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Primitive Spectators

Lukács and Hofmannsthal on Film
  • Assenka Oksiloff

Abstract

The final chapters of this book examine films and essays that address the question of early cinema as a social and aesthetic phenomenon. In reading these texts from an anthropological point of view, I would like to suggest ways in which emergent models of film relied, explicitly and otherwise, upon dominant ethnographic myths and modes of observation. The nature of this adaptation varies from case to case. At times, as in the texts treated in the present chapter, the ethnographic plays a hand in forming representation of the modern spectator. The standardization of viewership involves, as I shall argue, a process of taming the body of the spectator in a fashion much akin to the visual taming of the native body in ethnographic and colonialist films of early years. At times, cinema itself is presented as this unruly body, mutely gesturing from an “elsewhere” to the traditional sphere of aesthetics. At their most suggestive moments, however, these texts take up the ethnographic in order to articulate the multiplicity of registers that coexist in the visual text. The various texts that I shall treat do not represent a single whole, either as a Spenglerian organic unity or as a chronology of aesthetic progress. Instead, they offer various insights into the scope of cinematic vision as well as an ethnographic-style envisioning of cinema itself as it was conceived in the silent era.

Keywords

Movie Theater Screen Image Narrative Cohesion Kinetic Force Male Viewer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    For two recent discussions of this film, see Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Fil. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), and Judith Mayne, The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women’s Cinem. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990). Mayne is concerned with the way that the film stages the basic terms of dominant classical spectatorship, identifying in the film a “rudimentary story that functions as a primal scene of the cinema” (32). Hansen, in contrast, claims that the film features competing economies of spectatorship that were prevalent during the “primitive” era of film. In my own discussion, I draw primarily upon Hansen’s work as a springboard for a critique of the “primal” and “primitive.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Maxim Gorky, “A Review of the Lumière Program at the Nizhni-Novgoro Fair,” in Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film. ed. Jay Leda, trans. Leda Swan (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), 408.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    For a general overview of the reform movement, see Wolfgang Jacobsen, “Frühgeschichte des deutschen Films,” in Geschichte des deutschen Films. eds. Wolfgang Jacobsen, Anton Kaes, and Hans Helmut Prinzler (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1993), especially 29–34; Anton Kaes, Kino-Debatte. and Sabine Hake,Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    See Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think. trans. Lilian A. Clare (1926; reprint Salem, N.H.: Ayer Publishing, 1984), 29. In an introduction to the English edition, Lévy-Bruhl distances himself from prevailing evolutionist discourses. Nevertheless, he does preserve the notion of the primitive in describing similar traits among “savage” cultures and he also accepts that these existing cultures provide a direct link to the “prehistory” of humans. See Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think. 13–32.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1955; reprint, 1978), 17: 240–41. Freud’s remarks on “primitive” peoples are based in part upon his 1912–13 study, Totem and Taboo. Lévy-Bruhl criticized this tendency to conflate the philogenetic with the ontogenetic, claiming that “primitives” were not children, and that their behavior was based upon a fundamentally different mode of perception rather than upon an underdeveloped and naive approach to the world.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    Hugo Münsterberg, The Film: A Psychological Study: The Silent Photoplay in 191. (New York: Dover Publications, 1970), 95.Google Scholar
  7. 20.
    For a detailed analysis of Lukács’s changing attitudes toward film as reflected in key essays throughout his career, see Thomas Levin, “From Dialectical to Normative Specificity: Reading Lukács on Film,” New German Critiqu. 40 (1987): 35–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 22.
    Georg Lukács, “Thoughts on an Aesthetic for the Cinema,” trans. Barrie Ellis-Jones, Framewor. 14 (Spring 1981): 3. Subsequent citations of this essay appear in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    Kracauer, The Mass Ornament. trans, and ed. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 79.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    Reprinted in Bernhard Zeller, ed., Hätte ich das Kino! Der Schriftsteller und der Stummfil. (Munich: Kösel Verlag, 1975), 146–47.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gesammelte Werke. ed. Bernd Schoeller (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1979), 9: 145. Subsequent page references of this edition, referred to as Collected Works. appear in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    For a recent essay on the genre of “Autorenfilme” in the 1910s, see Helmut H. Diederichs, “The Origins of the Autorenfilm,” in Before Caligari: German Cinema, 1895–1920. eds. Paolo Cherchi Usai and Lorenzo Codelli (Pordenone: Edizioni Biblioteca dell’Immagine, 1990), 380–401. As Diederichs points out, the term “Autorenfilm” when used in this context has a broader application than the more current usage. For the silent period, it refers to the “film d’art,” or any film produced with the direct or indirect input of an author. See Diederichs, 380.Google Scholar
  13. 33.
    See Lasker-Schüler’s scenario, Plumm Pascha. in Das Kinobuch. ed. Kurt Pinthus (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1983), 49–52.Google Scholar
  14. 34.
    Alfred Döblin, Drama, Hörspiel, Film. ed. Erich Kleinschmidt (Ölten: Walter, 1983), 325.Google Scholar
  15. 41.
    G. Bärbel Schmid, “Der Tanz macht beglückend frei,” in Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Freundschaft und Begegnung mit deutschen Zeitgenossen. eds. Ursula Renner and G. Bärbel Schmid (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1991), 257.Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    For a brief analysis of the Delsarte School, see Jack Anderson, Ballet and Modern Dance: A Concise Histor. (Princeton: Princeton Book Company, 1986), 117.Google Scholar
  17. 44.
    Classic street films include: G. W. Pabst’s Freudlose Gass. (1925);Google Scholar
  18. Karl Grune’s Die Straß. (1923);Google Scholar
  19. and Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, der Spiele. (1922). As Anton Kaes notes, a number of naturalist “Kammerspiel” films from the early 1920s concerned themselves with the psychological complexities of modern life, depicting the monotony of mass culture as a speechlessness that is compensated for by the art of gesture and mimicry. See Anton Kaes, “Weimarer Republik,” in Jakobson, Kaes, and Prinzler, Geschichte des deutschen Films. 56.Google Scholar

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© Assenka Oksiloff 2001

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  • Assenka Oksiloff

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