- General agreement exists that the Weimar era's best film directors—for example, Fritz Lang,* F. W. Murnau,* Ernst Lubitsch,* G. W. Pabst,* and Carl Mayer—were the most talented in the world. With their facility at embracing a full visual scene (e.g., in the mountain films of Arnold Fanck*), their skill at inserting Expressionist elements into the visual framework, their flair at linking action and lighting, their theatrical proficiency (many were trained by Max Rein-hardt*), and their innovations with camera mobility, the directors (and camera-men such as Fritz Arno Wagner) were so impressive that when the industry faltered during the 1923-1924 currency stabilization, Hollywood hired as many as were willing to move to California.German movies also drew crowds throughout the Weimar era. Cinema houses, which numbered 2,000 before the war, rose to 3,700 in 1920; there were over 5,000 in 1929. But filmmaking was a precarious business. Driven by the infla-tion,* Germany produced an incredible 646 films in 1922, but the number col-lapsed to 241 in 1927 and continued to fall. While Germany produced more films in the 1920s and 1930s than the remainder of Europe combined, by the late 1920s American cinema was prospering at German expense. Film produc-tion in Germany, roughly synonymous with production in Berlin* (Suïd-Film was based in Munich), was led by UFA.* But UFA was in such desperate shape in 1925 that Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer salvaged it with four million dollars; two years later it was purchased by the nationalist publisher Alfred Hugenberg.* Similarly, Phoebus, among UFA s chief competitors, collapsed in 1928.Weimar-era film, while noted for its production quality, was conspicuous for its gothic sense of impending doom. In his cultural history of the period, Walter Laqueur asserted that after the horrors of war it required madness, fear, and death to attract the public. Whether one views The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,* Lang's Metropolis, Murnau's Nosferatu, or even Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel, one perceives a dark vision in which traditional values, if not humanity itself, seem threatened (the films of Carl Froelich* serve as an exception). In his elegant, if flawed, study of German film, Siegfried Kracauer* related this vision to a protofascist psychological quality. Others argue that Weimar-era film served simply as an escape. One statistic bolsters this view: in 1931, at the height of the depression,* 55.6 million cinema tickets were sold. Either way, the Left perennially attacked the industry for its bogus impartiality while the Right denounced it as a Jewish enclave.REFERENCES:Lotte Eisner, Haunted Screen; Kiaulehn, Berlin; Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler; Kreimeier, Ufa Story; Laqueur, Weimar; Manvell and Fraenkel, German Cin-ema; Saunders, Hollywood in Berlin.
A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. C. Paul Vincent.
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