Beyond the Haunted Screen
“The weimar cinema has never been a particularly popular cinema,” writes Thomas Elsaesser. “It has always been something of a filmmaker's or a film scholar's cinema.” In this assessment, the films made in the Weimar Republic stand out above all by dint of the formal accomplishment and intellectual appeal of “individually authored art films.” Commentators who share this persuasion applaud the masterpieces of Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, and G. W. Pabst and focus on the mean streets, dread spaces, and eccentric narratives of what Lotte Eisner called “the haunted screen,” from Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Nosferatu (1922), and Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, 1922) to Metropolis (1927) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1928) along with other films of the fantastic, street films, chamber room melodramas, and big-city symphonies. The hallmarks of the silent era have without a doubt played a much more estimable role in the history of German cinema than the productions made after the coming of sound and the Nazi takeover. Despite its unquestionable veracity, this argument has also unwittingly helped to foster a partial and occluded view. A more inclusive approach would want to consider, along with the period's canonized productions, its less well-known genre films.