We just tell it how we see it, nothing more, nothing less -- Neue Sachlichkeit in film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 26, 2014 06:12am | Post a Comment

Albert Renger-Patzsch's Hochofenwerk Herrenwyk, Lübeck (1928)

'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.

Hans Finsler's Der Sternenhimmel der Zukunft (1932)

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 BirkleAlexander 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).

Der Schatz in its entirety with German intertitles and Portuguese subtitles


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(In which we mine for some gold.)

Posted by Job O Brother, February 11, 2013 02:04pm | Post a Comment

Don't try this at (my) home.

I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days; what sleep I have gotten is mostly thanks to the fine folks who make Motrin PM. (In the interest of full disclosure you should know that while McNeil Consumer Healthcare – makers of the aforementioned drug – are not a sponsor of the Amoeblog, they do give us free donuts on Mondays and occasionally wash our cars for an extra buck or two.)

While my Mom was kind enough to pass down to me a knack for cooking and robust health, I also inherited her tenuous sleeping habits. We deal with it similarly, too: we listen to the radio to keep our minds from, as she puts it:

“Going, going, going… just making plans and playing with ideas.”

Or, as I put it:

“Obliterating my peace of mind with the chaos and fury of post-traumatic stress fantasies catalyzed by a cruel and crippling world.”

It’s semantics, really.

Mom likes to treat this with AM radio, a favorite program being Coast to Coast. While this particular broadcast seems to promote a nightmarish reality of government conspiracy, alien invasion, body snatching and morally questionable fringe-sciences, she finds it delightful. That she does speaks to her unwavering trust in our fellow man and her willingness to believe everyone deserves to prove their innate goodness – even if, I suppose, it’s lizard-men from another planet who are covertly running our government.

Our forces in Yemen?

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(In which we celebrate the birth of Tiny Tim.)

Posted by Job O Brother, April 13, 2011 09:05am | Post a Comment

This week would have seen the birthday of beloved (and truly alternative) musician Tiny Tim, who passed away in 1996 from an acute case of death.

He matters to me because I cannot think of him without feeling a lovely little warmth in my normally cold, cold heart.

Recently, the (coincidentally-named) Amoebite posted a swell interview regarding Tiny Tim, but I wanted to tackle this subject, too – particularly because I am less burdened with fact and honesty and can therefore flesh out what may be as-yet-unknown facets of the artist’s life and career.

Tiny Tim, before puberty ruined everything

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury on April 12, 1932, in a town just south of Duchess County called New York City (not to be confused with the song "New York City" by Hanoi Rocks). Many historical records list his parents as being people, though this is speculation, and any actual witnesses have long since not been asked.

Young Herbert was given the nickname “Tiny Tim” by locals in his neighborhood because of his habit of walking around on crutches, munching Christmas puddings and asking God to "bless them, every one." (Other nicknames were bestowed as well, such as “that cripple kid who smells like stew” or “faggot,” but none of these stuck.)

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(Où l'on considère les chanteurs français.)

Posted by Job O Brother, March 22, 2011 04:32pm | Post a Comment

When you work at Amoeba Music there’s certain questions you answer over and over again:

“Where’s the restroom?”

“Why’s this one this price and this one this price?”

“Where can I find Edith Piaf?”

That last question is occasionally (to my endless amusement) pronounced as, “Where can I find Edith Pilaf?” to which I always want (but never) answer:

“We file her in-between Condoleezza Rice and Tim Curry. They all go great together.”

My internalized snarkiness aside, I’m all for Edith Piaf. Who could hate La Môme Piaf (her French nickname, literally translated as “That short woman in the black dress with the amazing voice but tragic make-up which someone should seriously having a talking-to-her about”)?

But I think too many people stop with Piaf and don’t investigate the chanson française of her peers, which is a shame because there’s so much to love. Below I offer some performers I think are à l'opposé de terrible.

Lucienne Boyer

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The Tarantino Solution 3: Inglourious Basterds (2009), A Moral Defense

Posted by Charles Reece, September 27, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment
Page 2

Aryan Some Differences

While its propaganda might seem dated, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin presents a critical alternative to heroism as traditionally depicted in most films, collective instead of individualistic. Along with a wishfullfilling counterfactual approach to history and a five act structure, Inglourious Basterds shares a similar approach to the heroic act, closer to the first 20 or so minutes of Saving Private Ryan than its remaining hour and a half. (I note that two early supporters of Eisenstein's film, who helped bring it to world attention, were Goebbels and -- as Tarantino has it -- his Hollywood role model, David O. Selznick.) Eisenstein's two most prominent characters, the sailors Vakulinchuk and Matyshenko, serve more as inspirational catalysts for the inchoate revolutionary spirit than a John Wayne (or even Tom Hanks) type who dominates narrative destiny through his will. As Bill Nichols suggests in his analysis of the film (in the book Film Analysis), the idea of a revolution begins to widen across each act:

One of Eisenstein's great achievements as a filmmaker is that he provided a model for a cinema of groups, crowds, and masses rather than individuals. In Battleship Potemkin he does so by telling the story of three distinct examples of political awakening over the course of five acts. [...] Each awakening broadens the political scope of the film, from the revolt of one ship's crew through the rising up of one town to the rebellion of the entire fleet. -- p. 163-4

Indeed, as he points out, Vakulinchuk dies in the second act and Matyshenko doesn't reappear until the fifth -- hardly the kind of heroism as charismatic leadership favored by a Leni Reifenstahl or George Lucas (the latter's well-known appropriation from the former receives a nice spoof here). No matter how seemingly innocuous the fantasy (from the Golden Age Superman, despite his defense of labor, to Star Wars), there's always a whiff of authoritarianism that accompanies this great man portrayal of heroism -- that a change for the betterment of all comes solely from the determination of a few. That is, follow those so privileged by God, genetics (Aryan, Kryptonian) or midi-chlorians, not morality per se.

