1-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​i​n​a​u​g​u​r​a​l​.​1​-​1.5 | Sil­ber­man PDF


The medi­a­ti­za­tion of see­ing, which set in with the inven­tion of the cam­era obscu­ra in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry and reached an ini­tial peak of mechan­i­cal per­fec­tion in the mov­ing cam­era at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, enriched the psy­chophysics of per­cep­tion. A whole series of ever more sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions in opti­cal instru­ments led to new means of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and con­cur­rent­ly opened up new ways of imag­in­ing the self. What came to be called in 1920s Ger­many “neues Sehen” or new see­ing was the short-hand descrip­tion for an effect of mod­ern indus­tri­al soci­ety that lit­er­al­ly bom­bard­ed the eyes with a show­er of visu­al stim­uli. We encounter the break­down of per­spec­ti­val focus and the intro­duc­tion of abstrac­tion in the visu­al arts; mod­ernist lit­er­a­ture adapts tech­niques of nar­ra­tive mon­tage con­nect­ed with mem­o­ry and inte­ri­or­i­ty; and a new kind of spec­ta­tor evolves who has expe­ri­enced the spa­tial rhetoric of rapid move­ment asso­ci­at­ed with trains and auto­mo­biles as well as the visu­al frag­men­ta­tion asso­ci­at­ed with pho­tog­ra­phy and cin­e­matog­ra­phy. These cre­ative aes­thet­ic respons­es were prob­ing the lim­its of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and per­cep­tion but at the same time they threat­ened to dis­place ver­bal lan­guage as well as the writ­ten word. The pri­ma­cy of writ­ing, which itself had dis­placed oral cul­ture in the wake of the Renais­sance, was chal­lenged by the media shift to visu­al­i­ty. Yet this by no means erased speech or print; rather the flood of images and the frag­men­tary tech­niques of rep­re­sen­ta­tion based on mechan­i­cal means of repro­duc­tion forced artists and crit­ics to rethink their assump­tions about lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The his­tor­i­cal oppo­si­tions of pic­tura et sub­scrip­tio come into espe­cial­ly sharp focus in the visu­al and tex­tu­al sig­ni­fy­ing sys­tems of the Ger­man silent cinema.

If lan­guage los­es its com­mu­nica­tive and inter­pre­ta­tive func­tions in direct pro­por­tion to the loss of its ref­er­en­tial ground­ing, then the mod­ernist cri­sis is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a cri­sis of its sig­ni­fy­ing prac­tices. The evo­lu­tion of the silent cin­e­ma in Ger­many between 1912 and 1930 engaged this cri­sis on at least three lev­els. The­mat­i­cal­ly we find here an infla­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal sto­ries about ego desta­bi­liza­tion, urban alien­ation, and claus­tro­pho­bic fam­i­ly life, pop­u­lat­ed by fan­tas­ti­cal dou­bles, psy­chopaths, vam­pires, robots, and golems. Inscribed in the para­noid nar­ra­tives of self-loss is the mod­ern expe­ri­ence of dis­so­ci­a­tion and dera­ci­na­tion. Aes­thet­i­cal­ly the silent cin­e­ma was explor­ing new ways to rep­re­sent such anx­i­eties of mod­ern sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. These includ­ed tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions in light­ing and cam­eras that allowed for intense­ly dynam­ic, expres­sive space rela­tions as well as a dis­tinct ges­tur­al act­ing style aimed at trans­lat­ing inner emo­tions into cor­po­re­al inten­si­ty. Philo­soph­i­cal­ly the ongo­ing debates about the nature of the cin­e­ma as art and enter­tain­ment began to refor­mu­late the image-text rela­tion by ques­tion­ing the hier­ar­chy of terms. Does the silent cin­e­ma spon­sor a lin­guis­tic the­o­ry of images based on the idea of “read­ing” the pic­to­r­i­al dis­cur­sive­ly, or does it rest on an image the­o­ry of lan­guage that claims the image as the ground of language’s referentiality?

In this essay I pro­pose to exam­ine the Ger­man expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma as a spe­cif­ic response to the mod­ernist cri­sis of lan­guage in order to describe the diverse cin­e­mat­ic forms of resis­tance to the word, to artic­u­lat­ed speech. I pro­pose to do this from two dif­fer­ent direc­tions, even though in prac­tice they were not clear­ly sep­a­rate. Some expres­sion­ist film mak­ers devel­oped the silence of the silent film into a “ges­tur­al lan­guage” that dra­ma­tized light and move­ment; oth­ers repro­duced the silent speech of the film fig­ures by means of graph­i­cal­ly styl­ized inter­ti­tles. My the­sis is that the expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma main­tained a tra­di­tion­al, ide­al­is­tic notion of the film as a pure work of art that aimed at a uni­fied com­po­si­tion of all ele­ments: set design, archi­tec­ture, cos­tumes, make-up, act­ing, light­ing, plot, and even writ­ing. While oth­er avant-garde artis­tic prac­tices, say, in the the­ater (Bertolt Brecht, Erwin Pis­ca­tor), pho­tog­ra­phy (Han­nah Höch, John Heart­field), or the fine arts (Max Ernst, George Grosz), inte­grat­ed the most advanced tech­ni­cal means at their dis­pos­al in order to trans­form tra­di­tion­al art forms and to open up new dimen­sions of artis­tic per­cep­tion, the expres­sion­ist film mak­ers missed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the rich semi­otic pos­si­bil­i­ties of the new tech­no­log­i­cal medi­um with its hybrid, syn­er­getic forms and provoca­tive force. Hence, the expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma marks a tran­si­tion or even the end­point of a long process of reflec­tion about the com­mu­nica­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of lan­guage that shift­ed to a fun­da­men­tal­ly new lev­el with the inven­tion of sound cin­e­ma at the end of the 1920s.

First of all, we need to rec­og­nize that the ear­ly cin­e­ma was not silent in the sense of sound­less; sound had always been present in cin­e­ma audi­to­ri­ums. The wide­spread assump­tion that writ­ten inter­ti­tles sub­sti­tut­ed for the lack of voic­es must be qual­i­fied. First, begin­ning in 1903 already there were suc­cess­ful exper­i­ments with new tech­nolo­gies of sound accom­pa­ni­ment through the mechan­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of image and sound. In Ger­many, for exam­ple, syn­chro­nized wax disk record­ings were espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar for music and opera films, seek­ing to repro­duce the “authen­tic­i­ty” of per­for­mance. These “Messter-Ton-Bilder” (Sound-Images), pro­duced under the brand name of “Bio­phon,” were com­mer­cial­ly dis­trib­uted with some suc­cess until 1913. Also, since the begin­ning of the cin­e­ma live film narrators—like the impre­sar­ios and enter­tain­ers on var­iété stages—accompanied movies with run­ning com­men­taries. The nar­ra­tor, stand­ing in front of or next to the screen, intro­duced the film, explained the plot, and spoke the dia­logues, a tra­di­tion that had dis­ap­peared entire­ly only in 1913.[1] Around 1910 an alter­na­tive arose to the film nar­ra­tor in the form of a small group of actors who behind the screen acousti­cal­ly illus­trat­ed the cor­re­spond­ing visu­al events, but this proved to be only a short-lived fad (Orosz 136). And, of course, by the ear­ly teens oth­er kinds of live musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment were becom­ing wide­spread, be they pianos, organs, small ensem­bles, or large-scale orches­tras for gala open­ings in the new cin­e­ma tem­ples in urban cen­ters. In anoth­er sense too the silent cin­e­ma was not silent. Actors did speak their parts in front of the cam­era, and view­ers saw them mov­ing their lips, although they did not hear them once the “insti­tu­tion” of the film nar­ra­tor dis­ap­peared. Thus, the silent film does show a com­mu­ni­cat­ing world but with­out audi­ble speech, and as a result view­ers devel­oped his­tor­i­cal­ly con­di­tioned habits of lend­ing the screen fig­ures their own imag­i­nary voic­es. The audi­ence pro­vid­ed not only their own “spo­ken” text of unheard voic­es but also the sound qual­i­ty of those voices—timbre, into­na­tion, pitch, tonal­i­ty, not to speak of oth­er sounds and nois­es such as whis­tles, rain hit­ting the pave­ment, or screech­ing car wheels that might be rep­re­sent­ed in film images. In this sense it is impos­si­ble to regard the silence of the silent film as a lack; on the con­trary, the absence of audi­ble sound con­sti­tut­ed its spe­cif­ic com­mu­nica­tive con­di­tion, the con­di­tion of the viewer’s imag­i­nary activ­i­ty in watch­ing the film.

