Documentary Review: From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014)

Also known as: Von Caligari zu Hitler: Das deutsche Kino im Zeitalter der Massen (Germany)
Release Date: August 28th, 2014 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Rüdiger Suchsland
Music by: Henrik Albrecht, Michael Hartmann

Looks Filmproduktionen Arte, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), 118 Minutes


I haven’t read the book From Caligari to Hitler but once a documentary about the subject matter came out, I had to watch it.

For those who don’t know, the book was published in 1947 by German film critic Siegfried Kracauer. It was one of the first major works published on German film, specifically the era between World War I and World War II. The book examines whether or not the German film industry of the time foreshadowed the rise of totalitarianism in German culture.

The main reason why I haven’t read the book yet, is that most copies of it are pretty pricey. Besides, seeing the book’s ideas and themes explored in a documentary format is actually more beneficial, to be honest. With it being covered in actual film, the viewer is visually treated to all the motion pictures and scenes that are referenced in the original work. The documentary also allows modern film scholars to discuss the ideas now, years later, while expanding on Kracauer’s points.

The documentary was made in Germany and is in the German language. The version I watched on Netflix, where it is currently streaming for subscribers, had English subtitles.

The film is pretty compelling. It also isn’t just about the narrative that these silent era German pictures had a link to the rise of the Nazis. The documentary gives a fantastic look into early German cinema. It covers a lot of films and is pretty broad in which genres and styles it showcases. It isn’t just about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which it alludes to in the title, it is about the whole of German filmmaking and German pop culture between the two World Wars. It is actually quite amazing how much territory this documentary covers in just under two hours.

The presentation was great; the narration and interviews were informative and thorough. One couldn’t have asked for a better film on the subject matter.

From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses is fantastic for any fan of film and history. Few documentaries on film history, especially those focused on an international market, are this good.

Rating: 9/10