Weimar Cinema (1918-1933)

weimar cinema - MOMA film exhibition

The cinema of the Weimar Republic has had an enormous influence on international perceptions of German film. This first German democratic state, which at the end of the First World War succeeded the imperial regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II, enabled film to emerge as a socially significant art form both despite and because of economic, political, and civil crises. An exceptionally high number of German productions from this Golden Age of cinematography have been accepted into the canon of international film history.

The 1920s were the golden years of cinema for the entire film industry. The fact that films were silent, or at least had no dialogue, as they almost always had musical accompaniment, meant films could be distributed worldwide and allowed their stars to become internationally recognized. artistic works per year. The first major step was the establishment of the nationally subsidized film conglomerate UFA by government decree in 1917. UFA was Germany’s national film company, both in self-image and in market dominance. With close connections to the state, the Deutsche Bank and conservative financing groups, UFA dominated the German film industry from 1917 to 1945. Never before and never again did one German film company bring together such a wealth of stars and artists while simultaneously gaining such power and influence.

The general impression on UFA is that it monopolized German cinema during the 20s and 30s. But during the 20s it functioned more as a distributor Age. In the creatively changed atmosphere of Weimar Republic, where national censorship was abolished in early 1919 by the Council of People’s Representatives, the new freedom of expression manifested itself most immediately in a series of pornographic films. The only significant effect reinstitute state censorship through the Reich Film Act in May 1920. It was this act which would later enable the Nazis to assert ideological control over the German cinema.

The German films of this great era were of two types: either fantastic and mystical or realistic and psychological. One was developed in the traditional German romanticism of love and death, the other revealed the new German intellectual currents of Freud and Weber. In the film of fantasy, the action revolves around the occult, the mysterious, the metaphysical. These are films of fantastic monsters in human dress, of the kingdom beyond grave, of dream kingdoms of past and of the future. The German architect-painters devoted their imaginations to turn these uncanny, supernatural, abstract, and intangible regions into concrete, visual domains. In the psychological film, the action revolves around the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, their needs, their passions, their frustrations. Unlike the fantasy films, which are inevitably set in some romantic time and place, the psychological films are set in a miserable and seemingly middle class present.

Fantastic and Mystical

Kriemhild and Brunhild after Siegfrid’s death in Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924)

The German cinema of the silent era is defined to be fantastic. The dark, demonic, haunted and somehow profoundly irrational character of this tradition was linked to a particular social and political meaning. Fantastic films were the direct expressions of the ambition and desire of middle and lower middle class that sought escape in the cinema because their real prospects were so limited. Moreover being chosen by fate and chance for social success was itself a distorted version of class struggle. An individual solution was offered by the film, while the question of the whole class or group was blocked off and suppressed.

The films of the German fantastic cinema seem to encode in their encounter with the social reality of the Weimar Republic not the street-battles, inflation, unemployment, but something else which is also historical. In these films, the history returns in the form of the uncanny and fantastic. In recovering the historical dimension of the uncanny motif, the emergence of the machine is important. But more important than this is the changing relations of production, especially as they affect artists and intellectuals, thrown into the market with their products, and finding there that they no longer control the modes of reproduction and distribution of their works.

Das Kabinett Des Dr. Caligari and studio films

Das Kabinett Des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), which signals the start of the new German era in 1919, appropriately combined both the mystical and the psychological. The script was anti-authoritarian, almost rebellious, in its equation of power and madness. It was written by a Czech poet, Hans Janowitz, and a young Austrian artist Carl Mayer in late 1918. They submitted the scenario to Erich Pommer, chief executive of Decla-Bioscop (an independent production company which was to merge with UFA in 1922) and it was immediately accepted. It is not clear whether Pommer understood the script’s radical nature, but he saw it as an opportunity to raise the quality of the artistic content of his studio’s films. Initially, the young Austrian director Fritz Lang was assigned to the project but was replaced by Robert Wiene. However, against the authors’ violent objections, Lang convinced Pommer to add a Rahmenhandlung (framing story) to the film which inverted its meaning: Francis is made the narrator of the tale and introduced as a madman in an asylum which, we discover at the film’s conclusion, is operated by the benevolent Dr. Caligari himself. Lang thought that the reality frame would heighten the Expressionist elements of the mise-en-scène, but it also transforms the body of the film from an anti-authoritarian fable into the portrayal of a paranoid hallucination, which ultimately justifies and glorifies the very authority it was intended to destroy.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (1920)

The surprise at the end of the film is our discovery that the tale we assumed to be one of horror and of superhuman powers is really the product of the imagination of a subhuman brain, a paranoid’s fantasy, a mad man’s hatred of his doctor. The world of the film is the product of Francis’s subjective vision, not of the director’s objective one. Robert Wiene, Caligari’s director, has intentionally used the decor of that film in a perpetual war against nature. The striking effect of the film’s design (by Warm, Röhring, and Reimann) is not just the unnatural feel of it. Walls, floors, and ceilings bear a structurally impossible relationship to one another; buildings so constructed could never stand. Skin, that soft and flexible material of nature, becomes hardened and frozen with paint. Windows are painted in distorted and impossible shapes. And most unnatural of all, the world of Caligari is a world without sunlight. Shadows of light and dark, light beams where sun would normally cast its shadow, have been painted on the sets. By using paint to make shadow where the sun would normally make, the fact that no sun exists was emphasized. The outdoor scenes feel as if they were shot indoors and they were. Here was the perfect use of the studio film. The intentional unnaturalness of the film is so remarkable that it is difficult to tell if the acting is intentionally or unintentionally stilled. It is expressionistically appropriate.

The film has a clear relevance to antagonism of bureaucracy. Wiene make fun of the police and the authorities with their ridiculously high, skinny desks and their red-tape insistence that the hypnotist obtain a permit to perform at the fair, which was essentially a permit to murder. The insane asylum that the doctor heads is yet another bureaucratic enterprise with its procedures, methods and assistants. A bureaucratic institution is no better than another. When Dr. Caligari asked for a permit to put up his tent-show, the town clerk and his subordinates treated him in a crude, humiliating and insulting manner. This scene transmits to the spectator an identifiable experience of the arbitrary and disrespectful behavior that a militarist bureaucracy, which is what the civil service was even during the Weimar Republic, displayed toward civilians.

