threatened the material base of ordinary life.
The film captures the centrality of money in its first few shots by focusing on a coin in the middle of the road. A passerby is struck down by a car as he tries to retrieve it, but another destitute passerby picks it up and wants to exchange it for cigarettes – except the coin turns out to be counterfeit. Undeterred, the unnamed protagonist uses it for gambling and amasses huge winnings. As he leaves the gambling den, he is pursued by a thug out to rob him, but he finds refuge in a prostitute’s apartment only to be robbed by her pimp. When the man is thrown out into the street, he is assaulted by the waiting brute with a blow to the head, sending him into a tailspin of multiple flashbacks consisting of unending circulation and exchange of coins. Although the film shares its gritty urban, realistic setting with Weimar’s street films, this extended hallucinatory dream sequence moves it closer Hans Richter’s avant-garde film Inflation (1928), which also seeks to visualize the irrational power of money through surreal distortions and double-exposures of the human body, using mirrors and prismatic lenses to convey the senseless reproduction of money.
Police Report: Assault ends with a question on its final title card: “Who is guilty of the crime?” The answer is given by a close-up of the coin in the center of the frame, rapidly spinning around. It is the coin, i.e. the capitalist money economy itself that is responsible for crime, greed and the commodification of everything. The film uses its narrative to reflect on the nexus of capitalism, gambling, prostitution and crime as signifiers of modernity. It also suggests the futility of resistance – the counterfeit coin ends up again in the street and will start another cycle. Echoing the educational aims of the Kulturfilm genre, this short essay film seeks to enlighten the spectator about the deeper causes of the social question, relating it not only to the Weimar Republic but to the capitalist system as such and its assault on human existence. –ANTON KAES
Markt in Berlin (Open-air Market in Berlin) (DE 1929)
Wilfried Basse’s experimental documentary Markt in Berlin begins with a title card: “The big city of Berlin is not only dominated by tempo and traffic; there is also idyllic small-town life even in the hustle and bustle of Berlin West.” First shown in November 1929, two years after Walter Ruttmann’s famed feature-length documentary Berlin. Die Sinfonie der Großstadt, this short film offers a corrective to Ruttmann’s expansive view of the metropolis of “tempo and traffic.” Markt in Berlin is confined to a single square that holds a weekly food market which, for half a day, brings together city and countryside, vendors and shoppers, old and young, wealthy and poor – a social microcosm of ordinary people interacting and exchanging goods and money. In the midst of the market, a policeman oversees the orderly circulation of the anonymous crowd.
Employing the latest optical technology, Basse uses time-lapse to compress the set- up time of the market in the early morning hours and quick cuts to shorten the clean-up in the afternoon. The vacant Wittenbergplatz comes to life for a few hours and returns to its quietness as soon as the activity is over. Extreme high angle shots miniaturize the market, rendering it like a movie set being erected and put away again. The market activities themselves are animated by a handheld camera that is constantly moving, panning, tilting and searching for faces, hands, glances and gestures, often in close-ups. Reminiscent of street photography, this aesthetic of random encounters, fleeting transactions and coincidences, unplanned but revealing moments—what Kracauer would call “the flow of life”—was made possible by a new compact camera, the Kinamo, the smallest and most portable movie camera yet. A Kinamo was spring-operated and held only 25-meter cassettes for one minute of film, with an average shot length of 7 meters (or 3-5 seconds). Joining the shoppers unseen, being jostled and its view often blocked, the Kinamo observed and recorded unscripted life as it unfolded in front of it. The camera also featured a new fast lens, the Zeiss Sonnar 1.4, whose technical advance motivated Basse to devote a short experimental film to it, “Mit Optik 1.4,” which he reportedly showed to Dziga Vertov on his visit to Berlin in 1931.
Markt in Berlin was first presented – along with Joris Ivens’ short documentary De Brug, also shot with a Kinamo – in November 1929 as part of the international “Film und Foto” exhibition that showcased the state of the arts in film and photography worldwide. Organized by the Deutscher Werkbund (with the participation of Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter and Siegfried Giedion), the exhibition propagated what was called “Neues Sehen” (New Vision), which promoted the idea that a mechanical lens would reveal aspects of reality not seen by the human eye. In its vertiginous perspectives, magnification of details, and manipulation of time and space, Markt in Berlin exemplified this new school of technology-mediated perception.
