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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2/21 Expressionism: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, released worldwide 1921) begins with two men, one old one young, speaking in a garden. A woman soon walks into view. It appears as if something is wrong with these men and the  woman. The young main claims she is his betrothed. He says they have been through an incredible experience and then begins to tell a story. The movie ends with these men speaking in the garden as well, apparently insane. This is known as a "framing device" (like a picture frame holds a picture, the framing device "holds" the main story) and it was actually added on to the movie against the strong protests of the writers of the film who had a much different ending in mind.

This film became a huge success in Germany and throughout the rest of the world. It is considered one of the first horror films, but more importantly, it is considered to be one of the first expressionist films. Similar to expressionist painting, this style of film depicts the inner emotional state of the individual, expressed outwardly in the form of a dark and dangerous world. Expressionist cinema is notable for its use of shadows and light, and for the use of strange, irregularly shaped, jagged, stage sets and objects. In France, at the same time, Impressionist films were being made by French directors, which emphasized the changing perceptions of nature characteristic of Impressionist painting, by simulating this effect with the rapid movements of the camera, as this film review describes of Abel Gance's film Napoleon (1927).

Expressionism perhaps took this one step further by actually changing the external world itself to reflect the subjective sense of anxiety and dread permeating every aspect of German life, on the other hand the camera is much more stable and immobile compared to directors like Gance.

Both styles were highly influential. For example, in Japan both styles were borrowed from and experimented with in one of the first great Japanese films, A Page of Madness (1926) by Kinugasa Teinosuke (Japanese names have the surname or "last name" first, in the West it is Teinosuke Kinugasa):

The main narrative of the film opens on a strange painted landscape filled with sharply angled irregularly shaped objects, this is the fictional town of 'Holstenwall'. A strange old man appears, this is Dr. Caligari. A young man is seen in a small bedroom, the narrator's friend, Alan, he is leaning against an absurdly large chair. He goes out into the town which is also irregularly shaped, he sees an advertisement for the Holstenwall fair and goes to find his friend, Francis, the narrator at the beginning.

The scene switches back to Caligari. He goes to apply for a permit to operate his booth. He is rudely dismissed by a minor official sitting on an absurdly large stool.

The next scene opens on the fairground, focusing narrowly on the circular motion of the organ grinder before opening onto the whole fairgrounds with a large merry-go-round spinning in the background. The people seem to be enjoying themselves. Caligari reappears to promote his attraction. At the same time, the body of the official who was rude to Caligari is discovered. Francis and Alan walk into Caligari's tent. Caligari displays his attraction, the somnambulist (sleepwalker) Cesare, who Caligari says who tell your fortune for you. Alan asks how long he is to live. Cesare responds  "You die at dawn." Alan reacts with shock. They both leave, seemingly forgetting the prophecy, they are concerned with winning the love of Jane. At night, a shadow comes into Alan's room and kills him. The second murder so far.

When Francis learns of his friend's death, he immediately remembers the prophecy of the somnambulist and rushes off to alerts the authorities having to ascend an extremely large staircase to get to them. He also tells Jane. The authorities agree to investigate. At the same time another man is caught trying to commit a murder.

Caligari is feeding Cesare, when Francis and the police come demanding answers. They are just starting to question Caligari when they are informed they have captured a murder suspect and they leave. The suspect denies committing the other murders. Jane goes to the fair to find her father. She sees Caligari instead who shows her Cesare, he in turn seems to become interested in her before she becomes frightened and runs off.

Francis decides to investigate Caligari again on his own. He is spying on him through a window and it appears Cesare is in his coffin. However, at the same time Cesare is moving through the shadows on his way to see Jane. He sneaks in through her bedroom window and stands over her ready to stab her. However he is unable to and instead flees with her when Jane's attendants come into the room. This sets off a chase scene, Cesare drops Jane, then runs some more before falling off a cliff from exhaustion.

