Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin

Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin
Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic," Berlin

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2/28 The Blue Angel


I had mentioned last class of the influence of psychoanalysis in devising techniques used to interpret the "text" made up by the film. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) had made his name through his book, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) where he claims that it is through dreams that we unlock the secrets to our deepest motives and desires. Through this Freud is credited with "discovering" the unconscious part of our minds. Dreams are essentially unconscious "wishes" that manifest themselves in the dream-content, however, the dynamics of the unconscious work in a way to conceal the true meaning of the dream by censoring certain aspects of the mind even during a dream, that is why dreams often seem strange or illogical, as images seen in a dream are usually something other than what they appear to be due to this internal censoring of the mind. Through analysis the true meaning, or repressed desire communicated through the dream can be revealed. This process of interpreting the dream forms the basis of how studies of culture are performed.

Critics have spoken of interpreting a text–whether it be a book, a film, or other artistic work–as possessing a "textual unconscious," in other words, that there is a level of meaning to a text (or connected sequences of words, images and sounds) that is not revealed through reading the text itself but through interpreting the text, sometimes called the "latent meaning" of a text, latent meaning something that has the potential of developing but is not visible. The role of the critic then is to bring out the latent meaning of the text. Freud himself had relied upon texts in developing his theories like his analysis of Shakespearean plays, also, the origin of the infamous "Oedipus complex" comes from literature, namely the Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. 

However, besides the analysis of dreams and of texts, Freud developed his theory of the unconscious based on his own clinical observations working with patients. Besides the consciousness of the individual–the ego–the awareness the individual has of their own actions and memories of past actions, Freud noticed a tendency among his patients to repress certain aspects of themselves or memories of things. The "repressed material" that is hidden from the consciousness of the ego he would later term the Id, and represents impulses that are normally repressed from consciousness, however, Freud noticed a disturbing tendency for these repressed impulses to sometimes unexpectedly break through to the surface level of consciousness, or in more normal cases to be expressed through dreams. Finally, he noticed what he called a "defensive agency" that would regulate what was considered acceptable for consciousness and what was to be repressed. Freud also noted that the work of this defensive agency was also largely unconscious as well, even as it screened and filtered what would enter into conscious thought. He would call this "defensive agency" the super-ego. 

Combined the super-ego, ego, and id, made up what Freud called the "structural model of our psyche," or mind. Interestingly the vast majority of our psyche, Freud would argue, is unconscious, and only a tiny portion of our minds are made up by our ego or consciousness. However, Freud tended to assume that the relations between the three agencies of the psyche: super-ego, ego, id, were relatively fixed and stable, later psychoanalysts especially those influenced by Marxism, like Erich Fromm or Wilhelm Reich, would argue that social conditions alter the relations between these psychic structures, especially the amount of psychic repression exercised by the super-ego over the ego. More radically,  psychoanalytic theories from the 1960s and after have concluded that concepts like the Oedipus complex and even the unconscious itself are obsolete and no longer apply to modern subjects, although this is disputed by more mainstream psychiatrists influenced by Freud.

Nietzsche was a big influence on Freud as well. For instance, Freud believed that humans were fundamentally driven by a "pleasure principle" to seek pleasure and avoid pain, at the same time, the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure is not sustainable for the individual or the species. The unconscious realm of the pleasure principle and the Id can be seen as similar to Nietzsche's idea of the Dionysian, while the conscious realm of the reality principle and the ego are similar to the Apollonian. The basis of civilization and morality are based on this repression, and to a large extent on repression of impulses in order to survive, this leads to the transformation of the pleasure principle to the "reality principle," still the same pleasure seeking, pain avoiding impulse, but adapted to the constraints of society. The "reality principle" and "pleasure principle" as it has been defined also sounds similar to the "will to power," or the ability to act on and satisfy your desires. 

Freud unlike Nietzsche was a real practicing, clinical psychiatrist, and besides his book on dreams, and his later theoretical work, Freud is probably most famous for the publication of his case studies working with real patients and his theory of psychosexual developmental stages (oral, anal, phallic, latency, gential). These studies show both Freud's theoretical approach in action, but also maybe unintentionally, especially his case studies with patients, reveal the hidden substratum of bourgeois society in the early 20th century, as it reveals in detail the hidden side of social and sexual relations among the upper classes.

