Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Color was rare

The era was dominated by black-and-white film, and as a result, most exhibits at the "Modernist cinema. Film in the Weimar Republic" show are black, white, and shades of grey. Only the posters of famous films were in color at the time. The exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn runs from December 14, 2018 through March 24, 2019.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Film stars headed to Berlin

Weimar Republic cinema made Germany a center for filmmakers and actors, equal to none but Hollywood. Film stars from all over Europe flocked to Berlin — including Denmark's Asta Nielsen. In the 1927 silent drama "Tragedy of the Street," she played an aging prostitute in a story that focused on the fringes of society.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Time to experiment

Weimar Republic cinema was also groundbreaking — big city life inspired many artists and filmmakers to experiment. In 1926, Hans Richter created a pioneering experimental short film that mixed film, animation and photographs in a work he simply called "Film Study."

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Gender roles put to test

Traditional ideas about gender roles started to unravel in the Weimar Republic, too, at least in artistic circles. Film stars including Marlene Dietrich and Elisabeth Bergner (photo) openly played with male/female cliches. The 1920s were groundbreaking in that regard, but after 1933, such liberal attitudes once again became taboo.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Children's films

Films focused on narratives from various social classes. The protagonists weren't always adults, but children, too. The children's adventure story "Emil and the Detectives" by Erich Kästner has been filmed several times since the book's release in 1929, but the first version was Gerhard Lamprecht's film of the same name in 1931. The photo shows the filmmaker on set with his young actors.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Faster and faster...

Automobiles, airplanes, bicycles, trains: New methods of transportation were changing the lifestyle of Europeans at the time. Italian Futurism artists were fascinated by locomotion. Cinema, too, was a medium that captured the new developments. The 1929 silent film "Rivals for the World Record" was one of the first movies about motor sports.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Untamed nature

Films about urban life and progress were created during the Weimar Republic, but various aspects of nature were also depicted on the silver screen. Director Arnold Fanck was a pioneer of the mountain film genre; his drama films featured particularly spectacular alpine footage.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

People on Sunday

One of the most famous Weimar era films is "People on Sunday," a partly documentary movie by filmmakers who went on to become famous, including Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak and Fred Zinnemann. The film shows how several young people spend their leisure time in Berlin and at the lake Wannsee public beach.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Influential tool

The new medium film was powerful, politicians realized early on. The above 1920 photo shows Friedrich Ebert, President of the Weimar Republic, on the set of Ernst Lubitsch's film "Anna Boleyn" starring Henny Porten and Emil Jannings. More than a decade later, film was to become a powerful propaganda tool for the Nazis.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Opulent wardrobes

There is no doubt that German film in the Weimar Republic era came up with quite a few masterpieces that influenced directors all over the world — to this very day. Berlin's leading film studios were famous for the styles devised by their costume departments. The above photo shows three ladies in the Fritz Lang classic "Metropolis" from 1927.

Modernist cinema: Film in the Weimar Republic

Stark contrasts

Apart from the more epic "Metropolis" and "The Nibelungs," movies that used more expressionist means to tell their stories are still regarded as milestones of film history. Fritz Lang's 1931 masterpiece "M" for instance resorted to imagery that focused on contrasts.

Fringes of a taboo-breaking society, fast cars and pioneering alpine works: The exhibition "Modernist cinema" at Bonn's Bundeskunsthalle museum shines a light on one of the most fertile periods of German film.

Weimar BKH