The Haunted Screen  

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"Romantic authors such as Novalis or Jean Paul, while anticipating the Expressionist notions of visual delirium and of a continual state of effervescence, also seem almost to have foreseen the cinema's consecutive sequences of images. In the eyes of Schlegel in Lucinde, the loved one's features become indistinct: 'very rapidly the outlines changed, returned to their original form, then metamorphosed anew until they disappeared entirely from my exalted eyes.' And the Jean Paul of the Flegeljahre says: 'The invisible world wished, like chaos, to give birth to all things together; the flowers became trees, then changed into columns of cloud; and at the tops of the columns flowers and faces grew.' In Novalis's novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen there are even superimpositions."--The Haunted Screen (1952) by Lotte H. Eisner

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L'Écran démoniaque : Influence de Max Reinhardt et de l'expressionnisme (1952) is a book by Lotte H. Eisner, published by Éditions André Bonne and revised and reissued in 1965 by Le Terrain Vague.

It has been translated as The Haunted Screen, translated from French by Robert Greaves. There is a German version, entitled Dämonische Leinwand : die Blütezeit des deutschen Films.

Eisner's purpose was art historical. She attempts to analyze the stylistic uniqueness of German art cinema in the 1920s while acknowledging its precedents in German romanticism. Eisner discusses two essentially unrelated phenomena: the influence of theater impresario Max Reinhardt and film expressionism and essentially concludes:

“It is reasonable to argue that the German cinema is a development of German Romanticism, and that modern technique [cinematography] merely lends visible form to Romantic fancies.”

With reference to the original French title, Eisner mentions in the first English translation that demoniac is not meant to signify diabolical, but rather needs to be interpreted in the Greek sense, as pertaining to the nature of supernatural power. She quotes Leopold Ziegler from Das heilige Reich der Deutschen (1925) who says that "German man is the supreme example of demoniac man. Demoniac indeed seems the abyss which cannot be filled, the yearning which cannot be assuaged, the thirst which cannot be slaked... "

Much like Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler (1947) Eisner tries to analyze the "German volksgeist".

As an example, this insight into the 'sublimity' of the German soul is put forward:

"The weird pleasure the Germans take in evoking horror can perhaps be ascribed to the excessive and very Germanic desire to submit to discipline, together with a certain proneness to sadism. In 'Dichtung und Wahrheit' Goethe deplores the 'unfortunate pedagogical principle which tends to free children early in life from their fear of mystery and the invisible by accustoming them to terrifying spectacles'."

Book description

The Golden Age of German cinema began at the end of the First World War and ended shortly after the coming of sound. From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari onwards the principal films of this period were characterized by two influences: literary Expressionism, and the innovations of the theatre directors of this period, in particular Max Reinhardt. This book demonstrates the connection between German Romanticism and the cinema through Expressionist writings. It discusses the influence of the theatre: the handling of crowds; the use of different levels, and of selective lighting on a predominately dark stage; the reliance on formalized gesture; the innovation of the intimate theatre. Against this background the principal films of the period are examined in detail. The author explains the key critical concepts of the time, and surveys not only the work of the great directors, such as Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau, but also the contribution of their writers, cameramen, and designers. As The Times Literary Supplement wrote, 'Mme. Eisner is first and foremost a film critic, and one of the best in the world. She has all the necessary gifts.' And it described the original French edition of this book as 'one of the very few classics of writing on the film and arguably the best book on the cinema yet written.'


  • "Die Dämonische Leinwand", German translation

See also

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