The production of Caligari marked the beginning of the German cinema’s great decade. This era was to be characterized by films which, like Caligari, were completely studio-made, and by intense admiration for the German studio product all over the world. Emphasis on studio production seems to be a very important aesthetic quality of the German cinema between 1919 and 1924, and it withered away by the end of the silent period. The emphasis on studio production seems to have stemmed less from economic considerations, as it did in Hollywood, than from aesthetic ones. German directors found that they could exercise complete authority over every aspect of the film-making process when they worked in the controlled environment of the studio, as they could not when they worked on location. As a result, between 1919 and 1927 UFA became the largest and best equipped studio in the Western world.The UFA style of architectural composition and pictorial lighting was becoming an end in itself, and the sheer extravagance of its productions had substantially diminished the studio’s economic stability.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (1920) - movie poster

The dependence of the German film on the attraction of its visual elements led to its becoming completely a studio product. The only way to make sure that the lighting, the decor, the architectural shapes, the relationship of blacks and whites and grays were perfect was to film in a completely controlled environment. Even outdoor scenes were shot inside the four walls and ceiling of a studio. The vastness, the freedom of the outdoors that had become one of the sources of power of both the American and Swedish film was rejected by the Germans. The result was not only a perfect control of style and decor but also a feeling of claustrophobia that enhanced the mood of many of the best films, which were also claustrophobic in their content. The totally studio-produced film emphasized the importance of the designer, whose job was to decorate enormous indoor cities. The designers came to films from painting and, especially, from architecture, having absorbed the styles of many of the new artistic movements of postwar Europe: Expressionism, Cubism, other forms of abstraction. The German film could never have exerted its influence without its talented painter-architect designers, the most notable of whom were Herman Warm, Walter Röhring, Walter Reimann, Robert Herlth, Albin Grau, and Ërno Metzner.

Caligari had a great influence on other film-makers, not only in Germany, but in France, where Caligarism inspired many of the early avant-garde experiments in abstract cinema, in film as painting-in-motion rather than as realistic narrative of natural events in natural settings. In terms of its set design, its psychological examination and thematic ambiguity, its depressed subject matter, and its interpretation of the internal and subjective through the external and the objective, Caligari had an immense influence upon German films which followed it.

Between 1919 and 1924 many successors to Caligari appeared upon the German screen. Most of these Schauerfilme (films of fantasy and terror) used horrific story lines and Expressionist decors to embody the theme of the human soul in search of itself. Some representative titles are: F.W Murnau’s Der Januskopf (The Two-Faced Man, 1920 -adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Paul Wegener’s remake of Der Golem (1920), Arthur Robison’s Schatten (Warning Shadows, 1923), Robert Wiene’s Raskolnikov (1923) - a version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment), Paul Leni’s Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924), and Henrik Galeen’s remake of Der Student von Prag (1926). All of Caligari’s spiritual descendants were technically proficient and were designed excellently, but two of them deserve special notice, both for their individual accomplishments and because their directors went on to become major figures in the cinema of the Western world. These are Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod (1921) - literally, 'The Weary Death,' but usually entitled 'Destiny' in English) and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922).

Fritz Lang: Der Müde Tod

The most important UFA director was undoubtedly Fritz Lang, one of the key personages in cinema history. Whereas Jean Renoir was the supreme humanist of the cinema, Lang was the eternal pessimist, most comfortable with scenarios of doom and destruction that reflected his own bleak view of life. Lang was to have directed Caligari, but when the project was turned over to Robert Wiene, Lang added the framing story that provides the film’s twist ending. Lang’s major films of the silent period were not intellectualized works in the manner of Caligari, but they were all strongly impressive in terms of pure plastic beauty and decorative design. Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, 1922), for example, offers an Expressionistic handling of a Caligariesque master criminal aimed at destroying the foundation of a post-war society whose rottenness certainly deserves it. In Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1922-24) and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhild’s Revenge, 1923-24), Lang again exercised his inclination for mythical romance and compositional power in a massive retelling of the Nordic Nibelungen saga, complete with studio-consructed mountains, forests, and a full-scale fire-breathing dragon.

Der müde Tod (1921)

Among the mystical descendants of Caligari, Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod (Destiny, 1921) is the most interesting. Lang, in partnership with his author-wife, Thea von Harbou, is more famous for a series of psychological studies of the activities of gamblers, murderers, and spies (Dr. Mabuse, Spies, M). But he also made several metaphysical-fantasy films. In Der Müde Tod, a young girl and her lover enter a new town. On the road they encounter a dark, shadowy, supernatural stranger. The stranger has bought a piece of land near the town’s cemetery, and has enclosed it with a great stone wall that lacks a door or any other physical entrance. The girl’s lover disappears. When she discovers that he is a prisoner beyond the wall, she starts to drink a poisonous drug. Lang instantly cuts to the huge wall where she sees the transparent, supernatural images of souls entering the region beyond the wall. The means to enter the wall is metaphysical, not physical, because the wall surrounds the kingdom of death. The mysterious stranger is Death himself. But he is a tired and downhearted Death, looking after the candles of human life that inevitably flicker out. The girl begs for the life of her lover, and Death offers her a chance to save him, pointing out three candles whose lights have begun to flicker. The girl claims that love can conquer death, and she agrees to save at least one of the three lights. Each of these candle lights is a story in a far-off land: a middle-eastern Moslem city, Renaissance Venice, and a magical China. In all three, the girl and her lover are reincarnated as two young lovers whose monarchs declared war on their love. In all three reincarnations, the young man dies, and the girl’s love does not defeat death. After her failure, Death gives the girl one more chance. She can return to life and rescue her lover’s being if she can offer another life in return. She soon runs into a burning hospital to save an infant there. Death meets her inside and asks her for the child as the victim. She considers and then refuses; she will not kill the infant to save her lover. Instead, the girl herself dies in the fire; her soul and her lover’s are thereby reunited as their transparent images climb a hill and stand against the sky. Love, in dying, has, ironically, defeated death.

F.W. Murnau: Nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)

The second major figure to emerge from the Expressionist movement was F. W. (Friedrich Wilhelm) Murnau (1888-1931), whose highly stylized vampire film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors, 1922) has become a classic of the genre. Trained as an art historian, Murnau became fascinated by the theater and began to wrote films shortly after the war, collaborating with both Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz. When he began to direct his own films, Murnau worked almost exclusively in the expressionist manner, making films like Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (The Hunchback and the Dancer, 1920), Der Januskopf (The Two-Faced Man, 1920), and Schloß Vogelod (Castle Vogelöd, 1921). It is Nosferatu, however, adapted loosely by Henrik Galeen from Bram Stroker’s novel Drakula (1897), that represents the high point of Murnau’s expressionist period. One of the remarkable things about Nosferatu is the apparent naturalness of its stylization. It should be noted, that it was achieved with a minimum of resources since the film was independently produced. Whereas Caligari’s Expressionism was mainly graphic, Nosferatu’s is almost purely cinematic, relying upon camera angles, lighting and editing rather than production design. In Murnau’s Nosferatu, Jonathan Harper undertakes his journey to Transylvania in order to make money and improve his prospects for advancement his firm. The hero’s initial situation has economic overtones. Moreover Harper seems desirous to escape from the domesticity (flowers, cats) of his bride. The couple, separated basically for economic reasons, are united by Nosferatu. In Nosferatu, the repetition of a feauture of fantastic films can be observed. Nosferatu becomes the double of .Jonathan Harper, his reverse side, his retun of the repressed, parallel to the relation between Dr. Caligari and Cesare, or to the image of false Maria in Metropolis.

