Sometime ago, I remember a very pleasant and entertaining visit to Die Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen in Berlin. The eye-catching permanent exhibition in the museum made me want to acquainted with more German film classics than the iconic Metropolis by Fritz Lang.
Most German movies I’d seen thus far dealt with the country’s Nazi past or GDR period – not a fair assessment of the diversity of German cinema. The museum gave a more palpable dimension to film titles I’d heard thrown about in conversations with film history buffs. I enjoyed its interactive layout for the most part (except for the bit of clutter and “loudness”).
I just wish the Kinemathek were less obsessed with the legendary Marlene Dietrich, who spent the bulk of her career outside of Germany, such as in Hollywood and cabarets around the world. They could’ve dedicated a bit more of their space to other stars and ground-breaking productions Made in Deutschland.
The good news is that we can further explore German film classics easily on our own.
That’s because many German gems happen to be online, old enough to be in the public domain. So you can stream them for free, from the comfort of your home, and without worrying you’re breaking copyright laws.
I first looked on YouTube, but then I found a better spot to get situated from. German films are neatly organized, described and made available to stream via La Filmothèque. When it happens that the link is broken there, you can type the movie title back into YouTube, and should easily be able to locate it.
The Filmothèque also lists classics from elsewhere, sorted by country, director, genre and decade (1890s to 1960s). They’re all in the public domain, according to the film aggregator site. They borrow their links and descriptions from elsewhere, but are a good reference point, regardless.
Here’s their team’s invitation to us hungry, cinema-loving souls:
“It is our hope to expose new audience to films, genres and directors they might not have been exposed to otherwise. If you wish to stay up to date, as well as occasionally receive entertaining gifs, make sure to follow us on Twitter. Discussions in the film pages or on social media are encouraged as well!”
I have barely scratched the surface of this online library. It seems to have months’ worth of entertainment and precious discoveries (borrowed from other places).
I end this post with a few German film classic suggestions to start with.
Just click on the hyperlinks to watch them – or on the videos themselves when shown here. If they happen to get broken at some point, once again, type their names into YouTube as there should be several “copies” available.
Mr Delaware and the Boxing Kangaroo (1895): Das Boxende Känguruh “is an 1895 German short black-and-white silent documentary film, directed and produced by Max Skladanowsky, which features a Kangaroo boxing against a man against a white background at the Circus Busch. The film, which premiered at the first public projection of motion pictures in Germany on November 1, 1895, was filmed on 35 mm film and is 18 feet in length.” (Duration: 17 secs)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari “is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders.” (Duration: 1 hour, 14 min)
Nosferatu (1922): “Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter’s wife.” (Duration: 1 hour, 28 min)
Symphonie diagonale (1924): “This short film is a visual rather than musical symphony. A cacophony of animated geometric figures appear in succession, much like a musical piece where idioms or themes emerge. All the figures have in common [is] that they are oriented either approximately minus thirty degrees from the horizontal plane or approximately plus thirty degrees from the horizontal plane.” (Duration: 7 min, 29 sec)
Faust (1926): The demon Mephisto wagers with God that he can corrupt a mortal man’s soul. (Duration: 1 hour, 55 min)
Filmstudie (1926): “Entertaining Dadaist experimental short, similar to Man Ray’s work, full of shifting geometric shapes, stock footage of seagulls, flying eyeballs, and glaring floating heads.” (Duration: 3 mins, 24 secs)
Metropolis (1927): “In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.” (Duration: 2 hours, 27 mins)
People on Sunday (1930): “The film follows the lives of a group of residents of Berlin on a summer’s day during the interwar period, filmed over a succession of Sundays in the summer of 1929. The actors were amateurs whose day jobs were those that they portrayed in the film.” (Duration: 1 hour, 14 mins)
Find descriptions and more German film classics on La Filmothèque/Germany.