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A Year in the Life of German-language Film


Key information

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Module description

The module is structured in two halves. Titles including Berlin, Die Sinfonie der Groβstadt/ Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927), Asphalt(Joe May, 1929), People on Sunday/Menschen am Sonntag (Edgar Ulmer, Kurt & Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann, Billy Wilder, 1930), and selected shorts by experimental filmmakers including Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger, are used as practice texts for close textual analysis, as well as exemplars of the artistic achievements of Weimar film practitioners in the closing years of the silent period. The module then turns to early experiments with sound (Westfront 1918, G.W.Pabst, 1930; M. Fritz Lang, 1931); to national audiences for international titles including Lewis Milestone’s pacifist All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); and to the multi-language versions that were a first response by major studios to the coming of sound (Die drei von der Tankstelle/The Three from the Filling Station, Wilhelm Thiele, 1930; Der blaue Engel/The Blue Angel, Josef von Sternberg, 1930).

Assessment details

One 3,000 word essay (85%) and one ten-minute individual presentation, followed by a ten-minute discussion with the module tutor (15%)

Educational aims & objectives

This module uses material from a key transitional year in the history of German-language film both as a prism through which to view larger developments in film history, and as a testing ground for methods and approaches to the study of film. It takes as its focus films that were released, or went into production, or remained in circulation during 1930. Marking as it does one of the most significant ruptures in the early history of film – the coming of sound – this date allows a consideration both of key aspects of film aesthetics (camera, montage, colour, sound) and of transformations in the landscape of national and transnational cinemas, of author-centred production, of genres and star systems in a moment of rapid technological, stylistic and institutional change. Weekly screenings of key titles, together with readings of short extracts from contemporary German-language film criticism, are used to focus discussion of changes in the film medium and cinema culture during 1930. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, participants are able to demonstrate detailed knowledge of cinematic and wider cultural developments at a key transitional moment in the history of German-language film. They also have a clear understanding of the critical issues raised by those developments, and are equipped to translate this understanding into critical discussions in essays and oral presentations.

Teaching pattern

One weekly two-hour screening and one weekly two-hour seminar. 

Suggested reading list

Recommended introductory reading

  • Timothy Corrigan. The Film Experience. An Introduction (Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2004)
  • Thomas Elsaesser, Weimar Cinema and After. Germany’s Historical Imaginary (London and New York: Routledge, 2000)
  • Sabine Hake, German National Cinema. 2nd. Ed (Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2002)
  • Noah Isenberg, Weimar Cinema. An Essential Guide to Classical Films of the Era (New York: Columbia University Pres, 2009).
  • Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler. A Psychological History of the German Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947)
  • Colin Storer, A Short History of the Weimar Republic (London: I.B.Tauris, 2013)

Subject areas