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Unit information: From Caligari to Hitler: German Film 1919-1945 in 2016/17

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Unit name From Caligari to Hitler: German Film 1919-1945
Unit code GERM20033
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Vilain
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The Weimar Republic produced some of the most famous cinematic images and films that remain part of the canon even today. Directors like Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau were pioneers of the emerging genre. However, after 1933 and the rise to power of the Nazis, film increasingly became a vehicle for propaganda and political or ideological indoctrination. This unit will look at the development of German/Austrian cinema (silent and spoken) by focusing on a number of important films from the period 1918-1945 in their historical and cultural contexts. It will introduce students to this genre, and to techniques of film analysis and criticism. At the same time, it will test the thesis of one of the most famous works of criticism (Krakauer’s From Caligari to Hitler, 1947), that the development of German film in the Expressionist era and the Weimar Republic provides evidence for the fantasies and unconscious motivation of a nation and a culture that would ultimately lead to the rise of Nazism.

It is anticipated that 8 films will be studied in some detail each time the unit is run, selected from five main groups. Examples of such groups are:

Extremes of Expressionist humanity:

• Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (Wiene, 1919)

• Der Golem (Wegener, 1920)

• Nosferatu: eine Sinfonie des Grauens (Murnau, 1922)

• Der Student von Prag (Ewers, 1913)

Modernity and the city:

• Metropolis (Lang, 1927)

• Berlin: Die Sinfonie einer Großstadt (Ruttmann, 1927)


• Die Büchse der Pandora (Pabst, 1928)

• Fräulein Else (Czinner, 1929)

• Liebelei (Ophüls, 1933)

Politics, ideology and propaganda:

• Kuhle Wampe (Brecht/Dudow, 1932)

• Hitlerjunge Quex (Steinhoff, 1933)

• Triumph des Willens (Riefenstahl, 1935)

• Jud Süß (Harlan, 1940)

Popular cinema in the 3rd Reich

• Die große Liebe (Hansen, 1942)

• Die Feuerzangenbowle (Weiss, 1944)


  • To introduce students to a significant body of knowledge of a complexity and sophistication appropriate to the second year of a BA.
  • To facilitate students' engagement with a body of texts, including in non-print media, primary sources and ideas as a basis for their own analysis and development. Many or most of these sources will be in German and will enhance the development of their linguistic skills.
  • To develop further skills of synthesis, analysis and independent research, building on the skills acquired in units at level C/4.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a significant cultural, historical or linguistic subject related to the language they are studying;
  2. demonstrate skill in the selection and synthesis of relevant material;
  3. evaluate and analyse relevant material from a significant body of source materials, usually in a foreign language, at a high level appropriate to Level I.
  4. respond to questions or problems by presenting their independent judgements in an appropriate style and at a high level of complexity

Teaching details

2 x 1 hour weekly lectures

Assessment Details

Two essays of 2000 words each, each contributing 50% of the total mark, each testing ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

The ‘filmography’ is above. Reference works include:

The German Cinema Book, ed. by Tim Bergfelder, Deniz Göktürk and Erica Carter (London: BFI Publishing 2002)

Sabine Hake, German National Cinema (London: Routledge, 2002; 2nd ed, 2008)

Concise CineGraph, ed. by Hans-Michael Bock and Tim Bergfelder (Berghahn 2009)

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An introduction, 6th edition (2001) or 7th ed. (2004).

David Bordwell, On the History of Film Style (Harvard UP, 1997)

Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (originally Princeton UP, 1947; reissued in pbk 2004).

S. S. Prawer, Between Two Worlds: The Jewish Presence in German and Austrian Film, 1910-1933 (Berghahn, 2005)