The Haunted Screen  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Haunted Screen is a French language film history book by Lotte H. Eisner, first published as L'Ecran Demoniaque: Influence De Max Reinhardt et De l'Expressionisme in 1952 by Éditions André Bonne, revised and reissued in 1965 by Le Terrain Vague. It was translated from French by Robert Greaves.

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 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 Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (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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