The Dark Mirror: German Cinema between Hitler and Hollywood

By Lutz Koepnick | Go to book overview

2
Incorporating
the Underground

Curtis Bernhardt's The Tunnel

Rudolf Arnheim, one of the most belligerent German critics of the talkie, rejected sound well into the 1930s as something foreign to the art of filmmaking. In Arnheim's view synchronized sound polluted the film medium; it curtailed the camera's poetic power. 1 Arnheim's critique of sound might seem puzzling in retrospect, but the early years of sound film did indeed bring an alarming loss of refinement in the areas of camera work and editing. The new pragmatics of sound effectively transformed a sophisticated visual language that had been shaped by silent directors such as Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Fritz Lang. As Claudia Gorbman explains,

synch sound visually rooted actors to the spot, and limited the possibilities of exploring space within a scene…. Actors were obliged to remain close to the microphone[s], which… were hidden behind props; early mikes not only had poor sensitivity to voices but paradoxically seemed to pick up every other stray sound around the set. The camera, imprisoned in its soundproofed booth, would not generally regain freedom of movement until the development of the blimp and rolling camera carriages in 1930–31. 2

In the early 1930s cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner (Westfront, 1930; Kameradschaft, 1931; M, 1931) was central to the reinvention of camera mobility. It was not until at least 1933, however, that editing practices, too, could fully recuperate their former flexibility. For only then did it become possible to record speech, music, and sound effects on separate tracks, to layer dialogue and film music, and, in doing so, to overcome the often stilted sequencing of early sound sources and scenes.

Throughout the 1930s almost all important innovations in cinema technology served the effort to produce the illusion of real people onscreen 50

-50-

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