Silent Movie Bookshelf: From Caligari to Hitler by Siegfried Kracauer

A psychological history of the German Film, if you want the full subtitle. I love silent German cinema; I admire its fierce creativity and its willingness to take crazy risks. And there is also, of course, Conrad Veidt. But enough of that. How is the book? Well, the title is certainly provocative enough.

What is it?: Exactly what the title promises. A deep and thorough examination of German film from the dark brilliance of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the abrupt end of all the creativity under the terrible new regime. Kracauer’s clear-headed analysis efficiently explains the deeper meanings of some of the more opaque films of this era. Not exactly light reading but then German films are not exactly light viewing so it all works out.

I should note that not all of Krakauer’s conclusions are universally accepted and some of them have been outright debunked by newer information. However, this does not lessen the book’s importance. It is still an influential and interesting bit of film criticism.

caligari to hitler 2

Pictures: There is a small picture section at the end of the book but this is an academic publication that makes no pretenses at being pretty.

Style: Academic in the extreme but still readable to the average Joe or Joan.

What else?: I was fascinated the breakdown of the classic Waxworks (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) and the explanation of how it fit into the larger German film world of its time. Krakauer compares the film with Nosferatu and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) and explains how each film was an allegory for tyranny.

Wow, writing this put me in the mood for a German film night.

Availability: In print and available both new and used.