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Kracauer on Cult of Distraction

Kracauer on Cult of Distraction

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Published by: Sara Oh on Nov 19, 2011
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06/02/2013

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Cult
oj
Distraction:On
Berlin's
PicturePalaces~:;
by
SiegfriedKracauer
ThelargepicturehousesinBerlinarepalacesofdistraction;tocallthem
movietheaters(Kinos)
would
be
disrespectfuLThelatterarestillabun-dantonlyinOld-Berlinandinthesuburbswheretheyserveneighborhoodaudiences,andeventheretheyaredeclininginnum-ber.Muchmorethansuchmoviehousesoreventheordinarytheaters,itisthepicturepalaces,thoseopticalfairylands,whichareshapingthefaceofBerlin.The
UFA
palaces-
abovealltheoneattheZoo-~the
Capitol
builtbyPoelzig,the
Marmorhaus
andwhatevertheirnamesmaybe,enjoysell-outsdayafterday.Thenewlybuilt
Gloria-Palast
provesthatthestyleinitiatedbythesepalacesisstilldevelopinginthesamedirection.'Elegant
surfacesplendor
isthehallmarkofthesemasstheaters.Likehotellobbiestheyareshrinestothecultivationofpleasure,theirglam-ouraimingatedification.However,whilethearchitecturedoesper-
..Atranslationof"KultderZerstrcuung,"
Frankfurter
Zeitung
70:167(ErstesMorgenblatt:March4,1926),1-2;reprintedinSiegfriedKracauer,
DasOrnamentder
Masse
(Frankfurta.M.:
SuhrkampVcrlag,1963),pp.311-317;thiscollectionisforth-comingas
TheMassOrnament,
translatedandeditedbyThomas
Y.
Levin(Cambridge:HarvardUniversityPress,1988).Theessayispublished
here
withthepermissionofHarvardUniversityPress.ComparealsotheItaliantranslation"Cultodeldiver-
timcnto"
byMaria
GiovannaAmiranre
PappalardoinS.Kracauer,
LaMassaCome
Ornumento
(Naples:PrismaEditrice,1982),pp,79-84.
1.
HansPoelzig(1869-1936),oneofthefoundersofthemodernmovementinGermanarchitecture,dcsignedtheGrosseSchauspielhausforMaxReinhardtinBerlin(1919)withitsfamous"stalactitedome,"the'Capitol'cinemainBerlin(1925),the'Deli'cinemainBreslau(1926),andthe'Babylon'cinemainBerlin(1928-29).HealsomadetheexpressionistsetsforthesecondversionofPaulWegener'sfilm
TheGolem(1920).
FormorematerialontheBerlin
film
palaces(including
extensive
photographicdocu-mentation),seeRolf-PeterBaacke,
LichtspielhausarchitekiurinDeutschland:VonderSchaubude
bis
zum
Kinopalast
(Berlin:FrolichlindKaufmann,1982)andHeinzFrick,
MeinGloriaPalast:VasKinouomKurfi"irstendamm
(Munich:UniversitatsVerlag,1986).ForinformationoncorrespondingdevelopmentsinAmerica,
d.
DouglasGomery,
"Towards
aHistoryofFilmExhibition:TheCaseofthePicturePalace,"
Film
StudiesAnnual
Part2(Pleasantville,
N,
Y.:Redgrave,1977),17-26,(Translator'snote)
91
corriht
©
2001.AllRiihtsReseved.
 