It is fitting that we begin with this since films are in a sense a projection of dreams. The theoretical approach developed by the Frankfurt School sees films as a way of projecting unconscious motives and desires into objective, or empirical, form (cf. Kracauer's thesis that German films betray a desire for authority or Lowenthal's statement "mass culture is psychoanalysis in reverse"). Films are also important in the sense of "group psychology" or the mechanisms used to elicit collective reactions from the audience: the happy ending, the surprise twist, shock, sadness, anger, happiness, etc. Finally, in a more direct sense, the other major preoccupation of Freud's early work was with human sexuality and the content of the film we are looking at this week deals with this theme explicitly.

The Blue Angel (1930) is considered to be the first major sound film produced in Germany. Unlike films today where we take sound for granted you can tell that the novelty of using sound in a film was new, like when you hear a character whistling, or when a door opens and you hear music from the interior.  The movie was directed by Josef von Sternberg who later became an important Hollywood director in many genres but also known for the film noir genre popular in the late 1940s and 1950s. Later, a film professor at UCLA where he was an influence on the 1960s counter-culture group, The Doors. The movie was released by Ufa, and produced by Erich Pommer, who produced Caligari and it was filmed in both German and English versions. We will be watching the English version, although some characters still speak German.

The movie is based on a novel Professor Unrat (1905) (literally Professor Garbage) by Heinrich Mann (1871-1950), the older brother of Thomas Mann (1875-1955) who became an even more important writer. The screenplay was written by Carl Zuckmayer.

The main story of the film deals with a professor, Immanuel Rath, who is overwhelmed with passion and lust over a cabaret performer, Lola, which leads him down a self-destructive path. The theme of respectable or intellectual characters suddenly being overwhelmed by passion leading to destruction is also treated in the famous short story "Death in Venice" (1912) by Thomas Mann. In the 1970s this story would also be made into a film by the controversial Italian director Luchino Visconti. The name Lola also sounds similar to the name Lolita, the character and the title of the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov that also deals with similar themes first published in 1955. Lolita was also made into a film, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1962.

The film opens on a street scene emphasizing the curved features of the buildings but doing away with the painted sets in favor of more realistic constructions. A woman is seen mimicking the pose of a cabaret singer Lola-Lola. A cabaret was a kind of night-club or sometimes even bordello that was popular in Germany in the 1920s, and continued to be in the Nazi era as well.

The camera then shifts to an apartment bedroom where we see a maid enter a chamber and then Professor Rath (Raat in the novel) as he wakes up. His pet bird has died and he gives it to his maid who coldly disposes of it in the furnace. He then descends the stairs into the outside world.

Rath is now at the local school where he teaches. The boys are restless and aggressive and mercilessly pick on one of the weaker students. Later, the student gives him postcards that also have Lola's picture on them.

The camera then shifts to another scene and we are first introduced to Lola in the middle of a performance at the Blue Angel. The dancers seem bored and uninterested in the audience.

At night he goes to investigate, walking down dark and twisted streets he makes his way to the Blue Angel. Rath is first confronted by Lola when she shines a spotlight on him, and embarrasses him causing him to flee the room as he chases after a student. As he moves from room to room he encounters several odd looking performers including a clown who reappears several times.

Rath makes his way backstage and confronts Lola. He is helpless against her, and despite his stern, authoritarian nature Lola seems not to take him very seriously. He later leaves abruptly chasing after one of his students.

The students later attack the student who they know must have tipped-off the professor. The scene seems very similar to Cesare's shadow stalking Alan before he kills him.

The next day in class, neither teacher nor student seem willing to confront the other about the previous night. At nighttime, Rath goes back to the nightclub, where again his students are there. This time Rath confronts and even attacks a large man who harasses Lola and the stage magician when he intervenes. Lola seems impressed by this. He hides to avoid the police where he finds his students in the same hiding spot. He then smacks his students and severely reprimands them in front of everyone. She sings a song to him which Rath thinks is a sign of her love for him (the lyrics of the song would warn him though if he listened). He drinks too much and ends up spending the night at Lola's apt, thus making him late for school the next day. Before he leaves they have breakfast and you can hear a bird chirping in a cage that Lola keeps. The bird seems to symbolize life or vitality, something that has died in Rath's life but that Lola has and something he wants.