If the silent cin­e­ma was from ear­ly on not with­out sound, the new visu­al medi­um of mov­ing images sim­i­lar­ly did not forego text in the form of print­ed words. From its very begin­nings con­ven­tion­al­ized print forms of com­mu­ni­cat­ing infor­ma­tion accom­pa­nied the cin­e­ma in the texts of pro­gram book­lets and on adver­tis­ing posters. Print­ed words could also be seen in the pro­filmic space of the mov­ing images, for exam­ple, a shot might show a fac­to­ry entrance with the com­pa­ny name inscribed on it, a store front with busi­ness signs, a street sign or place name, a street­car with adver­tise­ments. Even before the (tech­no­log­i­cal) inven­tion of the close-up shot cin­e­ma view­ers appre­hend­ed visu­al­ly such dieget­i­cal images of words. More­over, print­ed cred­its at the begin­ning and end of films exist­ed in the ear­li­est phas­es of cin­e­matog­ra­phy, although at this point they were not yet tech­ni­cal­ly con­nect­ed to the raw film stock; rather such titles were pro­ject­ed sep­a­rate­ly by means of the old­er lat­er­na mag­i­ca tech­nol­o­gy (Hedi­ger 169). It is rel­a­tive­ly obvi­ous that the pro­jec­tion of mov­ing images begins in the medi­um of print, point­ing to its pre­cur­sors in book cul­ture (the cov­ers and title page of the print­ed vol­ume) and the stage (the the­ater pro­gram). In short, the shift to mechan­i­cal­ly pro­duced visu­al media around 1900 was from the out­set tied to tech­nolo­gies of sound and print.

Text-image rela­tions in the silent cin­e­ma revolve prin­ci­pal­ly around the use of inserts and inter­ti­tles as an inte­gral com­po­nent of the nar­ra­tive sys­tem. Inserts are func­tion­al ele­ments of the nar­ra­tive fic­tion; they con­tain texts of writ­ten mes­sages, for exam­ple, a let­ter, a con­tract, the verse of a poem, the inscrip­tion on a memo­r­i­al, the words on a sign. Often they can be iden­ti­fied by the visu­al struc­ture of the mate­r­i­al on which the text is writ­ten (parch­ment, sheet of paper, page of book) or by the hand­writ­ing or type­script. This insert from from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, der Spiel­er (Dr. Mabuse, the Gam­bler, 1922) shows Edgar Hull’s call­ing card, grasped by a fin­ger in the upper right cor­ner, with the hand­writ­ten promise to pay a debt;

the next insert shows the oth­er side of the card, now with the fin­ger in the low­er right, and the implic­it threat “Spiel ist Spiel” under­lined (“A game’s a game”).

Dia­logue titles pro­vide direct speech of the film char­ac­ters (often with quo­ta­tion marks), while expos­i­to­ry titles explain the plot with details about place and time and/or com­men­tary. This dia­logue title, again from Dr. Mabuse, der Spiel­er, includes quo­ta­tion marks for the ques­tion at the gam­ing table: “And why aren’t you playing?”

Edwin Porter used inter­ti­tles for the first time in 1903 in the Amer­i­can short “Uncle Tom’s Cab­in” in order to guide the viewer’s com­pre­hen­sion in an episode last­ing more than three min­utes (Sche­une­mann 12). At this time these titles con­sist­ed tech­ni­cal­ly of filmed stills of text cards that were edit­ed into the actu­al film so that they filled the entire screen. Only around 1910 did text and image come togeth­er on the cel­lu­loid and pro­duce the stan­dard­ized inter­ti­tle: white print on a black ground, a white bor­der sur­round­ing the text, the pro­duc­tion firm’s logo on the top or bot­tom mar­gin, and the title num­ber in a cor­ner of the image. By this point, then, inter­ti­tles func­tioned not only for pur­pos­es of nar­ra­tive clar­i­ty but also for eco­nom­ic iden­ti­ty of the pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny and for legal pro­tec­tion against unau­tho­rized cuts. After 1914 dia­logue inter­ti­tles came to dom­i­nate, while explana­to­ry text titles became less and less fre­quent in order to sus­tain the view­ing illu­sion of con­ti­nu­ity. In fact, accord­ing to Birett’s (74-82) sta­tis­ti­cal analysis—albeit based on a very lim­it­ed cor­pus of only eigh­teen inter­na­tion­al film pro­duc­tions between the years 1908 and 1928—the ratio of inter­ti­tles to image shots tend­ed to dimin­ish con­sis­tent­ly into the 1920s, while their func­tion as redun­dant mes­sages for the action or con­tent of the mov­ing images had by and large gone out of style.

Many con­tem­po­raries of the silent cin­e­ma con­sid­ered film­ing and screen­ing still images of print­ed titles to be incom­pat­i­ble with its essence. In the orig­i­nal, 1911 ver­sion of the essay “Gedanken zu ein­er Ästhetik des Kinos” (Thoughts on an Aes­thet­ic for the Cin­e­ma) Georg Lukács (304) regards the spo­ken word as a dis­rup­tive tautology:

The “cin­e­ma” can only rep­re­sent actions, not their cause and mean­ing; its fig­ures have only move­ments, but no soul, and what hap­pens to them is sim­ply an event but not their des­tiny. (Therefore—and only appar­ent­ly because of cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal imperfections—the scenes of the “cin­e­ma” are silent: what­ev­er is impor­tant in the rep­re­sent­ed events is com­plete­ly expressed by what actions and ges­tures, any speak­ing would be a dis­rup­tive tau­tol­ogy.)[2]

Sim­i­lar­ly, Paul Wegen­er (13-15), the actor/director who pro­duced some of the first and most impres­sive “art films” in the mid-teens, for­mu­lat­ed the idea per­sua­sive­ly in a much quot­ed lec­ture he gave on 24 April 1916: “In the first instance film is a visu­al mat­ter. The film poet must begin with the image, must think in images, and choose themes that can be expressed visu­al­ly.”[3] Because the film as medi­um builds on the pri­ma­cy of the image, the medi­al shift to print­ed inserts and titles—according to this wide­spread view—interrupts the flow of images with its extra-diegetic meta-dis­course about the images. More­over, as an icon­ic mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the motion pic­ture is both acces­si­ble and leg­i­ble to an inter­na­tion­al audi­ence because images are not fil­tered through the grid of words and con­cepts. The­o­ries of per­cep­tion rein­forced this view that images are more acces­si­ble in their “flat­ness” than the “depth” of lan­guage about which texts speak (Schnell 150). The imme­di­a­cy with which an image deliv­ers infor­ma­tion analogically—to the extent that the view­er can com­pre­hend it even with a momen­tary glance—differentiates it from the log­i­cal, ana­lyt­i­cal, sequen­tial struc­ture of a ver­bal text, and from the abstract form of writ­ing that must be read.