Only a month after this experiment in Neues Sehen was screened, a longer Kulturfilm version with 22 didactic title cards, now called Wochenmarkt am Wittenbergplatz, was approved and used henceforth because the inclusion of a certified Kulturfilm reduced a movie theater’s entertainment tax. — ANTON KAES
Blutmai 1929 (Blood May 1929) (DE 1929)
Blutmai 1929 (aka Kampfmai or, in a longer version, 1. Mai – Weltfeiertag der Arbeiterklasse) is a short documentary of the bloody May Day demonstrations in Berlin on May 1, 1929, when police battled Communist demonstrators who defied a ban on public gatherings. 33 civilians were killed by the police over three days of rioting, 200 injured, and thousands arrested. The Communists blamed the Police chief, a Social Democrat, for the fatal outcome that irreparably deepened the rift between the two workers’ parties, SPD and KPD, thus dividing and weakening the Left’s opposition to the Nazis’ rise to power.
This agit-prop documentary follows what Sergei Tretjakow called “operative art” in which film and photography do not seek to portray an elusive objective reality, but rather offer a partisan argument. Soviet film propaganda methods were tirelessly promoted by Willy Münzenberg’s influential Communist media conglomerate that included the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung, a tabloid for socialist workers, and Prometheus, a proletarian film distribution and production company that prospered after the sensational German success of Sergei Eisensteins Potemkin in 1926. Phil Jutzi was involved in this venture, preparing Soviet films for German distribution and working as cameraman in German-Soviet co- productions. He soon established himself as a leading director of proletarian film with the semi-documentary film Hunger in Waldenburg and the feature film Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück. Jutzi was also responsible for the documentary Blutmai 1929 which involved a number of cameramen positioned on rooftops and behind windows in the communist parts of Berlin, where street fights and police violence were widely expected. Jutzi edited the footage by adding explanatory intertitles and narrative closure with a funeral for the fallen comrades as well as an appearance by Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the KPD.
The film makes use of stylistic features from the Russian and German film avant- garde. Taking its cue from Vertov’s Kino-Eye, it includes no fictional actors, no screenplay and no unifying perspective. Instead, the hand-held mobile camera produces unsteady, jittery images from radically different perspectives, at one moment plunging us in the midst of the action, and at another affording us a god’s-eye view of the battlefield. The unconventional angles from the rooftops make people running from the police look like ants scurrying in all directions. The abrupt shifts of perspective and angles also suggest that the action is too volatile and uncontrollable to be fully captured even by multiple cameras. Close-ups of helmeted police beating unarmed civilians provide evidence less of individual violent assaults than of the irreconcilable antagonism between mortal enemies. Inserts of slogans and newspaper headlines are also used to involve spectators intellectually and to provide a critical perspective on how events were portrayed by the mainstream press. The last title “Wake up, Damned of the Earth,” is the first line of The International and meant as a call for action. Frustrated by the Communist Party, Jutzi became a member of the NSDAP in 1933 and died in poverty in 1945. -ANTON KAES
Zeitprobleme. Wie der Arbeiter wohnt (Contemporary Problems: How the Worker Lives) (DE 1930)
To see the film, click here
Slatan Dudow was 27 years old when he made this short film about contemporary housing problems of the Berlin working class in 1930. Born in Bulgaria, he had moved to Berlin in 1922 and became part of its vibrant leftist theater scene, working with Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht. Zeitprobleme was Dudow’s debut film and the first in a planned but unrealized series of short documentaries about Berlin’s working class – an answer to Ufa’s mainstream newsreels that systematically ignored the proletariat. Dudow’s film was produced by Kartell Weltfilm, which specialized in non-commercial production and distribution of proletarian-revolutionary propaganda films for KPD campaigns and meetings. Founded in 1928, Weltfilm was part of a complex web of proletarian mass media (the so- called Münzenberg Trust) that also promoted the import of films by Eisenstein, Pudowkin, and Vertov. Dudow, who visited Moscow in 1929, made his short in the “Russian style,” using juxtaposition and sharp contrast to promote class consciousness.
