Albert Renger-Patzsch’s Hochofenwerk Herrenwyk, Lübeck (1928)
Germany‘s interwar Weimar Republic may’ve existed amidst political chaos but it was an incredibly fertile time for the arts. German Expressionism, although it first developed around 1900, only flowered on the screen during the interwar period. Emerging Fascists enjoyed the themes of Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl‘s Mountain Movies. Less well-remembered today was the New Objectivity, an movements whose chief practitioner in film was G.W. Pabst, whose debut film, Der Schatz (The Treasure – 1923), opened in theaters on today (26 February) in 1923.
August Sander’s The Architect Hans Heinz Luttgen and his Wife Dora (1926)
German Expressionism, the best known cinematic expression of the culture and era, first arose in poetry and painting but ultimately made its way to the screen, exemplified by excellent and still widely-enjoyed films like Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague), Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem), Der müde Tod (Destiny), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu), Schatten, Eine nächtliche Halluzination (Warning Shadows), and Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh). The Mountain Movies, or Bergfilm, are generally viewed less seriously as art and are undoubtedly interesting to modern audiences primarily for their fascist themes and frequent involvement of Leni Riefenstahl.
The New Objectivity, or Neue Sachlichkeit, arose as a response to both the old objectivity (which is apparently how they viewd Jugendstil) as well as the febrile chaos of Expressionism. The movement was influenced by the contemporaneous Surrealists but its practitioners attempted to approach their subjects with cold, deliberate, and sober detachment where the Surrealists attempted to be automatic, unconscious, and random. The New Objectivity developed at roughly the same time on the page, canvas, and screen – in the late 1910s — although most of its adherents were painters or photographers. The movement was given its name in 1923 by art critic and historian (and then-director of the Mannheimer Kunsthalle) Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub for an exhibit, Ausstellung nach- expressionistischer Kunst (Post-Expressionist Art).
Still from Die Büchse der Pandora
Painters closely associated with the movement include Albert Birkle, Alexander Kanoldt, August Wilhelm Dressler, Bernhard Kretzschmar, Carl Grossberg, Christian Schad, Conrad Felix Müller, Franz Radziwil, Georg Schrimpf, George Grosz, Herbert Böttger, Karl Rössing, Otto Dix, Richard Oelze, Rudolf Dischinger, Rudolf Schlichter, and William Schnarr Berger.
Still from Tagebuch einer Verlorenen
Photographers associated with the movement include Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander, Karl Bloßfeldt, Hans Finsler, and Hein Gorny. Grosz described the movement, or at least his aim, as removing the supernatural God and angels and allowing viewers to see unfiltered reality. Despite their aims and claims of objectivity, the focus on the ugly, and harsh side of life was almost always calculatedly grotesque and exaggerated, especially evident in the paintings and films of the scene.
Georg Wilhelm Pabst at work
Bohemian director Georg Wilhelm Pabst was born in Raudnitz, Austria-Hungary to a railway worker. During World War I he was interned near Brest, France. After working in the theater he began making films, first with Der Schatz. Many of Pabst’s films were concerned with the role of women in society and took – as a New Objectivist – an accordingly grim view. Some of his best known films are Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street – 1925), Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul – 1926), Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (The Loves of Jeanne Ney – 1927), Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box – 1929), and Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl – 1929). The latter two films starred the always excellent Louise Brooks. Pabst continued making films until 1956’s Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen (Through the Forest and Through the Trees) and died in Vienna, aged 81, in 1967.
Still from Die Verrufenen
Other filmmakers associated with New Objectivity include Berthold Viertel, Ernő Metzner, and Gerhard Lamprecht. Some of the principals of the New Objectivity would be employed Staatliches Bauhaus. Later filmmakers in whose work I detect the movement’s influence include Ernst Lubitsh, Ingmar Bergman, the documentarians of the Cinéma direct and Cinéma vérité movements, and perhaps contemporary cinematic sadists like Lars von Trier and his torture pornographer kin.
Still from Die Unehelichen
Films available from New Objectivist filmmakers (but not necessarily in that style – which ended around 1932) on VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray include Der Schatz (The Treasure – 1923), Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street – 1925), Die Verrufenen (Slums of Berlin – 1925), Die Unehelichen (Children of No Importance – 1926), Geheimnisse einer Seele (Secrets of a Soul 1926), Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (The Loves of Jeanne Ney – 1927), Abwege (The Devious Path – 1928), Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera – 1928), Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box – 1929), Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl – 1929), Die Weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü (White Hell of Pitz Palu – 1929), City Girl (1930), Vier von der Infanterie (Westfront 1918 – 1930), Emil und die Detektive (Emile and the Detectives – 1931), L’Atlantide (The Mistress of Atlantis – 932), Don Quixote (Adventures of Don Quixote – 1933), A Modern Hero (1934), The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1935), Rhodes Of Africa (1936), Le drame de Shanghaï (The Shanghai Drama – 1938), Paracelsus (1943), Irgendwo in Berlin (1946), La voce del silenzio (The Voice of Silence – 1953), Es geschah am 20 (Jackboot Mutiny – 1955), and Der Letzte Akt (The Last 10 Days – 1955).
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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