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The Formative Years

Early experiments by Eadweard Muybridge, John D. Isaacs, and Ottomar Anschütz, although headed in the wrong direction, sparked an early interest in the potential of film in Germany. Max and Emil Skladanowsky are notable in that they invented the Bioscope (a double projector system) and presented their pictures publicly at the Berlin Wintergarten on November 1, 1895, predating the first public performance by the Lumières by over a month (their previous showings were all to private audiences).

Oskar Meester was one of the most important German film pioneers. After studying the work of Anschütz, the Lumeères, and Thomas Edison, Meester created a projection system which substituted the Maltese Cross for the claw movement of the Lumières. Meester's first film catalogue published in 1897 featured an article which he wrote demonstrating his understanding of the potential of film.
He wrote:

"By its means historical events can henceforth be preserved just as they happened and brought to view again not only now, but also for the benefit of future generations."
Among the films offered in Meester's catalogue were examples of the first close-ups, the first animation effects, and the first speeded-up motion effect.

Early films were shown in Kintopps which were usually converted storefronts with white canvas on one wall. The Kintopps soon gave way to the Lichtspieltheatre, a structure especially designed for the exhibition of motion pictures. The German Kaiser was much interested in motion pictures. On his yaught, the Kaiser had a court photograher shoot films during the day which would be developed on board and shown later that day. This was an early indication that a German head of state had realized the potential of film as a tool to publicize and propogandize.

Demand for films was so great that German companies began to import films from England, Italy, America, France, and Denmark, with the latter two supplying the most.

The first German film to be seriously regarded by the press was Der Andere (The Other One), directed by Max Mack in 1913. And since the film was based on a play by Paul Lindau, it has the distinction of being the first Autorenfilm, or famous author films.

"People began discussing the cinema as an art in 1913. In Germany such discussion arose in connection with the films of Paul Wegener" wrote Ceram in his book Archeology of the Cinema. One of the earlist examples of Wegener's art is Der Student von Prag (The Student From Prague)

While some intellectuals scorned the new medium, others recognized its educational potential. The Organization for Cinematographic Study was founded in 1913 to encourage films of an instructive and scientific value, hoping to raise the standards of ordinary films. The organization proposed to underwrite the cost of production in instances where producers felt such films would not make a profit. One early example of the Lehrfilm (instructional film) occurred in a Berlin symphony hall in 1914. While a live orchestra played the overture to Bizet's Carmen, the audience watched a film of a conductor leading the musicians as if he were actually before them. This early experiment was an indication of the part the Lehrfilm would play in the following years. World War I encouraged the development of the Lehrfilm for the instruction and training of troops. Offshoots of the Lehrfilm included the Werkfilm (industrial film), designed for training employees, the Statistische Film which presented statistical data in animated graphs and charts, and the Wissenschaftlichen (scientific film), which described new apparatus or depicted the performance of a surgical operation. To many, the Lehrfilm held the promise of revolutionizing the dissemination of knowledge.


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The Weimar Republic: The Golden Age of German Film
Third Reich Films
Post WWII Films
Emergence of the "New German Cinema"
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