Life and death in the cinema of Weimar Germany, 1919-1924 / by Steve Choe.
Scholars have connected the undead figures of Weimar cinema to movement and life, features that are considered specific to the cinematic medium. In Life and Death in the Cinema of Weimar Germany, I argue that cinema is also inextricably linked to lifelessness and decay. Rooted in the experience of loss brought about by the Great War, death in Weimar cinema emphasizes the finitude of life. From this I argue that the living image similarly drives toward its end, returning to an inanimate condition. The dissertation draws from contemporaneous writings on the cinema, trade journal articles, and fields outside film, including philosophy, psychoanalysis, zoology, and literature in order to make broader claims about life's precariousness and the problem of time in the cinema.The first chapter consists of a reading of Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Cesare the somnambulist embodies the allegorical life of the cinema, its ability to “awaken” and resurrect an inanimate world. Chapter two shows how “life” must be thought of as lived life, embedded in worldly temporality; accordingly it is at every moment “being-toward-death.” In chapter three four films are discussed in detail. (1) A close reading of The Golem (1920) reveals how this figure of Jewish mythology not only allegorizes the cinema, but also the way in which human spectators relate to this technology. (2) Close-ups on microscopic organisms in Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) thematize how the formal possibilities specific to the cinema correspond to the cycles of life and death taking place in the surrounding world. (3) Destiny (1921) makes a claim about temporality, demonstrating that at the moment in which cinema comes to life, it is at once old enough to die. (4) Finally, in The Indian Tomb (1921) a scene depicting redemptive forgiveness interrupts the temporality of clock time, and breaks down rigid boundaries that separate past, present, and future. The fourth chapter is devoted to the figure of the specter as an allegory for the temporality of the cinematic image. It discusses two films, Phantom (1922) and Warning Shadows (1923), analyzing specific scenes that thematize the return of the repressed in the immaterial ghost.
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