The anal­o­gy or metaphor of film as a uni­ver­sal lan­guage because of its dearth of lin­guis­tic­i­ty and the osten­si­ble self-evi­dence of its signs is ground­ed in ide­al­ist con­cep­tions of art and the meta­physics of the image. In fact the silent cin­e­ma was com­pared var­i­ous­ly to oth­er non- or pre-lin­guis­tic sys­tems of rep­re­sen­ta­tion with the impli­ca­tion of their free­dom from the con­straints of lan­guage. The per­for­ma­tive and expres­sive aspects of the human body in mod­ern dance, the syn­thet­ic nature of pan­tomime, and the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness behind folk­lore and fairy tales were all cit­ed and com­pared to the cinema’s silence as a lib­er­at­ing fea­ture. Lack of ver­bal lan­guage was not con­sid­ered to be a defi­cien­cy but rather com­pen­sa­tion for the elit­ism of book cul­ture and an open­ing into imag­i­na­tive play­ful­ness. The sharp divi­sion between lit­er­ary cul­ture and mass enter­tain­ment pre­dis­posed Ger­man intel­lec­tu­als in the 1910s and 1920s to project their own desire for access to the pop­u­lar audi­ence into the utopi­an poten­tial of the cin­e­ma as a uni­ver­sal lan­guage (Hake 130-57).

Espe­cial­ly in the years pri­or to 1914, when there was a strong move to improve the artis­tic qual­i­ty of the Ger­man cin­e­ma, anoth­er wide­spread view argued that the film’s lack of words and its sta­tus as a pop­u­lar medi­um neces­si­tat­ed sto­ries with sim­ple plots based on emphat­ic move­ment and phys­i­cal actions in order to reduce the spo­ken com­men­taries of the film nar­ra­tor or the print­ed mes­sages of the inter­ti­tles to a min­i­mum. Sim­i­lar ide­al­is­tic notions of art and lan­guage under­lie the idea that pure ges­tu­ral­i­ty is a sub­sti­tute lan­guage or lan­guage sub­sti­tute. If mime and ges­ture are the most impor­tant styl­is­tic com­po­nents of the film, then—the argu­ment goes—it must be pos­si­ble to define a stan­dard­ized reper­toire of ges­tures and expres­sions. In the con­text of the mod­ernist cri­sis of lan­guage the silent cin­e­ma seemed to pro­vide incon­tro­vert­ible evi­dence that ges­tur­al lan­guage could com­mu­ni­cate in ways that ver­bal lan­guage could no longer do in lit­er­a­ture and the­ater. Thus attempts arose to estab­lish a lex­i­con of hand and body lan­guage (“eine Urgram­matik der Gebär­den” or a gram­mar of pro­to­typ­i­cal ges­tures) espe­cial­ly for ped­a­gog­i­cal pur­pos­es in the tra­di­tion of hand­books of rhetoric (e.g., Ruden­s­ki). This kind of gestol­ogy cat­e­go­rizes how an action or func­tion is per­formed using facial expres­sion, ges­tures (prin­ci­pal­ly of the hands and arms, but also of oth­er limbs such as the neck and legs), body pos­ture (how some­one sits or stands), and move­ment of the entire body (stand­ing up, sit­ting down, walk­ing, run­ning). It should be obvi­ous that this approach to the film actors’ “lan­guage” naive­ly iso­lates ges­tures as if they can be sep­a­rat­ed from the tran­si­to­ry move­ment of the medi­um, ana­lyt­i­cal­ly grasped, and iden­ti­fied with a par­tic­u­lar deno­ta­tion. More­over, the idea that a lan­guage of ges­tures can be learned and read hermeneu­ti­cal­ly not only con­tra­dicts the con­cept of an anthro­po­log­i­cal­ly giv­en orig­i­nary lan­guage that is leg­i­ble and uni­ver­sal­ly under­stood, it also para­dox­i­cal­ly eras­es the post-Enlight­en­ment con­cep­tion of the indi­vid­ual sub­ject whose inner feel­ings are the imme­di­ate and direct expres­sion of the self, a con­vic­tion that feeds the cin­e­mat­ic cult of the actor as star—the very icon of the indi­vid­u­at­ed, expres­sive personality.

Nonethe­less, ges­tur­al act­ing became one of the hall­marks of the expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma. In this short clip from Paul Wegener’s and Carl Boese’s Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World, 1920) we see Graf Flo­ri­an (Lothar Müthel) and Miri­am (Lyda Salmono­va) falling in love: the heav­ing chests, timid yet desir­ing eyes, ten­ta­tive­ly grop­ing hands, and final­ly the bod­ies slow­ly surg­ing toward one another.


Ini­tial­ly the silent cin­e­ma inher­it­ed this lega­cy of histri­on­ic act­ing from the theater,but it became clear that the ges­tur­al reper­toire of the stage did not work in front of the cam­era. The rela­tion­ship to space and time in the the­ater is con­sti­tut­ed by the dis­tance between the stage and audi­ence and the cen­tral per­spec­tive defined by the prosce­ni­um stage. In the cin­e­ma, how­ev­er, the cam­era assumes var­i­ous dis­tances and focus­es the spectator‘s atten­tion from many dif­fer­ent shots and angles, which are in turn the result of frag­ment­ed shoot­ing of iso­lat­ed ges­tures. It is no sur­prise, then, that the new film stars of the 1910s like Hen­ny Porten and Asta Nielsen did not come from the the­ater and did not "play to the audi­ence" but rather learned to act for or to the cam­era, intro­duc­ing what the ear­li­est film crit­ics and trade press cel­e­brat­ed as their nat­u­ral­ness and real­ism (Müller 81-86).




Cen­tral for this claim to a uni­ver­sal lan­guage in the cin­e­ma was the focus on the actor‘s body. Ignor­ing the mechan­i­cal basis for the pro­duc­tion of images, the ges­ture was under­stood as a primeval lin­guis­tic sign and the face as the mir­ror of the soul, the site of human iden­ti­ty and tran­scen­dence. The focus on phys­iog­no­my stressed the anthro­po­mor­phic, human­ist ground­ing of cinema‘s silent lan­guage; freed from the con­straints of frag­men­ta­tion and alien­ation, the intact body promised redemp­tion and human com­mu­ni­ty. Béla Balázs‘s 1924 the­o­ret­i­cal trea­tise, Der sicht­bare Men­sch (Vis­i­ble Man), might be con­sid­ered the cul­mi­nat­ing point in a series of film the­o­ries pro­posed in the course of the 1910s and ear­ly 1920s that stress exclu­sive­ly the visu­al com­pre­hen­sion of expres­sive move­ment as the art of the cin­e­ma. It is a remark­able doc­u­ment of the sophis­ti­cat­ed lev­el this dis­cus­sion of visu­al cul­ture had reached but it also illus­trates how the ide­al­ist ground­ing of the image main­tained the ori­gin of cin­e­mat­ic mean­ing in the pres­ence of the actor and thus mis­con­strued the mechan­i­cal­ly medi­at­ed rela­tion­ship between real­i­ty and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The argu­ment reveals a para­dox: on the one hand, artis­tic inno­va­tion comes about only through the trans­for­ma­tions result­ing from the inter­ac­tion between the arts and the new tech­ni­cal media; on the oth­er, the ulti­mate goal is the puri­ty of artis­tic means in each medi­um. The tech­ni­cal and struc­tur­al qual­i­ties of the pop­u­lar cin­e­ma pro­vide the argu­ment for the spe­cif­ic filmic means of expres­sion that then enable the con­ti­nu­ity of high art tra­di­tions by employ­ing tech­no­log­i­cal­ly inspired aes­thet­ic inno­va­tions for artis­tic experimentation.

