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Weimar Germany

MUBI Special

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.

The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg Germany, 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.

Metropolis

Fritz Lang Germany, 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.

Spies

Fritz Lang Germany, 1928

Talk about an opening sequence! A fan favorite and the most underrated of Fritz Lang’s Weimar “superfilms,” Spies is a caper for the ages. Predating the adventures of Bond and Tintin, Lang invents the modern spy film: crackling with twists, disguises, gadgetry, narrow escapes, and forbidden love.

Nosferatu

F.W. Murnau Germany, 1922

You don’t need sound to be terrified. Off-brand at the time (thus, Nosferatu and not Dracula), F.W. Murnau’s Expressionist masterpiece is now iconic horror. Its spare medieval atmosphere and Max Schreck’s iconic, otherworldly vampire seems to get increasingly eerie and disturbing as the film ages.

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

Rüdiger Suchsland Germany, 2014

The cornerstone of our series on cinema from Weimar Germany is Rüdiger Suchsland’s sweeping documentary. Visualizing Siegfried Kracauer’s influential book from 1947, the film uses beautiful restorations of films by Lang, Murnau, and others to contextualize the period and showcase its masterpieces.

The Last Laugh

F.W. Murnau Germany, 1924

We begin a new series devoted to masterpieces of the short-lived Weimar Republic with a dazzling and groundbreaking drama of modern city life. Emil Jannings delivers one of cinema’s most indelible of performances, and F.W. Murnau (Sunrise, Faust) gives the story its full range of tragedy and beauty.

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