THE PROJECT EXPLAINED
The Weimar Republic has recently become Exhibit A for the vulnerability of democracies. The “end of Weimar” is often invoked as a warning against the threat of fascism. But the Weimar Republic has also functioned as the embodiment of a resolutely modern lifestyle, including gender equality and sexual emancipation. And it continues to be celebrated for the spirit of experimentation in the arts that made its short 14-year period one of the richest and most consequential in modern history.
Film was part of this vibrant but contested culture; indeed, it was the central art form. The hundreds of new productions per year provide compelling enactments of an epoch and its society. Filmmakers invented narratives and images that obliquely and often unconsciously responded to the many crises of the struggling republic. To express trauma and paranoia, they devised a film language that is still used in genres such as horror, science fiction, and film noir.
While the study of Weimar cinema may shed light on our own society, the present moment also illuminates aspects of Weimar culture that have only recently come into focus. The reason for this is the radical expansion of the canon through the discovery and restoration of previously unknown or forgotten materials. Archives are now exhibiting more complete versions of familiar films as well as lesser known productions in a variety of venues and on multiple platforms. The availability of so much new material from the Weimar Republic has contributed to an increasingly nuanced picture of the period. We can now say with certainty that there is no direct path from Caligari to Hitler, as Siegfried Kracauer famously claimed in 1947.
The website WeimarCinema.org is designed to foster and inspire new scholarship about Weimar cinema. Under the heading RESEARCH, we provide an overview of current publications (for the moment restricted to work done in Germany and the United States), including online blogs and websites. websites. We also look forward to publishing multimedia essays written or adapted for this website.
WeimarCinema.org also offers a variety of tools for archival research. RESOURCES concentrates on written materials about cinema either in print or digitized form, while REDISCOVERIES highlights recent discoveries and, in some cases, restorations of films that had been considered to be lost. Many of these films have been shown at silent film festivals or are available online; a growing number of them come in lavishly produced DVD or Blu-ray editions that can be used for teaching, research, or private viewing.
The archive plays a central role in our project, not as a physical site but (following Michel Foucault in his Archaeology of Knowledge) as a discursive space that establishes the possibility of what can be said at a given time. For us, an archive is a rich repository of possible futures of film—futures that are latent until activated by the present. This website offers opportunities to browse archival materials that wait to be discovered and brought into dialogue with the present. It also is a virtual space in which film historians, film theorists, and film archivists speak to each other.
WeimarCinema.org has its roots in the sourcebook The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907- 1933, edited by Anton Kaes, Nicholas Baer and Michael Cowan and published by the University of California Press in 2016. In this book, the editors gathered and curated more than 250 historical documents that contemplate the nature and function of the new medium of film, its promise and potential. The book’s media-archaeological approach opened up past debates to current discussions about new media and sought to reconsider what cinema was when it began. For more about the sourcebook, click here.
The book publication was accompanied by an eponymous website with additional resources as well as several original essays. The present website incorporates the Promise of Cinema site to provide a media- historical foundation for the study of Weimar film. In EXPLORATIONS, we propose to read Weimar cinema through the lens of historical film theory—an open-ended and dynamic “theory” that is curious about the film medium’s unrealized possibilities. This section draws on translated texts found in The Promise of Cinema. In DOSSIERS, we want to continue our archaeological work by unearthing forgotten or lesser known documents that enhance our understanding of Weimar cinema’s engagement with social and political issues.
WeimarCinema.org provides a networked, multimedia approach to the past that is still our present. We plan to post periodic updates and to release an edition with new content and essays in spring 2023. It remains to be seen if this hybrid of film journal and website has a future. Unlike a print publication, a website is a permanent work in progress, open to revisions, new perspectives, and collaboration. A dedicated website also gives us the chance to experiment with new ways of sharing resources and of participating in an international research community. For ideas, suggestions, and contributions to the project, please contact us here.