The first title card assures the audience of the film’s authenticity, declaring that it emerged from the midst of the housing misery that condemns workers and children to live in dark and damp basement rooms and known breeding grounds for tuberculosis. The camera documents various aspects of proletarian life in realistic images, from the unemployment office to children playing with water. Although the film tries to capture the milieu through an abundance of panning and tilting shots, there are some remarkable contemplative moments when Dudow presents haunting portraits of workers and children. They echo August Sanders’ photographs of ordinary people and also exemplify a kind of proletarian photography promoted by the journal Der Arbeiter-Fotograf around the same time. The various episodes, stitched together with the help of intertitles, represent mostly variations of static comparisons of ostentatious wealth with unimaginable poverty.
Only toward the end, a barebones narrative emerges that is staged: a young unemployed worker’s family is evicted because they are unable to pay the rent. The father tries to stop the eviction but is taken away by the police. Intercut with the suffering family is the grinning face of a wealthy landlord, shot in dehumanizing extreme close-ups. There is no dialogue or even spatial or temporal proximity between them, only mutual contempt and animosity, underscored by the harsh cross-cutting. In the film’s last few minutes, in a tightly- framed shot, pieces of broken furniture are piling up, highlighting the mechanical inhumanity of such an eviction. The last intertitle states: “This is not a solution.” The film thus invited discussion about questions that go beyond the story. Dudow himself offered a solution in his next film, Kuhle Wampe oder wem gehört die Welt (1932), an experimental feature film written by Bertolt Brecht, which followed the principles of Epic Theater and became a model for Jean-Luc Godard and the political cinema in the 1960s. –ANTON KAES
Zwei Welten (Two Worlds) (DE 1930)
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Zwei Welten is an election propaganda short commissioned by the Social Democratic Party for the pivotal national election on September 14, 1930 which, in retrospect, sealed the fate of the Weimar Republic. The worsening economy and the unstable government helped the National Socialist German Workers’ Party to increase their number of seats in the Reichstag from 12 to 107, while the Communist Party gained 23 seats to become the third-largest party with 77 seats. The SPD lost 10 seats but remained the largest party with 143 seats.
In this short film, which passed the censorship board barely three weeks before the election, the SPD presents itself as a socialist alternative to capitalism as well as fascism – despite the fact that the KPD accused the SPD of “social fascism.” Berlin’s SPD usurps the KPD’s radical binary view according to which there are two worlds -- the wealthy and glamorous leisure class in Berlin-South and the destitute working class in Berlin North, unemployed, demoralized, and portrayed as victims of the other class. The film uses parallel-cutting in the manner of D.W. Griffith’s 1909 social class drama A Corner in Wheat, in which an industrialist’s greed to corner the wheat market is juxtaposed with the plight of farmers who no longer can afford to buy bread. Contrasting tropes of privilege and poverty were also popular in Soviet film, most graphically in Yakov Bliokh’s Das Dokument von Shanghai (The Shanghai Document), which was edited by Albrecht Viktor Blum (see his Wasser und Wogen in the first program) and shown in Germany in 1928. Here the parallel editing sets the hard labor of disempowered natives harshly against the decadent idleness of European and Chinese elites.
In a similar way, Werner Hochbaum, a Hamburg-based filmmaker associated with the SPD, crosscuts between the affluent class playing tennis and golf outdoors and the unemployed proletariat confined to their dark and cramped living quarters. The relationship between the disconnected two worlds is established by parallel montage based on contrast and opposition. The difference is not explained through a narrative about historical roots and causes – the film merely presents unchanging caricatures of either side. This ahistorical approach allows Hochbaum to lift whole sequences dealing with the proletariat from his first feature film Brüder (Brothers) of 1929 and repurpose them in this election short. (Although Brüder is similarly fond of binaries by setting one brother, a revolutionary, against the other, a policeman, the narrative allows for nuances and ambiguities.)
