The Golden Age of German Cinema

The period that the film historian Siegfrid Kracauer called the period From Caligari to Hitler, a manifest of film expressionism, which lasted until the Nazi party rose to power, a moment that stifled the pluralism of styles of German film and drove most of the artists to exile, therefore making expressionism the strongest current

In the entire history of German film, the period between the two Great wars was surely its Golden age. Emerging during the so called Weimar Republic, it was the only period when German film was a nexus of the film world, at least in the most important, the esthetical sense. Film historian Siegfrid Kracauer called this period From Caligari to Hitler, or from the so-called manifesto of film expressionism, the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, 1920). It was marked by expressionism as the strongest current. This period lasted until the Nazi party rose to power, at which point expressionism and pluralism of styles in German film were stifled and most of the artists were driven to exile. However, even after its exhaustion expressionism made its biggest mark outside of Germany. Nevertheless, expressionism remained the symbol of this entire period and this standpoint is largely justified because the remaining cultural currents of the period such as kammerespielfilm and street film, along with pure expressionism play with the basic expressionist obsession with the soul that wanders from tyranny to chaos. This wandering is probably most obvious in the afore-mentioned Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) directed by Robert Wiene. This film influenced the visual styles of many films to come with its oblique shots and sets filled with elongated, pointy and triangular surfaces as well as accentuated use of lighting and shadows. In fact, it introduced the specific term caligarism as a visual characteristic. Due to its fundamental motive, fear from the demonic authority and the character of a counterpart (multiple personality), this film imposed itself as the representative example of the expressionist movement, at the same time giving birth to the horror genre. That same year the film The Golem: How He Came into the World by Paul Wegener and Carl Boese was filmed in the same horror fashion depicting the expressionist fear of a superior power, a clay monster. The symphony of terror which this film has achieved can only be compared to another fundamental horror film, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu from 1922, the archetypal vampire film, which makes use of an atmosphere of the dark and the realm of Death’s dominion. This film represents one of the peaks of expressionism, but it is also a film that because of its poetic obsession with the problem of space in film, specifically exteriors, managed to step outside of the boundaries of pure expressionism. Nosferatu is much more a psychological horror film than the two previous ones, and Murnau’s tendency towards psychological analysis is also present in his film Last Man from 1924. It is a prime example of kammerspielfilm, a current that transferred the expressionist visual style into a realistic environment of interiors substituting the fantastic elements for the psychological problems of characters and thus transforming the real wandering into an allegorical one, but still it remained very present. Kammerspielfilm, like pure expressionism, insisted, which is especially clear in the Last Man, on the symbolic role of set design, the importance of Mise-en-scène, lighting in the case of the mentioned Murnau film and camera movement. The moving camera is evident in Secrets of a Soul from 1925, a pioneer illustration of psychoanalytical ideas, expressionist set design and dream-like scenes. It was directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, an artist who was one of the founders of street cinema and representative of directors who incorporated ideas of the so-called new reality into films. These are the tendencies that bear witness to the wealth of German cinema, the wealth that this short program represents humbly in number of works but abundantly in symbolism. (Bruno Kragić)