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Weimar Germany

Weimar Germany

Poised at a critical juncture between the devastation of WW1 and the advancing forces of Nazism, the era of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) turned out to be a period of extraordinary artistic ferment. Despite political and economic upheaval, the German film industry thrived in the period, resulting in some of the most iconic cinematic images ever created. In our spotlight on Weimar Germany, we are pleased to present some of the great classics of the 20s and early 30s: including the work of major filmmakers like Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, and Josef von Sternberg, and some of the leading stars of the era, like the great Emil Jannings and the iconic Marlene Dietrich. Both appear in Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, where Dietrich turns out a sultry and unforgettable performance as cabaret singer Lola Lola, which turned her into an overnight star.

Weimar cinema is commonly associated with Expressionism—which emerged from painting and theater to communicate intense emotions, unrestrained sexuality, and anti-bourgeois critique. Expressionist classics like Murnau’s Nosferatu and Lang’s Metropolis typify the style through slanted camera angles, exaggerated gestures, distorted bodies, and shadowy, otherworldly settings. The extraordinary painted sets of Metropolis conjure up a dystopian future battle between good and evil, whereas the play of light and shadow in Nosferatu conveys the darkest recesses of the subconscious. For context, we are also showing Rüdiger Suchsland’s documentary, From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses. Based on Siegfried Kracauer’s seminal book of film criticism, Suchsland’s film explores his thesis that Weimar cinema opened a window into the nation’s unconscious, highlighting the latent fascism of its imagery through key sequences from well-known, and less familiar, Weimar films. Beyond showing how Weimar cinema was far more varied than Expressionism, the film is premised on the question: “What does cinema know that we don’t?” Bear that question in mind as you delve into the opulent films on offer.

Nosferatu

F.W. Murnau Jerman, 1922

You don’t need sound to be terrified! With its eerie and decaying gothic atmosphere, and Max Schreck’s unforgettable, otherworldly vampire, F.W. Murnau’s Expressionist horror masterpiece seems to get increasingly disturbing as time passes. Cloaked in light and shadow, it creates a symphony of dread.

Metropolis

Fritz Lang Jerman, 1927

Easily one of the most iconic films ever made, Fritz Lang’s classic future shock is still thrilling. A propulsive epic and mind-blowing visual symphony, Lang’s deeply influential vision is both the foundation of sci-fi cinema and a time-honored gateway to the expressive wonders of silent film.

The Last Laugh

F.W. Murnau Jerman, 1924

Dazzling, wondrous, passionate—this masterpiece is cinema at its purest, full of beauty and tragedy from one of film history’s most dextrous and lyrical magicians: F.W. Murnau (Sunrise, Faust). For those who are new to the unique glories of silent film, this is an excellent place to start.

Spies

Fritz Lang Jerman, 1928

An international espionage ring led by a wheelchair-bound megalomaniac uses technology, threats, and murder to steal government secrets. A secret agent sets out to stop them, but in the process, he falls in love with a brash young spy.

The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg Jerman, 1930

With their seven film partnership, Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich traced a path of lush, scandalous romantic fantasies, of which The Blue Angel was their first. A masterpiece of relationship masochism, The Last Laugh’s Emil Jannings wilts before Dietrich, in her career-making role.

From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses

Rüdiger Suchsland Jerman, 2014

Using a montage of footage from the highest quality restorations, the film illustrates Siegfried Kracauer’s 1947 thesis that the rise of Nazism is anticipated in many themes found throughout Weimar cinema, while situating Kracauer in the philosophy and histories of the time.

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