Paul DobrydenJul 1, 2022
The Hygienic Apparatus
Weimar Cinema and Environmental Disorder
Northwestern University Press 2022
The Hygienic Apparatus: Weimar Cinema and Environmental Disorder (Northwestern UP, 2022) traces how the environmental effects of industrialization reverberated through the cinema of Germany’s Weimar Republic. In the early twentieth century, hygiene encompassed the myriad attempts to create healthy spaces for life and work amid the pollution, disease, accidents, and noise of industrial modernity. Examining classic films—including The Last Laugh, Faust, and Kuhle Wampe—as well as documentaries, cinema architecture, and studio practices, Paul Dobryden demonstrates how cinema envisioned and interrogated hygienic concerns about environmental disorder.
Framing hygiene within the project of national reconstruction after World War I, The Hygienic Apparatus explores cinema’s material contexts alongside its representations of housework, urban space, traffic, pollution, disability, aging, and labor. Reformers worried about the health risks associated with moviegoing but later used film to popularize hygienic ideas, encouraging viewers to see the world and themselves in relation to public health objectives. Modernist architecture and design fashioned theaters into regenerative environments for fatigued spectators. Filmmakers like F. W. Murnau and Slatan Dudow, meanwhile, explored the aesthetic and political possibilities of dirt, contagion, intoxication, and disorder. Dobryden recovers a set of ecological and biopolitical concerns to show how the problem of environmental disorder fundamentally shaped cinema’s relationship to modernity. As accessible as it is persuasive, the book adds to a growing body of scholarship on biopolitics within German studies and reveals fresh ways of understanding the apparatus of Weimar cinema.
Paul Lerner is Professor of History at the University of Southern California where he directs the Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com and @PFLerner.