The next morning at school, the students write humiliating messages and draw pictures of the professor's supposed affair. This actually causes him to lose his job. This is a clear example of how social structure affects psychological attitudes and behavior, another theme emphasized by Fromm. It was not simply that people were more prude about sex back then, there was (and is) a real social structure that could punish people that did not conform to societies standards, in this case losing your job. In a similar way, the student's aggressiveness could be interpreted as a result of too much repression, in another sense though, they foreshadow the Hitler Youth. 

The majority of the film takes places in the interior, usually in crowded and small spaces, doors and stairways are shown throughout separating and compartmentalizing the spaces the characters inhabit, stairs also symbolize hierarchy and different levels between people. This also emphasizes the importance of social structure. We are embedded in these environments and they structure to a large part our interactions with people. The Blue Angel, the cabaret, symbolizes almost any social environment: it has a performance area where interaction takes place according to norms and established rules of behavior, and there is a backstage area. People interacting in a social environment are performing according to some kind of social role which has established rules for interaction. The backstage area permits the social actor to relax in some of the role requirements forced upon them by their social position. Appearances then become a crucial part of performance. Sociologists call this "dramaturgical" analysis, and literally draws upon theatre or drama to supply concepts used to analyze social behavior: role, performance, frontstage area, backstage area, etc,  and most associated with American sociologist Erving Goffman. The clothes that Rath is wearing at different points in the film signify his status and even his sanity. The magician wears a fake mustache to signify his pretension to a higher status level (facial hair was considered a sign of status and dignified). Lola is almost constantly changing her outfits and appearance throughout the film thus emphasizing the changing roles and characters she plays at different times.

After losing his job Rath returns to Lola and proposes marriage. She eventually agrees and they are married. Rath, still with no job, becomes increasingly jealous and resentful of Lola using her sex appeal to make a living. He becomes increasingly subservient to Lola and as the years pass, he seems to be a broken man. He is forced to perform now to help provide and he now becomes the clown, thus the clown  foreshadows his own fate. The original clown could even have been another former lover of Lola. After touring for awhile they are back at the Blue Angel so Rath is forced to perform in front of his former colleagues and even students.

Lola begins to have an affair with another man in front of Rath, this causes him to have a complete mental breakdown and he attacks Lola. He is put in a straitjacket, the same as Caligari is at the end of the film. 

He comes to some time afterwards and looking like a monster instead of the distinguished gentleman at the beginning he stalks through the dark streets, eventually making his way to his old school. The caretaker finds him dead at his desk, his hands locked in a death-grip on the desk he used to teach from.

Last class, we went over the relationship between painting and film and the transition from traditional to modern forms of culture. With the advent of sound film, another traditional art form, theatre, or theatrical drama, is transfigured into the modern form of film. Until sound film, dramatic theatrical acting in the Shakespearean sense or in the sense of Greek drama could not really be performed: live theatrical performance staged by actors who memorize lines and elocution. With sound their performances can be filmed and reproduced, but, the live component is sill missing. Many of the stars of the silent era had theatrical training, yet many top stars of the silent era like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were not able to transition successfully to sound films, even despite a theatrical background. 

Pickford and Douglas, along with Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith would found the influential studio United Artists in 1919, one of eight major studios that dominated the American film industry, the "five majors": 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, MGM, RKO, Paramount, and "three minors": Universal, Columbia, United Artists. All of the surviving studios are owned by one of the media conglomerates mentioned last class. Today, United Artists is owned by MGM which in turn is owned by a consortium that includes Sony and Comcast who also owns NBCUniversal. Walt Disney Pictures has also emerged as a "major studio."

Prior to sound film, stars like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Max Linder relied on more of a physical and visual kind of comedy. Again, many of silent comedic film stars had a hard time making the transition, only Charlie Chaplin of the three remained a star in the sound era. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was founded in 1927 by stars like Fairbanks and Pickford (also husband and wife, one of the first celebrity couples) as well as studio executives like Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). Pickford described the Academy as a "League of Nations of the motion picture industry" and with Fairbanks and others came up with the idea of giving "awards of merit" to people who worked in film. The "star" of the film Emil Jannings, won the first Academy Award ever given for Best Actor in 1929 (the year before this film premiered), and personifies the kind of serious, classically-trained dramatic actors emerging in the sound era. At this time, it was quite common from stars from Europe to travel to the U.S. to do films and go back and forth between both countries. After the Nazi takeover in 1933, most of the German film actors, directors, fled to other parts of Europe or the U.S.

