Description & Reviews

Rich in implications for today’s seismic changes in media, The Promise of Cinema offers a compelling new vision of film theory—not as a fixed body of canonical texts, but as a dynamic set of reflections on the very idea of cinema and the possibilities associated with it. This groundbreaking collection unearths a vast array of mostly unknown German texts from the early twentieth century, letting the period speak in its own voice and placing the reader in a world striving to assimilate modernity’s most powerful new medium. Lesser-known essays by Béla Balázs, Walter Benjamin, and Siegfried Kracauer appear alongside interventions from the realms of aesthetics, education, industry, politics, science, and technology. The book also features programmatic writings from the Weimar avant -garde and from directors such as Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. Nearly all the documents appear in English for the first time, each one meticulously introduced and annotated. The most comprehensive collection of German writings on film published to date, The Promise of Cinema is an essential resource for students and scholars of film and media, critical theory, and European history and culture.

The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory, 1907-1933 is available through the University of California Press and Amazon. Some university libraries may also carry it under license as an e-book.

Editorial Reviews

“The film pioneers Fritz Lang and Hans Richter would be thrilled by the texts in this rich book. As for me, it motivates me toward the possibility of a film art in the twenty-first century. One day the ‘promise of cinema’ will be redeemed. ‘Utopia gets better and better while we’re waiting for it.’”

—Alexander Kluge, author and filmmaker

“A treasure trove of insights and ideas, this collection of German essays on the cinema, from its origins to the rise of the Third Reich, offers a kaleidoscope of speculation rather than a coherent body of theory, attempting less to define the nature of cinema than to glimpse its multiple possibilities and promises. Far from gathering a dusty archive of the cinema’s past, this book uncovers the excitement cinema generated as the art form of modernity. The major theorists — Kracauer, Balázs, Benjamin, Arnheim and Eisner — are here as well as filmmakers like Lang, Murnau, Lubitsch, Moholy-Nagy, Ruttmann, Richter, and Reiniger. But perhaps most invaluable, the book assembles views of the cinema by the intellectuals, journalists, cameramen, poets, film stars, novelists, architects and composers who made German modernity perhaps the most complex and fascinating of all the modern movements. Reading through these witnesses to cinema when it was a new medium may teach us much about the promises offered by our current period of transition and transformation. Film studies may take years to digest the richness this volume contains — and I believe it will never be quite the same afterwards.”

—Tom Gunning, University of Chicago

“Opening entirely new pathways to the research and teaching of German film culture, this carefully edited sourcebook reveals the fantastic wealth of early ideas and thoughts on cinema.”

—Gertrud Koch, Freie Universität, Berlin

“Page after page, a vibrant debate, previously lost in archives, comes to life again. An impressive portrait, depicted with strokes of love, hate, hope, disillusion, unfolds before our eyes. After this book, our idea of what cinema was—and is—will no longer be the same.”

—Francesco Casetti, Yale University

“An indispensable and revelatory resource for all who are exploring the political and aesthetic genealogy of the media culture we inhabit today.”

—Jonathan Crary, Columbia University

“This remarkable collection appearing at this historical moment invites us to think about cinema before its first German theorists knew what it might become, just as we wonder what the cinema will become today as it transforms itself all over again.”

—Jane M. Gaines, Columbia University

“Any form of memory worthy of the term ought to address the future even more than the past. The great strength of this collection lies in its ability to make one century speak to another, thereby evoking the future of film today.”

—Raymond Bellour, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III

Reviews and Awards

  • Review by Noah Isenberg in Film Comment, issue 52-1 (January - February 2016)

  • In May 2016, the book is named “Film Book of the Month” on Hans Helmut Prinzler's blog site

  • In December 2016, in a roundup of Best Film Books of 2016 (Huffington Post 12/1/2016), reviewer Thomas Gladysz names it “the film book of the year.”

  • Review by Jan-Christopher Horak in UCLA Film and Television Archive Blog (July 2016). German version of Horak's review published in Filmblatt (2017)

  • Review by Alexander Erik Larsen in The Moving Image vol. 17/Number 1, Spring 2017

  • Review (in Spanish) by Breixo Viejo in Secuencuias 45 /2017.

  • Review by Angelos Koutsourakismin this Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory (2017)

  • In May 2017, The Promise of Cinema wins the 41st annual Limina Award for Best International Film Studies Book, awarded by the Filmforum Udine-Gorizia in association with Consulta Universitaria del Cinema and Cinema & Cie: International Film Studies Journal.

  • In October 2017, The Promise of Cinema wins Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection from the Society of Cinema and Media Studies

  • Review by Thomas O. Haakenson in German Studies Review vo. 41, number 2, May 2018.


  • Regina Longo, Interview with the editors of The Promise of Cinema, in Film Quarterly 69, Spring 2016, pp. 96-101.