Realistic and Psychological

After the inflation induced hyperactivity of the post-war years, Dawes plan and the introduction of Rentenmark in 1924 resulted in the influx of American money. American films became popular with German audiences for their simple stories, fast-paced action, explicitly physical humor, and charming stars.

In order to compete with the popularity of American films, UFA, Emelka, Terre and other German studios pursued various strategies. On the one hand they continued in the art film tradition by introducing new genres like Strassenfilm (the street film) or Querschnittfilm (the cross-section film). On the other hand, they utilized some formulas of genre cinema as exemplified in Lang’s Mabuse films and early film musicals like Die drei von der Tankstelle (The Three From The Gas Station, 1930). Sentimental comedies and clownish comedies often proved very successful with audiences although the German film critics disliked them.

In 1924, the German mark had been stabilized and the spiral of post-war inflation halted by Germany’s acceptance of the Dawes Plan (named for the American banker Charles E. Dawes, who presided over an international committee set up to control Germany’s war reparation payments). This provided for the long-term payment of reparations and allowed Germany to enter back into the economic system of the Allies. The effect was to create in the German Republic a stabilized period of false confidence and even prosperity which lasted until the stock market crash of 1929. Ironically, however, the German film industry, which had survived excessive inflation, was seriously threatened by stabilization, because the Dawes Plan imposed the reduction of all exports. Thus, between 1924 and 1925, many independent production companies declared bankruptcy, and the surviving ones found it very difficult to borrow money from German banks. Hollywood recognized its chance to break down its only European rival, and began to pour American films into Germany, founding its own distribution agencies and buying up theaters.

Asphalt (Joe May, 1929)

Losing millions on monumental films like Nibelungen and Metropolis and failing to establish a stronger presence on foreign markets, UFA experienced growing financial difficulties. By late 1925, UFA was almost collapsing due to external conditions and to the expenditures of its own recent productions, having lost over eight million dollars in the fiscal year just ended. At this point, the American studios Paramount and MGM offered to subsidize UFA’s huge debt to the Deutsche Bank by lending it four million dollars at 7.5 percent interest in exchange for collaborative rights to UFA’s studios, theaters, and personnel - an arrangement which clearly worked in the American companies’ favor. The result was the foundation of the Parufamet (Paramount-UFA-Metro) Distribution Company in early 1926. Other film companies signed similar contracts, including Terra Film with Universal and Phoebus with MGM.

The most immediate effect of the Parufamet agreement was the migration of UFA film artists and technicians to Hollywood, where they had worked for a variety of studios. Hollywood did not want them to film the kinds of subjects that had made them great directors in their native industries. American studios did not correctly know how to employ the foreign talented people. The major artists quickly became bored with their pointless assignments and returned to Germany (some only to return to America later as refugees from the Nazis). Only Lubitsch was able to successfully adapt himself to the complexity and triviality of the Hollywood production process, and his American career proved much more significant than his German one.

Der letzte Mann or the acme of Kammerspielfilm

Murnau’s next important film was made in the genre which superseded Expressionism - that of Kammerspiel (literally, 'intimate theatre'), or 'instinct' film. The scriptwriter Carl Mayer, of Caligari fame, was the founder and chief practitioner of this genre, which dealt realistically with the oppressiveness of contemporary middle class life and, by extension, with the irresistibility of fate in a disintegrated society. They generally contained a few characters, each of whom represented a destructive and uncontrollable impulse.

Emil Jannings reduced to a men's room attendant in F.W.Murnau's Der Letzte Mann (1924)

Mayer began writing Kammerspiel scripts in the heyday of Expressionism, and there is no question that they contain Expressionist elements. Indeed the whole realistic cinema which grew out of Kammerspielfilm can be seen as both an extension of and a reaction against the Expressionist cinema, in that it retained the unhealthy psychological themes of the earlier films but presented them in realistic form. The films made from Mayer’s early Kammerspiel scripts are Leopold Jessner’s Hintertreppe (Backstairs,1921), and Lulu Pick’s Scherben (Shattered, 1921) and Sylvester (New Year's Eve, 1923); but it was Der letzte Mann (literally, 'The last Man' but usually entitled 'The Last Laugh' in English), written by Mayer and directed by Murnau, which incarnated the type and inaugurated a new period of German realism in 1924. Der letzte Mann, produced by Erich Pommer for UFA, is a distinguished film in every respect but it is the innovative use of camera movement that makes Der letzte Mann so important to the history of film. The camera became a watching eye and entered every private moment of the life. The film concerns an aging doorman (Emil Jannings) in a fashionable Berlin hotel who loses his job and, more important, his resplendent uniform to a younger man. Within the lower middle class tenement where he lives with his daughter, the uniform has brought him prestige and dignity. Its unexpected loss invokes a kind of violent ridicule from his neighbours that is almost sadistic. Demoted to the position of washroom attendant at the hotel and completely dishonored in his own home, the old man begins to come apart. He becomes stoop-shouldered and untidy overnight. He gets madly drunk at his daughter’s wedding and experiences hallucination of persecution; he even makes a desperate attempt to steal his uniform back out of a hotel locker. As the film nears its conclusion, we discover him crouched secretly against the wall of the hotel lavatory like a trapped beast, terrified of the entire world outside himself and apparently as mad as Caligari. But the film’s single title flashes on the screen to explain that whereas in the real world things would end at this point, the filmmaker have decided to take pity on the ex-doorman.

F.W. Murnau directing Der Letzte Mann. Legendary Karl Freund at camera

There follows a absurd conclusion in which he inherits a vast sum of money by an unusual coincidence and shows up in the hotel dining room to display his wealth before his former employers in a grandly vulgar but good-natured manner. It is thought that this ending was attached onto the film either to arouse the American audience’s taste for such sentimental optimism or to ridicule it; no one is quite sure which is true. The American cinema had finally begun to influence the German cinema by 1924 and was to have considerably more influence as the decade progressed. But, it is argued that, the incompatibility of the ending is the only noteworthy defect in what is both cinematically and thematically a nearly perfect film. Indeed, Der letzte Mann was the most technically innovative film to come out of Weimar cinema. As a result, Der letzte Mann enjoyed worldwide success and had a greater effect upon Hollywood technique.

