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A Culture of Light

Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany

2005
Author:

Frances Guerin

A Culture of Light

A groundbreaking exploration of German expressionist cinema and technology

In Frances Guerin's history of German silent cinema of the 1920s, the use of light is the pivot around which a new national cinema and culture emerges. Guerin's interpretations center on use of light in films such as Metropolis (1926) and Der Golem (1920) and we see how light is the substance of image composition, the narrative structuring device, and the thematic concern.

A Culture of Light is a truly original book that will compel scholars of film studies to re-think the manner in which they approach the aesthetic and thematic development of the cinema in the first half of the twentieth century.

Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

Cinema is a medium of light. And during Weimar Germany’s advance to technological modernity, light—particularly the representational possibilities of electrical light—became the link between the cinema screen and the rapid changes that were transforming German life.

In Frances Guerin’s compelling history of German silent cinema of the 1920s, the innovative use of light is the pivot around which a new conception of a national cinema, and a national culture, emerges. Guerin depicts a nocturnal Germany suffused with light—electric billboards, storefronts, police searchlights—and shows how this element of the mise-en-scène came to reflect both the opportunities and the anxieties surrounding modernity and democracy. Guerin’s interpretations center on use of light in films such as Schatten (1923), Varieté (1925), Metropolis (1926), and Der Golem (1920). In these films we see how light is the substance of image composition, the structuring device of the narrative, and the central thematic concern.

This history relieves German films of the responsibility to explain the political and ideological instability of the period, an instability said to be the uncertain foundation of Nazism. In unlocking this dubious link, A Culture of Light redefines the field of German film scholarship.

Awards

A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

A Culture of Light

Frances Guerin is lecturer in film studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

A Culture of Light

A Culture of Light is a truly original book that will compel scholars of film studies to re-think the manner in which they approach the aesthetic and thematic development of the cinema in the first half of the twentieth century.

Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

Guerins’s construction of materialist film history with its foundations in the technology of artificial light is innovative. Her story of how the cinema reified light and used it to carry the burden of the social impact of technology in Germany between the wars is a welcome addition to the literature of the histories of both film and technology.

Technology and Culture

The books stands out as a fresh contribution to the growing literature on Wiemar cinema. A Culture of Light will be of interest, not just to the few film scholars who study lighting, but also to the large number of film scholars who study modernity.

Film International

A compelling first book. A wonderful piece of scholarship to academics and cinephiles alike. Guerin’s innovative analysis has also laid the groundwork for further study into the uses of light and lighting in silent cinema.

Moving Image

The author offers a novel account of film’s potential. Guerin’s approach to film history in terms of electrical-industry contexts is very compelling. Silent-era films and contexts are so provocatively analyzed in A Culture of Light.

modernism/modernity

Guerin’s fascinating book examines German cinema during one of its most important and influential periods. Her style is easy to read and accessible, but the sheer detail of the work suggests an audience of committed, scholarly readers.

Choice

A Culture of Light

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. The Electrifi cation of Life, Cinema, and Art
2. Bringing Cinema to Life through Light: German Film to World War I
3. Legends of Light and Shadow: The Mythical Past in Algol and Schatten
4. The Spell of Light: Cinema as Modern Magic in Faust, Der Golem, Siegfried, and Metropolis
5. Reformulations of Space through Light in Die Straße, Jenseits der Straße, and Am Rande der Welt
6. Dazzled by the Profusion of Lights: Technological Entertainment in Varieté and Sylvester

Conclusion
Notes

Index