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From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (Princeton Classic Editions) [Paperback]

Siegfried Kracauer , Leonardo Quaresima

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Book Description

11 April 2004 Princeton Classic Editions

A landmark, now classic, study of the rich cinematic history of the Weimar Republic, From Caligari to Hitler was first published by Princeton University Press in 1947. Siegfried Kracauer--a prominent German film critic and member of Walter Benjamin's and Theodor Adorno's intellectual circle--broke new ground in exploring the connections between film aesthetics, the prevailing psychological state of Germans in the Weimar era, and the evolving social and political reality of the time. Kracauer's pioneering book, which examines German history from 1921 to 1933 in light of such movies as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, M, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel, has never gone out of print. Now, over half a century after its first appearance, this beautifully designed and entirely new edition reintroduces Kracauer for the twenty-first century. Film scholar Leonardo Quaresima places Kracauer in context in a critical introduction, and updates the book further with a new bibliography, index, and list of inaccuracies that crept into the first edition. This volume is a must-have for the film historian, film theorist, or cinema enthusiast.In From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer--the German-born writer and film critic who shared many ideas and interests with his friend Walter Benjamin--made a startling (and still controversial) claim: films as a popular art provide insight into the unconscious motivations and fantasies of a nation. In films of the 1920s such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, M, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel, he traced recurring visual and narrative tropes that expressed, he argued, a fear of chaos and a desire for order, even at the price of authoritarian rule. The book has become an undisputed classic of film historiography, laying the foundations for the serious study of film.

In From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer made a startling (and still controversial) claim: films as a popular art provide insight into the unconscious motivations and fantasies of a nation. In films of the 1920s, he traced recurring visual and narrative tropes that expressed, he argued, a fear of chaos and a desire for order, even at the price of authoritarian rule. The book has become an undisputed classic of film historiography, laying the foundations for the serious study of film.

Kracauer was an important film critic in Weimar Germany. A Jew, he escaped the rise of Nazism, fleeing to Paris in 1933. Later, in anguish after Benjamin's suicide, he made his way to New York, where he remained until his death in 1966. He wrote From Caligari to Hitler while working as a "special assistant" to the curator of the Museum of Modern Art's film division. He was also on the editorial board of Bollingen Series. Despite many critiques of its attempt to link movies to historical outcomes, From Caligari to Hitler remains Kracauer's best-known and most influential book, and a seminal work in the study of film. Princeton published a revised edition of his Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality in 1997.


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"The thesis of this unusually interesting book is that the German films of the twenties were filled with premonitions of the German totalitarianism of the thirties."--Nation

"One of the great works of film history, this look at early German cinema, first published in 1947, is still a must-have for cineastes and scholars alike."--H.J. Kirchhoff, Toronto Globe and Mail

"The book is an invaluable guide to a golden period of cinema."--Christopher Wood, The Times

From the Inside Flap

"An undisputed classic of modern film historiography, Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler had a major impact on the way we relate movies to history and society. Although Kracauer is not afraid of using such contested concepts as collective psychology and German 'soul,' his productive readings of Weimar films as harbingers of emerging fascism still resonate today. Leonardo Quaresima's engaging and erudite introduction is critical in situating Kracauer's project both in its historical moment and in our time."--Anton Kaes, University of California, Berkeley

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent choice 18 Feb 2013
By Nina Parris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book provided the historical and theoretical frameworks for students and theater goers, it is an important addition to my bookshelf
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A psychological history of The German film 17 Dec 2001
By bernie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book shows how the cinema paralleled and sometimes helped form the German psyche. Yet it is more than just a documentary. This brings you from the beginning of the industry to show what Hitler inherited. However the information caries far beyond the political dimension.

I use it more for information on the film industry as a whole for that time and the basis of what we inherited today. It is interesting that from the beginning people complained that the film was to long and inclusive or too short and excluded characters form history or books.

