The Weimar Republic may have been fated to collapse, but Berlin was the hub of arts and entertainment back in the 20s and 30s, attracting directors, cinematographers, writers and actors from far and wide. The cinema was an outgrowth of the Expressionist movement in Germany, giving us many great talents like Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. The Blue Angel stands out as one of the great films of the era, but another wonderful story of love gone wrong is The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna, featuring the lovely Brigitte Helm. Lang’s Metropolis is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least of which he captured the sense of the future, albeit a dystopic one, inspired by the art and architecture of the 20’s. There was also a great sense of naturalism in films like Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, by Walther Ruttmann, and Curt Siodmak’s classic , People on Sunday. However, it was sad to see Ruttmann end up making propaganda films like Triumph of the Will under Hitler.
Among the many omissions are Paul Leni’s Waxworks, with a star-studded cast that included Emil Jennings and Conrad Veidt. Alexis Granowski’s The Song of Life (1931) and Curtis Bernhardt’s Three Loves (1929) were recently screened at MoMA. Three Loves is also known as The Woman One Longs For, featuring Marlene Dietrich. The MoMA series is great as it provided viewings of a number of films that are very hard to find, including Robert Siodmak’s Looking for his Murderer (1931).
Also worth checking out are the early Bauhaus experimental films like Moholy-Nagy’s Impressionen (1929) and Lightworks (1930). There’s also this fascinating short film of the London Zoo (1936), featuring many new modern structures including a rotating gorilla habitat. Here’s a link to his page, which includes previews of other short films available.Read less