92Culta/Distraction
hapsbombardthepatronsinitsattempt
to
createanatmosphere"
it
in
no
way
relapsesinto
the
barbaricpomposityofwilhelminiansecularchurches
in
themanner
of
theRhine
Gold,
forexample,whichwantstogiveonetheimpressionthatitharborstheWagnerianNibelungentreasure.Rather,thearchitecture
of
the
film
palaceshasevolvedinto
a
formthatavoidsstylisticexcesses.Tastehaspresidedoverthedimensionsandhasspawnedcostlyinteriorfurnishingsinspiredbyarefinedartisanalfantasy.The
Gloria-Palest
presentsitselfasabaroquetheater,Thecommunityofworshippers,numberinginthethou-sands,canbecontent,foritsgatheringplacesareaworthyabode.Theprogramsalsodisplayawellwroughtgrandiosity.Goneisthetimewhenfilmswen:allowed
to
runoneafteranothereachwithacor-respondingmusicalaccompaniment.ThemajortheatersatleasthaveadoptedtheAmericanstyleofaself-containedshowwhichintegrates
the
fiim
as
partof
a
largerwhole.
Like
theprogramsheetswhichhaveexpandedintofanmagazines,theshowshavegrowninto
a
structuredprofusionofproductionnumbersandpresentations.
A
glittering,re-
vue-like
creature
has
crawledoutof
the
movies-
thetotalartwork
(Cesamtkunstroetk}of
eUixts.
Thistotalartworkofeffectsassaultseveryoneofthesensesusingeverypossiblemeans.Spotlightsshowertheirbeamsintotheauditori-urn,sprinklingacrossfestivedrapesorripplingthroughcolorfulgrowth-like
gla~s
fixtures.Theorchestraasserts
itselfas
anindepen-dentpower,itsacousticproductionbuttressedbytheresponsoryofthelighting.Everyemotion
is
accorded
its
ownacousticexpression,itscolorvalueinthespectrum~anopticalandacoustickaleidoscopewhichprovidesthesettingforthephysicalactivityonstage,panto-mane
and
ballet.Untilfinally
thewhite
surfacedescendsandtheeventsofthethree-dimensional
stage
imperceptiblyblend
intotwo-
dimensionalillusions.Alongsidethelegitimaterevues,suchshowsarctheleadingattrac-tion
in
Berlintoday.Theyraisedistractiontothelevelofculture;theyarcaimedatthe
manes.
Massesalsogatherinthe
provinces
buttheretheyaresubjectedtoapressurewhichdoesnotallowthemthespiritualandcultural
(gei.,tig)
fulfillmentappropriate
to
theirnumberandrealsocialsignificance.Intheindustrialcenterswheretheyappearingreatnumbers,theyaresooverburdenedasworkersthat
they
arcunable
to
realizetheirown
way
oflife.Theyarchandeddowntherubbishandoutdatedenter-
 
SiegfriedKracauer
9
J
tainrnent
oftheupperclasswhich,despiteitsrepeatedclaimstosocialsuperiority,hasonlylimitedculturalambitions.Inthelargerprovin-cialtownsnotdominatedprimarilybyindustry,ontheotherhand,thetraditionalforcesaresopowerfulthatthemassesareunabletoshapetheculturalandspiritual
(geistig)
structureontheirown.Thebourgeoismiddleclassesremainsegregatedfromthemasifthegrowthofthishumanreservoirmeantnothing,andthusmaintaintheillusoryclaimthattheyarestilltheguardiansofcultureandeduca-tion.Theirarrogance,whichcreatesshamoasesforitself,keepsthemassesdownanddenigratestheiramusement.Itcannotbeoverlookedthatthereare
four
millionpeople
inBerlin.Thesheernecessityoftheircirculationtransformsthelifeofthestreetintotheineluctablestreetoflife,givingrisetoconfigurationswhichinvadeevendomesticspace.Themorepeopleperceivethemselvesasamass,however.thesoonerthemasseswillalsodevelopproductivepowersinthespiritualandculturaldomainwhichareworthfinanc-ing.Themassesarenolongerlefttotheirowndevices;rather,theyprevailintheirveryabandonment.Refusingtobethrownscrapstheydemandinsteadtobeservedatsettables.Thereislittleroomlettfortheso-callededucatedclasseswhomusteitherjoininthediningormaintaintheirsnobbishaloofness.Theirprovincialisolationis,inanycase,atanend.Theyarebeingabsorbedbythemassesandthisgivesrisetothe
homogeneouscosmopolitanaudience
inwhicheveryonehasthesameresponses,fromthebankdirectortothesalesclerk,fromthediva
to
thestenographer.Self-pityingcomplaintsaboutthisturnto-wardsmasstastearebelated;theculturalheritagewhichthemassesrefusetoaccepthasbecometosomeextentamerelyhistoricalproper-tysincetheeconomicandsocialrealitytowhichitcorrespondedhaschanged.
***
OnechidestheBerlinersforbeing
addictedtodistraction,
butthisisapetit-bourgeoisreproach.Whiletheaddictiontodistractioniscertain-lygreaterinBerlinthanintheprovinces,thetensiontowhichtheworkingmassesaresubjectedisalsogreaterandmoretangible-anessentiallyformaltensionwhichfillstheirdayfullywithoutmakingitfulfilling.Suchalackdemandstobecompensated,butthisneedcanonlybearticulatedintermsofthesamesurfacespherewhichimposedthelackinthefirstplace.Theformofentertainmentnecessarilycorre-spondstothatofenterprise."
2.Kracauerhereplayswiththeambiguityoftheword
Betrieb,
whichcanmeanbothenterprise(business)andentertainment.(Translator'sNote)
Copyright
©
2001.AllRightsReseved.

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