The police come back to Caligari's trailer and find Francis who sees he has been watching Cesare all night. It turns out that it was a mannequin instead. Caligari slips away in the confusion, but Francis follows him to a mental institution. He asks for assistance in finding Caligari, he is directed to the Institute's head. The head of the Institute is Caligari!

Francis enlists the help of some of the staff who go through Caligari's papers. They find that he is obsessed with the fictional story of an 11th century monk who was able to wield hypnotic powers over a sleepwalker. When, a sleepwalker was delivered to this hospital he began his plan on using the sleepwalker as his hypnotized slave to carry out murders and gain power.

The authorities recover Cesare's body from the ravine where he fell. They bring it to Caligari. He breaks down and becomes hysterical. The doctors restrain him and put him in a straight jacket and lock him up, with Francis looking on. The film then appears to fade out, but then returns to the opening scene in the garden. Apparently the whole story has been a fantasy invented by Francis who is a patient in the hospital along with Jane, Cesare, and Alan. Caligari is the real head of the institute, who is treating Francis and believes that now that Francis has given a name to his terror, he can begin to cure him now.

A proper understanding of Caligari as a cultural product requires an interpretation of at least three levels of meaning: the original screenplay of the writers; the finished product of the film; and the unintentional meaning that is revealed through the interpretation of the critic.

The screenplay for Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.  Janowitz was not German but Czech, growing up in Prague. He inspiration for the script was a bizarre incident where he may have witnessed a murder. Visiting a fair in Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany, one day in 1913 Janowitz was strolling on a street not coincidently named 'Holstenwall' when he heard laughter:
The laugh,  which apparently served to lure a young man, vanished somewhere in the shrubbery. When a short time later, the young man departed, another shadow, hidden until then in the bushes, suddenly emerged and moved along–as if on the scent of that laugh. Passing this uncanny shadow, Janowitz caught a glimpse of him: he looked like an average bourgeois. Darkness reabsorbed the man, and made further pursuit impossible. The following day big headlines in the local press announced: "Horrible sex crime on the Holstenwall! Young Gertrude...murdered." An obscure feeling that Gertrude might have been the girl of the fair impelled Janowitz to attend the victim's funeral. During the ceremony he suddenly had the sensation of discovering the murderer, who had not yet been captured. The man he suspected seemed to recognize him, too. It was the bourgeois–the shadow in the bushes (Kracauer 2004 p. 61).
Carl Mayer was an Austrian whose father, a businessman and a compulsive gambler, committed suicide when Mayer was 16. During the war he was examined several times by a psychiatrist, who Mayer did not like which gave him the inspiration for Caligari. 

Both men were veterans of the war and whose war experiences had turned both into committed pacifists. Caligari was then supposed to symbolize a world of insane murderous authorities and universal conscription (forced recruitment into the military) for total war, something which they experienced. Cesare is like all the young soldiers who are hypnotically drilled into becoming killing machines on the battlefield. The most subversive element in their script was the idea of the insane Caligari posing as a legitimate authority–worse, as an authority who judges the sanity of others. The same way in which people thought the German military was insane in bringing the country into war. 

This strangely subversive script was picked up by producer Erich Pommer, also the head of film studio Decla-Bioscop (bioscop being an old 19th word for film projector) which owned Babelsburg Studio, now the oldest film studio in the world. Pommer liked the script, but his decisions as the producer were mainly driven by the profit motive, especially international trade. In the early 1920s, Germany's economy was desperately struggling to survive. As part of the peace conditions in the Treaty of Versailles, Germany had to partially "deindustrialize" large segments of its economy, basically anything that could be used for military production, the problem is that almost everything produced in an industrial economy can be used for war purposes. Film was then seen as a very important export for Germany's economy. Pommer believed that this film could compete with American films, and it did Caligari was a big box office success in Berlin where it premiered in May 1920, and the next year in Paris and New York.