Emil Jannings (1884-1950) however did in fact become a Nazi sympathizer. If you watch the film Inglorious Basterds (2009) there is a scene towards the end during the film premiere where he is introduced to some of the characters and presumably dies along with Hitler and everyone else. In real life, he did star in many films produced during the Nazi regime, his association with the Nazis effectively ended his film career after the war and retired to Austria as a private citizen. 

The character that Jannings plays, Professor Immanuel Rath represents 19th century morality. "Immanuel" was the first name of the philosopher Kant (1724-1804), who also theorized about the relationship between "freedom" (freiheit) and "duty" (deon), Rath even says at one point he was simply doing his duty, when defending Lola. This idea of acting from a sense of duty was the foundation of Kant's moral theory, or practical reason, which had a significant influence on 19th century thinking. "Freedom" in Kant's sense is acting out of a sense of ethical obligation or duty, but in a way that is freely chosen by the individual, not coerced, based upon their rational awareness of ethical principles. To this extent, Reason becomes critical because it has the potential to create an awareness in the individual to their ethical responsibilities and bases the legitimacy on choices that are made without coercion. For Kant, it was important that ethics be self-conscious in order for it to be freely chosen, even above good actions done out of habit. The standards of ethical conduct can be reduced to rational principles that can be learned and acted upon. Furthermore, knowledge of these rational and ethical principles do not depend upon experience to learn (empiricism) but can be revealed through a logical process of thought (rationalism). However, Kant by making freedom purely rational reduces the idea of freedom essentially to a mental concept that is not effected by external causes. The external world of the senses and the body is where the laws of "causal necessity", the laws of nature, play themselves out, or what we call cause/effect, and to the extent that outside forces work themselves upon people and influence them, they are not free. How can we have free will, let alone a rational free will under the constraint of so many external forces? The failure to deal with this moral paradox, had led to a reaction against "Kantian ethics" and duty that we see displayed in this film, represented by the character of Rath. Ultimately, we are still dealing with the same ethical problems Kant was dealing with. If our actions are determined by external causes then we cannot really have free will. Kant attempts to provide a theoretical foundation that explains how we do in fact choose our own actions based on our ability to reason, but in the process he seems to create an artificial separation between the mind and body–a separation very common in the history of philosophical thought.

Kant deals with the contradiction of free will v. external causes by separating the idea of freedom from the external world of cause/effect, freedom is outside the realm of causal necessity, or rather Kant says freedom is another form of causality, the spontaneous causes of events that we initiate. Kant argues that the logic of cause/effect reasoning depends upon finding a prior cause for every event, and only knowledge that can justify itself in this way can be taken as valid. Yet the certainty of this knowledge eventually runs into the contradiction that past a certain point in any investigation, prior causes for events cannot be shown which ultimately undermines the claim to valid knowledge. Unless we show every cause how can we be sure what we think to be true is really true? This failure to ground knowledge with a workable standard of truth, is also one of the central concerns of nihilistic thinking. Nihilism in part refers to the inability to come to any final statement of truth. In other words, Kant was deeply concerned with the problem of nihilism by trying to establish a solid foundation to both justify our knowledge of freedom and knowledge itself, which he saw as threatened by the contradictions of philosophy or what he called an "antinomy" of thought, the mutual incompatibility of two apparently true laws, and which leads to nihilism. 

This still does not answer however how freedom which is rational, can be unaffected by the physical laws of nature. Kant's famous move is to argue that the antinomy of external causes and freedom results from the improper use of reason, leading to a separation of reason (theoretical reason=science; practical reason=ethics). His philosophy is seen as a corrective, to place reason within its proper boundaries and limits. Theoretical reason cannot provide an infinite series of causes to explain the origin of all events but can provide "cognitive understanding" on the appearances of things (phenomena), but not the things-in-themselves, or the essence of a thing (noumena), furthermore, the study of appearances  is separate from practical reason which specifies the conditions and requirements of ethical action. In a sense, Kant argues, we are always limited by our own interpretation of the world, and this interpretive part of consciousness is necessary in order to have knowledge of the world in the first place. 

