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Weimar Cinema Theme Social Stratification through People’s Economic


WeimarCinema Theme: Social Stratification through People’s EconomicStatus

WeimarCinema Theme: Social Stratification through People’s EconomicStatus

TheWeimar Era represents a period in Germany between 1919 and 1933. Itwas a time that had a Republic that fledged due to prolific andextraordinary growth in the country`s cinema industry. It had thesexual, social and artistic freedom that was shared by all thecitizens. They were protected and free to express their ideas throughcreative movements, which began in the nation before the First WorldWar. The growth of the Expressionist movement was a stride towardsNorth and Central European culture such as painting, dance,architecture, sculpture and art. The political situation had givenrise to a rather modern genre of film-makers. It also influenced thedomination of the United States in dominating post-war entertainment.Different cinema features such as romantic dramas, adventure movies,comedies and horror films were all included in the period’s series.Due to isolation arising from the World War, there had been anationwide ban on foreign content. The sector became enormouslypopular for the entire population giving rise to groups that wouldlater come to dominate the European society. TheWeimar Cinema had a series of productions that expressed socialstratification brought about by people’s economic status.


Duringthe Weimar Era, Germany experienced an interwar period. It marks thelifespan of a republic that had a society facing torture during theaftermath of the First World War. The Weimar Era left the peoplefacing psychological and physical wounds. They could not expresstheir ideas and thoughts freely in open forums. The government hadalso banned foreign productions citing that it aimed at protectingthe people from cultural influence. The society was ideologicallyunstable since the authorities sought to keep it free of Europeaninteraction. In response to the difficulties, the citizens turned toother creative impressionism that would easily reach other audiencesacross the nation. Music, theater, architecture and art flourishedwith cinema becoming one of the greatest artistic innovations and agreat technical achievement. The industry produced remarkableopportunities and talents (Gancarz and Ligensa 2012). There weredozens of productions by different producers, with important andpopular historical films such as Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr.Cagliari. Many of the directors would later flee to Hollywood andEngland when the Nazis came to power as it discouraged thegroundbreaking ideologies. The stylistic features influenced by theturmoil at the time showed the situation in the society.

Characterizedby deeply shadowed lighting, the cinema articulated the ideas of thecountry`s culture. The society had been experiencing the start of anew era in the associational life as Germany was undergoing a periodof democratization. The public, especially the middle and low-incomeclasses, were unrepresented in seats of power. They started formingorganizations, which saw voluntary groups sprouting. The Weimarcinema portrayed social mobility, which is an area filled with adeeper understanding of the citizens and their culture. There wasdetailed creativity and motion, which covered in lenses to give botheducation and entertainment (Gancarz and Ligensa 2012). It was also away to capture a bigger audience and pass the message to the masseson how much they were suffering. At this time, the films took viewersto a level of leisure that would entertain and at the same time coverdark themes and cultural values. The famous directors became pioneersof a social movement that passed strong aesthetic information to thepublic. Productions such as The Last Laugh, The Metropolis, TheCabinet of Dr. Cagliari and Nosferatu represented instability anduncertainty of the people on the future of the country.

TheGerman society was facing oppression, without a way to address itpublicly unless through the use of cinema. In The Cabinet of Dr.Cagliari, for example, the writer cautions the people of thetransformation to a totalitarian system of governance. It shows thatthe lack of public input on matters concerning legislation can leadto dictatorship and ideologies that would be oppressive to themasses. There is a character named Francis, whose main belief is thatthe master by the name of Cagliari has been overthrown. He laterfinds that they are ideas put through to him during his time in aninsane asylum. For the citizens, revolution and freedom had been madean illusion. The film suggests that such illusory life existedencapsulating it in people thinking they are free only to find thatthey are in a mental facility for rebelling against powerfulindividuals. It signaled the start of a new era using bothpsychological and mystical features. The script was against theauthoritarian government, showing efforts of rebellion being regardedas madness and rebellious (Gancarz and Ligensa 2012). The maincharacter, thinking that he was free, turned out to be false andunnatural in subjective vision. It is similar to the theme in theWarning Shadows by Arthur Robinson, which came later in 1923.

Theauthors and actors relied on artistic imagery and symbolism to telltheir stories. They rarely applied realism, due to the fear thattheir films would be banned by the oppressive rule. The grim mood inthe society after the war was brought about by horror and crime.Notable expressionists such as Fritz Lang in Spies and Paul Wegenerin the Golem began a movement that recognized controversial socialissues that engaged the public at that period. There was a majordivision among the people due to controversial subjects such asprostitution, homosexuality, and anti-Semitism. The cinema played akey role in influencing public debate on such concerns. People wereconvinced that sharing information on different topics would soonprovide solutions that would push the society forward. In the Diaryof a Lost Girl, Pabst narrates how a young woman that becomespregnant out of wedlock is thrown out of the streets (Gancarz andLigensa 2012). She is excommunicated and turns to the streets toprostitution to support the child and her survival. In Differentfrom Others by Richard Oswald,there are good conventions that show the dilemma of a man withhomosexual tendencies. It was the first of its kind in modern Europeto address the issue since homosexuals were regarded as immoral andnot part of the society.