With this kind of phi­los­o­phiz­ing about the redemp­tive qual­i­ty of visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion it comes as no sur­prise that many silent film prac­ti­tion­ers, crit­ics, and the­o­reti­cians con­sid­ered inter­ti­tles to be a nec­es­sary evil, a dra­matur­gi­cal crutch, or a sub­sti­tute for inad­e­quate visu­al nar­ra­tion. On the one hand, they were react­ing to the wide­spread use of titles to cam­ou­flage dra­matur­gi­cal prob­lems. Up into the 1920s it was obvi­ous­ly eas­i­er and cheap­er to pro­duce such inter­ti­tles than to film (addi­tion­al) non ver­bal visu­al mate­r­i­al. On the oth­er hand, the very attrac­tion of the new medi­um lay in the abil­i­ty of mov­ing images to show a com­mu­ni­cat­ing world with­out resort­ing to words, that is, with­out rely­ing on the "exhaust­ed" medi­um of lan­guage. Thus, crit­ic Karl Bleib­treu com­plained already in 1913 that inter­ti­tles were poi­son for the eyes ("Gift für die Augen"; quot­ed in Paech 59). Vic­tor E. Pordes (21), a Vien­nese pro­fes­sor of aes­thet­ics and one of the first to pub­lish a book-length the­o­ry of film in 1919, saw a cor­ro­sive effect in print­ed titles, in con­trast to the word­less image that offers the spec­ta­tor the orig­i­nary feel­ing ("die ganze Ursprünglichkeit seines Gefühls"). One year lat­er Kon­rad Lange (85), anoth­er schol­ar, who—as a promi­nent cin­e­ma "reformer"—was com­mit­ted to rais­ing the low­ly enter­tain­ment to an artis­tic enter­prise, com­pared inter­ti­tles to pieces of print­ed paper between the images: "It is incon­ceiv­able to me that this crutch‘s lack of artistry has not long been rec­og­nized."[4]

There were, how­ev­er, counter posi­tions. Pre­cise­ly because the film is an image­dom­i­nat­ed medi­um, the "alien" print medi­um draws atten­tion to itself. The alter­na­tion between print­ed titles and mov­ing images was rec­og­nized by some as an effec­tive ele­ment of the edit­ing rhythm and poten­tial­ly use­ful in build­ing nar­ra­tive sus­pense, espe­cial­ly in chase sequences and thrillers, where all kinds of retard­ing ele­ments need to be mobi­lized. More­over, the image-text rela­tion func­tions dif­fer­ent­ly in var­i­ous film forms (for exam­ple, doc­u­men­taries, nar­ra­tive films, exper­i­men­tal films, or adver­tise­ments), and the rela­tion can be con­struct­ed in var­i­ous ways: com­pet­ing, har­mo­niz­ing, inten­si­fy­ing, com­ple­ment­ing. D. W. Grif­fith is report­ed to have react­ed iron­i­cal­ly to an interviewer‘s ques­tion in 1926 about the Ger­mans who were by that time mak­ing films com­plete­ly with­out inter­ti­tles (refer­ring undoubt­ed­ly to Carl Mayer‘s screen­plays for cham­ber films); Hitch­cock defend­ed print­ed titles as an effi­cient way to accel­er­ate the plot and con­dense the sto­ry (quot­ed in Ger­man in Pata­las 222). The­o­ret­i­cal­ly, then, image and text (and lat­er sound, too) are equal­ly pro­duc­tive com­po­nents in the poly­va­lent mate­ri­al­i­ty of the film.

The expres­sion­ist film invent­ed two dif­fer­ent respons­es that were aimed at sub­lat­ing the meta­phys­i­cal com­mit­ment to visu­al pres­ence on to the lev­el of onto­log­i­cal imma­nence. First, in some films writ­ten titles were designed as visu­al orna­ments that trans­formed the print­ed word into a graph­ic image. Sec­ond, oth­er films dis­placed writ­ten text entire­ly in favor of the image and the so-called expres­sion­ist act­ing style. The inno­va­tions of the expres­sion­ist art, the­ater, and lit­er­ary avant-garde peaked soon after the end of the First World War from the per­spec­tive of per­son­nel as well as aes­thet­ics. Expres­sion­ist film style only began to emerge, how­ev­er, in 1919, and its emer­gence was to a large extent the result of a mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy on the part of the blos­som­ing post­war movie indus­try that iden­ti­fied a niche for the "art cin­e­ma" to sup­port its nation­al pro­file in the inter­na­tion­al movie dis­tri­b­u­tion mar­ket. Hence, the rel­a­tive­ly small cor­pus of about 40 Ger­man expres­sion­ist films out of an annu­al pro­duc­tion of almost 200 fea­tures dur­ing the ear­ly 1920s belongs to what cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans con­sid­er pos­tor late expres­sion­ism among the avant-garde move­ments. More­over, these films were specif­i­cal­ly pro­duced with an eye toward artis­ti­cal­ly high qual­i­ty fea­tures and direct­ed at the edu­cat­ed, mid­dle-class pub­lic rather than the pop­u­lar audi­ence. Nonethe­less, not a few writ­ers, the­ater prac­ti­tion­ers, and artists saw this devel­op­ment of an expres­sion­ist film style as proof that the den­i­grat­ed "mass cul­ture" was now co-opt­ing even avant-garde ener­gies. In truth the expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma does intro­duce some­thing new both from a film his­tor­i­cal and aes­thet­ic perspective.

Some exam­ples will clar­i­fy this argu­ment, begin­ning with the 1919 Das Kabi­nett des Dr. Cali­gari (The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari) by Robert Wiene, a key work of Ger­man expres­sion­ism and inter­na­tion­al film his­to­ry. Here we find out­stand­ing instances both of text designed graph­i­cal­ly and of graph­i­cal­ly designed images as an inte­gral aes­thet­ic approach to visu­al form. In this respect the film marks not only the begin­ning of a new film style but in a cer­tain sense also its apex, inso­far as the graph­ic style is remark­ably con­sis­tent like in no oth­er expres­sion­ist fea­ture, as three of the film‘s first inter­ti­tles illustrate.




The first notable detail in these short inter­ti­tles is the orna­men­tal design of the print­ed text that was draft­ed by the expres­sion­ist artist Wal­ter Reimann. The crude, wood­cut print-type is not stan­dard­ized but rather formed like free-hand writ­ing with point­ed and bro­ken lines; the indi­vid­ual let­ters are irreg­u­lar, with dis­tort­ed edges; and the sequence of let­ters is not arranged on a straight, hor­i­zon­tal axis. Diet­rich Sche­une­mann (24-31) has pro­vid­ed care­ful expo­si­tion of the title designs in the Cali­gari film, point­ing out how these graph­ic qual­i­ties in the image of the print­ed word point to the psy­cho­log­i­cal unease and ten­sion of the film's fig­ures. Behind each of the words is a back­ground as well with bro­ken planes that empha­size the dom­i­nant atmos­phere of inner tur­moil. Final­ly, the very pre­ci­sion of the inter­ti­tles‘ min­i­mal­ist, reduced mes­sage is a typ­i­cal device of expres­sion­ist styl­iza­tion to con­vey height­ened emo­tions. Such inter­ti­tles do not serve the story‘s nar­ra­tive progress or even mark a spe­cif­ic rhyth­mic alter­na­tion for the edit­ing, rather they inten­si­fy the uncan­ny atmos­phere and fright­ful antic­i­pa­tion at the heart of the nar­ra­tive. A spec­tac­u­lar exam­ple that breaks the frame of the sta­t­ic inter­ti­tle is shown in the fol­low­ing clip from the end of Cali­gari.