Eli Roth satirizes this authoritarian subtext in his film within a film, Nation's Pride. Made by Goebbels (the diegetic one, not ours), the film depicts one lone private, Frederick Zoller, fighting off the nameless hordes with nothing but sheer will and an endless supply of ammo. He even manages to plant one in the eye of Eisenstein's peasant in montage (see above), only it's an American soldier and the intended audience of Nazis is expected to identify with the person doing the slaughtering, not the slaughtered -- an Audie Murphy film injected with Schwarzenegger's steroids. That he manages to rub out exactly 300 Americans evokes Zack Snyder's chiseled fable of fascistic glory where the same number of Spartans kill thousands of others much darker than themselves. All of which is reminiscent of the young Germanic Arminius kicking the Roman Varus' ass in the Teutoburg Forest back in the year of 9 A.D., an event that would become one of the founding myths of German nationalism. By Zoller's making an explicit analogy between himself and Sergeant York -- the titular sharpshooter in Howard Hawks' film played by Gary Cooper, an actor who shared the Nazis' hatred of pinkos -- it should become pretty clear that Inglourious Basterds has quite a bit to say, not only about other films, but about the transcontinental and trans-ideological appeal of this Triumph of the Will-styled heroism.

The deification of the heroic individual isn't so bad as long as he's doing the right thing. The problem, of course, is when he's the ideological correlate of the Other, as in Roth's propaganda film. But, even there, it's a problem with a clear solution: eliminate those who are foolish enough to follow false idols, namely your enemy. More difficult to suss out is one's own idolatrous identification with Horatio Alger's brand of determination. My Brecht is showing, but it's by getting the audience to identify with the hero rather than his actions that ideology can most easily slip in, as it discourages a critical distance from the narrative subject. Because of the reverence with which we tend to hold the abstract hero, it's a short slippery slope to a Holocaust film made with the best of intentions, yet which ultimately focuses our attention more on the moral awakening of the Aryan protagonist than the long, hard work of all the oppressed Jews who made his awakening and subsequent virtuous actions possible. I wouldn't say Schindler's List is immoral, but it does show how the Great Man approach tends to give credit to the charismatic at the expense of what was in reality a collective act. Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan demonstrates the difference in enunciation when he starts with collective action:

Only to settle into the more classical hero identification:

From a sacrifice en masse to another story of guys on a mission that revolves around the character arc of a leader who's a little more important than the rest. Well, who doesn't like guys on a mission? Spielberg gives a pretty good example, even though the ending makes my teeth ache and the generic storyline is a real let down after the best war scene in cinematic history. I bring it up by way of contrast with Tarantino's own take on the subgenre. Tarantino is too big a fan of Hawks' transparent style to ever be a full-fledged Brechtian, but he's imbibed a whole lot of Jean-Luc Godard. That is to say his style isn't the more classically oriented Spielberg's. Inglourious Basterds' long scenes of dialog require identification for the tension and comedy to work. However, when he anachronistically uses disco-era font to introduce Hugo Stiglitz or plays Bowie's "Cat People" over Shosanna's preparation for her big night with the Nazis, he creates some Brechtian critical distance. Most important is the way he de-centers the typical heroic narrative.


What some friends and critics found disappointing, I thought the film's strongest virtue, namely that the Basterds aren't in the film near as much as the title suggests. Unless, as in the posters above, all the anti-Nazis are included as de facto members. But that's not who you expect; you expect the guys not introduced until Chapter 2, Stiglitz and:

By the way, whatever happened to these two?

The Basterds proper only occur in 3 of the Chapters, taking a back seat in the 4th to the British film critic turned spy, Lt. Archie Hicox, and the German movie actress, Bridget von Hammersmark -- the latter being the one who devises the plan, Operation Kino, to assassinate the Nazi high command.

Given that the other major assassination plot is hatched by Shosanna independently of the titular heroes, Tarantino proves himself once again to be -- perhaps second only to Russ Meyer (an Eisensteinian, I might add) and Andrea Dworkin -- America's foremost emasculating feminist. 


The real kicker is the ironic success of these two plans, which is nothing less than a critique of heroic identification as it's so often implemented in war films and propaganda (virile and manly, the Nazis would say). Resulting from a violent mishap at the tavern where Hammersmark meets Hickox and the Basterds, Landa comes to discover Operation Kino. He strangles the actress, kidnaps the dashing, blue-eyed leader of the Basterds, Lt. Aldo Raine, but leaves the two Basterds with bombs strapped to their legs at the theater with all the Nazis. Sensing that his team is about lose the war irrespective of Operation Kino, Landa appeals to the Americans' utilitarian ethos by cutting a deal: he'll let the bombs go off, thereby ending the war a little sooner, if he gets to live out the rest of his life as a war hero on Nantucket Island, instead of the war criminal that he is. Thus the Clark Gable/Gary Cooper hero role played by the movie's big star, Brad Pitt, is morally reduced to sitting on the sidelines, brokering a deal with the narrative's most evil Nazi. Not quite "hooray for our boys."

Stick around for the startling conclusion ...
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