It was the director, Robert Weine, that added that surprise twist ending and the framing device.  It was the profit-motivated decision to have a surprise ending that completely transforms the message of the film. Francis is now the crazy person, and Caligari is really the hero. The anti-war message is removed and traditional authority is no longer criticized. Film, is unique among most of the major art forms because it is the most industrial and requires the largest division of labor to produce, and this is what leads to the often discussed "creative tensions" between writers, directors, actors, producers, etc, in the making of numerous films past and present. Usually, however, these tensions are resolved in favor of the profit motive. In this case: to add the more conservative "surprise" ending. The ending would presumably have the effect of reinforcing traditional authority assuming the audience receives the message in the intended way. 

The earliest "motion picture camera" was the kinetoscope invented by Thomas Edison in 1888. This early prototype only allowed one viewer at a time to watch a short film projected through the eye piece.

Edison's Kinetoscope. Note the eye-piece at the top that you would look into to see the film

The Lumière Brothers (Lumière means "light" in French) are generally credited with inventing the first real motion picture camera, the cinématograph (derived from the Greek: "writing in movement") or cinema, and for producing the first films shown to the public, in 1895.

At first film was seen as a passing fad but within a few years, the former magician George Méliès had introduced the first special effects into film. Méliès had been in the audience when the Lumière brothers had premiered their first films. 

Over the next several years most of the fundamentals of filmmaking were developed as directors found more ways to manipulate the camera and create images: tracking shots, reverse angles, close-ups, editing, etc. In twenty-five years the industry developed very quickly, especially in the U.S. The first U.S. film industry was actually based out of New Jersey where Edison's lab and factory were located. In the early 20th century, filmmakers wanting to make films but also wanting to avoid paying the licensing fees to Edison's company who owned all the cameras, moved out to a location that would be good for filming and also be as far away from Edison as possible. They settled in an undeveloped area of Southern California known as Hollywood. By 1915 Hollywood had already become the capital of the U.S. film industry. Artistically it was led by directors like D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, however by the 1920s the so-called "big five" studios had already become dominant in the industry: Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM, RKO, and Columbia pictures, and later 20th Century Fox. Today all but RKO, which effectively went out of business in the 1950s, are the biggest film studios in the U.S. and the world.

Even as early as the 1920s the monopolistic tendencies of the "culture industries" were evident in Germany as well. Decla-Bioscop was the second largest film studio in Germany. In 1921 because of financial pressure from the U.S. film industry which had already become dominant in the world, Decla merged with the largest film studio in Germany, Universum Film AG (Ufa). AG stands for Aktiengesellschaft, a German word for corporation. Ufa was formed in 1917 as a government propaganda arm during the war. After 1916 the German government had banned foreign films and had heavily subsidized the German film industry, as a result the industry developed quickly. Ufa always maintained close ties with the state and large banks including the Deutsche Bank. The Deutsche Bank itself was formed in 1870 at the dawn of the German Empire and until WWI it was considered the largest bank in the world devoting itself mainly to international banking. 

Ufa was purchased in 1927 by Alfred Hugenberg (the 1920s version of Rupert Murdoch). Hugenberg became Reich Minister of Economy in Hitler's first Cabinet, but control passed quickly over to Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Ufa produced Nazi propaganda films during the war including Triumph of the Will. After the war, possession of Ufa's assets went to the communist East German state and was reincorporated as DEFA (Deutsche Film AG). DEFA went out of business after reunification in 1990, and Ufa was resurrected. Today it is owned by the Bertlesmann AG a major international media conglomerate.

Bertelsmann began as a publishing house in the 19th century, it was also the largest producer of Nazi propaganda during the war. Like most major media corporations however, its activities are diversified throughout all forms of media: print, radio, television, film, and now the internet. Bertlesmann's revenue in 2011 was €15 billion (about $20 billion dollars), putting it ahead of major U.S. multinational media corporations like CBS Corporation ($15 billion), and Viacom (which owns MTV, $14 billion). Although still trailing behind the three largest media corporations in the world:  The Walt Disney Co. ($42 billion), News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch's company, $34 billion), and Time Warner ($29 billion). 