It shows noth­ing less than the stag­ing of writ­ing, since the ghost­ly words are now them­selves inte­grat­ed into the image as an over­lay of text fad­ing in and out. The ani­ma­tion of the words inten­si­fies the feel­ings of angst as an autonomous com­po­nent of the image, and the mov­ing text embod­ies in itself the para­noia that has tak­en hold of Cali­gari. The threat­en­ing, aggres­sive writ­ing becomes a pro­jec­tion of the inner forces and obses­sions that haunt him, mate­ri­al­iz­ing the uncon­scious realm of hal­lu­ci­na­tions in a con­crete image. In Wiene‘s Das Kabi­nett des Dr. Cali­gari we have an excel­lent exam­ple of expres­sion­ist styl­iza­tion in which all sig­ni­fiers, even writ­ten words, are sub­or­di­nat­ed to the cre­ation of this out-of-joint world. Like the actors‘ bod­ies, the sets‘ con­tours, and the paint­ed decors, the print­ed word has become a scenic ele­ment in its plas­tic­i­ty. Here tex­tu­al­i­ty too is a means of visu­al expres­sion, demon­strat­ing the flu­id tran­si­tion from text into image.




In a cer­tain sense Wiene's Cali­gari mobi­lized already in 1919 the graph­ic func­tion of writ­ing as icon­ic and ani­mat­ed typog­ra­phy, a promis­ing start that with­ered away, for in the course of the 1920s graphism became more and more orna­men­tal in the nar­ra­tive film while pic­to­r­i­al ani­ma­tion shift­ed into oth­er areas such as the move­ment of crowds. Dim­itri Buchowetski's Dan­ton (1921), influ­enced by a stage pro­duc­tion of Georg Büchner's play at the Deutsches The­ater in Berlin, shows the way bod­ies can be treat­ed as a graph­ic cipher in the cinema.

The crowds shot from a low angle and wav­ing their arms rhyth­mi­cal­ly and then stream­ing down the steep steps of the Con­vent in a frontal shot cre­ate a dynam­ic sense the scenic space. At the same time, how­ev­er, the cam­era tech­nique and edit­ing in both Wiene’s Cali­gari and Buchowetski’s Dan­ton were quite restrained. The dis­tinc­tive dra­matur­gy of light and move­ment that would become the real inno­va­tions of the expres­sion­ist cin­e­ma led many film mak­ers to seek new tech­niques and tech­nolo­gies of light­ing and cam­era move­ment to nar­rate film sto­ries. For them print­ed text was of sec­ondary impor­tance, although they too used dis­crete inter­ti­tles or inserts as an expres­sive film com­po­nent with its own aes­thet­ic val­ue, as the fol­low­ing exam­ples illustrate.




In the tra­di­tion of Cali­gari—one could almost speak of an inter­vi­su­al citation—Fritz Lang uses in two episodes from his 1926 Metrop­o­lis typo­graph­i­cal­ly designed inserts as “emo­tion­al titles,” adapt­ing to writ­ten text the son­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics of spo­ken lan­guage. The indi­vid­ual let­ters form­ing the word “Moloch” sig­nal sur­prise and fear through the spe­cial cal­lig­ra­phy of the print­ed text.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the drops of blood or sweat ooz­ing from the word “Babel”—the lat­ter refer­ring to the bib­li­cal tale of desire for uni­ver­sal lan­guage and its ulti­mate lack of fulfillment—animate the very idea of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, in con­tradis­tinc­tion to the dis­rupt­ed mech­a­nism of ref­er­en­tial­i­ty prac­ticed by mod­ernist texts.




Writ­ing always has both a fig­ur­al and a ver­bal aspect in the sense that it is read as well as looked at. The dis­tinc­tion is triv­ial until the writ­ing is cal­li­graph­i­cal­ly or typo­graph­i­cal­ly real­ized, as in these cases.




To return briefly to Der Golem, the plot visu­al­izes the theme of writ­ing itself as the key to life. Inserts show parch­ment roles with the ruler‘s decrees that guar­an­tee or destroy the exis­tence of the Jews in their pro­tec­tive ghet­to; they show pages from the books that the Rab­bi and his assis­tant study for a clue to the secret of life; and they promi­nent­ly dis­play the cru­cial cab­bal­is­tic mes­sage writ­ten on a scrap of paper.



Even more impor­tant, how­ev­er, is the rev­e­la­tion of the word that can awak­en the Golem, the man-made clay fig­ure, to life. Here lan­guage pos­sess­es a tran­scen­dent, divine pow­er that—objectified in the word—brings the hid­den into the open. Con­jured by Rab­bi Loew in a dra­ma of flames, light­en­ing, and storm­ing shapes, Astaroth, the dead spir­it, utters the word "aemaet" that man­i­fests itself as ephemer­al writ­ing with the breath, for this is the spir­it as word that will infuse the inan­i­mate fig­ure with life.

The graphism of the mag­ic word, achieved here through sophis­ti­cat­ed trick effects, shows the writ­ing of the text in mov­ing images as its very reading—and ulti­mate­ly redemp­tion, since this word will cre­ate life. In this case the abstrac­tion of print cul­ture is trans­formed into the trans­paren­cy and vital­i­ty of visuality.




Some film­mak­ers pur­sued a dif­fer­ent strat­e­gy in the ear­ly 1920s, seek­ing to do away with inter­ti­tles entire­ly. The first exper­i­men­tal films by avant-garde artists were non nar­ra­tive, abstract visu­al stud­ies with no inter­ti­tles at all. Walther Ruttmann’s “Opus” series of short ani­mat­ed films, for exam­ple, stages encoun­ters between light, vol­umes, planes, and move­ment in order to explore the dynam­ic ener­gy of the rela­tion­ship between time and space.

Expres­sion­ist cham­ber films such as Leopold Jessner’s Hin­tertreppe (1921) and Lupu Pick’s Sylvester (1924) strove to reduce the use of inter­ti­tles to a min­i­mum and instead con­veyed the nar­ra­tive through oth­er expres­sive means of the cin­e­ma such as ges­ture, body move­ment, facial expres­sions, and con­trasts of light and shad­ow. Since these dra­mas, based on screen­plays by Carl May­er, explic­it­ly the­ma­tize speech­less­ness or focus on char­ac­ters who are con­demned to silence, it is only log­i­cal that the inabil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate under­ly­ing the respec­tive story’s trag­ic fate made the print­ed form of speech super­flu­ous (Paech 53).




Friedrich Wil­helm Murnau’s Der let­zte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924) marks a high­point in this use of the cam­era for pur­pos­es not only of rep­re­sen­ta­tion but also nar­ra­tion, again based on a screen­play by Carl May­er. The fol­low­ing exam­ples from dif­fer­ent points in the film demon­strate how May­er avoid­ed inter­ti­tles entire­ly but yet employed print­ed words dieget­i­cal­ly, that is, as part of the visu­al nar­ra­tion: the illu­mi­nat­ed sign of the Atlantic Hotel where the door­man works the front entry, the mes­sage on his daughter’s wed­ding cake (“Den Hochzeits­gästen,” or To the Wed­ding Guests), and a cut-in to the exclu­sive brand name label of a Mumm cham­pagne bot­tle that denotes class status.

