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I first read Siegfried Kracauer’s FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER when I was 17. Two things happened as a result. The first was that his book made me want to see many of the films he wrote about. The second was that as a result of reading his book I began to see motion pictures as something more than just mere entertainment.

I was given a copy of the book by my high school geography teacher, Robert Herring, after I screened for him and some of his friends an 8mm copy of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1927) which I had ordered through an ad I had seen in Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine.

METROPOLIS was Mr. Ackerman’s favourite film. 3 issues of a companion Warren publication, SPACEMEN, were devoted to it. By chance I found a paperback copy of Thea Von Harbou’s novel METROPOLIS which I read avidly again and again and again.

METROPOLIS was the first film I saw that not only lived up to my expectations but also surpassed them.

In the film an industrialist has his chief scientist fashion a robot he has created into the likeness of the woman who is the spiritual leader of the workers. Where Maria had instructed the workers to have patience the false Maria instructs them to rise up in revolt.

The industrialist wants them to do this so that he can replace his flesh and blood workers with machine workers.

I see the film then and now as a parable for the time we live in.

More importantly, as a result of reading Kracauer I wondered if historical Christianity had replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with a similar construct. This led me to read THE NEW TESTAMENT not for faith but as a book to learn what it teaches. I found that this is true.

To say that this book affected my thinking is an understatement.

In my desire to see more of the films I had read about in it I bought 8mm copies of them. When I left high school and arrived in Toronto people asked if they could see my copies of the films. This led to my long standing public screenings, first in the late Captain George Henderson’s Viking Books on Queen Street West and MEMORY LANE Comic shop in Markam/Mirvish Village, then to the Little Queen Victoria Slept Here Cinema and Boutique (which I renamed THE PUBLIC ENEMY when I took it over because as a young homosexual I saw myself as a public enemy). It was there that I met Jane Jacobs and her family newly arrived in Toronto in 1968. In 1968, through the mother of modern science/speculative fiction, Judith Merril (then in residence as a resource person at Toronto’s Rochdale College) I began my screenings at Rochdale. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now comes a film based on Kracauer’s book. The film, of course, can not do the book justice. There is so much in the book that not even a series of books based on its material and chapters could do it justice.

Nonetheless, it is a good film, well worth looking at, even more so if it prompts viewers to seek out and read the book.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

We live in a moment when small minds dominate our culture.

Everywhere people are finding their closet doors ripped open resulting in their darkest secrets being exposed for all to see.

It is the final stage of a dying society.

That is not to be feared because death is a natural part of everything.  Death is to be embraced with as much vigor as we embrace life. Not that we should seek death but that we should not seek to avoid it.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) begins with murder committed by a somnambulist, a sleep walker. He, Caesar, is under the control of an insane psychiatrist we believe until we discover that the narrator of the tale is himself the mad man.

So it is in our society today.

John Taylor Gatto, in his UNDERGROUND HISTORY OF AMERICAN EDUCATIONhttp://mhkeehn.tripod.com/ughoae.pdf  ) details how the goal of our school system from the start has been to keep people in what is called today the child state for as long as possible. As children act on impulse more than on sober reflection we see the rise of more monsters.

One of the first thing I learned from both Jane Jacobs and Judith Merril is that the concepts we call childhood and adolescence are recent inventions. Before that even infants were viewed as adult minds in small bodies. Let me tell you, infants sense when they are being treated as adult minds in small bodies. They thrive on it.

Siegfried Kracauer opened up a huge door for me on ideas when I read his book at 17. I re-read it several times, always with profit.

The film of FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER is a more than welcome companion to the book. Once again I find my appetite whetted for German film from the Weimar Era. Perhaps your appetite will be whetted as well.

After seeing METROPOLIS (1927) Adolf Hitler said to Josef Goebbels, “Now I know what to do. This man, Frirz Lang, must make our films.”

After the Nazis came to power Goebbels called Fritz Lang into his office. Said Goebbels, “The Fuhrer wants to you to make our films.”

Lang replied, “That would be difficult as my grandmother’s side of the family is Jewish.”

Replied Goebbels, “No problem. So is the Fuhrer’s cook.”

Lang left Germany that night for Paris.

He was one of the fortunate ones.

Read the book. See the movie.

–Reg Hartt 2018–04–06.

 

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