Two good parallel and overlapping timeline books for the era are "Cagliari's Children: The Film As Tale of Terror" ISBN: 030680347X which is a different view on the same subject and "The UFA Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918-1945 (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 23)"

They tried to capture the feel of the time and of the German actors' attitude toward film, in the movie "Shadow of the Vampire" (2001)

The Ufa Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918-1945 (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 23)
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quaresima + Kracauer 24 Dec 2007
By Mark Haxthausen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having owned the previous edition of this flawed classic, written by Siegfried Kracauer, the brilliant Weimar era critic, during his American exile in World War II, I hesitated to buy this new edition. Now I am glad I did. The Italian film scholar Leonardo Quaresima is one of the major authorities on Weimar era cinema, but unfortunately little of his work has been translated into English. His "Introduction to the 2004 edition" is more than that--it is a major essay on Kracauer as a film critic, indispensable for anyone with more than a casual interest in the period. Abundantly footnoted, it offers a sober critical assessment of CALIGARI TO HITLER, discussing its gestation, its sources, its relationship to Kracauer's earlier film criticism, and its methodological premises, indebted to fellow German Jewish exile Erwin Panofsky's iconology.
4.0 out of 5 stars Guide for Film Analysis 18 April 2014
By Leslie Soule - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I'm unsure whether or not I truly buy into Kracauer's premise for this book, I found it quite helpful for my English class in that it gave me a basis for literary interpretations of film analysis.
18 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed Classic 24 Oct 2009
By Yaakov Ben Shalom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book has a tremendous reputation and is widely regarded as a classic, but it is a flawed classic. Siegfried Kracauer claims that we can see the political and mass-psychological development of Weimar Germany in its films. It is an interesting thesis. So, what's the problem?

Kracauer's political viewpoint heavily informs his analysis of German cinema during the Weimar Republic. He was a out-and-out Marxist and a Jewish exile from Nazi Germany. Needless to say, he was extremely bitter about the development of German history when he wrote this book in 1946/47 -- and with good reason. But his analysis is very politicized and snidely anti-German. Kracauer decries the lack of engagement with the social question, particularly along "Marxist" lines.* Throughout the book, Kracauer repeats quotes from and cites the opinions of the far-left-wing (quasi-communist?) film critic Harry Potamkin.

Moreover, much of the book is an indictment of the German people -- not for overtly supporting Hitler, but for their passivity. He consistently depicts Germans as obedient slaves to authoritarianism. As such, they were incapable of producing any truly great films (until 1930) and were even unable to produce good detective movies, he writes. In writing about Germany during the mid-1920s, when democracy was stable and the economy flourished, he writes that the German public was actually in a psychological "state of paralysis. Cynicism, resignation, disillusionment." Apparently, at the time, Germans should have been creating a new, anti-authoritarian, left-wing society. They should not have been making technically innovative, popularly entertaining films.

Serious historians of Germany do not depict the German people as a nation of war-mongering, boot-licking toadies who need orders to follow at all times and who then slavishly, unreflectively follow those orders. Scholars no longer believe in the from-Luther-to-Hitler thesis, and many historians dispute the "Sonderweg" theory of German history. So, why do they still use this book in their courses? Because there is nothing else so encyclopedic and because this book stands like a giant standing astride the field of German cultural studies. Kracauer seems to explicate virtually every film made in this era. It is not a popular opinion to express, but perhaps it is time to move beyond "From Caligari to Hitler" and time to seek more modern, more nuanced analyses of early German film.

*Kracauer prefers the term "Marxist" to "communist" or "socialist." He also seems to share the post-1945 view common among members of the Left that the communists and socialists should have opposed Hitler in a broad-based Marxist front. He doesn't mention the fact that Stalin's "social fascism" policy precluded such an alliance. Nor does he mention that the communist-socialist party alliances of 1945-1949 led to the communist dictatorship regimes throughout eastern Europe.
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