A cen­tral sequence shows the pro­tag­o­nist read­ing his demo­tion let­ter. The cam­era spies on the door­man from out­side the manager’s office, then pass­es through the door’s trans­par­ent glass thresh­old and assumes the doorman’s sub­jec­tive per­spec­tive as he halt­ing­ly scans the lines of text and indi­vid­ual print­ed words. Mur­nau employs here two per­cep­tu­al vari­ables that dom­i­nate the read­ing process: dura­tion (focus on let­ters, words, and sense units) and con­trol (speed, seg­men­ta­tion of mean­ing, and sequenc­ing or rep­e­ti­tion), and he there­by visu­al­izes through the read­ing of the print­ed text the protagonist’s high­ly emo­tion­al, inte­ri­or tur­moil as he com­pre­hends the shock­ing news of his demo­tion to a toi­let atten­dant because of his old age (“Der Grund ist Ihre Alterss­chwäche,” or the rea­son is your old-age infirmity).

A lat­er insert of a news­pa­per clip­ping intro­duces the sur­pris­ing, unfore­seen turn of events from a trag­ic fall to a fairy tale-like hap­py end­ing. It reports that the mil­lion­aire A.G. Mon­ney died in the toi­let attendant‘s arms, and accord­ing to the former‘s will, his entire wealth is to be claimed by the per­son in whose arms he dies.





The speech­less, sub­al­tern door­man is trans­formed by the print­ed announce­ment into a "speak­er": with demon­stra­tive ges­tures, winks of the eye, and (silent) whispers—all those famil­iar ges­tures of the expres­sion­ist actor Emil Jannings—he becomes now the sov­er­eign man­ag­er of the wait­ers and hotel per­son­nel. Mur­nau shows how film images pro­duce a kind of speech with­out words, a text with­out print, a visu­al narration.

By the mid 1920s film expres­sion­ism had already reached its prime. New tech­no­log­i­cal advances pro­vid­ed expand­ed appli­ca­tions for inter­ti­tles and tex­tu­al images by means of sophis­ti­cat­ed opti­cal print­ers that enabled a more com­plex and freer inte­gra­tion of text and image. The mov­ing or "unchained" cam­era, pio­neered by cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Carl May­er in Murnau's Der let­zte Mann, also changed per­spec­ti­val rela­tions as well as the very rela­tion between view­er and screen, cre­at­ing new visu­al expe­ri­ences of dizzi­ness, falling, and climb­ing, and trans­form­ing film act­ing from the pathos-laden histri­on­ics of the expres­sion­ist style to a more flow­ing style (Prümm 238). Yet the deci­sive cat­a­lyst for revis­ing the cin­e­mat­ic rela­tion­ship between image and text came from the Russ­ian avant­garde. Build­ing on Vsevolod Meyerhold's ped­a­gogy of abstract ges­ture pro­duc­tion (bio­me­chan­ics) and Ilya Ehrenberg‘s notion of the mech­a­niza­tion of all ges­tures, Sergei Eisen­stein was the first film mak­er who tried to con­nect, for exam­ple, film act­ing with the tech­ni­cal con­di­tions of cin­e­mat­ic medi­um. He devel­oped a film seman­tics based on mean­ing pro­duc­tion as a suc­ces­sive process in which a lex­i­con of ges­tures can exist only as an inven­to­ry of poly­va­lent ele­ments (Law and Gor­don). In oth­er words ges­tures are not inde­ter­mi­nate but rather they are con­sti­tut­ed cul­tur­al­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly, and the fact that a film actor—say, Charlie
Chaplin—is inter­na­tion­al­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble was proof for Eisen­stein that the ambigu­ous poly­va­lence of ges­tures defines the very strength of the silent cinema.

Sim­i­lar­ly, Sovi­et film mak­ers like Eisen­stein, Vladimir Pudovkin, and Dzi­ga Ver­tov under­stood the func­tion of inter­ti­tles in a fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent way than the Ger­man expres­sion­ists. The Russ­ian school of mon­tage was based on a con­struc­tivist prin­ci­ple that attempt­ed to approx­i­mate visu­al­ly the musi­cal­i­ty, rhythm, and tem­po of sound, unre­lat­ed to speech and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ver­bal lan­guage. Mon­tage edit­ing works with the cal­cu­lat­ed effects of con­trast, antithe­sis, inter­vals, and col­li­sion in order to pro­duce a dynam­ic ten­sion. In this con­text print­ed inter­ti­tles assume a vari­ety of func­tions from his­tor­i­cal quote to expos­i­to­ry infor­ma­tion about char­ac­ters, mood, or behav­ior to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of into­na­tion (a crescen­do of voic­es) and tem­po (sus­pense, delay) with­in a sequence of images.[5] The fol­low­ing two exam­ples illus­trate how some of these pos­si­bil­i­ties were adapt­ed in Walther Ruttmann's 1927 con­struc­tivist film Berlin, Sin­fonie der Großs­tadt (Berlin, Sym­pho­ny of a Great City). In the first sequence the print­ed signs of "Anhal­ter Bahn­hof" and "Berlin" have an expos­i­to­ry: as they move into view, they announce the train‘s arrival in Berlin from the coun­try­side in the ear­ly morning.

In the sec­ond sequence from the after­noon sec­tion, the accel­er­at­ing images of news­pa­per head­lines rolling off the print­ing press­es (Cri­sis, Mur­der, Stocks, Wed­dings, Mon­ey) segue into the sub­jec­tive cam­era speed­ing along the tracks.




For Ruttmann the inte­gra­tion of print­ed signs and mov­ing words gen­er­ates a rhythm through the ten­sion estab­lished vis-à-vis the speed­ing train and the rota­tion press. Text and image fol­low a graph­i­cal­ly cal­cu­lat­ed prin­ci­ple rein­forced by the orig­i­nal music (com­posed by Edmund Meisel) that describes “a day in the life of the metropolis.”




Final­ly, for the sake of con­trast it is worth­while to con­sid­er two exam­ples of notable image-text rela­tions from the ear­ly sound cin­e­ma. Fritz Lang’s M (1930) no longer needs inter­ti­tles but insists on point­ing out the insuf­fi­cien­cy or dis­place­ment of writ­ing in the now recon­fig­ured media part­ner­ship of text, image, and sound. In this detec­tive sto­ry an entire city has been set on edge because of the anony­mous (writ­ten) let­ter of con­fes­sion cir­cu­lat­ed by a ser­i­al child mur­der­er. Perched behind the still unknown man, the cam­era focus­es on the writ­ing of the post­card, while the sound track car­ries the absent-mind­ed, ner­vous whistling of the tune that will ulti­mate­ly give away the culprit’s iden­ti­ty (a brief pas­sage from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, “In the Hall of the Moun­tain King”).

More­over, the sound bridge of the voice-over read­ing the "want­ed poster" (10,000 Mark reward…) con­nects visu­al­ly the sound, words, and print­ed mes­sage. In this very ear­ly talkie the ser­i­al mur­ders can be solved only by means of sound when a blind beg­gar, that is, some­one who can not see, rec­og­nizes the whis­tled tune he con­nects with the murderer‘s pres­ence of the mur­der­er. Writ­ing is only one device, but yet a cru­cial one in track­ing the cul­prit, for the pur­suers trace the let­ter "M" in white chalk on the black over­coat of the sus­pect­ed killer in order to make him vis­i­ble for their pur­suit. In con­trast, Sla­tan Dudow and Bertolt Brecht's 1932 Kuh­le Wampe oder: Wem gehört die Welt? (Kuh­le Wampe or Who Owns the World?) still employs inter­ti­tles in an ear­ly sound film as a self-reflex­ive struc­tur­ing device. The dis­rup­tion of visu­al and nar­ra­tive con­ti­nu­ities by the cal­cu­lat­ed place­ment of inter­rup­tive titles artic­u­lates an aes­thet­ic response, often with an iron­i­cal punch, to the mis­eries of mod­ern, urban life. The neigh­bor woman, in this exam­ple, com­ments mat­ter-of-fact­ly on the sui­cide of a young man in her apart­ment house: "He still had the best years in front him," punc­tu­at­ed by the sound of the hearse door clos­ing before we see it dri­ve off, and then fol­lowed by the insert: "Das schön­ste Leben eines jun­gen Men­schen" (The best years of a young man).




