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.