Professor of German Christian Rogowski is editor of the new book The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema: Rediscovering Germany’s Filmic Legacy (Boydell & Brewer). Published on June 15, 2010, the book presents up-to-date perspectives on German filmmaking from the years of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933).
Traditionally, Weimar cinema has been viewed reductively—equated with only a limited number of canonical films (for example, Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu), several auteurist filmmakers and the expressionist film style. But in recent decades, researchers have uncovered a wealth of source material that shows Weimar cinema to be richer and more diverse than typically thought. The new book’s 18 contributors, including Rogowski himself, highlight lesser-known directors and producers, popular genres, nonfiction film and experiments in the artistic avant-garde. “The essays collected in the volume seek to redress the neglect such genre films have suffered,” he says. “Few have survived; even fewer are available outside archives, with English subtitles, for an international audience.” The essays also discuss Weimar films in terms of broader issues such as gender and sexuality; national identity and transnational collaboration; filmmaking technologies, including the introduction of sound to films; and connections with other media and art forms.
“The book was prompted,” Rogowski says, “by my interest in, and fascination with, audience-oriented films” including the early comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, “full of charm and satiric wit,” and “the big-budget blockbuster productions of the early Weimar period, such as Joe May’s eight-part action adventure extravaganza, Die Herrin der Welt (The Mistress of the World, 1919-20)” and its follow-up, the exotic fantasy Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb, 1921). Such films are “very different from the standard image of Weimar cinema as a somber, difficult art cinema,” the professor points out, and with them, “German filmmakers tried to compete, both domestically and internationally, against the increasing dominance of Hollywood films.”
“My own essay in the book deals with Wilhelm Dieterle’s silent film Geschlecht in Fesseln (Fettered Sexuality, 1928),” he says. “The film revolves around a decent man who is imprisoned after an unfortunate accident. … In prison, he experiences the sexual deprivation of prisoners, while outside, his wife equally suffers emotionally and sexually under the separation. The film is a remarkable intervention in contemporary debates concerning the sexual rights of prisoners, framing the issue in terms of general human rights.” Rogowski also wrote the introduction to the book.
Rogowski’s previous publications include two books on Robert Musil and a CD-ROM on German cultural studies. He has published essays on Germanophone literature, drama, opera, film and intellectual history. His research remains focused on the cinema and popular culture of the Weimar Republic, especially in terms of the politics of “race.”