Brecht’s rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the auton­o­my of all aes­thet­ic ele­ments in the Epic The­ater and the cin­e­ma (“die Tren­nung der Ele­mente” or sep­a­ra­tion of ele­ments) cor­re­sponds to his socio-polit­i­cal inten­tion of not only com­mu­ni­cat­ing knowl­edge to the audi­ence but also posi­tion­ing the audi­ence to pro­duce it. The play with dis­con­ti­nu­ities between image, dia­logue, sound, and text in this exam­ple from Kuh­le Wampe aims at the acti­va­tion of the audi­ence, pulls her out of a con­tem­pla­tive recep­tion mode that can arise in a high­ly emo­tion­al sto­ry, such as this one about the sui­cide of a young man.




To con­clude, I have shown how the sta­tus of lan­guage in the Ger­man silent cin­e­ma was posi­tioned with­in a con­text of com­pet­ing prac­tices and dis­cours­es dur­ing a momen­tous shift in the medi­a­ti­za­tion of see­ing. The expres­sion­ist film specif­i­cal­ly is defined by its pic­to­r­i­al under­stand­ing, pay­ing close atten­tion to light­ing and set design in order to cre­ate inno­v­a­tive, some­times inten­tion­al­ly con­fus­ing inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or spaces; it is also ori­ent­ed pri­mar­i­ly toward lit­er­ary and painter­ly sources. This for­mal sophis­ti­ca­tion did suc­ceed in demon­strat­ing the artis­tic qual­i­ty of the new medi­um to a mass audi­ence, but at the same time its for­mal coher­ence, which also includ­ed ges­tur­al act­ing and graph­i­cal­ly inspired inter­ti­tles, pur­pose­ly dis­guised the medium’s tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions that chal­lenged tra­di­tion­al, insti­tu­tion­al ideas of art. As a result, the rela­tion­ship to the mechan­i­cal means of rep­re­sen­ta­tion yield­ed an exper­i­men­tal cin­e­ma, but one that dis­placed the alien­ation of moder­ni­ty into inte­ri­or­ized nar­ra­tives of angst and dis­lo­ca­tion and into an aes­thet­ics of the image sus­tained by a strong anti-tech­no­log­i­cal thrust. “Neues Sehen,” the new see­ing to which the expres­sion­ists were com­mit­ted, just like the oth­er his­tor­i­cal avant-gardes, sought to expand visu­al per­cep­tion as a pre-con­di­tion of revi­tal­iz­ing mod­ern cul­ture. They saw redemp­tive val­ue in the cinema’s turn from the abstrac­tion of print cul­ture to a new kind of trans­paren­cy and vis­i­bil­i­ty. In oth­er words the philo­soph­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal dimen­sions of the medi­a­ti­za­tion of see­ing were rec­og­nized from ear­ly on. But the cin­e­ma as a tech­ni­cal medi­um, the real­iza­tion of the media-spe­cif­ic con­struc­tion of expres­siv­i­ty in front of the cam­era into forms of filmic rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the screen would have to wait for oth­er inno­va­tions and models.


Alt­man, Rick. Silent Film Sound. New York: Colum­bia UP, 2004.

Balázs, Béla. Der Sicht­bare Men­sch. Balázs. Schriften zum Film I. Berlin: Hen­schel, 1982. In Eng­lish, Vis­i­ble Man. Trans. Rod­ney Liv­ing­stone. Ed. Eri­ca Carter. New York: Berghahn, 2010.

Birett, Her­bert. “Alte Filme: Fil­mal­ter und Film­stil. Sta­tis­tis­che Analyse von Stumm­fil­men.” Ed. Ledig, Der Stumm­film. 74-82.

Goetsch, Paul und Diet­rich Sche­une­mann, eds. Text und Ton im Film. Tübin­gen: Gunter Narr, 1997.

Hake, Sabine. The Cinema’s 3rd Machine: Writ­ing on Film in Ger­many 1907-1933. Lin­coln, NE: U of Nebras­ka P, 1993.

Hedi­gr, Vinzenz. “Reiz, Qual­ität und Aus­druck: Zur Funk­tion von Schrift und Typogra­phie in Kino­trail­ern.” Schrift und Bild im Film. Ed. Hans-Edwin Friedrich and Uli Jung. Biele­feld: Ais­the­sis, 2002. 139-62.

Lange, Kon­rad. Das Kino in Gegen­wart und Zukun­ft. Stuttgart: Enke, 1920.

Law, Alan and Mel Gor­don. Mey­er­hold, Eisen­stein and Bio­me­chan­ics: Actor Train­ing in Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia. Jef­fer­son, NC: McFar­land, 1996.

Ledig, Elfriede, ed. Der Stumm­film: Kon­struk­tion und Rekon­struk­tion. Munich: Ver­legerge­mein­schaft Schaudig/Bauer/Ledig, 1988.

Lukács, Georg. “Gedanken zu ein­er Ästhetik des Kinos (1911).” Pro­log vor dem Film: Nach­denken über ein neues Medi­um 1909-1914. Ed. Jörg Schweinitz. Leipzig: Reclam, 1992. 300-05. In Eng­lish, “Thoughts on an Aes­thet­ic for the Cin­e­ma.” Trans. Lance W. Garmer. Ger­man Essays on Film. Ed. Richard McCormick and Ali­son Guen­ther-Pal. New York: Con­tin­u­um, 2004. 11-16.

Müller, Corinne. “Zur Verän­derung des Schaus­pie­lens im stum­men Film: Am Beispiel ins­beson­dere Hen­ny Portens.” Der Kör­p­er im Bild: Schaus­pie­len – Darstellen – Erscheinen. Ed. Heinz B. Heller, Karl Prümm, Bir­git Peul­ings. Mar­burg: Schueren, 1999. 71-92.

Orosz, Susanne. “Weiße Schrift auf schwarzem Grund: Die Funk­tion von Zwis­chen­titeln im Stumm­film, dargestellt am Beispiel aus Der Stu­dent von Prag (1913).” Ed. Ledig, Der Stumm­film. 135-51.

Paech, Joachim. “Zwis­chen Reden und Schweigen – die Schrift.” Goetsch and Sche­une­mann, eds. Text und Ton im Film. 47-60.

Pata­las, Enno. “David Ward Grif­fith: Vom Buch zum Film.” Frie­da Grafe and Enno Pata­las. Im Off: Fil­mar­tikel. Munich: Hanser, 1974. 221-25 (rpt. from Süd­deutsche Zeitung, 1972).

Pordes, Vic­tor E. Das Licht­spiel: Wesen – Dra­maturgie – Regie. Vien­na: R. Lech­n­er Uni­ver­sitäts­buch­hand­lung, 1919.

Prümm, Karl. “Das schwebende Auge: Zur Genese der bewegten Kam­era.” Die Medi­en und ihre Tech­nik: The­o­rien – Mod­elle – Geschichte. Ed. Har­ro Sege­berg. Mar­burg: Schüren, 2004. 235-56.