Thetheme of socioeconomic status became one of the main issues duringthe Weimar Period. Popular directors attempted to show how differentsituations made some regarded as the lowest in the community whileothers held powerful positions. They addressed issues such asXenophobia and anti-Semitism, which was a reality for inhabitants ofminority cultures. Murnau’sLast Laughused styles that showed the reaction of the lower-middle class todifferent issues in the society. It was referred to as an instinctproduction, which emphasized on how people perceive situational andconsequential instances. ThePandora’s Box by Georg Wilheim Pabstused new objectivity to address different areas affecting the people.Such street films focused on the symbolizing the cynicism and despairthat the German citizens felt at the time (Gancarz and Ligensa 2012).The war had shattered their way of life, leaving the streetspopulated with suffering individuals. They became the lowest class inthe community, with other prominent individuals using theirsuperiority to exploit the masses. Use of features such as creativeediting improved the standards of films creating a larger audience.

FritzLang was famous for his creativity in science fiction, using symbolsto reveal messages with different underlying ideas. He described theeconomic, political and social situations in Germany between theWorld Wars, during a time of confusion and public unrest. He mainlyshows a time when the citizens were experiencing despair, hysteria,inflation in the nation’s economy and other vices. The Metropolisis one such production, which identifies a futuristic environment. Itis composed of artistic creativity which expresses the dramaticrelationships among the people. It has a futuristic environment withan industrial sector that has heavy machinery. The public is dividedinto masters, slaves and a growing rebellion against oppression. Withadvanced technology, the cities are modern and luxurious, which mayhave been the basis for triggering economic improvements to matchother major urban areas at the time such as New York and London. Theworkers are poorly paid, influencing them to rise against theemployers. However, the owners of the factors of production usebrainwash and other techniques to ensure that others remain at thebottom (Gancarz and Ligensa, 2012). The resulting chaos ischaracterized by riots and floods, which was the reality that came upwith revolution. Lang is one of the producers that show the realscenario that the Weimar era was facing.

Otherfilms also addressed the wider political issues using themes based onthe German society. The social preoccupations comment on thesituation that existed during that time, also warning the peopleabout the future. Murnau focused on the economic and politicalaftermath of the nation due to the dissatisfaction of the powersruling the nation as well as the influence of the war. In films suchas Tartuffe and Faust, he uses symbolism to show the interactionbetween the people. There is a dominant group that controls differentaspects of life, including major sources of livelihood. To representthe justice system and the will of the masses, Lang uses the film Min a street setting (Gancarz and Ligensa 2012). Described as one ofhis finest works, the cinema shows how the cities are prone to crimewith one character as a murderer of children. It gives a promise tothe citizens that the situation will change in the future, as theleaders use democracy to people’s voice to pressure the policetowards addressing crime. It enables bringing down the underworldwhere crime lords are using beggars and children to address theiractions. The Golem by Paul Wegener also uses such a plot but for adifferent purpose. It expresses the plight of the Jews in a new landwhere they are forced to leave major cities or face death.

Influenceon the Germany and European Society

TheWeimar era had a great influence in the society. It was one of theways in which individuals could address social inequalities that theyexperienced without facing hostility from the authoritariangovernment. The expressionists were socially successful in bringingout different topics especially on the life in the city. Rather thandwelling mainly on romantic subjects, they used literature as aneye-opener to the masses on what they were missing without totaldemocracy. The aftermath of the war had left them suffering with thelow and middle classes working for low wages in poor conditions(Gancarz and Ligensa 2012). The use of features such as time,movements, shadows, lighting, and pauses were successful inportraying horror, suspense, humor and other artistic styles thatattracted thousands to watch the films. They succeeded in creatingsocial movements that would later come to assert Germany’sinfluence in the Second World War. The social complexities expressedin different sets and plots enable symbolism that represents thepublic’s plight due to the authoritarian rule. The expressionisttechniques were also successful in bringing out people’s emotionsmaking them realize the difficulties they were experiencing.


Cinemamakers in Germany during the Weimar era took a different path fromthe necessity arising due to lack of foreign content in the industry.They saw it as an opportunity to address the socioeconomic situationof the public, due to political instability as well as inequalities.A new movement emerged, whose main theme was to liberate the massesfrom the oppressive autocratic rule. German expressionism became areality, whereby people found cheap entertainment that was botheducative and influential. Using huge sets, lavish costumes, propsand creative plots, popular directors such as Robert Wiene, FritzLang, Murnau, Pabst and Aurthur Robinson were successful in havingproductions that conveyed the city`s atmosphere, the way of life anduncertainties for the future, people`s moods and emotions. They alsoexplored on other darker themes that the society failed to addresssuch as anti-Semitism, moral decadence, immorality and thedestructive power of technology and the monetary system. The maintheme that can be seen from all is the stratification that had formedas an aftermath of the war.


Garncarz,J., and Ligensa, A. (2012). The Cinema of Germany.Wallflower Press,distributed by Columbia University Press.