However, as discussed previously, Kant seems to argue that the structure of our interpretation of the world, has only one correct form, and this structure can be revealed through rational analysis of how our consciousness works. Hegel, argues that consciousness (our interpretation of the world) actually goes through several different stages of development throughout history, but also argues that the highest development of reason is also the final stage of development for consciousness. Furthermore, Kant misses this developmental aspect of consciousness, precisely because he sees the subject of experience (the individual) as fundamentally separate from the objects of experience that the subject sees and interacts with in the world. Hegel argues that relationship between subject and object is organic, and on closer analysis are not separate at all but two aspects of the same process, the development of reason in the world. However, Hegel like Kant also tended to reduce subjective experience to its mental categories and move away from the actual physical or bodily aspects of experience, in favor of the idea of an Absolute Spirit developing through history through which we are all connected in some way, and which is revealed through reason. Yet, Hegel's insistence on the connection between subject and object, created the pathway through which later thinkers would argue for a more physical understanding of subjectivity, beginning with Marx, but continuing with many other thinkers into the 20th century. Freud, would argue almost the opposite, that we are animals, and our reason develops out of a conflict with the natural world, including the internal regulation of our instincts in order to better adapt for survival, in other words, all ethical content and free will that Kant had seen in reason is drained out by Freud in favor of self-preservation, however, Freud's idea of a well-adapted ego guided by the reality principle, would match up well with the Kantian idea of freedom.

Kant argues that freedom must be law-like for it to be rational and must not be chaotic or destructive, but these laws must be freely accepted for it not to be coercive. Kant argues that the necessity of laws makes it acceptable and beneficial to freely submit to these principles. In effect, Kant reintroduces the idea of causality, but one that does not depend upon natural phenomena, but has an internal cause born out of the self-evident truth of knowledge itself, while remaining independent from any external conditioning, to do so would undermine the idea of freedom as Kant has defined it, because then the choice would not be self-chosen but "caused" by something external. In a sense, Kant argues, that the cause of our freedom is our knowledge of our potential to be free, which again is revealed through logic.  From this point, Kant then deduces the principles of ethical conduct and duty, what he calls the Categorical Imperative. Put simply, the Categorical Imperative is a philosophical articulation of the golden rule: "treat others as you would like to be treated yourself," in Kant's terminology "act only according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that is should become a universal law," or a later formulation of this idea: "act in such a way that you always treat humanity, either in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time an end." In other words, do not use people, or treat them as a means to an end, but to treat them with dignity is an end in itself. The problem as already said is that one is left with a concept of freedom that is fairly indifferent to the material conditions faced by individual subjects who supposedly embody freedom, even though Kant is fundamentally concerned with action not just thought. In the end, Kant is not able to follow through on what he claims to do. The obstacles to freedom, Kant says, is a lack of awareness of the categorical imperative not due to any concrete historical conditions. 

The film then deals with the conflict of an older system of moral values being confronted with a society that is rapidly changing.  The most obvious example is Rath's proposal of marriage to Lola when she is obviously a more "bohemian" or "free-spirited" type than he is. Of course that divergence is what causes their relationship to go so bad. However change itself cannot explain the content of these newer values without understanding the reaction against the still unresolved contradictions within Kant's philosophy. The idea of freedom as duty turns back into itself and becomes unfreedom when it neglects the unavoidable factors of the external world. Despite all his maneuvering, Kant is never really able to resolve the tensions between freedom and causality, he even acknowledges that the "cause" of following the categorical imperative is the desire for greater inner personal worth, which some have argued reveal a need to escape the constraints of desire and passion. Critics argue the drive to freedom is not produced by deductive moral reason but produced by the sensuous world it claims to be independent of i.e. the will to power. Thinking and reason are aids in asserting power over the world, although this tendency to domination also creates a whole new series of problems.