Ruden­s­ki, Dyk. Gestolo­gie: Abhand­lung über die Phys­i­olo­gie und Psy­cholo­gie des Aus­drucks. Berlin: Ver­lag der Hobo­ken-Presse, 1927.

Sche­une­mann, Diet­rich. “Intol­er­ance – Cali­gari – Potemkin? Zur ästhetis­chen Funk­tion der Zwis­chen­ti­tel im frühen Film.” Goetsch and Sche­une­mann, eds. Text und Ton im Film. 11-40.

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Image Notes

Still images 1A and 1B:

Inserts, two sides of Edgar Hull’s call­ing card, Fritz Lang, Dr. Mabuse, der Spiel­er (1922)

[DVD grab, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2004]

Sill image 2:

Dia­logue title from Fritz Lang, Dr. Mabuse, der Spiel­er (1922)

[DVD grab, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2004]

Clip 1:

Flir­ta­tion between Graf Flo­ri­an (Lothar Müthel) and Miri­am (Lydia Salmono­va) from Paul Wegen­er and Carl Boese, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

[DVD clip, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2004, new music by Aljoscha Zimmermann]

Still images 3A, 3B3C

Inter­ti­tles with expres­sion­ist graph­ic design from Robert Wiene, Das Kabi­nett des Dr. Cali­gari (1919): “Er” (he), “Nacht” (Night), “Warten!!!” (Wait)

[DVD grabs, © Film Preser­va­tion Asso­ciates, 1996]

Clip 2:

Graph­ic writ­ing from Robert Wiene, Das Kabi­nett des Dr. Cali­gari (1919): “Du musst Cali­gari wer­den” (You must become Caligari)

[DVD clip, © Film Preser­va­tion Asso­ciates, 1996, new music © Tim­o­thy Brock, 1996]

Clip 3:

Crowds stream­ing forth from Dim­itri Buchowet­s­ki, Dan­ton (1921)

[VHS clip, © Bun­de­sarchiv Berlin]

Clip 4:

Graph­ic writ­ing of “Moloch” from Fritz Lang, Metrop­o­lis (1926)

[DVD clip, © Films sans fron­tiers, 1999, new music by Galesch­ka Moravioff]

Clip 5:

Graph­ic writ­ing of “Babel” from Fritz Lang, Metrop­o­lis (1926)

[DVD clip, © Films sans fron­tiers, 1999, new music by Galesch­ka Moravioff]

Still images 4A4B

Exam­ples of writ­ing from Paul Wegen­er and Carl Boese, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920): Rab­bi Löw and his assis­tant seek answers in a book titled “Nekro­mantie – Die Kun­st Totes lebendig zu machen” (Nekro­man­cy – The Art of Bring­ing Life to the Dead); Rab­bi Löw writes the secret word on a scrap of paper, to be fas­tened to the Golem’s chest

[DVD grabs, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2004]

Clip 6:

The divine pow­er of the word from Paul Wegen­er and Carl Boese, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920): “aemaet”

[DVD clip, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2004, new music by Aljoscha Zimmermann]

Clip 7:

Excerpt from short ani­ma­tion film by Wal­ter Ruttmann, Licht­spiel Opus II (1921)

[DVD clip, © Edi­tion Film­mu­se­um, 2008, piano score by Joachim Baerenz]

Still images 5A, 5B5C

Exam­ples of print from Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau, Der let­zte Mann (1924)

[DVD grabs, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2003]

Clip 8:

The door­man reads his let­ter of demo­tion in Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau, Der let­zte Mann (1924)

[DVD clip, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2003, orig­i­nal score of Giuseppe Bec­ce adapt­ed by Detlev Glanert]

Still image 6

Diegetic print shows the news­pa­per arti­cle announc­ing the sur­pris­ing plot turn from Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau, Der let­zte Mann (1924)

[DVD grab, © Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau-Stiftung, 2003]

Clip 9:

Sign­boards announce the train’s arrival in Berlin, from Walther Ruttmann, Berlin, Sin­fonie der Großs­tadt (1927)

[DVD clip, © Edi­tion Film­mu­se­um, 2008, orig­i­nal film score by Edmund Meisel]

Clip 10:

The head­lines roll of a page of the news­pa­per, from Walther Ruttmann, Berlin, Sin­fonie der Großs­tadt (1927)

[DVD clip, © Edi­tion Film­mu­se­um, 2008, orig­i­nal film score by Edmund Meisel]

Clip 11:

Writ­ing and whistling from Fritz Lang, M (1931)

[DVD clip, © Atlantic-Film S.A. and The Clas­sic Col­lec­tion, 1998]

Clip 12:

Inter­rup­tive inter­ti­tle from Sla­tan Dudow and Bertolt Brecht, Kuh­le Wampe oder: Wem gehört die Welt? (1932)

[DVD clip, © absolute medi­en, 2008]


[1]Friedrich Korner men­tions a “school for nar­ra­tors” (“Erk­lär­er-Schule”) in his 1929 dis­ser­ta­tion for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na, “Der deutsche Film: Tatbe­stand und Kri­tik ein­er neuen Kun­st­form” (75), quot­ed in Orosz 135. While the con­tex­tu­al­iza­tions and devel­op­ments in Ger­many did not nec­es­sar­i­ly cor­re­spond to those in the Unit­ed States, there are indeed many sim­i­lar­i­ties in tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions and trends; for an excel­lent his­tor­i­cal intro­duc­tion to the com­plex­i­ty of issues in regards to sound in the Amer­i­can silent cin­e­ma, see Alt­man, espe­cial­ly part IV on “Nick­olodeon Sound” for an exten­sive dis­cus­sion of the film narrator.

[2] “Das ‘Kino’ stellt bloß Hand­lun­gen dar, nicht aber deren Grund und Sinn, seine Gestal­ten haben bloß Bewe­gun­gen, aber keine See­len, und was ihnen geschieht, ist bloß Ereig­nis, aber kein Schick­sal. (Deshalb—und bloß schein­bar wegen der heuti­gen Unvol­lkom­men­heit der Technik—sind die Szenen des ‘Kino’ stumm: was an den dargestell­ten Ereignis­sen von Belang ist, wird durch Geschehnisse und Gebär­den rest­los aus­ge­drückt, jedes Sprechen wäre eine störende Tautologie.)”

[3] “In erster Lin­ie ist der Film eine visuelle Angele­gen­heit. Der Filmdichter muß vom Bild aus­ge­hen, in Bildern denken, und Stoffe wählen, die bild­haft auszu­drück­en sind.”

[4] “Es ist mir unbe­grei­flich, daß man das Unkün­st­lerische dieses Hil­fmit­tels nicht längst erkan­nt hat.”

[5] Van Wert’s dis­cus­sion of inter­ti­tles in Pudovkin’s Moth­er and Eisenstein’s Bat­tle­ship Potemkin pro­vides numer­ous exam­ples for this dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of inter­ti­tles (101-103). His com­ments on the inter­ti­tles in Wiene’s Cali­gari are less per­ti­nent because he did not have access to the restored film print and because he uses the issue of the film’s inter­ti­tles to engage in a spec­u­la­tive argu­ment about the script’s author­ship, which in the mean­time has been defin­i­tive­ly set­tled, con­trary to Van Wert’s assump­tions. For addi­tion­al exam­ples of cre­ative and unusu­al inter­ti­tles, see André Strat­mann, “Der Zwis­chen­ti­tel im Stumm­film,” 6 July 2010, http://​www​.beep​world​.de/​m​e​m​b​e​r​s​7​8​/​s​t​u​m​m​f​i​l​m​-​f​a​n​/​z​w​i​s​c​h​e​n​t​i​t​e​l​.​htm.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.