The Arty Semite

Friday Film: Weimar Cinema Beyond Caligari

By A.J. Goldmann

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Elizabeth Bergner, who played the starring role in ‘Fräulein Else.’

“Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares,” running at MoMA until March 7, 2011, is billed as the largest-ever retrospective of German cinema from between the Wars to be shown in the United States. The era’s defining cinematic style, expressionism, is well-represented in dozens of offerings, giving a healthy dose of the atmospheric, disturbing and downright spooky in classics like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “M,” “Nosferatu,” “Vampyr” and “Waxworks.”

But alongside these seminal works, the 75-film retrospective — created with assistance from the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden and the German Kinematek in Berlin — also highlights lesser-known and in some cases downright impossible-to-find fare, such as the surviving early comedies to which Billy Wilder lent his talents as screenwriter (see the 1930 ménage à trois musical “A Blonde’s Dream”).

On December 13, the museum will screen the impossible-to-find silent version of “Fräulein Else,” adapted from the revolutionary novella by Arthur Schnizler and directed by Paul Czinner. Schnitzler’s slim volume, written in a breathless interior monologue, tells of a young woman who consents to appear naked before the benefactor who is willing to save her father from financial ruin.

Schnitzler, a Viennese Jew who practiced medicine professionally, was developing stream-of-consciousness technique in Austria around the same time that Joyce and Woolf were experimenting along similar lines. The Nazis couldn’t stomach Schnitzler’s psychological bent and his sexual candor, and they labeled his revolutionary writings “Jewish filth.” Czinner (disliked by the Nazis for being both Jewish and gay) cast his future wife, the ravishing Elizabeth Bergner as Fräulein Else, her first starring role, in 1929.

After the war, Czinner went onto direct pioneering films of operatic productions from the Salzburg Festival, including a memorable “Don Giovanni” conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler and “Rosenkavalier” conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Schnitzler, who died two years before the Nazis came to power, has proved remarkably attractive to filmmakers, from Cecil B. DeMille (1921’s “The Affairs of Anatol”) to Max Ophuls (1950’s “La Ronde”) to Stanley Kubrick (1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut”).

The MoMA has a special connection to the history of Weimar cinema. In fact, it was while working as an assistant film curator at the museum in the 1940s that the German-Jewish refugee Siegfried Kracauer wrote his groundbreaking study of German film, “From Caligari to Hitler,” a still-controversial attempt to find evidence for the rise of Nazism in the cinema of the era, by treating films as products of mass culture.

Watch a clip from ‘Vampyr,’ screening at the Museum of Modern Art on December 12 and 20:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Wiesbaden, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Weimar Cinema, Weimar, Virginia Woolf, Waxworks, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Vampyr, The Affairs of Anatol, Stanley Kubrick, Rosenkavalier, Salzburg Festival, Siegfried Kracauer, Paul Czinner, Nazism, Nosferatu, MoMa, Mas Ophuls, M, La Ronde, Germany, Herbert von Karajan, Holocaust, James Joyce, German Kinematek, German Film, From Caligari to Hitler, Fraulein Else, Film, F.W. Murnau Foundation, Eyes Wide Shut, Expressionism, Elizabeth Bergner, Don Giovanni, Daydreams and Nightmares, Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder, Berlin, A.J. Goldmann, Arthur Schnizler, Anti-Semitism, A Blonde's Dream

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.