Murnau left Germany for a Hollywood carrier after completing two final super-productions for UFA - Herr Tartüff (1925), and Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926), which were not that much successful. Hollywood was to be almost equally impressed in the following year with Der letzte Mann’s immediate successor, E. A. (Ewald André) Dupont’s (1891-1956) Varieté (1925), also produced by Erich Pommer for UFA and photographed by Karl Freund. The film deals with a love triengle among trapeze artists (Emil Jannings, Lya de Putti, Warwick Ward) at the Berlin Wintergarten which ends in murder, and it contains camera movement even more breathlessly dynamic than that of Der letzte Mann. Varieté insured the permanence of German influence upon the Hollywood studios until the end of the silent era which was soon mathced by a tendency to 'Americanize' the German film. For the German cinema, on the other hand, Varieté provided a bridge between the introspective Kammerspiel genre and a more objective kind of realism which was to emerge after 1924.

Neue Sachlichkeit and Street Films

Another effect of the Dawes Plan on the German film industry was less direct than the Parufamet agreement but more important to the general course of the domestic production. The period after 1924 produced a return to social normalcy in Germany. As a consequence the German cinema began to turn away from the abnormal and artificial psychological themes of Expressionism and Kammerspiel and towards the kind of literal (but still studio-produced) realism exemplified by Strassenfilme (Street Films) of the second half of the decade - G. W. Pabst’s Die freundlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925), Joe May’s Asphalt (1929), and Phil Jutzi’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1931). Named for their prototype, Karl Grune’s Die Straße (The Street, 1923), these films all dealt realistically with the living conditions of ordinary people in the post-war period of inflation and confirmed the spirit of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) which entered German society and art at every level during this time. Lack of expectation, pessimism, resignation, disillusionment, and a desire to accept 'life as it is' were the major characteristic of Neue Sachlichkeit, and these reconstructed in the form of merciless social realism in the street films where usually characters from sheltered middle-class backgrounds are s uddenly exposed to the environment of city streets, where they encounter representatives of various social ills, such as prostitutes, gamblers, black marketeers, and con men. In general these films have been criticized for their failure to offer solutions to the social ills that they depict. Their gloomy images of the streets suggest that the middle class could find safety only by retreating from social reality.

Life as it is in Die freudlose Gasse (1925)

The master of the New Objectivity was accepted to be the Austrian-born director G. W. Pabst (1886-1967). Trained in the threater, Pabst was a latecomer to the Weimar cinema who directed his first film, Der Schatz (The Treasure) in 1923. His next film, however, was Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925), which achieved world recognition as a masterpiece of cinematic social realism. In some countries recognition came in the form of censorship, England banned Die freudlose Gasse. The film concerns the financial and spiritual destruction of the middle classes through inflation in post-war Vienna, focusing upon the lives of several impoverished bourgeois families striving to uphold their self-respect and propriety under the conditions of a secret starvation. The misery of their existence is contrasted with the excessive pleasure-seeking life style of the war profiteers. Daughters of the middle class, played by the Swedish actresses Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo, sell themselves into prostitution to save their families, while the wealthy amuse themselves at luxurious black market nightclubs, where these girls must eventually come to be bought. Pabst took “life as it is” with a kind of photographic realism, without any reference to sentimentality or symbolism.

Louise Brooks: Die Büchse der Pandora (1929)

In Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (The Love of Jeanne Ney), Pabst returned to the social arena to film the progress of a love affair caught up in the chaos of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Often using real locations, the film portrays post-war European society in the process of rapid disintegration. Pabst’s last two silent films, Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1929) and Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost One, 1929), both concern the lives of prostitutes and the way in which their degraded roles relate to the general decadence of society. Pabst immediately adopted himself to sound and became one of the leading masters of the early sound film. His pacifist films Westfront 1918 (1930) and Kameradschaft (Comradeship, 1931) are both among the most important works of the period. In fact, Pabst’s career extended to the fifties, but his greatest work was done between 1924 and 1931, a period which corresponds to the Golden Age of German film.

"A number of factors led to the decline of New Objectivity in the cinema. For one thing, the increasing domination of German politics by extreme right-wing forces in the late 1920s and early 1930s resulted in a wider split between conservative and liberal factions. Socialist and Communist groups made films during this era, and to some extent these provided an outlet for strong social criticism. Moreover, the coming of sound combined with greater control over the film industry by conservative forces to create an emphasis on light entertainment. The operetta genre became one of the most prominent types of sound filmmaking, and social realism became rare".[2]

Montage Documentaries and Walter Ruttmann

The two important films of the late Weimar cinema were 'montage documentaries' shot on location in and around Berlin. Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin, die Symphonie einer Grosstadt (Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City, 1927), based on an idea by Carl Mayer to create an abstract portrait of the city and its teeming life from dawn to midnight on a late spring day. Menchen am Sonntag (People on Sunday, 1930), a semi-documentary account of two young couples on a holiday at a lake outside Berlin, was the collaborative effort of several young men who would later become major directors of the sound era in America - Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Billy Wilder. Like its wholly documentary predecessors, Menchen am Sonntag showed the marked influence of Soviet montage.

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (Walter Ruttmann, 1927)

The distinction between mainstream cinema, with its dependency on narrative and mimetic representation, and the avant garde film with its attempts to move beyond narrative and beyond representation was firmly in effect in Weimar cinema. The opposition of avant garde and mass culture is most obvious in the film aesthetics. The lifelike representation of moving images (an aspect of mechanical reproduction) led to a return to categories of authorship and self-expression of the traditional arts. Moreover, the politics of the avant garde did not develop an alternative definition of film, but draw the boundaries between high and low culture, between art and mass culture. Film, as part of mass culture aiming at apolitical entertainment, was transformed into a mechanism of pleasure and an object for consumption. Mainstream narrative film was no longer associated with the promise of social equality or the critique of bourgeois culture.

Walter Ruttmann accused the mainstream filmmakers of having betrayed film’s original mission of liberating the human senses through the power of vision. For him, only a critical separation of mass entertainment and film art could prevent the medium from submitting to commercialism. Ruttmann rejected the narrative film in favor of documentary material. His cross-section films were structured according to the principles of rhythm and montage, despising mimetic representation, thus reminding of Dada.

The End of the Golden Age

By 1918, there were 2300 cinemas with some 800.000 seats. Ten years later, these figures had risen to over 5000 film-theaters, with 1.940.000 seats. During that period, the German film industry produced an average of 250 films a year, compared to 743 American, 74 French and 44 British movies per year. Of all the films made in the 20s, a total of 2300 German films include those which were among the most memorable and influential in the history of cinema. Estimates suggest that in 1926, one and a half million to two million people went to the cinema on an average day, and 800.000 of those were thought to be workers. Cinema-going was probably more popular among workers who were politically unattached and generally uninterested in politics. For this section of the audience, who frequently read neither book nor newspaper, the cinema created illusions and satisfied dreams.