, "Self-portrait of the Dadasopher," Raoul Haussman, 1920
The weakness of the intellectual, physically and spirtually, also a major theme in Thomas Mann's story, deals with their inability to share in the sensual pleasures of the world resulting from their isolated and non-physical lifestyles. It suggests a division in people between mental and physical, the mind and body, that is incomplete, and one that has run through the history of Western culture since the time of Plato. It should not be a surprise that the Romantic movement developed as a reaction against Enlightenment rationalism of which Kant was the best representative. The Romantic hero was often tragic and some remnant of this has carried over into German film and literature we are dealing with. Often, attempts to cross over into the other realm is destructive for these characters. Hesse's character Siddhartha was in many ways a non-tragic character that draws on romanticism, and of course his embrace of the sensual world is a major turning point in the story. In a more political sense, many duty-bound middle-class intellectuals were pro-war during World War I. There is a scene in the beginning of the novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque, where the school teacher encourages his students to enlist in the army and fight for the "Fatherland," and suggests that many teachers and professors probably propagandized their students during the war by encouraging them to fight. The novel was later made into an American film released in 1930, later remade in 1979.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) was the main breakout star of the film. She plays the nightclub singer Lola who seduces Prof. Rath played by Jannings. The film was made in both German and English, even though Dietrich could not speak English at this time and delivered her lines phonetically. By 1930 the Nazi movement was in full swing and gaining momentum by capitalizing on the chaos and uncertainty unleashed by the worldwide Great Depression in 1929. In this climate, making a film in English at this time carried some risk with it. Nazis had won over the conservative establishment by their paranoid, hysterical attacks on things "un-German," and like most right-wing movements tried to foster a sense of hyper-patriotism towards the German nation and culture. English was considered a corrupt foreign influence, so in part producing the film in an English version was meant to show solidarity with the outside world against the Nazis. 

It is reported that high Nazi officials begged her to do propaganda films. She was known for having an athletic build for her time and thus fit their model of the German "Aryan master race." She refused and actually did the opposite by going to America the day after the film's premiere and became a star in the U.S. while also volunteering to do shows and performances for Allied troops during the war. In Germany some still consider her a traitor to this day and protested her when she returned to visit after the war. She also became an atheist during the war, giving her own take on Nietzsche's God is dead line: "If God exists, he needs to review his plan." In the U.S., she was reunited with von Sternberg who directed her in several Hollywood films in the 1930s like Blonde Venus (1932), Shanghai Express (1932), and The Scarlett Empress (1934)It was said that von Sternberg's lighting effects  helped accentuate Dietrich and of course the manipulation of shadows and light is a trademark of expressionist cinema. These films are also notable for being produced before the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the "Hays Code," began to be enforced in 1934 (first adopted in 1930), the predecessor to today's MPAA rating system (R, PG, etc), the same year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is established. Ironically, the first film to be reviewed under the code was The Blue Angel. Prior to this, actresses like Dietrich and Mae West (1893-1989) were allowed to be not only sexually suggestive, but play strong lead roles who often dominated the men, and it was in large part due to their sexuality and suggestiveness (and perhaps threatened by strong females), as well as the violence of a new genre, gangster films, that nation-wide censorship of the movie industry began in the U.S. Films produced during this period are known as "Pre-Code" films, the label is significant because it refers to a relatively short period of time where Hollywood actually produced high-quality but edgy and sometimes controversial films, if you consider that sound films were not produced until 1927, and arguably mostly of not good quality until 1930 then the peak of the pre-code era is roughly between 1930-1934. Dietrich became one of the actresses associated with creating the image of a "femme fatale." Andy Warhol (1928-1987), for example, tried to recreate Dietrich's persona in the 1960s with German fashion model Christa Päffgen (1938-1988), who he renamed Nico, and joined with the art-rock punk band the Velvet Underground, before starting her own solo career.

The song has one line that goes: "She builds you up just to put you down, what a clown."

The American Film Institute recently voted Dietrich the ninth greatest film actress from the "golden age" of Hollywood. http://www.afi.com/100years/stars.aspx

In real life Marlene Dietrich was bi-sexual. Amazingly, even though she led an open life and had several relationships with women and frequently attended gay and drag shows in Germany in the 1920s, this part of her life was not known to the public till after her death. She also helped popularize "androgynous" fashion (she is credited with being the first woman to wear men's pants as a fashion statement). Dietrich was married and had a child, but had numerous affairs with her male co-stars and allegedly had relations with, among others, the novelist Erich Maria Remarque of All Quiet on the Western Front, and John F. Kennedy who was almost twenty years younger than her. Here is a clip from her last film-performance in 1978 Just A Gigolo along with David Bowie, here singing the title song. The popular song itself was a 1929 adaptation by lyricist Irving Ceasar of an Austrian cabaret song, "Schöner Gigolo," written in 1928 by Leonello Casucci and Julius Brammer.

