Born relatively late in Germany, the art of film knew some precursors in the years of the First World War; among them P. Wegener, actor and director, who in Golem (1914, first edition) anticipated the expressionist trend. In 1918 the Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (UFA) was born, which had the task of guaranteeing national production of economic as well as artistic importance. The theater of M. Reinhardt influenced the costumed biographies that had in E. Lubitsch one of the standard bearers and subjected the story to unscrupulous fictional revisions, much appreciated also abroad. The genre found its sublimation in the two parts of F. Lang’s Nibelungen (1923-24)and in its fusion of monumentalism and expressionism.
This latter trend, although arriving late and reflux in comparison to other arts, nevertheless characterized post-war German cinema in a specific and formally revolutionary sense. According to THESCIENCETUTOR, from Caligari (1919-20) onwards, scenography, lighting, stylized acting were placed at the service of a magical, late-romantic, demonic and distorted universe, where monsters and ghosts (Golem, Mabuse, Nosferatu), disturbing shadows and wax figures expressed in a hallucinatory way a common spiritual discomfort. R. Wiene, P. Wegener, F. Lang, P. Leni, A. Robison, FW Murnau were the most important directors; among the writers H. Galeen, Th. Von Harbou and C. Mayer, who was above all the head of the Kammerspiel, a current that arose in opposition to certain excesses of the expressionist tendency, even if it contained not a few elements. Mayer worked out his own scenarios for restricted environments (a “chamber game”, in fact) and for a few essential characters, ironically structuring their conflicts even without resorting to captions. The rail (1921) and New Year’s Eve (1923) by Lupu-Pick, The road (1923) by K. Grune, The Last Laugh (1924) are the models, and their interest in the investigation of characters was a prelude to the psychological realism, or “neo-objectivism”, of films such as Variété by EA Dupont and The Joyless Way by GW Pabst, which, released in 1925, they then pushed these directors and others to approach Freudism (Pabst’s “sexual trilogy”) and the problems of society. At the same time, a notable abstract avant-garde movement was expressed in the experimental essays by V. Eggeling, H. Richter, O. Fischinger, while W. Ruttmann was also noted as an exponent (Berlin, symphony of a great city, 1927) of editing documentary cinema. Meanwhile, Hollywood began the hunt for the greatest talents of the UFA by buying directors and actors such as Lubitsch, Murnau, E. Jannings, P. Negri and anticipating the massive emigration caused by the advent of Nazism.
Around 1930, in the period of transition from silent to sound, however, there was the artistic apogee of the pre-Hitler film of the Weimar Republic, when Lang and Pabst and other directors (such as Ph. Jutzi) took the lead in cinema. of complaint. While Dupont was filming Fortunale on the Cliff (1930) and Murnau in the Taboo South Seas (1931) in Great Britain, he was returning from the USA J. von Sternberg for The Blue Angel (1930), Pabst produced (1930-31) the social trilogy of Westfront, Dreigroschenoper, Kameradschaft (or The Tragedy of the Mine); in another lesser-known but equally extraordinary trilogy (Our daily bread, 1927; Mother Krause’s journey to happiness, 1928; Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1931) Jutzi painted the chilling picture of unemployment and misery in cities; V. Trivas declared himself anti-militarist (No man’s land, 1931), L. Sagan anti-Prussian (Girls in uniform, 1931), G. Lamprechtanti-authoritarian (The terrible army, 1931), while S. Th. Dudow raised a workers symphony (Kuhle Wampe, 1932) and Lang in M (1931) and in the second Mabuse (1933) suggested that the monsters were now at the door of the house. In 1933 the film industry, depleted of its leading elements (including the producer E. Pommer, expatriate), passed en bloc under the control of the Ministry of Propaganda; but Goebbels asked the remaining German filmmakers in vain for “another Potemkin “. In the sector officially in the service of Nazism, only the documentaries by L. Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will (1935) and Olympia (1936-38) emerged and, later, the pseudo-historical biographical meatballs of V. Harlan and H. Steinhoff and the violent and sinister war cinematicity; most of the production remained evasive, operatic and melodramatic. Neither technique nor color made up for the total lack of freedom, although a certain formal dignity can be found in some isolated products, due to G. Ucicky and, at the end of the conflict and the regime, to H. Käutner.