Marlene Dietrich in her iconic role of cabaret entertainer Lola Lola

The sound film brought with it not only new technical and dramatic requirements, but new stars — such as Marlene Dietrich in Der blaue Engel by Josef von Sternberg — and above all new audiences, which Ufa was able to attract with its musical films. "Musicals and comedies became the mainstay of the internationally minded German cinema, with super-productions like Der Kongreß tanzt (The Congress Dances, 1931), star vehicles like Die Drei von der Tankstelle (Three from the petrol station, 1930), screwball comedies like Viktor und Viktoria (1933), and domestic melodramas like Abschied (Departure, 1930) conveying quite a different image of the German cinema from that of the 1920s. Even before the Nazi take-over in 1933 the transformations of the German film industry from a twintrack 'artistic film'/prestige production cinema to a mainstream entertainment cinema were well under way, forced by economic necessity and technological change even more than by political interference. While the migration of personnel to Hollywood, begun with Ernst Lubitsch in 1921 and followed by Murnau, Dupont, and Paul Leni. had also gathered pace by 1927-8, its motives were, at least until 1933. personal and professional as much as political".[1]

Just as aspects of Wilhelmine cinema carried over into in the Weimar period after 1918, certain pre-1933 stylistic principles and production strategies found their way into the Nazi Film. But the majority of individuals who, whether behind or in front of the camera, left their stamp on, Weimar cinema had no future in the Third Reich.

Cinema as a tool of Political Propaganda

Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (Phil Jutzi, 1929)

As a result of its mass appeal, cinema became an important tool of political propaganda. After World War I, the organizations on the left showed increasing interest in the cinema as a mean for criticising capitalism and bourgeois ideology. Under the extremely polarized atmosphere of Weimar politics, nationalistic films and film magazines with their rightist discourse also took their place in the arena. In the years proceeding the end of the war, revolutionary spirit longing for radical change shifted from the realm of politics to that of cinema.

Founded initially for the distribution of Russian films in Germany, Prometheus Film in the late twenties produced Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (Mother Krausen’s Journey to Happiness, 1929) and Kuhle Wampe (Whither Germany?, 1932) Mutter Krausen’s Fährt ins Glück and Kuhle Wampe were films which satisfied the political demand for the visual representation of the dialectical tensions in working class existence at the time of the depression. However against the constant stream of entertainment films, from the dream factories in Hollywood and Babelsberg (the home of UFA), the films produced by communists or social democratic organizations hardly had an impact.

The decline of the German cinema after 1933 had been attributed to the Nazis, who subverted UFA after coming to power, turning the studio into a factory for the mass production of light entertainment and an instrument of propaganda for the state, under the direction of Josef Goebbels. However, the German cinema was dying of international disorders long before the Nazi takeover, even before the coming of sound. This is not to suggest that it had completely lost its capacity to present high-quality films. On the contrary, Germany produced three world famous early sound films: Josef von Sternbergs’s Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930), Fritz Lang’s M (1931), and Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (1930). But there is seemingly a general decline in the quality of production after 1924, the causes of which were intrinsic and diverse. Pacifist films like Pabst’s Westfront 1918 or Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) experienced censorship problems, and were often boycotted by right-wing groups. As a result of both political and economic problems, the major studios turned to state for protection and support. In 1933, they were forced to accept National Socialist film politics.

Timeline & Selected Filmography


11 November: World War I ended, creating a vacuum in government control that brought chaos to Germany. The trauma of the lost war, nascent revolution, and general misery at home was to be reflected in a new wave of horror films. 12 November: A government council abolished censorship. Until controls were reinstated a few years later, the German film industry produced a number of erotic movies whose provocative themes resulted in a backlash from Germany’s religious leaders.

Carmen, 1918
  • Die Augen der Mumie Ma (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918) .... aka Eyes of the Mummy Ma
  • Die Börsenkönigin (Edmund Edel, 1918) .... aka The Queen of the Stock Exchange
  • Carmen (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918) .... aka Gypsy Love
  • Der ewige Zweifel (Richard Oswald, 1918)
  • Ich möchte kein Mann sein (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918) .... aka I Don't Want to Be a Man
  • Das Mädel vom Ballet (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918) .... aka The Ballet Girl


28 May: Not all of the erotica was exploitative. Richard Oswald continued to make sex enlightenment films that were meant to engage the audience in discourse about the need for change. His Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) was directed at repealing paragraph 175 of the penal code, which made homosexuality a crime. 31 May: The first edition of Film-Kurier appeared. It became the most important medium for discussing the popular arts. During the Third Reich it became a mouthpiece for Nazi propaganda, promoting the regime’s agenda. Later that year, an illustrated version also appeared. 18 September: Ernst Lubitsch’s Madame Dubarry (Passion) premiered at the grand opening of the Ufa-Palast am Zoo, anticipating the important role film would play in the popular culture of the Weimar Republic and starring two of Germany’s biggest actors of the 1920s, Emil Jannings and Pola Negri.

Madame DuBarry poster (1919)
  • Anders als die Andern (Richard Oswald, 1919) .... aka Different from the Others
  • Die Austernprinzessin (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) .... aka The Oyster Princess
  • Harakiri (Fritz Lang, 1919)
  • Madame DuBarry (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) .... aka Passion
  • Nerven (Robert Reinert, 1919) .... aka Nerves
  • Opium (Robert Reinert, 1919)
  • Die Puppe (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919) .... aka The Doll
  • Die Spinnen, 1. Teil - Der Goldene See (Fritz Lang, 1919) .... aka The Spiders, Part 1: The Golden Lake
  • Unheimliche Geschichten(Richard Oswald, 1919) .... aka Eerie Tales


27 February: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari) premiered. It remains a unique example of German film expressionism.
12 May: Censorship was reintroduced at a federal and state level. Henceforth all films had to be screened by an examining board to receive a permit. 29 June: two of Europe’s leading studios, the French Decla KG and the German Deutsche Bioscop AG, merged to form Decla-Bioscop AG.

Caligari, 1918
  • Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (F.W. Murnau, 1920) .... aka The Hunchback and the Dancer - Lost film
  • Anna Boleyn (Ernst Lubitsch, 1920) .... aka Deception
  • Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (Robert Wiene, 1920) .... aka The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  • Genuine (Robert Wiene, 1920) .... aka Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire
  • Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (Carl Boese & Paul Wegener, 1920) .... The Golem: How He Came Into the World
  • Der Januskopf (F.W. Murnau, 1920) .... aka The Two-Faced Man - Lost film
  • Romeo und Julia im Schnee (Ernst Lubitsch, 1920) .... aka Romeo and Juliet in the Snow
  • Die Spinnen, 2. Teil - Das Brillantenschiff (Fritz Lang, 1920) .... aka The Spiders, Part 2: The Diamond Ship
  • Sumurun (Ernst Lubtisch, 1920) .... aka One Arabian Night
  • Von morgens bis Mitternacht (Karl Heinz Martin, 1920) .... aka From Morn to Midnight
  • Das wandernde Bild (Fritz Lang, 1920) .... aka The Wandering Image


7 October: Der müde Tod (Destiny) premiered. Directed by Fritz Lang from a screenplay by Thea von Harbou, the film continued German cinema’s fascination with the macabre. 11 October: Decla-Bioscop merged into Universum Film AG (Ufa), bringing heavy debts that burdened the giant film company for the rest of the 1920s. 11 December: Hintertreppe (Backstairs, Paul Leni and Leopold Jessner), a pessimistic melodrama, premiered. As dark and brooding as most gothic tales but without the creatures, the movie’s success offered an alternate genre for reflecting the despair of Weimar Germany in the early 1920s.