Today, the impact of films like Caligari can be seen in the pseudo-tribal forms of sub-cultures, like the horror subculture. Caligari was an influence on films like Frankenstein (1931) which created the horror genre in the 1930s. In the late 1940s and 1950s, many aspects of expressionism were borrowed by the genre now known as "film noir" which like horror is still a highly influential genre today. Most of the best German directors had come to the U.S. after the Nazi regime was established in 1933, many of whom like Fritz Lang and Josef von Sternberg directed noir films, as did other influential directors like the Austrian director Billy Wilder. The consolidation of media empires and commodification of culture over the last hundred years leads to a diversified form of product that appears in many different forms, usually we call this 'merchandising':

The last level of meaning, I mentioned was the unintentional meaning revealed by the critic. This is the area where the critic or the one engaging the cultural product attempts to unearth the hidden meanings within the object, or as literature critic Leo Lowenthal, remarked, "mass culture is psychoanalysis in reverse" (Jay 1996 p. 173). In other words, there is a "textual unconscious" that potentially can be revealed through the analysis of the critic. A text can be more than simply just written words, but almost any kind of language, and film has its own kind of language, but of course in a more literal sense almost all films are based on some sort of screenplay. 

The significance of the fairground and carnival are one of the major themes where critics dispute the intended meaning of the scene. Film critic Siegfried Kracauer believed that Janowitz and Mayer consciously intended to show the fairground as an area of freedom and happiness, that their intended meaning was to portray the fairground as a contrast to the evilness of Caligari who is seen as foreign element invading the peaceful land. However, Kracauer  argues the latent (or hidden) meaning of the fairground represents chaos and anarchy. The desire to express freedom as the carnival is really the desire to go back to the pre-industrial, pre-modern past (most carnivals and festivals date back to medieval times). The circular movements of the merry-go-round and the organ grinder's arm as he plays his music box are supposed to symbolize chaos, also with the organ grinder you are reminded that someone is working even while others are at leisure in this utopia. Caligari anticipates Hitler. Not that Janowitz and Mayer even knew who Hitler was when they wrote this script, but Kracauer believes that the combination of con-man and psychiatrist is a good representation of the kind of leader Hitler was. Kracuaer's analysis is that the film reveals the nihilistic core of German life in the 1920s and 1930s: a choice between tyranny on the one hand and chaos on the other.

The so-called revolutionary nature of "expressionism" is also criticized by Kracauer–and the Dadaists. Expressionism is a turn away from the external world and instead depicts the external world as expressions of internal states, or to "make the contents of the soul objective." However it is precisely this innwardness that Kracauer and others would criticize. The inwardness of expressionists similar perhaps to Siddhartha's philosophy of detachment, critics argue, reveals a withdrawal and a distancing from the social world and a retreat into the self.

                                            Rolf Nesch, Elbe Bridge I, (1932)
Expressionism as a movement  in films like Dr. Caligari are important in that it marks almost the exact point in which traditional forms of culture like painting became obsolete by mass culture, and in a secondary sense you can actually see the visual styles of expressionism integrated in the films, summed up by one of the film designers who declared that "films must be drawings brought to life." The use of shadows and light for dramatic effect also became one of the main visual styles of expressionism along with strange distorted shapes.

Here is the film itself. If you want to make the screen bigger, click the lower right corner. After watching the film, please read the second part of the lecture which is also relevant for the next couple of lectures which will be shorter.

Assignment Due 2/28 Choose a scene from the film and describe the scene. Then write your interpretation of the scene and the meaning of it. After that write why you chose this scene and how it relates to the class.

Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, Routledge, 2001
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Continuum, 1972
Thomas Elsaessar, Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's Historical Imaginary, Routledge, 2000 
Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, Oxford University Press, 1976
Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, University of California Press, 1996
Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, Princeton University Press, 2004
Dietrich Scheunemann, Expressionist Film: New Perspectives, Camden House, 2003