Zwei Welten employs a hybrid film style that alternates between documentary milieu shots of the proletariat and staged scenes of the wealthy class, culminating in passages in which the film addresses the spectator. Most remarkable is the satirical scene in which an industrialist attaches a swastika armband over his military uniform and struts in front of his mistress. After the incendiary title relating to capitalists – “They only know one God: profit. And they want to sacrifice you to it!” — a stretched-out index finger reaches out repeatedly to the spectator: “You all decide between dictatorship or democracy!” Promises of work and a happy future are illustrated with found footage shots of smokestacks, agricultural work, modern housing, and school children. Ballots rain down and a final title appears: “Vote for Social Democrats.” Less than three years later, the Nazis banned both KPD and SPD. -ANTON KAES
4. HOW TO BE MODERN
Das Kreuzworträtsel im Film, Nr. 3 (Crossword Puzzle in Film, no. 3) (DE 1926)
Das Kreuzworträtsel im Film, also known as Rebus-Film, was a series of 8 animated crossword puzzles created by the team of director Paul Leni, pioneering cinematographer Guido Seeber and screenplay-writer Hans Brennert between 1925 and 1927. Each installment in the series consisted of a “clues” section (usually shown before the feature film each night) and a shorter “answers” section (shown at the end of the week). Players received puzzle cards to write on with their tickets. The third installment is the only known German version to survive at the Bundesarchiv (though there is also a surviving English- language re-edit of Rebus Film Nr. 1).
As the title Rebus-Film suggests, these films could draw on a long tradition of visual puzzles stretching back into 19 th century print culture (where rebuses with reader contests were a fixture of many subscription magazines). But the project was also riding the wave of “crossword mania” that began in the US in the 1910s and moved to Germany in 1925 when the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung published the first crossword puzzle in German (a phenomenon also referenced in Wenn die Filmkleberin gebummelt hat). As the clues for this film suggest, crosswords quickly became a symbol of “Americanist” modernity (alongside jazz, chorus lines and Fordism). In particular, they seemed to embody the experience of “simultaneous” impressions intersecting randomly in a world increasingly saturated with sounds, images, information and mass media.
The film series is also interesting for aesthetic reasons, as Seeber was able to employ some of his signature trick techniques. Notable are the so-called “simultaneous images,” a kind of on-screen prismatic collage of simultaneous shots created with the use of masks and multiple exposures. Seeber described the technique, which was adapted from his own pioneering work in doppelgänger cinematography of the 1910s (e.g. Der Student von Prag, 1913), in detail in his book Der Trickfilm in seinen grundsätzlichen Möglichkeiten (1927).
It should be noted that this was not the only animated crossword to be made in the mid-1920s. For example, the editors of the French Cinémagazine reported on an American theater that screened a filmic crossword puzzle each day of the week in 1925. The Viennese magazine Mein Film also ran a ‘puzzle film’ contest in 1927, in which readers had to solve 8 crossword puzzles for a chance to appear in a locally produced film, which itself contained embedded puzzle elements for audiences to solve. For the screening, we have reconstructed the original puzzle card, which works in both German and English. One word (“Mode” – “Fashion”) is already filled in. Don’t forget your pencils! -MICHAEL COWAN
Moderne Knigge im Film. 5. Folge. Umgang mit Messer und Gabel (Modern Etiquette Manual in Film. Episode 5: How to Use a Knife and Fork) (DE 1921)
This film, reminiscent of the pre-war trick film in its use of stop-trick animation, is the sole surviving installment from a series of 6 films about etiquette, which ran in German theaters in 1920 and 1921. The word “Knigge” derives from the name of Adolph Freiherr Knigge, an 18 th -century Freemason whose treatise Über den Umgang mit Menschen (1788) inaugurated the genre of the modern etiquette manual. Subsequently, the term has been used generically to designate self-help books on proper behavior in various domains. As an effort to adapt an instructional self-help genre from page to the screen, Der modern Knigge im Film shared certain traits with other 1920s educational experiments, such as the Lustige Hygiene series (also showing in this program) and the dance instructional films of Franz Koebner (e.g. Tausend Schritte Charleston, 1926). But the Knigge series also belongs within the history of German screen comedy. It was produced by the German-Jewish director Carl Wilhelm, already well known for his comedies with Ernst Lubitsch Die Firma heiratet (The Company Gets Married, 1913) and Der Stoltz der Firma (The Pride of the Company, 1914). And the series employed a lot of jokes and risqué humor. (The first installment, for example, was almost banned for its nude representations of Adam and Eve.)