Vier um die Frau (Fritz Lang, 1921)
  • Auf dem Oktoberfest (Josef Schmidt & Josef Valle, 1921) .... aka Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt at the Oktoberfest
  • Die Bergkatze (Ernst Lubitsch, 1921) .... aka The Wildcat
  • Der Gang in die Nacht (F.W. Murnau, 1921) .... aka Journey Into the Night
  • Hamlet (Svend Gade & Heinz Schall, 1921)
  • Hintertreppe (Leopold Jessner & Paul Leni, 1921) .... aka Backstairs
  • Das indische Grabmal: Die Sendung des Yoghi (Joe May, 1921) .... aka The Indian Tomb: Part I, the Mission of the Yogi
  • Das indische Grabmal zweiter Teil - Der Tiger von Eschnapur (Joe May, 1921) .... aka The Indian Tomb: Part II, the Tiger of Bengal
  • Der müde Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921) .... aka Destiny
  • Sappho (Dimitri Buchowetzki, 1921) .... aka Mad Love
  • Scherben (Lupu Pick, 1921) .... aka Shattered
  • Schloß Vogeloed (F.W. Murnau, 1921) .... aka The Haunted Castle
  • Vier um die Frau (Fritz Lang, 1921) .... aka Four Around a Woman


31 January: Fridericus Rex (Fridericus Rex, Arzén von Cserépy) premiered. The film was the first of four to appear over the next two years, all starring Otto Gebühr, who continued playing Frederick the Great through 1942. 4 March: Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau) premiered. 17 September: Physicist Jo Engl and mechanical engineers Joseph Massolle and Hans Vogt introduced their Tri-Ergon Process, which affixed sound to the film strip and thus made synchronized sound films possible. Unfortunately the process failed during a demonstration two years later. Thus Hollywood and not Germany produced the first sound film, The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927), starring Al Jolson.

Dr. Mabuse, 1922
  • Der brennende Acker (F.W. Murnau, 1922) .... aka Burning Soil
  • Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler - Ein Bild der Zeit (Fritz Lang, 1922) .... aka Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler
  • Das Geheimnis der Marquisin (Lotte Reiniger, 1922) .... aka The Secret of the Marquise
  • Die Gezeichneten (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1922) .... aka Love One Another
  • Lucrezia Borgia (Richard Oswald, 1922)
  • Nathan, der Weise (Manfred Noa, 1922) .... aka Nathan The White
  • Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922) .... aka Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror
  • Phantom (F.W. Murnau , 1922) .... aka The Phantom
  • Sodom und Gomorrha (Michael Curtiz, 1922) .... aka Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Vanina oder Die Galgenhochzeit (Arthur von Gerlach, 1922) .... aka Vanina Vanini


11 January: Germany’s main heavy industrial area is occupied by French and Belgian troops in an attempt to force payment of reparations. The local population practices passive resistance, subsidized by the German government; these expenditures lead to rapid escalation of the already steep inflation in Germany. 8-11 November: Hitler’s failed coup d'état takes place in Munich. Afterwards Hitler flees, is arrested and spends about a year in prison during 1924-25. 16 November: Germany’s rampant inflation was curtailed through currency reform, allowing for the country’s eventual economic recovery, reflected also in the development of German film.

Die Strasse (1923)
  • Alles für Geld (Reinhold Schünzel, 1923) .... aka All for Money
  • Die Austreibung (F.W Murnau, 1923) .... aka The Expulsion - Lost film
  • I.N.R.I. (Robert Wiene, 1923) .... aka Crown of Thorns
  • Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (Bertolt Brecht & Erich Engel, 1923) .... aka The Mysteries of a Hairdresser's Shop
  • Raskolnikow (Robert Wiene, 1923) .... aka Crime and Punishment
  • Schlagende Wetter (Karl Grune, 1923) .... aka Trapped in the Mine
  • Schatten - Eine nächtliche Halluzination (Arthur Robison, 1923) .... aka Warning Shadows
  • Der Schatz (G.W. Pabst, 1923) .... aka The Treasure
  • Der steinerne Reiter (Fritz Wendhausen, 1923) .... aka The Stone Rider
  • Die Straße (Karl Grune, 1923) .... aka The Street


14 February: Siegfrieds Tod (Siegfried’s Death), the first part of Fritz Lang’s monumental film, Die Nibelungen, based on the legend of the Nibelungen, premiered in Berlin with orchestral accompaniment. The most expensive film to date for Universum Film AG (UFA), the second part, Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhild’s Revenge), followed on 26 April. 17 September: UFA merged the newsreels Deulig-Woche and Messter-Woche to create the Ufa-Wochenschau, a newsreel that became an important propaganda tool during the Third Reich. 19 December: To stave off bankruptcy, UFA joined in a partnership with Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, through which they were to cooperate in showing each other’s films. The new venture, dubbed Parufamet, worked to the disadvantage of the German studio, necessitating another bailout a few years later. 23 December: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) premiered. Starring Emil Jannings, the film also introduced the innovative camera work of Karl Freund, whose evocative and fluid style reduced the need for intertitles in the film.

Die Niebelungen (1924)
  • Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (F.W. Murnau, 1924) .... aka The Grand Duke's Finances
  • Helena (Manfred Noa, 1924) .... aka Helen of Troy
  • Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (Fritz Lang, 1924) .... aka Die Nibelungen: Siegfried's Death
  • Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (Fritz Lang, 1924) .... aka Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge
  • Der letzte Mann (F.W. Murnau, 1924) .... aka The Last Laugh
  • Michael (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1924) .... aka Chained: The Story of the Third Sex
  • Nju - Eine unverstandene Frau (Paul Czinner, 1924) .... aka Husbands or Lovers
  • Orlacs Hände (Robert Wiene, 1924) .... aka The Hands of Orlac
  • Sylvester (Lupu Pick, 1924) .... aka New Year's Eve
  • Symphonie diagonale (Viking Eggeling, 1924)
  • Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Paul Leni, 1924) .... aka Waxworks


26 April: Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg is elected as President of the Republic. 18 May: G.W. Pabst’s Die Freudlose Gasse (Joyless Street) staring Greta Grabo premiered in Berlin. 16 November: E.A.Dupont’s Variete with Lya de Putti and Emil Jannings.