Some like Kracauer have described her character in the film as "totally impassive." However, like with his analysis of Caligari, modern critics have noted the one-sidedness of Kracauer's critique of German cinema. Does Lola represent a strong female character? Is she a villain? Does she represent a new form of subjectivity, a new level of consciousness overlooked by Hegel, and a new balance of instinctual drives overlooked by the chauvinistic Freud, or a regression into nihilism and chaos, the product of a rebellion against repressive morals, that is itself as empty as the values it claims to be opposing? 

Kracauer's thesis is that German cinema from this period reveals the unconscious desires and fears of the German middle-class. How does this film portray middle-class values? In some ways the film seems to suggest that the values of the 19th century are no longer suitable for life in the 20th century, but at the same time the narrative of the film seems to reveal fear or anxiety over a dominant female character–thus the need to at least partially villainize the character. In this sense, the film seeks to neither move backwards or forwards. Lola is nihilistic in the sense that her values "negate" or destroy, the values of Rath, in every situation she seems superior to him, yet, the world that she inhabits cannot really be said to be better than the one Rath comes from, she despises her own world as much. To this extent: Lola and Rath themselves represent opposites, however in this case, no synthesis or unity-in-difference is created from the two and Rath is destroyed in the process.

Assignment Due 3/7

Go to the link for "Weimar Republic" and where it says Primary Sources on the drop-down menu, go to "culture." Listen to the cabaret songs then choose two of those songs. Choose a specific part of each song to analyze and interpret the lyrics and explain why you chose these lyrics. When writing it out, write it out both in German and the English translation.

On the same website, go to "society" under Primary Sources, and summarize Paragraph 175 and how it relates to this lecture.

Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Uncensored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies, Cambridge University Press, 1996
Sigmund Freud, The Freud Reader, ed. Peter Gay, W. W. Norton, 1995
Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Anchor Books, 1959
Colin Hearfield, Adorno and the Modern Ethos of Freedom, Ashgate, 2004 
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. Mary Gregor, Cambridge University Press, [1785] 1997


  1. I cant find Paragraph 175! Can someone paste it here for me??? Thanks

  2. i don't find page 175 can you please tell me where to find it thanks

  3. No paper just the blog. The link is found on the Weimar Republic link, Primary Sources, under Society and under Homophobia.

  4. Paragraph 175 (Society - Homophobia)

    A national prohibition, Paragraph 175, was added to the Reich Penal Code in 1871. It read:1

    "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed."

    When the Nazi's came to power in 1933, they put a halt to efforts seeking reform of this law. In 1935, after the murder of Ernst Roem, the NSDAP amended the Paragraph 175 to close what were seen as loopholes in the current law.

    The new law had three parts:

    Paragraph 175:

    "A male who commits a sex offense with another male or allows himself to be used by another male for a sex offense shall be punished with imprisonment. Where a party was not yet twenty-one years of age at the time of the act, the court may in especially minor cases refrain from punishment."

    Paragraph 175a:

    "Penal servitude up to 10 years or, where there are mitigating circumstances, imprisonment of not less than three months shall apply to: (1) a male who, with violence or the threat of violence to body and soul or life, compels another male to commit a sex offense with him or to allow himself to be abused for a sex offense; (2) a male who, by abusing a relationship of dependence based upon service, employment or subordination, induces another male to commit a sex offense with him or to allow himself to be abused for a sex offense; (3) a male over 21 years of age who seduces a male person under twenty-one years to commit a sex offense with him or to allow himself to be abused for a sex offense; (4) a male who publicly commits a sex offense with males or allows himself to be abused by males for a sex offense or offers himself for the same."

    Paragraph 175b:

    "An unnatural sex act committed by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed.

  5. Though it is the first German sound film, The Blue Angel still didn't use much sound effects. Sounds were mainly words, music and backstage noise. Professor Rath lines were few and very short sentences. The film features German Expressionism, expressing the corrupt and lawless German life after the Wars. Similar to Dr. Caligari's Cabinet. The broken English, lapse of silence, the Professor's daily routine, the cleverness of his students and the witty Lola shamelessness, add a great taste of comedy to the movie. however the tragedy of the Professor's fall from grace and death, stirrup the viewers sentiments and add emotions to the movie. the deep inner meaning of the movie to real life is a lesson to be learnt. I love the movie and enjoyed it. I watched the with my husband who enjoyed it and had change of mood with the downfall of the Professor character.

  6. The Blue Angel is great film that show how people can become self-destruction.