The scenarios for at least some of the Knigge films were written by Ruth Goetz, a prolific screen writer who worked on over 60 films including Joe May’s hits Veritas vincit (Victorious Truth) and Die Herrin der Welt (The Queen of the World), both from 1919.
KIPHO (Film) (DE 1925)
This film by Guido Seeber has gone into the annals of avant-garde cinema, often under the simple title of Film, on account of its high degree of formalist experimentation and its status as early example of the repurposing of found footage. But Seeber, who was drawing here on techniques he had been honing for some time (e.g. in his famous doppelgänger films of the 1910s), was much more of a technician than a proponent of film art, and he created this film as an extended advertisement for a trade exhibition of the German film industry: the Kipho (Kino- und Photoausstellung) of 1925.
The exhibition, intended to showcase the German national film industry at a time of increasing financial difficulties, was the largest of its kind at the time and included stalls by all the major companies (Ufa, Ernemann, etc.), spectacular models such as the giant mechanical dragon from Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen (1924), a 4000-seat theatre with rotating screenings of acclaimed German films, and a historical exhibition of cinema since 1895 created by Seeber himself.
In many ways, the Kipho film conforms to its function as an exhibition advertisement, showcasing all of the technologies on display in the exhibition (from cameras to drying racks and copy machines). And all of the German films referenced here (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Der letzte Mann, Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit, etc.) were likely the same ones showing in the exhibition’s giant movie theatre. But Kipho does display a self- reflexive and humorous treatment of the film medium that merits its place in the history of the avant-garde alongside later classics such as Bruce Connor’s A Movie (1958)—for example in Seeber’s transformation of Caligari’s terrifying somnambulist spectacle, which his editing turns into a humorous fairground call for the audience to attend the Kipho exhibition. -MICHAEL COWAN
Zwischen Mars und Erde (Between Mars and the Earth) (DE 1925)
This film was produced by the Munich-based film company Emelka as an advertisement for the first German traffic exhibition (Verkehrsausstellung), which took place in Munich from June to October 1925 and attracted over 3 million visitors. The exhibition included sections on ship technologies, rail travel, flight, road construction and automobiles, garage machinery, and the German postal service. There was also a pleasure park with a marionette theatre, a mini-railway for transporting visitors around, and—a feature with relevance for the current film—a radio tower to demonstrate the new technology of wireless transmission.
Though little is known about the film’s director F. Möhl, its crew included the young animator Rudolf Pfenninger, who would go on to create the famous tönende Handschrift (Sounding Handwriting) experiment in hand-drawn film sound for Emelka in 1932. The present film, one of many exhibition advertisements that would have been screened in preliminary programs in cinemas (see also Kipho), tells the comical story of a Martian who travels to Munich. -MICHAEL COWAN
Die Frankfurter Küche (The Frankfurt Kitchen) (DE 1927)
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This film on the kitchen design was part of a series of promotional shorts made by the photographer Paul Wolff in 1927-1928 in the run-up to the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), which took place in Frankfurt am Main in 1929 and featured various demonstrations of mass housing. Other titles included Die Frankfurter Kleinstwohnung (The Frankfurter Small Dwelling), Neues Bauen in Frankfurt am Main (A New Way of Building in Frankfurt am Main) and Die Häuserfabrik der Stadt Frankfurt (The House Factory of the City of Frankfurt). The films were all produced by Humboldtfilm G.m.b.H., a Kulturfilm company that financed numerous films about architecture in the late 1920s, including several in collaboration with Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus (e.g. the four-part series Wie wohnen wir gesund und wirtschaftlich).