The Joyless Street, 1925
  • Freies Volk (Martin Berger, 1925)
  • Die freudlose Gasse (G.W. Pabst, 1925) .... aka The Joyless Street
  • Herr Tartüff (F.W. Murnau, 1925) .... aka Tartuffe
  • Rebus Film Nr. 1 (Paul Leni, 1925)
  • Der Rosenkavalier (Robert Wiene, 1925)
  • Varieté (E.A. Dupont, 1925) .... aka Jealousy
  • Die Verrufenen (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1925) .... aka Slums of Berlin
  • Zur Chronik von Grieshuus (Arthur von Gerlach, 1925) .... aka The Chronicles of the Gray House


29 April: Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin premiered at the Apollo Theater in Berlin. The Soviet film unleashed a month-long debate over its revolutionary content. In spite of that content, Joseph Goebbels, later minister of propaganda under Adolf Hitler, extolled the film’s power and asked German filmmakers to emulate its emotional impact.

Faust (1926)
  • Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926) .... aka The Adventures of Prince Achmed
  • Berliner Stilleben (László Moholy-Nagy, 1926)
  • Die Brüder Schellenberg (Karl Grune, 1926) .... aka The Brothers Schellenberg
  • Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage (F.W. Murnau, 1926) .... aka Faust: A German Folk Legend
  • Geheimnisse einer Seele (G.W. Pabst, 1926) .... aka Secrets of a Soul
  • Der Geiger von Florenz (Paul Czinner, 1926) .... aka The Violinist of Florence
  • Der heilige Berg (Arnold Fanck, 1926) .... aka The Holy Mountain
  • Der Student von Prag (Henrik Galeen, 1926) .... aka The Student of Prague
  • Überflüssige Menschen (Aleksandr Razumnyj, 1926) .... aka Superfluous People


10 January: Metropolis (Metropolis) premiered at the Ufa-Palast in Berlin. With a score for full orchestra by Gottfried Huppertz, monumental sets, a cast of thousands of extras, and a length of two and one-half hours, the film exceeded the cost of Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen, until then the most expensive production of Universum Film AG (Ufa). 28 March: Ufa was taken over by a consortium controlled by Alfred Hugenberg, a conservative German publisher.

Metropolis, 1927
  • Am Rande der Welt (Karl Grune, 1927) .... aka At the Edge of the World
  • Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (Walther Ruttmann, 1927) .... aka Berlin: A Symphony of a Big City
  • Dirnentragödie (Bruno Rahn, 1927) .... aka Tragedy of the Street
  • Die elf Teufel (Zoltan Korda & Carl Boese, 1927) .... aka The Eleven Devils
  • Der große Sprung (Arnold Fanck, 1927) .... aka The Big Jump
  • Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (G.W. Pabst, 1927) .... aka The Love of Jeanne Ney
  • Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
  • R-1 (Oskar Fischinger, 1927)
  • Wachsexperimente (Oskar Fischinger, 1927) .... aka Wax Experiments
  • Die Weber (Frederic Zelnik, 1927) .... aka The Weaver


13 June: A 'Great Coalition' government (the first since 1923) is formed under Hermann Müller (SPD), after national elections that seems to confirm the stabilization of the Republic. This cabinet survives until March 1930.

Alraune (1928)
  • Abwege (G.W Pabst, 1928) .... aka The Devious Path
  • Alraune (Henrik Galeen, 1928) .... aka Unholy Love
  • Geschlecht in Fesseln - Die Sexualnot der Gefangenen (Wilhelm Dieterle, 1928) .... aka Sex in Chains
  • Heimkehr (Joe May, 1928) .... aka Homecoming
  • Polizeibericht Überfall (Ernö Metzner, 1928) .... aka Police Report! Assault
  • Rennsymphonie (Hans Richter, 1928) .... aka Race Symphony
  • Somnambul (Adolf Trotz, 1928) .... aka The Somnambulist
  • Spione (Fritz Lang, 1928) .... aka Spies
  • Ungarische Rhapsodie (Hanns Schwarz, 1928) .... aka Hungarian Rhapsody
  • Vormittagsspuk (Hans Richter, 1928) .... aka Ghosts Before Breakfast


9 February: The premier of Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, Georg Wilhelm Pabst) made American Louise Brooks an internationally acclaimed star. 13 March: The two studios specializing in sound production, Ton-bild-Syndikat AG and Klangfilm GmbH, merged to form Tobis-Klangfilm, a leader with Universum Film AG (Ufa) in the pioneering of sound film in Germany. 21 December: Arnold Fanck’s Die weiße Hölle von Piz Palü (The White Hell of Pitz Palu), starring Leni Riefenstahl, played for the grand opening of the Ufa-Palast in Hamburg. It had 2,667 seats, making it the largest movie theater in Europe. 30 December: Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness), a film made to raise social awareness of the situation of the working poor, premiered. It was one of the few films of the Far Left to achieve critical success. It was also one of the last important silent films. Four decades later, Rainer Werner Fassbinder paid homage to the film in Mutter Küsters’ Fahrt zum Himmel (Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, 1975).

Asphalt (Joe May, 1929)
  • Asphalt (Joe May, 1929)
  • Die Büchse der Pandora (G.W. Pabst, 1929) .... aka Pandora's Box
  • Frau im Mond (Fritz Lang, 1929) .... aka Woman in the Moon
  • Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt (Curtis Bernhardt, 1929) .... aka The Woman Men Yearn For
  • Fräulein Else (Paul Czinner, 1929) .... aka Miss Else
  • Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (Robert Land, 1929) .... aka I Kiss Your Hand Madame
  • Melodie der Welt (Walter Ruttmann, 1929) .... aka Melody of the World
  • Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (Phil Jutzi, 1929) .... aka Mother Krause's Journey to Happiness
  • Napoleon auf St. Helena (Lupu Pick, 1929) .... aka Napoleon at St. Helena
  • Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (G.W. Pabst, 1929) .... aka Diary of a Lost Girl
  • Waterloo (Karl Grune, 1929)
  • Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü (Arnold Fanck & G.W. Pabst, 1929) .... aka White Hell of Pitz Palu
  • Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) .... aka The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna
  • Zweigroschenzauber (Hans Richter, 1929) .... aka Two Penny Magic


1 April: Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, Josef von Sternberg) premiered in Berlin. Although billed as an Emil Jannings movie, the film’s sensation was Marlene Dietrich. 23 May: Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Westfront 1918 (Comrades of 1918) premiered to international acclaim. A pacifist war drama, the film was banned after the Nazis came to power in 1933. Stoßtrupp 1917 (Shock Troop 1917, Hans Zöberlein and Ludwig Schmid-Wildy 1934) presented a Nazi counterpoint to the film..

Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst, 1930)
  • Abschied (Robert Siodmak, 1930) .... aka Farewell
  • Alraune (Richard Oswald, 1930) .... aka Daughter of Evil
  • Der blaue Engel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) .... aka The Blue Angel
  • Der Herr auf Bestellung (Géza von Bolváry, 1930)
  • Die Drei von der Tankstelle (Wilhelm Thiele, 1930) .... aka Three from the Gasoline Station
  • Dreyfus (Richard Oswald, 1930) .... aka The Dreyfus Case
  • Das Flötenkonzert von Sans-souci (Gustav Ucicky, 1930) .... aka The Flute Concert of Sans-Souci
  • Lichtspiel: Schwarz-Weiß-Grau (László Moholy-Nagy, 1930) .... aka Lightplay: Black/White/Gray
  • Ludwig der Zweite, König von Bayern (William Dieterle, 1930) .... aka Ludwig II, King of Bavaria
  • Menschen am Sonntag (Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer & Fred Zinnemann, 1930) .... aka People on Sunday
  • Stürme über dem Mont Blanc (Arnold Fanck, 1930) .... aka Avalanche
  • Der weiße Teufel (Alexandre Volkoff, 1930) .... aka The White Devil
  • Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst, 1930)


19 February: Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s musical, opened after the playwright lost a suit alleging distortion of his original concept. 10 May: The collapse of the Austrian Credit-Anstalt starts a banking crisis in Germany that accelerates the slow decline of the German economy and makes it clear that the depth and duration of the depression will be extraordinary. 11 May: M, Fritz Lang’s masterpiece about a child murderer, opened in Berlin. Voted German film’s most important movie in 1994, M gave its star Peter Lorre international recognition and also typecast him as a maniacal killer. 28 November: Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform, Leontine Sagan) was released. Banned two years later by the Nazis because of its homosexual theme, the film later became a cult classic.

Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan)
  • 1914, die letzten Tage vor dem Weltbrand (Richard Oswald, 1931) .... aka 1914: The Last Days Before the War
  • Die 3 Groschen-Oper (G.W. Pabst, 1931) .... aka The Beggar's Opera
  • Die andere Seite (Heinz Paul, 1931) .... aka The Other Side
  • Berge in Flammen (Karl Hartl & Luis Trenker, 1931) .... aka Mountains on Fire
  • Berlin - Alexanderplatz (Phil Jutzi, 1931)
  • Douaumont - Die Hölle von Verdun (Heinz Paul, 1931
  • Emil und die Detektive (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1931) .... aka Emil and the Detectives
  • Ihre Majestät die Liebe (Joe May, 1931) .... aka Her Majesty Love
  • Kameradschaft (G.W. Pabst, 1931) .... aka Comradeship
  • Der Kongreß tanzt (Erik Charell, 1931) .... aka Congress Dances
  • M (Fritz Lang, 1931) .... aka Murderers Among Us
  • Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan & Carl Froelich, 1931) .... aka Maidens in Uniform
  • Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht (Robert Siodmak, 1931) .... aka Looking for His Murderer
  • Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (Erich Engels & Fyodor Otsep, 1931) .... aka The Brothers Karamazov
  • Voruntersuchung (Robert Siodmak, 1931) .... aka Inquest
  • Der weiße Rausch - Neue Wunder des Schneeschuhs (Arnold Fanck, 1931) .... aka The White Intoxication
  • Zwischen Nacht und Morgen (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1931) .... aka Between Night and Dawn


24 March: Leni Riefenstahl made her debut as director with Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light), a mountain film that showcased the director’s striking beauty. 14 May: Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? (Kuhle Wampe, aka Whither Germany? Slatan Dudow) premiered in Moscow. Because of its content, which criticized Germany’s social institutions, the film had to submit to major changes demanded by the censors. Kuhle Wampe was banned once the Nazis came to power.

Das blaue Licht (Leni Riefenstahl, 1932)
  • Das blaue Licht (Leni Riefenstahl, 1932) .... aka The Blue Light
  • Kuhle Wampe oder: Wem gehört die Welt? (Slatan Dudow, 1932) .... aka Whither Germany?
  • L'Atlantide (G.W. Pabst, 1932)
  • Der Rebell (Curtis Bernhardt & Edwin H. Knopf, 1932)
  • Der Stolz der 3. Kompanie (Fred Sauer, 1932) .... aka The Pride of the Third Company
  • Ein blonder Traum (Paul Martin, 1932) .... aka A Blonde's Dream
  • Tannenberg (Heinz Paul, 1932)
  • Unheimliche Geschichten (Richard Oswald, 1932) .... aka Unholy Tales
  • Vampyr - Der Traum des Allan Grey (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1932) .... aka The Vampire
  • Die verkaufte Braut (Max Ophüls, 1932) .... aka The Bartered Bride
  • Der weiße Dämon (Kurt Gerron, 1932) .... aka The White Demon


30 January: President Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler chancellor. Shortly thereafter the Nazis took over the government through a series of political maneuvers. 13 March: Joseph Goebbels was named minister of propaganda, a position that gave him control of the film industry as well as the other arts. 28 March: Goebbels made the first of his many speeches to members of the film establishment. He called for reforming German film from the roots but at the same time assured those present they had nothing to fear from his reforms. 14 July: A new law decreed that in future only members of the Filmkammer (Film Guild) could be engaged in anything to do with producing, distributing, or exhibiting film. Only small-town exhibitors were exempted from joining. As applications from the industry’s Jewish members were not accepted, the law effectively banned Jews from working in film. 11 September: Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex, Hans Steinhoff) premiered in Munich. Owing to the nature of the film as a vehicle for propaganda, Adolph Hitler was in attendance.

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)
  • Brennendes Geheimnis (Robert Siodmak, 1933) .... aka The Burning Secret
  • Der Choral von Leuthen (Carl Froelich & Arzén von Cserépy, 1933)
  • Flüchtlinge (Gustav Ucicky, 1933) .... aka Fugitives
  • Ich und die Kaiserin (Friedrich Hollaender, 1933) .... aka The Empress and I
  • Lachende Erben (Max Ophüls, 1933) .... aka The Merry Heirs
  • Liebelei (Max Ophüls, 1933) .... aka Flirtation
  • Morgenrot (Gustav Ucicky, 1933) .... aka Dawn
  • Orchesterprobe (Carl Lamac, 1933) .... aka Orchestra Rehearsal
  • S.O.S. Eisberg (Arnold Fanck, 1933)
  • Der Sieg des Glaubens (Leni Riefenstahl, 1933) .... aka Victory of the Faith
  • Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933) .... aka The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
  • Viktor und Viktoria (Reinhold Schünzel, 1933) .... aka Viktor and Viktoria