Essay title: How can the films produced during the years of the Weimar Republic be seen to reflect prevailing societal conditions?
Table of contents:
2. Post-war period (1918-1924)
3. Period of stabilisation (1924-1929)
4. Pre-fascistic era (1930-1933)
5. Conclusions: Weimar Cinema – The acceptable side of the GermanZeitgeist?
In the following I will examine how films during the Weimar Republic can be seen to mirror actual societal conditions. On account of this I have split the Weimar Republic into three periods (Post-war period, the period of stabilisation and the pre-fascistic era). I have given particular importance to the first period, during which a significant amount ofoutstanding films were produced. I chose to begin each point with a short summary of the historical facts to give the reader a better understanding of the societal conditions of that period. Taking these three periods into account, I will be able to state if and to what extent Weimar films mirror the prevailing societal conditions.
2. The post-war period
After Germany lost World War I in 1918it was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. This treaty was perceived in Germany as a humiliation. The Weimar Constitution was formally proclaimed with its signing on 11th August 1919. The new parliamentary democracy lacked the support of a large proportion of the German population from the outset. Therefore it was under attack both from a radical right-wing (Dolchstoßlegende)and radical left-wing movement (Spartakusbund).
First of all I would like to refer to Sabine Hake’s (author of German National Cinema) definition of Weimar culture:
The culture of the big city and nostalgia for traditional communities; the fascination with all things American and campaigns against foreign influences and racial others, and female emancipation and sexual liberation and retreat toauthoritarian models and all-male groups.
Hake draws attention to the wave of Sittenfilme which came out after the war. In her opinion these films responded to the changing attitudes toward sexuality (emancipation and sexual liberation) and revealed growing insecurities about new gender roles. The first film about homosexuality Anders als die anderen (1919) for instance took a clear politicalstance by speaking out against Clause 175, which criminalised homosexuality (p.33). She calls attention to two famous studies made by Siegfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner, which have profoundly influenced the scholarly reception of the period. In Kracauer’s book From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947) he examines the films for the prevailing psychologicaldispositions within Germany after the First World War. Hauke claims that Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari (1920) is often described as the quintessential expressionist film. Hake reasons that expressionistic films have to be approached on two levels.
A narrative element and a particular atmosphere, a mood, that points to a profound crisis of identity in modern mass society.
She argues thaton the first level we find interest in transgression, madness and rebellion alongside fascination with ambiguity, difference and otherness which are not always free of racial stereotyping, as evidenced by the negative depiction of Jewish or Jewish-looking characters as the embodiment of otherness in Nosferatu and the Golem films. In the second sense, Hake reasons that internal conflicts andambivalences are projected on to an external world that has become foreign and strange, a process that finds expression in the destabilisation of the subject at the centre of the narrative; hence the many overlaps with the horror genre.
She explains that the haunting story of the mysterious Caligari and his medium, the somnambulist Cesare, has been read as symptomatic of the unstable social and...