Die Frankfurter Küche, for its part, showcases the so-called “Frankfurt Kitchen,” which is still considered as a key forerunner of modern kitchen design. Invented in 1926 by the architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for the housing project “New Frankfurt,” the Frankfurt kitchen was lauded for its low cost, high efficiency, hygienic design and mass reproducibility. Wolff’s film demonstrates these qualities by comparing women at work in “old” and “new” kitchens, and through the use of animated diagrams demonstrating, in Taylorist fashion, the efficiency of labor in the new kitchen. -MICHAEL COWAN
Der Rundfunk auf dem Lande (Radio in the Countryside) (DE 1928)
Rundfunk auf dem Lande is an extended advertisement created by the animator Svend Noldan for Julius Pinschewer’s company Pinschewer A.G. (see also the Pinschewer advertisements accompanying our program) in 1928. The film uses typical caricature animation from the period to show the various imagined uses for radio in rural settings. Noldann was one of the many “trick film” specialists working in the Kulturfilm scene in the 1920s. He also assisted Hans Richter in the making of Rhythmus 21 and would later work on many propaganda films under National Socialism, including Walter Ruttmann’s Blut und Boden. Grundlagen zum neuen Reich (1933). -MICHAEL COWAN
Lustige Hygiene (Comical Hygiene) (DE 1926-1930)
For one episode of the film, see here
In the late 1920s, the Reichsausschuß für hygienische Volksbildung (National Committee for Popular Hygienic Education) commissioned numerous films designed to promote personal health and hygiene among the wider public. “Comical Hygiene” was the title chosen for a series of ten humorous shorts, produced by Opel-Film and Excentric-Film (both specialists for public service films), which screened in German theatres (and likely also educational venues) between 1926 and 1930. Several installments from the series survive today in the Bundesarchiv.
The films narrate the adventures of the animated character Leberecht Klug (i.e. “Live Well and Smart”) and his companion Sanitätsrat Weise (“Medical councilor Wise”), which they use as a springboard for lessons in personal hygiene. For our program, we’ve chosen two installments: one dealing with the treatment of colds and another one showing audiences how to avoid contagion.
The film scripts for Lustige Hygiene were written by Curt Thomalla, a trained neurologist who had built up the Ufa medical film archive in the early years of the Ufa Studio and worked on numerous Kulturfilms throughout the 1920s, including Der Steinachfilm (1922), Die Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer (The Adventures of Maya the Bee, 1925), Falsche Scham (False Shame, 1926) and Das Erwachen des Weibes (The Awakening of Woman, 1927). While the animators of Lustige Hygiene are unknown, the series demonstrate one of the popular animation techniques in much promotional filmmaking in the late 1920s: the so-called “Kombinationsverfahren” (combination process) in which animated figures are composited over live backgrounds. The films also incorporated other typical techniques of popular scientific film (e.g. microscopic images). And as Anja Laukötter has argued, they exemplify a frequent use of animation in medical films to visualize phenomena that were either invisible (i.e. impossible to film in live action) or unshowable (because they would have made audiences uncomfortable). -MICHAEL COWAN
Michael Cowan is a Germanist and a Film and Media scholar based at the University of Iowa. He has published extensively on Weimar film and culture, with a particular interest in the intersections between film, perception, and embodiment. His latest book, Early Film Societies in Germany and Austria, examines the ways in which early film societies emerged from a broader culture of organized leisure to help shape new models of cinematic selfhood. Previous books include Cult of the Will: Nervousness and German Modernity (2008), Technology’s Pulse: Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism (2011), and Walter Ruttmann and the Cinema of Multiplicity (2014).
Anton Kaes is the Class of 1939 Professor of German Literature and Professor of Film and Media at the University of California, Berkeley. His Weimar-related publications include The Weimar Republic Sourcebook (1996, co-edited with Edward Dimendberg and Martin Jay), M (BFI 2001), Shell Shock Cinema: Weimar Culture and the Wounds of War (2009), and The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907–1933 (2016, coedited with Nicholas Baer and Michael Cowan).